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Was It Luck, Or Was It Skill?

Bob George
Bob George on Twitter
June 15, 2002 at 4:42 pm ET

Posted: Jun 15, 2002 04:42
🕑 Read Time: 6 minutes

There might be a few of you out there who think the playoff win over Pittsburgh was sweeter than the Super Bowl win.

And you’d have good reason to think so, especially after this week’s Pulitzer Prize wannabe out of the Steel City.

Not that the Rams have been total angels, mind you, but the Steelers are about as non-contrite as Al Gore and as disrespectful as a Florida Democrat who whined about getting to vote only once. The Rams threw themselves a “pity party” recently and complained that they would have beaten the Patriots something like 99 times out of 100, but February 3rd was one of those one-in-a-hundred games. At least the Rams were somewhat polite in their disbelief in themselves for losing the Super Bowl, and showed class after the game in praising the Patriots despite blaming themselves more than admitting that the Patriots generally kicked the tar out of them.

But the Steelers have absolutely no clue. It is delusion and denial at its finest. You have a team and its legion of fans who probably think that what the Patriots did to them was illegal. Going to Super Bowl XXXVI seemed like their birthright. In their view, the Patriots beating them was somewhat akin to someone trying to steal the crown from Miss America.

Now on Wednesday of this week, an article in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (and this is strange considering that the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette was much more anti-Patriots in January and sharply critical of the Patriots’ fitness to be the Steelers’ opponent that day) featured some unbelievably wretched commentary from Hines Ward, Lee Flowers, and Herman Moore. The latter has spent his entire career with the Detroit Lions, making his remarks totally off the stupidity charts.

Moore: Stop it right there. Quoting this man on the Steelers is perhaps like asking to take a peek at what Gore’s acceptance speech would have said. Moore’s status with the Steelers is currently 0.0. Any comment he has on the Steelers rings completely hollow. Moore did mention that the Steelers have done everything except play in a Super Bowl. Until they actually win one (Bill Cowher, you’re no Chuck Noll), affixing the world “champion” next to the name “Steelers” is like affixing the name “President” next to the name “Gore”.

Sorry to keep bringing up ol’ Stoneface Al. But his close loss to President Bush is a great example of someone who expected to win and didn’t. Just like the Steelers.

Flowers: “We’re the hunted right now, to be honest with you. All teams right now are looking at how to beat the Steelers.” Hunted? You? The only things to hunt for in Pittsburgh are beams and joists, ketchup and relish, Allegheny and Monongahela. If you want a penguin, hunt for an igloo. If you want a Natalie Jacobson, hunt for Sally Wiggin.

Ward: “It would be hard for (Moore) to come in and try to tell guys what to do. He’s going to be a help, but, at the same time, we went to the Super Bowl without him.” Someone ask Ward to tell us what the Super Bowl is like if he ever gets there someday. Some of his teammates have been there, but that was Super Bowl XXX and his side lost to a team coached by Barry Switzer. Or, maybe that’s the denial we said at the top of the article. In Ward’s mind, he was being covered by Aeneas Williams, not Troy Brown. Ward is as delusional as he is talented.

Flowers one last time: “Everybody knows. Everybody knows who the hunted is. I’m not going to get into the logistics of why we’re the hunted, but New England knows. Ask (the Patriots), they know.”

We’re getting away from the main point of this piece, so we’ll let this last piece of Steeler slop tie this together.

Yes, Lee, the Patriots do know. They do know that they consistently have a handle on Kordell Stewart and Jerome Bettis. They do know that special teams matter, unlike your bunch. They do know how to show respect, as well as when to finalize Super Bowl hostelry plans. And most of all, they do know who got to make those hostelry plans. Cancel all those reservations. I need a room. What I’d like to know, Lee, is do you really know?

The Steelers are perhaps the most vocal in this, but the league is still unconvinced that the Patriots are a true championship team. Las Vegas joins the league in these thoughts, and a futures bet on 2002 Patriot wins feature an over/under of 8 ½. Face it, everyone else thinks last year was the biggest fluke this side of Rollie Massimino and Jim Valvano.

The Patriots won every game following the 24-17 loss to the Rams on that Sunday night at home in late November. The record shows that. But most people outside of New England are ignoring the record, concentrating on who lost versus who won. Looking at each of the nine wins, how many of them were the direct result of superior Patriot skill versus dumb luck?

The 17-16 conquest of the Jets at Exit 16-W was the linchpin of the championship run. The Patriots trailed at the half, 13-0, but parlayed a Mike Vrabel interception into a 17-3 second half run. The Patriots simply outplayed the Jets, and made the plays they needed to make. Just because men like Fred Coleman and Terrell Buckley made the key plays doesn’t make this win “lucky”.

The Patriots scored three convincing wins in this run, against New Orleans, Cleveland and Carolina. The Patriots brutalized the Saints, shut down Tim Couch and any semblance of a Browns’ offense, and took full advantage of the ineptness of Chris Weinke. Other than Richard Huntley’s great day in the season finale, these three wins were complete dominations. There was nothing lucky about any of these wins.

Luck played a small factor in the win at Buffalo and in the win against Miami. The Patriots caught a break against the Dolphins by not having to face Darryl Gardener, who missed the game due to injury. But the crazy play at Buffalo featuring David Patten getting knocked out was more about correct application of the letter of the law rather than luck. Credit referee Mike Carey for getting the play right, but the Patriots would have been jobbed had Carey not applied the rule. And as you all know, this would not be the last time the Patriots would be the benefactors of exotic rule application.

Saying the Raiders were the favorites over the Patriots in the Snow Bowl means you listen too much to Howie Long. The former Raider was the only human being who failed to absorb the fact that the Patriots were favored by four points in that game. The Patriots won and covered, but Greg Biekert will tell you that he did much the same thing with Tom Brady’s “fumble”. While Walt Coleman’s interpretation of the “tuck rule” seemed less obvious than Carey’s call in the Buffalo game, according to Mike Pereira, head of officiating in the NFL, the call was correct. Moreover, the tuck rule had two opportunities to be changed in the offseason, and both times the powers that be chose to leave it alone. Based upon the letter of the law, the Patriots won this game fair and square. The Raiders lay down and quit after the tuck play. This game was never about lucky breaks.

The Steelers did not lose on lucky breaks. They lost on special teams breakdowns, turnovers, an inability to get a running game going, and the fact that, much like the Super Bowl, the Patriots beat the tar out of the Steelers. The Patriots won despite having to employ two quarterbacks in the game. To suggest that the Patriots did not deserve to win is a pile of sour grapes bigger than anything the Napa Valley can offer up.

Finally, the Patriots did worse to the Rams. The Rams insist that the Patriots did nothing special, that they lost the game more than the Patriots won it. That’s their pride talking, but they at least salute the Patriots for a job well done. But watch the game films and you see the fruits of a genius coach who did exactly everything he had to do to slow down one of the best offenses in NFL history. There was nothing lucky about the Patriot Super Bowl win. It was a convincing win, made close only by an untimely penalty to Willie McGinest.

You know, the Patriots ought to sit back and let Ward, Flowers and all other guys who won’t give the Patriots their due props to run their mouths. Nothing like newspaper articles to serve as new wallpaper for their new locker room.

Where the Steelers are concerned, the Patriots have two incredible things in their possessions which should give the Steelers every reason to shut up.

The rings.

And the mother of all rematches on Opening Night.

Go ahead, Steelers. The more you say, the better. Go ahead and torque off the Patriots. And watch the fun when they come out in September even more hungry than you.

Can The Naysayers Possibly Be Right?

About Bob George

Covering Boston Sports since 1997. Native of Worcester, Mass. Attended UMass and Univ of Michigan. Lives in California. Just recently retired after 40 years of public school teaching. Podcasts on YouTube at @thepic4139

Posted Under: 2002 Patriots Offseason

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