KANSAS CITY – To fully appreciate the Patriots, you have to know the entire history. All 58 years.
For all of you who only know the Patriots as a Super Bowl machine, you need to crack your books. Just now joining the “must read” club is The Pats, a new book by Glenn Stout and Richard A. Johnson. These are the same guys who about 15 years ago penned the classic Red Sox Century, a terrific look back at the Olde Towne Team, featuring a provocative different look at Babe Ruth’s departure from the Red Sox in 1920. If you recall, several updates of that book had to be released, as the Red Sox broke The Curse just after the original was released, and like the movie Fever Pitch, the ending suddenly had to be re-written.
In The Pats, Stout and Johnson divide Patriot history into two distinct segments: Before Parcells and After Parcells. Many fans may not agree, but rather the line of demarcation should be Before Kraft and After Kraft. Others may have different opinions.
Monday, January 21st marks the 25th anniversary of Robert Kraft, who at the time owned Schaefer/Sullivan/Foxborough Stadium, purchasing the Patriots from James Busch Orthwein. Fearful that Orthwein would move the Patriots to his hometown of St. Louis, Kraft used his ownership of the stadium and the lease he made the Patriots sign as leverage to buy the team. He paid $172 million for the team, stupid money at the time which sent his late wife Myra into a fit of anger. Today, according to the Boston Globe, the Patriots are the sixth richest sports franchise in the world, worth $3.8 billion according to Forbes magazine.
This might raise the question: Was Kraft’s purchase of the Patriots the seminal moment in team history?
Rather than answer that question from the typewriter of just one person, let’s instead throw several candidates for this honor at you, and let you the reader decide.
January 21, 1993 – Bill Parcells hired as Patriots head coach
At the time, the Patriots were the worst they have ever been in their history. The only other time period that compares is 1967 to 1973, where the Patriots won a total of 28 games, an average of four wins a season. It began with the disastrous switch of head coaches from Mike Holovak to the erratic Clive Rush, and ended with the advent of the Chuck Fairbanks era. But the early 1990s was a Patriot black hole, make no mistake.
From 1990 to 1992, the Patriots won a grand total of 9 games, an average of three per season. And unlike the previous seven-year dark age era which was based on a 14-game season, this dark ages era was played with 16-game schedules. The Patriot win percentage in these three years was .188. One year of former defensive coordinator Rod Rust, then two years of former UMass head coach Dick MacPherson. Patriot football was simply putrid. Awful. Ugly. Make that dawg-ugly.
Then, as if out of the blue, comes this two-time Super Bowl champion head coach, back from a three-year hiatus for health reasons. Orthwein hired Parcells and gave him the keys to the car. All football decisions were his and his alone. He wouldn’t have coached here if he didn’t have that power. We’ll get back to that power in a bit.
Parcells lasted four seasons, took his team to the playoffs twice, and wound up taking them to Super Bowl XXXI. But most of all, he put the Patriots on the NFL map. The Patriots became a somebody after three decades of being a nobody (save for perhaps the 1976 and 1985 seasons). Even after Pete Carroll succeeded him, the Patriots have been a somebody. The riches would wait just a few more years. But it all started with The Tuna. From that moment on, being a Patriot fan was permanently different.
January 21, 1994 – Bob Kraft purchases the Patriots from James Orthwein
Exactly one year after Parcells was announced as the new Patriot head coach, Orthwein had to attend another major press conference.
Kraft, owner of the stadium, as well as CEO of Rand-Whitney, a major paper corporation in the region, purchased the Patriots and thus ensured that the team would remain in New England and not move to St. Louis. The move at the time was hailed by all Patriot fans, who were genuinely scared that the Patriots were heading to the Gateway Arch, and the new indoor football palace they were building. St. Louis would eventually get the Rams for a few years. The Patriots are still in Foxborough, thanks to Kraft and his incredible vision of just about everything.
Kraft had to go through a learning curve. He turned into a meddling owner, never got along with Parcells, hired Bobby Grier to handle the personnel, overruled Parcells in the 1996 draft by taking Terry Glenn over a defensive stud Parcells wanted, and eventually watched Parcells move to New York to take over the Jets. The Carroll years were painful for Kraft. He watched the Jets turn into a playoff team, all the while stealing Curtis Martin from the Patriots with a free agent offer that is now illegal, and he watched Grier botch draft after draft with mostly horrible picks that busted.
Today, Kraft is perhaps the most powerful and influential owner in the NFL. Himself worth billions (he is tied with five other people, one of them fashion icon Ralph Lauren, as the 281st richest person in the world at $6.2 billion), his Patriots continue to establish the greatest single dynasty in the history of the NFL. 31 playoff wins, ten Super Bowls, five Super Bowl wins, a palatial stadium and surroundings, all of this thanks to the man who torqued off his wife when he overpaid to buy this team 25 years ago.
January 28, 2000 – Bill Belichick hired as Patriots head coach
“I resign as HC of the NYJ.”
No wonder Bill Belichick hates press conferences. He probably still remembers his final presser with the Jets with as much fondness as he does when someone asks him if the Patriot quarterback position will be re-evaluated. Belichick scribbled that anything-but-eloquent note on a piece of paper and handed it to Jet president Steve Gutman. Eventually, Parcells and Kraft brokered a deal where Belichick would come to the Patriots as head coach in return for a 2000 first round pick (and several other lower picks).
In greater Boston, where this trade is concerned, it eventually cancelled out the awful Sparky Lyle for Danny Cater trade of 1972. Go ask older Red Sox fans to explain that one to you. It’s a perfect comparison, trust me.
Belichick is now widely held as the greatest head coach in NFL history. This includes such immortals as George Halas, Paul Brown, Vince Lombardi, Chuck Noll, Tom Landry, Bill Walsh and Don Shula. Those ten Super Bowls and five wins are all on his watch. The only record Belichick still might need to go after is Lombardi having a better win percentage in the postseason. But that’s about it. He has survived two football scandals to remain at the pinnacle of NFL head coaches.
This team once had Phil Bengston, John Mazur, Ron Meyer, Rust and Rush as head coaches. Belichick alone cancels all of them out completely. In the long continuum of history, how fortunate Patriot Nation was to have been gifted with such a great head coach. The Celtics had Red Auerbach, but Belichick probably tops him too.
September 23, 2001 – Mo Lewis slams into Drew Bledsoe, knocking him out of the game, and Tom Brady replaces Bledsoe at quarterback
Many people think this one gets the nod as most seminal moment. Read the rest of the article and think a bit. But this one deserves all the historical props that it gets.
The previous year, on April 16, 2000, the Patriots selected quarterback Tom Brady out of Michigan in the sixth round (the 199th pick) of the draft. ESPN went so far as to make an hour-long documentary of this draft, calling it The Brady Six, referring to the six quarterbacks taken in the 2000 draft before Brady. By the way, the six are Chad Pennington, Giovanni Carmazzi, Chris Redman, Tee Martin, Marc Bulger and Spergon Wynn. In that show, Brady broke down in tears when he recalled that day, thinking he would go undrafted.
When he showed up at Patriot camp, he went right to Kraft, introduced himself and said, “I’m the best choice you will ever make!” Still, Brady needed a break to get in the lineup and supplant the franchise quarterback at the time, Drew Bledsoe. Lewis’ hit provided that break, although Bledsoe played one more series before some prescient doctor took him out and ordered him to the emergency room at MGH. Bledsoe had a collapsed lung and was bleeding internally, and he was very lucky to not have died that night.
Brady took over, lost that game to the Jets 10-3, then took off on a career where he, like Belichick, is now being called the best ever. Not just best ever quarterback, best ever player in NFL history. He owns a litany of
January 19, 2002 – Referee Walt Coleman overturns call of fumble on field during home playoff game versus Oakland, rules incomplete pass instead
Rule 3, Section 22, Article 2, Note 2.
This previously obscure rule launched what is now known as the Patriot dynasty. It is anecdotally referred to as the “Tuck Rule”. Late in the fourth quarter of the 2001 Divisional playoff, played in a blizzard in what became the last game ever at Foxborough Stadium, the Patriots, trailing 13-10, were driving towards a tying field goal. Near midfield, former Michigan chum Charles Woodson came on a safety blitz and knocked the ball out of Brady’s hand, just as his arm was going forward but just before he tucked it away into his chest. Greg Biekert fell on the loose ball, and the Raiders had a won game.
But it being a turnover in the last two minutes of a half, Coleman had to review it. Coleman saw the play and uttered a cuss word. He then later came out and said, “After further review, the quarterback’s arm was going forward…” and the crowd went bananas. The Raiders lost their composure and never recovered. What they thought was a sure win turned into an overtime loss. A few plays later, Adam Vinatieri began his trek to Canton with an impossible line drive 45-yard field goal to tie the game, then won the game in overtime with a much easier 23-yard field goal.
The tuck rule has since been rescinded. But one has to wonder how things would have turned out for the Patriots had the Raiders won the game. Instead, in wonderful payback for that bad call in 1976 involving the Patriots against Oakland, the Patriots went on to win Super Bowl XXXVI that year, and four more since down and through the years.
There’s our candidates for the most seminal moment in Patriot history. Sit back, ponder, and decide.
Or, let’s see if the Patriots can win two more games this winter. Then decide again.