Boston Sports Forum Commentary
Del N. Jones
Sports dynasties don't sneak up on us.
We're usually preocuppied with the spoils of hall of fame players, intrigued by mega-ego coaches and comforted by a dominant style of play that the rest of the league just can't figure out. Those teams enter the season as the overwhelming favorites to continue in the realm of championship trophies and folklore status.
When you think of the New England Patriots none of these attributes readily come to mind, save a few instances of consistent play and end-game dramatics. But a dynasty in Foxboro?
Though weird for a franchise that suffered through most of its 44 seasons (327-347-9), this new distinction is quickly becoming a reality if things continue as they have in the past few years.
In this decade (the test segments where sports dynasties are measured) the Patriots are the closest thing to NFL royalty with two Super Bowl wins in three seasons. Dating back to 2003 when the team went 17-2 and didn't lose a game after September, New England has won 12 straight regular season games and need only five more in 2004 to tie the NFL record for consecutive wins in the regular season held by the 1933-34 Bears.
The Patriots have the NFL Coach of the Year in Bill Belichick, the Super Bowl MVP in Tom Brady, the best cornerback in Ty Law, the best young defensive lineman in Richard Seymour and the most dependable placekicker in Adam Vinatieri.
But do those names spell out dynasty? Are they of the romantic tones of Landry, Bradshaw, Lott, Gibbs and Montana?
History proves that they don't have to be if they continue to win the sport's greatest prize.
The overwhelming gripe of Patriots fans last season was the lack of attention New England received during a title run that went through icy Foxboro in the playoffs. Locals were put off by the national media seemingly ignoring the worthiness of the Patriots, instead focusing on sexier picks from Indianapolis, Philadelphia and Green Bay.
To them, the Pats were merely an extra mention in Super Bowl discussions because of a standard team style of play, led by a head coach that felt more at home in the film room than on the interview stage.
It angered folks that the championship characteristics that they witnessed on a weekly basis weren't being relayed to the masses on the national broadcasts. "What about the Pats?!?!" could be heard from the New Hampshire to Providence in a collective outcry of frustration.
But winning efforts against the Titans and Colts in January soon changed that national perception followed by one of the more entertaining Super Bowls against the Panthers.
If the Pats grab a third title in 2004, no one will be surprised or caught looking away this time. The unassuming approach has become very publicized these days.
"I think it's about what the team is able to accomplish collectively as a unit to prepare itself to face the different challenges it faces during the season," is how Belichick described how a winning football program can localize and sustain success over time. "Then, when those challenges present themselves, [it is about] how the team performs under pressure and how it reacts to them, and there will be hundreds of them."
The NFL is the No. 1 copying league. If a certain strategy yields a winner, look for the bootleg version to apear at a stadium near you.
In the 1980s it was Washington's running talents and the short passing game in San Francisco that won Super Bowls during that decade. The 90s featured more of the same from those two teams with Dallas doing a little of both to claim dynasty status as well.
Early on it appeared that the turf-speed put together in St. Louis (champions in 2000) would be the new championship formula until the Pats helped end that phase the following season.
Be sure that the league is now looking at Foxboro for its latest blueprint. Weighted by Super Bowl rings the size of golf balls, suddenly the Pats are the new Atkins Diet for those who want lean and mean football programs.
No need to worry about being overlooked or underappreciated anymore. In a giddy time for a league that has mastered parody and competition, New England has found a way dominate this landscape in cost-effective fashion.
How long it will last is clearly an unknown, but if it does the question of whether the Pats have evolved into a dynasty will be easily answered.
Commentaries by Del N. Jones are posted on Boston Sports Forum every Monday. His weekend columns can also be read in the Saturday/Sunday edition of The Patriot Ledger or at patriotledger.com.