Multimedia: Patriots Super Stories, Part 3: Super Bowl XXXI
This is the third edition in a six-part series by sports columnist Jim Donaldson. Jim, who has covered each of the Patriots' five Super Bowl appearances to date for The Journal (he'll make it six next weekend) looks back in these audio slideshows at each of the games, and his thoughts are accompanied by pictures from Bob Breidenbach, who has photographed each of the games. Today's presentation focuses on Super Bowl XXXI, when Bill Parcells' team met Brett Favre, Reggie White and the Green Bay Packers.
PHOENIX -- Matt Light was asked yesterday what made Bill Belichick different from other NFL coaches.
"One of the biggest things he does is, he doesn't accept any excuses. He tells it to you like it is. You have to have thick skin at times. The one thing I can tell you for sure is that he's going to demand everything out of you. In turn, he's going to give you everything that he's got.There's nobody that spends more time in that building than him."
One remarkable stat that has gone overlooked this season is the fact that none of the Patriot receivers have lost a fumble this season.
Patriots receiver Wes Welker said that the Patriots focus on the importance of ball security every day in practice because one turnover can mean the difference between a win and a loss.
“I think it’s basically being conscience of it and making sure that we do take care of the football and that’s goal number one,” said Welker, who fumbled twice against Dallas but both times the Patriots recovered the ball. “We can’t turn the ball over. We just have to make sure that we do that on a weekly basis. It’s something that we focus on and concentrate on.”
No team in the league had fewer turnovers than the Patriots in the regular season – 15 (nine interceptions and six fumbles). Their 15 turnovers were the fifth fewest in franchise history.
New England coach Bill Belichick said that one of the reasons why the Patriots have been so successful running the ball lately is because of the exceptional downfield blocking by the Patriots’ wide receivers.
“I think that our receivers have done a good job all year of blocking, probably the best that I’ve had since I’ve been with the Patriots,” Belichick said. “…I think these guys have blocked well all year. They’ve been an important part of the running game. You can’t have good runs unless the secondary people get blocked or screened off by the receivers…It’s been an important part of our running game. It’s been an important part of some of our big runs along with Laurence [Maroney], and Sammy [Morris] and Kevin [Faulk’s] running.”
Maroney has rushed for 122 yards in both of the Patriots postseason games, and he has amassed 550 yards six rushing touchdowns in his last five games.
“I think all of our receivers have done an excellent job of getting into the secondary or getting on some of the guys that are tight to the line of scrimmage,” Patriots offensive lineman Matt Light said. “[They have thrown] some key blocks to free the running backs to get to the second level. As a lineman, when you have a guy like Wes [Welker], who is not the biggest receiver we’ve had around here, flies around and throws his body in front of people. That’s a lot of fun. Our crew has done a great job all season.”
Welker said that the receivers take a lot of pride in blocking.
PHOENIX -- Just call him Mr. Sunshine.
"It good to be out in the warm sunshine in Arizona," said a bubbly Bill Belichick, doffing his favorite hoodie and donning a suit to meet with the media at the Convention Center downtown after the Patriots practiced Monday at Arizona State in neighboring Tempe.
"We just got off the field a little while ago. It was good to get out and review some of the things we worked on in Foxboro last week, and also a couple of new things. We still have a lot of work left to do. The Giants are a very hard team to prepare for."
Naturally, Belichick was asked if wanted to comment on how Tom Brady, hobbled by a sprained ankle, looked in practice.
"No, not really," he replied. "He was out there, along with everybody else."
Patriots' practice report: Brady and the tape / Photo
With his right ankle taped to just under his calf, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady runs a drill at the start of football practice at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz., today.
During his press conference, Bill Belichick said it was nice for him and his team to practice in the warm weather today at Arizona State University, where the Patriots are using the facilities this week.
"It's good to be out in the warm sunshine in Arizona. It was good to get out on the field and review some of the things we worked on in Foxboro last week and also ingest a couple new things in situations," Belichick said.
As mentioned earlier, Tom Brady was at practice. At the Super Bowl, only one pool reporter attends practice, and Dan Pompei filed this report on New England's session:
"Tom Brady's injured right ankle did not prevent him from practicing at Sun Devil Stadium Monday afternoon.
Brady had his ankle taped but he participated in all phases of practice, including jogging the length of the field twice at the end of drills. Brady appeared to have a slight limp.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick did not want to talk about Brady other than to say, "Everybody practiced. The injury report will be out Wednesday."
The Patriots had ideal conditions to work in -- bright sunshine and a pleasant breeze. The footing on the stadium's grass was firm despite recent rain. "Practice was fine," Belichick said of the session, which lasted an hour and 40 minutes. "There are always things to work on and clean up."
After having the Patriots practice in full pads last week, Belichick called for shorts and shells Monday. "We just wanted to get a good crisp practice and work on our timing. We had a lot of contact last week," he said."
Even though the Patriots are 18-0 and are the favorites to win the Super Bowl, they don’t feel invincible.
“Even ourselves – within this team – we don’t consider ourselves invincible,” Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi said. “The minute you consider yourself invincible, you are letting your guard down. If you think you can’t be beat, that’s the wrong thought to have.
“I think you have to respect your opponent, first and foremost, and if you don’t then you will be beat. The way you do win football games is by doing the things that help you win. It’s preparing during the week and playing good football. If you don’t recognize that and if you don’t do that, it’s possible that we can be beat.”
“We are taking it one game at a time,” defensive end Richard Seymour said. “We understand what the Giants present and we are trying to win this one game and we’ll let you guys decide our place in history.”
PHOENIX -- The Patriots will be practicing this week at Arizona State University in Tempe. There are no former Sun Devils on the New England roster. Linebacker Tedy Bruschi played at the University of Arizona, in Tucson, where he tied an NCAA record for career sacks, with 52.
The Giants will practice at the Arizona Cardinals facility, which also is in Tempe.
Practices are closed to the media and the public, except for pool reporters provided by the Professional Football Writers of America.
BOSTON (AP) - Lawyers for Randy Moss and the woman who accused him of battery agreed to extend a temporary restraining order she obtained against the New England Patriots wide receiver, his agent said Monday.
A court hearing was scheduled Monday in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Rachelle Washington's request for a permanent restraining order. The temporary order required Moss to stay at least 500 feet from Washington. No criminal charge has been brought, and they described each other as longtime friends.
David McGill, Washington's attorney, did not return calls.
Moss is in Arizona for the Super Bowl on Sunday against the New York Giants. He has denied the accusation by Washington that he committed "battery causing serious injury" to her at her Florida home Jan. 6.
"The restraining order will be continued by agreement of the attorneys," Tim DiPiero, Moss' agent, told The Associated Press in a statement. "The parties won't be there."
Moss' attorney, Richard Sharpstein, said he would appear at the hearing on his client's behalf and agree to the extension of the restraining order until both parties can appear in court or the matter is resolved.
"We have no contest over the restraining order given the current situation. He will stay completely away from her and has no desire to have contact with her," Sharpstein said. "He's in Phoenix busy preparing to win the Super Bowl and on a day like today his mind is elsewhere."
The restraining order created a stir and potential distraction for Moss, who gave an emotional defense in the Patriots' locker room for about 10 minutes on Jan. 16. Four days later, New England beat San Diego 21-12 in the AFC championship game at Foxborough. For the second straight game, he caught just one pass against the Chargers.
The issue quickly faded from the spotlight, replaced last week by the swirl of attention around quarterback Tom Brady being spotted wearing a protective boot on his right foot in New York. He didn't comment on it until arriving in Phoenix on Sunday night.
"It's feeling good. I'll be ready to go," Brady said.
Moss said the woman who obtained the order has been a friend for 11 years and that she asked for "six figures" for what he said was an accident in which she was hurt.
"They're false allegations, something I've been battling for like the last couple of days of threats going public if I didn't pay X amount of dollars," Moss said. "This young lady by no means is hurt. I didn't hurt her."
On draft day last April, the Patriots sent a 2007 fourth-round draft choice to Oakland for Moss. He set an NFL single-season record of 23 touchdown catches, breaking Jerry Rice's mark by one. He finished tied for eighth in the league with 98 catches and second with 1,493 yards receiving.
Patriots Pro Bowl wide receiver Randy Moss only had a combined two catches for 32 yards in the Patriots two playoff games, but that doesn’t mean quarterback Tom Brady hasn’t been looking for him.
“He is always a part of the plan and a lot of our offense is based around what the defense is giving us,” Brady said. “If they dictate that they are going to try to take one person out of the game, they’ll do that. I thought San Diego played extremely well. I think Jacksonville did a good job. I am sure he was a big point of emphasis. I am sure the Giants will be a big point of emphasis, Randy will be a big point of emphasis for the Giants as well.
“I never lose track of him. I know that he works extremely hard to get open and I know that he is in the right place and he wants the ball. We have to find ways to get him the ball because he is an important part of this offense. If they choose to, as teams have done throughout the season, to put double coverage on him, then you have to find other places to throw and you have to hand the ball off.
“If they come out of the game and they feel like they stopped one player but the team won, I hope that, if that happens, great. But the goal is to win the game and they’re doing what they think is best to win and so are we. It is just a fine line. You don’t want to just throw it to somebody if he is covered with two or three guys. You have to find other guys to throw the ball to and we certainly have that luxury.”
I was hoping to ask this of anyone who is on the conference call, given the parity in the NFL with the salary cap and how maybe the team is a little more equal than when you guys played, just talk about what the Patriots have done up to now and how impressed you guys are.
JIM KIICK: I don't believe I think there was more parity in our era because all of the teams were decent. Every team had a great quarterback. I think today after the first seven quarterbacks, there's a big drop off. So I think there was more parity with the teams back then. Right now, it's New England and it's possibly Indianapolis, and everybody else is mediocrity.
Does that speak to the parity or does that speak to how good Indianapolis and New England are?
JIM KIICK: No, I think it's a combination of both. I think they are excellent football teams, yes, but I think the caliber of the other ones, like I said, not only are they mediocre; some are even very poor, like, unfortunately, the Dolphins.
Do you think in the salary cap era that that adds something to what they have accomplished?
DICK ANDERSON: I definitely think it does. It just shows you how important the general manager is and the personnel director, as well as the coaches. The thing I am impressed with with New England is that their coaches are just like Bill Arnsbarger was. Our goal was not to ever make a mental error, and this is the only team in the NFL today, I think, that just doesn't make errors. They are so very, very well coached.
Dick, from a passing game standpoint, Brady and that receiving corps, how would you rate that passing game compared to the passing games that you faced as a secondary guy?
DICK ANDERSON: You can't rate it because the rules are different. We could hit a receiver any place on the field as long as the ball was not in the air and they were between the quarterback and the defensive back.
LARRY CSONKA: I saw you hit them clear behind the bench, what are you talking about?
DICK ANDERSON: We made our living taking down receivers and disrupting their routes and today the receivers have a great ability, after five yards. They are free.
So it's a totally different game today than it was when we played defense.
Was going undefeated a week to week talk among you guys and among the media back then or did you just kind of, okay, let's win the next one?
BOB GRIESE: There was never any talk about going undefeated. The only problem the only thing that we ever talked about was winning the next ballgame, and I think that's what we've heard all year from the Patriots.
And I think that's a credit to Belichick that he's got these guys thinking about the right thing at the right time. And I think that's where Coach Shula was so good mentally. Each week, there was always something that would come up each week; we've never beaten this team on the road, we had never done this, we had never done that, no team had ever gone undefeated.
Injuries, after one injury, it was like, okay, so what, Griese gets hurt, the next man in, and Earl (Morrall) steps in and does a good job.
So I think Belichick has done a real good job and I think that's one of the keys to Coach Shula back in '72 that nothing really fazed him. He just accepted it, never talked about going undefeated. Only talked about trying to get back and winning the Super Bowl.
If I could ask one of you, where do you think this places the Patriots in history if they do finish this out and go 19 0? Obviously they have passed your team's record for an undefeated streak, but where do you think this places them historically?
DICK ANDERSON: If Mercury were here, he would say that we're compared initially to the 1934 and 1942 Bears because they were the first team to go undefeated during the regular season, but then they lost in the playoff games.
From our standpoint, we went undefeated all the games that were thrown against us, we played the Championship Game in Pittsburgh, and we were just fortunate to be the only team in the history of the NFL in 88 years to go undefeated. If New England does it, they will be the second team to go undefeated and I think they have a real good chance to do so.
Usually when you have a season like you guys did, and certainly a great season, it always comes from adversity, and I want to talk you back to that Super Bowl against Dallas, January 15, 1972. How much of what you did came from that game, and I guess to Bob, as well, how sick are you of seeing that highlight of you being chased around the field in New Orleans by Bob Lilly on that play?
BOB GRIESE: I think that we'll all tell you that that was the seed that was planted by Coach Shula right after we lost to Dallas in that Super Bowl was that was the seed that was planted for our season the following year, and he never let us forget that we lost an opportunity to win the championship and we'd have to come back the next year and then all of these games just to get back and have an opportunity to do what we were trying to do three or four hours before.
So Coach Shula was always telling us and motivating us in that way. I couldn't hear your second question; you were breaking up.
The second part of the question was, how tired are you of looking at that highlight of Bob Lilly chasing you all over that field in New Orleans for the 26 yard loss?
BOB GRIESE: It wasn't just Bob Lilly. I saw Bob Lilly over the weekend, as a matter of fact. I was talking to him about that and he said, yeah, there were a couple other guys. When I would try to go to the right, the defensive end was there, and when I reversed the other way and tried to go back to the left, there was another defensive end there. So there were three guys there, not one. You sound like Coach Shula, razzing me about this.
Rightly or wrongly, you guys have been portrayed as a bunch of players 35 years in the making desperately trying to hold on to this undefeated record. If the Patriots do go 19 0, would you be upset, maybe don't care if they join you as the only undefeated team in really the modern era?
MERCURY MORRIS: You mentioned the word desperately trying to hold onto. Let me set you straight. First of all, there's nothing for us to hold on to because there's nothing for us that belongs to us. It only belongs to the history of the National Football League. It's been 35 years. This record is old enough to be president and nobody has done anything except almost make it.
These guys are the first guys who have actually come close for real, and I take my hat off to them. So there's no way that we could have stopped it. It could have happened in '73, 74, '75, 76. It's been 1,290 tries.
I'm curious, the Patriots are the favorite; do you guys remember, were you even favorites against the Redskins?
LARRY CSONKA: As I recall, we were underdogs in the Super Bowl. We were underdogs pretty much the whole season. That's why we beat the spread so much. I think that comes back to what Griese was talking about.
MERCURY MORRIS: The Washington Redskins, the three teams they lost to that year were the Dallas Cowboys, the Buffalo Bills and the New England Patriots. We ironically beat the New England Patriots.
Did you guys think at the time you were getting the respect you were deserved? The Patriots seem to be getting respect right and left as the greatest this, and greatest that.
MERCURY MORRIS: It had not been done before, so there was no criteria for you to make a judgment as to whether or not a team is going to try to go undefeated. This was new territory. In fact, the term perfect season only showed up on the scoreboard out in Los Angeles when after we won the games, it said, "The Dolphins are perfect, 17 0."
I've been looking into and comparing Super Bowl weeks from what you guys went through to what it's like today, and there was a couple of themes from back then and if anybody wants to jump in on this is more than welcome to. One of them back then, there was a lot of talk about spying on the part of George Allen and how you guys changed practice fields to prevent that. Another theme was Shula trying to win the big one after losing a couple of times, and I also came across a couple references early in the week to when you guys had no curfew, you took full advantage of that. Anyone want to jump in on any of those?
DICK ANDERSON: I'll answer the last question first. I was with (Larry) Csonka and Jim Kiick and (Jake) Scott and Jim Mandich the night that we did not have any curfew. I was the designated driver. We just had fun in L.A. and got back in the wee hours of the morning.
I've got a totally different perspective, so many people I know are really in support, they feel that there was something magical about the '72 Dolphins team and they don't want to see anybody else do it. There's another perspective here, there's not just the Dolphins, players and Dolphins fans; there's a lot of people outside of Miami who would like to see somebody do it. Would any of you like to pick up on that? Did other people realize there was something special about the legacy besides some of the players?
DICK ANDERSON: I think there's certainly Dolphin fans that would like to see that record sustained. But you know, records are made to be broken and eventually it is going to happen and it has not happened yet, and they have a very good chance to do so. But we can't do anything about it. All we can do is if they are undefeated through the season, congratulate them and say they are the second team to do it.
Some people have made a lot of the Patriots stealing signals, and somebody thinks even an asterisk should go next to this. How do you guys look at that and do you think it besmirches their season at all?
MERCURY MORRIS: I don't think it really does anything to them. It was one game, an event and I don't think their season should be defined out of that mishap. Obviously if you got caught cheating, you got caught cheating.
I think the intent was there to steal signals rather than to put themselves in a position where they would have an advantage as far as games are concerned as they soon realized they are so good they didn't have to have that small advantage they tried to do get and eventually cost them a first round draft pick and it eventually did that.
Does it take on even added significance when most of your record was achieved with Earl Morrall as your quarterback?
DICK ANDERSON: What it says is that we had a great team and each week somebody else stepped up and got the job done. And it so happened that the rest of the team picked their belts up a little bit and played a little bit harder. When Bob got healthy and we were struggling against Pittsburgh, he came in and ignited us. So it's still a team effort, it was a team effort the whole year, and that's how we looked at it.
Is there any resentment when among you guys, the '72 Dolphins were portrayed as grumpy old men that no other teams could be as great as them; that you have a bottle of champagne waiting when teams lose; is all of that stuff overblown and are you a little tired of hearing that stuff?
JIM KIICK: No. 1, I prefer Jack Daniels, I don't like champagne, so we don't sit around waiting with a bottle of champagne waiting for that last team to lose the game, and most importantly, what we are celebrating is our accomplishments, not the loss of the team.
We are proud and obviously football is the ultimate team sport and as Dick alluded to, we were more concerned about winning football games than individual statistics.
So that's what we are celebrating, our accomplishment that has not been done in 35 years and really has not been done prior to that. So we certainly are not celebrating the loss of any team but our accomplishments.
Looking ahead to next Sunday's game, the Giants and Patriots met four weeks ago, how difficult is it going to be for the Patriots to beat the Giants a second time?
MERCURY MORRIS: If I'm not mistaken, didn't we play them (Redskins) in the preseason? DICK ANDERSON: Preseason game, 27-24 loss. (Sonny) Jorgensen was the quarterback. MERCURY MORRIS I think it's different in that respect, because when you lose to a team, that gives you a momentum or impetus to play a little better or play with more tenacity because you know that what's at stake is something that's already happened once, and you don't want that to happen again.
We actually lost in 1973 to the Oakland Raiders which knocked our streak off at 18 games in a row, but then we came back and beat them in the AFC Championship Game.
So I think that part of that is the fact that any given Sunday, any team can beat any other team. So you just never know.
The Redskins, you had lost in the preseason to them; what was the main concern going into that Super Bowl game against the Redskins, and were you bummed out that it wasn't the Cowboys who had beaten you in that Super Bowl the year before?
DICK ANDERSON: I don't think we thought about the Cowboys because they weren't there and again, one game at a time. As a defensive player, the best thing the Redskins did was try to block Manny Fernandez one on one and he made 17 tackles. George Allen made a mistake and I think it cost him. Larry Brown had been hit so many times in that first half, that you know, he didn't come out with the same tenacity in the second half.
You know, our offense, I can't speak about, but again it was the team we were an underdog and we had got beat the year before and we just were not going to be beat again.
Bob, you had an injury; did you ever have photographers chasing you down to see if you had a boot on your foot or anything like that?
BOB GRIESE: That's one of the ways things have changed in the 35 years, the paparazzi are chasing down athletes all over the place.
I don't know who the hot chicks were back then, the move stars and the move actresses were back then we were supposed to be running around with. I had a boot on my leg but no paparazzi came around for me.
You guys have seen a lot of teams come close and fall short of this perfect season so to speak. In this modern era where parity ceases to be kind of the normal with free agency and all that, did you think that a team eventually would do it?
BOB GRIESE: Free agency can run both ways. I think it can run away and spread throughout the teams and make them all equal, but then again, like New England this year, you can go out and get guys like a Stallworth, a Moss, a Wes Welker, or an Adalius Thomas, they were a good team without these guys.
Then you can go out and it's almost like an all star team if the management, like Dick was saying a little bit earlier, if your general manager and player personnel guy can go out and pick up some free agents, and the right ones and get them for a fourth round pick, get them for a second round pick, and pick up a free agent, you know, it's not I would say it's not surprising but you can certainly see why New England has gone undefeated with all of their additions offensively and their defense from the years past.
What are your specific plans for Super Bowl Sunday? I'm sure you'll all watch the game, but will you be in parts of the country where you won't be able to watch it together?
DICK ANDERSON: We've never watched a game together. MERCURY MORRIS: Never. BOB GRIESE: We've never watched it together and there's never any champagne. I don't think any champagne or any champagne glasses have ever been clicked by any Dolphins. I think that was something that was mentioned in jest and I think the media DICK ANDERSON: You were home when you started it, Bob. MERCURY MORRIS: If you look back at my [pictures] You had Dick Anderson, Larry Csonka, Larry Little, Jim Kiick, Nick Buoniconti and Don Shula. Nick is spreading the champagne all over the place and Shula is sitting there with a toast and he looks at a picture and goes, "Hey, I said I don't do that. But unfortunately, it’s there. We just had fun with it." DICK ANDERSON: That happened a month later. (Laughter).
Many of your teammates, many of you guys outside of football had great careers, and I'm just curious, since there's a correlation between what you guys did on the field and what came after, can some of you talk about what you've done after football, because here we are talking about something that happened decades ago.
MERCURY MORRIS: I think Shula gave everybody a different kind of direction and purpose being coached by this guy. We were middle class people and middle class fans, and Shula was a blue collar worker; and he had kind of a work ethic that really allowed you to see that if you work hard and you do what you're supposed to do, then things are going to turn out for you, and not all the time but you adjust to that and do what's necessary to try to do as best you can.
And I think that a lot of us learned a great deal from Don's work ethic, and learned that we came from adversity because we were a rag tag team in 1969. And when he came, the team was transformed and we became a playoff team in '70, a Super Bowl team in '71 and then undefeated and back to back.
So we had a great run with guys who were assembled there, not for the purpose of being that successful that quick. Keep in mind, the Dolphins came into existence in 1966. By 1972, we had produced an undefeated season. That part was real special and that principally came because of Don Shula. LARRY CSONKA: I'd like to just interject one thing, because I've got to get off the phone. But when you alluded to in your question about going on to other things, getting away from Shula provided me with a great motivation to go all the way to Alaska in a cool stream in July instead of doing grass grills and having Shula stepping over my stomach, saying, "you don't like me," he had no idea how much I didn't like him. (Laughter).
The only reason I didn't get put in jail for committing murder was I wanted to be able to go away and stand in a stream in Alaska, and that's what I now do. And every July, every July, gentlemen, I think about the fact that I'm not in Miami, I don't have grass and sweat running down my neck and him standing on my stomach. (Laughter).
So if you were looking for motivation, that's the most motivation I've ever had in my life from anyone.
I just want to know off the subject a little bit, if Larry thinks the gladiators he hosted are better than the ones on TV now?
LARRY CSONKA: I don't know, but the commentators were a hell of a lot better when I was there.
Did you ever think you would see the day when a team was one win from doing what your Dolphins did in '72? : You know, it's hard to say because there were some teams that went 13-0 one year, and I guess 11-0, but to see somebody now 18-0, you've got to feel that this is a great football team that's got a chance to do something no other team has done; that's go 19-0 and have a perfect season.
So it's interesting and it should be a great Super Bowl.
Do you think it's more difficult these days with the salary cap and free agency to do that?
DON SHULA: You know, you talk about the salary cap and free agency, but you know, when we did it, we had to beat the best that was out there. And the Patriots, if they do it, they have got to beat the best that's out there.
The thing that happened to us, if we would have had free agency, we would have been better off, after the perfect season, Csonka, Kiick and (Paul) Warfield took off and we couldn't sign anybody to come in and take their place. It's a situation where you deal with what you're confronted with, and if you win, you're the best.
Who on your '72 team would you compare to Wes Welker on this year's Patriots?
DON SHULA: You know, Paul Warfield was our deep threat and probably one of the greatest athletes that ever played the game. And we had Howard Twilley, more of a possession type of receiver on the other side, and we had Jim Kiick, Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris for the situation substitutions that we used.
The thing people don't realize is that in '72, Bob Griese got hurt in the fifth game of the season and our backup quarterback took us to the Championship Game. Then Bob Griese came back in the second half and helped us win the Super Bowl.
So we went through that perfect season, the majority of it, with a backup quarterback.
Can you put into words just how incredibly difficult it is to make it through an entire NFL season without losing a game?
DON SHULA: Well, when you think about the 50 years before we did it in '72, and the 35 years since we've done it, that tells you how difficult it is to do because, you know, the league is so highly competitive, and all of the rules in the league are designed for competitive balance.
And it's tougher to stay on top than the struggle to get to the top because the team that finishes last gets the best draft pick, they get the first place on the waivers. Everything is done to keep the team from having a dynasty and staying on top, and that's why it's so remarkable when a team does stay on top for a period of time.
New England, winning three out of the last six Super Bowls, I think that's remarkable.
Do you think that this is a dynasty, the Patriots?
DON SHULA: Yeah, I think they are on the verge right now. As I mentioned, three out of the last six Super Bowls, and if they win this one, you have to consider them a team that would be a dynasty like the Yankees were in baseball over a long period of time.
You know, we had those two great years, '72 and ‘73, 17 0 and 15 2; 32 2 in a two year period; that doesn't qualify as a dynasty, but that's a record we are pretty proud of.
Given the liberal passing rules, more teams pass, you can't bump and run the receivers down the field and that today's players are bigger and faster, etc., etc., can you really compare the two eras?
DON SHULA: The rules certainly are different now. It's opened up the passing game. And I spent 20 years on the competition committee and our whole emphasis on the competition committee was to open up the game up, more scoring, make more big plays in the game, make the game as safe as you possibly could make it injury wise. So all of these things have been designed to make the game more appealing to the fan. You know, the high scoring games and more big plays.
When you were in the booth for the Patriots game in Baltimore, were you rooting for the Ravens?
DON SHULA: You know, I spent a lot of years in Baltimore. I spent four years as a player and seven years as a coach in Baltimore. So I would have to say that I was rooting for the Ravens, yes.
Was too much made about your comment of an asterisk and do you stand behind that?
DON SHULA: You know, I'm probably not the guy that should have said it, and I think a lot of people, when I said it, received it as being, you know, just helping yourself.
I think that the fact that as I mentioned, I didn't fine them, I didn't take away the draft choice, I wasn't the one that coined the term "Spygate." All of those things happened and all I did was refer to them.
Now, somebody else probably should have done it instead of me, because people thought it was self serving when I did it.
What do you think about the Super Bowl. Is it going to be close?
DON SHULA: The way I feel about it is the Giants have done a great job. They were 0-2 to start the year and everybody counted them out and everybody wanted to fire the coach. And all of a sudden at the end of the year they get it together, Eli Manning comes on strong and the coach then becomes a genius again.
And so this team is really on the rise and you really I mean, you shouldn't count them out because they keep bouncing back. You know, Dallas beat them twice during the regular season and then they beat Dallas in the playoffs.
Eli Manning just keeps getting better. So I think that this is a team that's capable of giving New England a good game. And what I want to see more than anything else is a good, hard fought Super Bowl, and then let the best team win.
You know, if New England doesn't lose, you know, you just give them credit for 19 0 and something nobody else has ever done.
Did you guys ever talk about going undefeated or a perfect season during the ’72 season?
DON SHULA: No. When we had the 17-0 record, we got beat the year before in the Super Bowl. Our whole emphasis was not to get to the Super Bowl, but to get to the Super Bowl and win it. And if somewhere along the line we would have lost a game or two games and won the Super Bowl, it would have been a great success. But if we would have gone 16-0 and then lost the Super Bowl, that season would have been a complete failure as far as we were concerned.
So I think that's where New England is right now. They are 18-0, and the thing that's really going to make their season is if they can win that last game and do something else nobody has done, 19-0.
How much pressure was there to win that last game going into Los Angeles when you were 16 0 standing on the precipice?
DON SHULA: There was a lot of pressure. People just didn't believe us that we were actually 15 0. I think we were underdogs going into the game. You know, the Redskins were favored and people just didn't I don't think they gave us the credit that our team deserved. You know, we had the no name defense and we were very ball controlled offense and didn't throw the ball a lot and relied a lot on ball control and time of possession.
In the Super Bowl, you know, the score was 14 0 when I decided to go for the field goal and when Garo (Yepremian) messed it up, they scored a touchdown and all of a sudden, the Redskins are back in game, a game that we had dominated.
That field goal would have made it 17-0, 17-0 season, did you want to ring his neck? He didn't even try to make a tackle.
DON SHULA: I would have loved that could have been 17-0, that would have been a great way to remember that game. But when Garo went in there and messed up the play, you know, he used to come over and high five me when he kicked a field goal. Well, when that happened, he went off the end line of the end zone and I haven't seen him since.
If you were coaching, how would you go about trying to beat the Patriots?
DON SHULA: Well, what you've got to do you mentioned earlier that I was at the game up in Baltimore, the Ravens game, and I thought the Ravens had a great game plan against them where they got the running game going and they made some first downs and had some long drives. That's what you've got to do.
Anything that you can do to keep the ball away from (Tom) Brady for any period of time, you've got to try to do, because Brady is so dynamic, and the guy is just a great football player. He just finds a way to score no matter what the score is. The Patriots always believe that they can pull it out and win at the end.
So anything that you can do when you're setting up a game plan is try to control the ball and keep it out of Brady's hand.
Were you drained at the end of your undefeated season? Were you glad you didn't have another game at the end, or did you feel like you wanted to play more?
DON SHULA: Yeah, you always feel like you want to play more. When you have it going like that, it's just magical and when you do something that nobody else has ever done; it just makes it that much more significant and you just feel that much more proud of your accomplishments. You want to keep playing and you want to keep winning.
A lot of the guys on the ’72 team have gone on to bigger and better things; in that sense, do you think the perfect season helped them along the way with their confidence?
DON SHULA: Yeah, when you look at what our players have done from that perfect season team, they have gone out and made great lives for themselves, great careers. They have been pretty successful in whatever they have set out to do.
The thing I have always said when I talk about that football team is the thing that set them apart was their intelligence and their competitiveness. They have really worked hard. They wanted to win and they were very smart. We made very few mental errors. We never beat ourselves. We were the least penalized team in the league, and we made very few mental errors and we were a team that just never beat ourselves.
I think I heard you say on NFL Films, that the [Dolphins] team that beat the Vikings the next year in the Super Bowl was even better than [the '72 Dolphins team].
DON SHULA: I don't think I said that because I think it's hard to beat 17-0 and 15-2 was the next year and we dominated the Super Bowl.
I probably was referring more to that game (Super Bowl VIII) the way we took off and kept the ball out of (Fran) Tarkenton's hands and controlled the football, probably 40 minutes to 20 minutes in the ballgame which was pretty characteristic of that team with Larry Csonka and his great ability to convert short yardage and goal line plays into first downs and touchdowns.
Has there ever been champagne consumed from the last undefeated team the following season? Griese said no; Anderson said yes. Clear that up for us. Has champagne ever been consumed in the name of the last undefeated team falling?
DON SHULA: You know we've been accused of getting together, that bunch of angry old men as you guys portray us as being, that's not really true.
We're a bunch of guys that if and I've said this many, many times, if somebody goes undefeated, I'm going to be the first guy to call that coach and congratulate him, and I'll do that to Bill Belichick if they go undefeated. And our players, I'm sure, will do the same for their players.
But until somebody does it, you know, we're very, very proud of our accomplishment, and that's all there is to it.
Do you feel like the '72 team has gotten the respect overall it deserves? And also, last year, when NFL Films did the America's game countdown, that group ranked your team No. 1. Do you think that finally gave your team the respect it deserved?
DON SHULA: Well, I think that went a long way toward giving our team that respect, because you know, that was I think a countdown that had people voting on it, and there was a lot of thought that was put into that determination that we were the best team of all time.
And I think that our players earned that, because how else do you judge? I mean, you can't say a team that's lost two or three ballgames in a year is better than a team that goes 17-0. And there were some people early that said that about other teams, and you've still got to go by the record. I mean, that's why you keep score, to see who wins the game. At the end of the year, the team with the best record is the team that should be thought of as the best team.
You mentioned going into the Super Bowl being underdogs; how do you think it's different for the Patriots being the favorites with the weight of history kind of looming around them?
DON SHULA: I think the way that Bill Belichick handles things, and how all his players talk the same way; they sound like they are Bill Belichick talking when they say the only thing that's important is the next game. And I think Bill has done a done a great job of selling that to his team.
They don't care about what's happened in the past and they don't care about what's going to happen two or three weeks down the road. They put all of their energy and emphasis on preparing for the next game, and that's prepared beautifully for them and they have all bought into what Bill teaches, and I think that's why they have been so successful.
What similarities do you see between your '72 Dolphins and this season's Patriots?
DON SHULA: I think the similarities are we were a team that just didn't make many mistakes, as I said earlier, and we didn't beat ourselves. When you look at the Patriots, they are a team that just doesn't make a lot of mistakes. I don't think they ever have been accused of beating themselves or not being prepared. They do a great job.
I think they are a much more wide open football team with (Tom) Brady as the quarterback than we were with Griese and (Earl) Morrall. We played more of a ball control style of offense, and they are wide open. Brady will just let it fly. Against Jacksonville, he was 26 out of 28 with one dropped ball. A lot of them were just short passes, but that's what Jacksonville was giving him and Brady had the intelligence and the patience to sit back there and just take what they were giving him and methodically move down the field and to not make any mistakes.
Were there any games during the regular season, close games, where you felt fortunate to get out of there with a win?
DON SHULA: The game that I remember the most was the game at Minnesota, and we were down, we needed two scores in the last few minutes to win the game. And I went for the field goal first and Garo (Yepremian) came through for us and kicked a field goal.
Then we had to get the ball back and we got the ball back and moved it down the field and I think on the last play we had a play action pass to (Jim) Mandich in the end zone. I think that's what pulled us out, Griese to Mandich. That was probably our hardest fought game that went down to the wire.
You've coached against some of the great quarterbacks and coached some of the greatest quarterbacks; how good is Brady in terms of history of the game?
DON SHULA: Well, you look at what he's done, you know, they have won three out of the last five Super Bowls, and they are on the verge of winning another Super Bowl. And Brady this year, he's broken all the passing records and he's just been unbelievable as far as what he's been able to do.
You know, when you think about what the Patriots have done, they went out and got (Donte) Stallworth and Randy Moss and got (Wes) Welker, three new receivers for Brady that they didn't have the year before; and that's a real credit to their scouting department and coaching staff for bringing in new receivers and then putting them on the same page with Brady, and then going out and accomplishing what they have accomplished.
You mentioned the fact that earlier, you said that one of the motivations to the season was the Dallas game and the Super Bowl. How much did you put that loss into the next season. How much was it, not browbeating to death, but how much was that a motivation?
DON SHULA: It was a tremendous motivation for us because after we got beat in the Super Bowl by Dallas, we realized and I realized that before that game, the two teams that are preparing for the Super Bowl are both treated the same. They are given an equal amount of time, publicity, player interviews, the coaching interviews, everything that goes on, it's the same for both teams.
When the game is over, they only go to one locker room, and that's the winning locker room where they are hoisting the trophy and everybody is happy and celebrating. And the losing coach gets a token interview outside the dressing room with one camera there and you feel so sorry for them. I told our team after that loss, I said, "We don't ever want to feel that way again. So our objective is not going to be to get to the Super Bowl, it's going to be to get to the Super Bowl and win the Super Bowl, because we want to be in that winning locker room."
I know in '73 you guys were under pressure to win the big game, and there was talk how upbeat you were during the whole week, even though you were sick. How were you able to pull that off, and how was it able to set the tone for the players seeing the coach acting so upbeat when you were under so much pressure?
DON SHULA: You know, I took a lot of heat because I was 0-2 in the Super Bowl, and when you're 0-2 in Super Bowls, people don't say kind things about you. The worst thing that can be said about a coach is that he can't win the big one. That was planted in the minds of the media by Carroll Rosenbloom after I left, and that was brought up all week long.
You know, that's the thing I hated to hear and you know, I certainly didn't want to be 0-3 in Super Bowls because then they would really nail the “you can't win the big one label on you.”
So that was a real motivation for me and then to be able to win the big game finally in my coaching career and make that the end of a perfect season just made it all the more rewarding.
What do you miss most about coaching?
DON SHULA: The thing I miss most about coaching is game day. You know, the excitement, the adrenaline, the decision making on game day and the emotional highs and lows that you're on and above all, that feeling of satisfaction if and when you win the game.
And especially what I liked more than anything in my coaching career was having a lot of respect for the coach that I was coaching against and the team that we are playing against; and then to end up being the winner in that game, because it made you feel that much better about your accomplishment, because you knew that you were beating a good coach and you knew that you were beating a good team.
How elated will you be if you're sitting in your living room Super Bowl Sunday and the Giants do pull the upset and the Patriots don't draw even with you.
DON SHULA: I'm going to be at the game. I'll be jumping up and down. (Laughter).
How has the game changed coaching wise, the philosophy itself.
DON SHULA: Well, the big thing that's happened in the years that I've played and my early years of coaching was that football was a six month sport. When it was over with, the players would go to their respective homes and get an off season job, and then about a week before training camp, they would start working out to get in shape for the preseason.
And now, you know, when the season is over, you get a couple of weeks off and players are encouraged to stay in town and get into the off season programs, you know, lift weights and go to film study and then go out on to the field for drills on the field. So it's become a 11 , 11 and a half month game now, a job, compared to five or six months back in those early days.
I think that's why the game has picked up the way that it has. It's just gotten so much better as far as players' conditioning and the size of the players, and then the sophistication of the game because everybody has worked at it so much harder and so much longer.
How much of what you do is an element of luck, too, in that particular season? How much if you put a percentage on it was luck?
DON SHULA: Well, I don't know how much luck. You know, luck works both ways. The winning team is not always the only team that has luck during the course of a ballgame. I mean, the ball bounces, you know, for the team that might lose the ballgame, too. They might have some lucky plays or lucky bounces during the course of that game.
But when it's all over with, you know, both teams are playing with the same ball, you have the same rules and regulations that over a period of time, it evens out. The best teams win.
I'm trying to get a handle on just how special a group of people when did you start recognizing that you had a dynamic group of people around you to do anything you wanted?
DON SHULA: You know, when I got there, as you know, in 1970, the year before, they were 3-10-1 and when I got there, I had all of these plans for practices and the players went on strike and I had nobody to coach.
So when the strike was settled and they came back, then, as you know, I worked them four times a day to try to get the new game plan in and get them ready to go. And at that time, I realized, you know, the intelligence of these players, the dedication of these players. They complained about the long practices and meetings and workouts.
But at the end of the year, when we won, they were asked, you know, how did you turn it around, and invariably they always said: We worked harder in the classroom, we studied harder, we practiced harder and it helped on game day. So that's what helped was the extra work and intelligence and preparation and the hard work and dedication and competitiveness of those players on those two teams, 17-0, 15-2.
Bill Belichick considers this Super Bowl his most important game
With a perfect season and Super Bowl XLII on the line, New England coach Bill Belichick said that Sunday's game against the Giants will be the most important one of his career.
"Of course it is an important game," Belichick said. "It’s the world championship. It’s the Super Bowl. I’ve coached in other ones. Those were important, too. At that time they seemed like the most important. I think whichever one you are in is the most important.
"Maybe at some time there will be a time to reflect and look back on it, but right now there is no game more important than this game against the New York Giants and I’m going to put everything I have in it and try to do the best I can to do my job and help prepare the team. I am sure the players will do the same thing. At this point in time, which is where we are, it’s number one on the hit parade.”
Super Bowl experience might not be an advantage for the Patriots
This is New England's fourth trip to a Super Bowl in the last seven years. The Patriots are 3-0 in those trips but coach Bill Belichick said that the experience that they have in Super Bowls won't necessarily help them on Sunday.
"It’s the trip you want to be on, I’ll say that," Belichick said. "I don’t think it’s easier because you know you are going up against a great football team. The New York Giants are playing their best football of the year right now and we had a tremendous game with them a month ago. We know how hard it’s going to be and how good they are, how well prepared they are, and how hard they work and how talented they are.
"That’s not easy at all. At the same time, you spend all season working to get to this point -- the mini-camps, the offseason programs, all the two-a-days in training camp, the preseason games, the grueling 16-game regular season schedule in the National Football League, the playoff games, the AFC championship -- it’s all done to be at this game and to be here this week.
"We are proud to be here. We are excited to be here, but at the same time, we know there is a lot of work left to do. We know we are playing a great football team in the New York Giants and we know how hard that will be and how well we will have to play in order to be competitive on Sunday. That’s the balance, but we are glad we are here and glad we have an opportunity to meet that challenge.”
The Patriots beat the Giants, 38-35, in the Week 17 to preserve their undefeated regular season. The Giants have won 10 consecutive road games.
PHOENIX -- The Giants are scheduled to arrive at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport this afternoon at 2:45. Coach Tom Coughlin and selected players are scheduled to meet with the media around 5 at the team's hotel -- the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass.
Pats coach Bill Belichick and selected players will have a press conference at the Media Center, downtown, at 3:30, Mountain Standard Time (5:30 Eastern). All press conferences this week will be aired live on the NFL Network, available to Providence-area cable subscribers.
The Patriots are staying this week at the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa, where they checked in Sunday night.
The perception is that often times New England coach Bill Belichick appears frustrated when he has to talk to the media. But he says that’s not the case.
When asked Saturday if he doesn’t like talking to the media, Belichick said, “Not at all. I think you have a job to do and you are our connection between our football team, our fans, and the people who have an interest in the game. I respect the job that you do and hope that you respect the job I do.
“I understand that sometimes I can’t give you everything that you are looking for, but I do know that this is the conduit of information from the team to the fans and the fans are what drive the game. I’m all for it. Nobody is more in favor of this game than I am.”
PHOENIX -- It was raining here Sunday night when my direct (but still late) Southwest Airlines flight finally landed.
The Patriots arrived earlier, with QB Tom Brady, not surprisingly, the focus of media attention.
In what was even less of a surprise, he said he'd play Sunday. Gee, what a shock.
What did surprise Brady was the weather.
"I guess we must have brought that crappy weather with us from Foxboro," he said. "Oh, well, light snow there, some rain here."
No rain today, though. The sun is shining and the temperatures are Spring-like, rather than desert-like, expected to be in the low 60s.
The plane from Providence had several media members aboard. In addition to Journal colleague Robert Lee, former ProJo football writer Tom Curran, who now covers the NFL for NBC Sports' website, was aboard, along with former Patriots quarterback Scott Zolak, who now does a radio show for 790 The Score.
You know the Super Bowl is in town when you arrive at your hotel (in my case, the Hyatt Regency in downtown Phoenix, across the street from the convention center, which is media headquarters for Super Bowl XLII) and the entrance is flanked by pictures of Brady and Giants defensive end Michael Strahan that are several stories high.
Then you get to your room, turn on the TV, and the NFL Network is showing Super Bowl XXXVIII, in which the Patriots edged Carolina, 32-29. That game featured a fabulous fourth quarter, which began with New England holding a 21-10 lead and then turned a wild shootout, with both teams moving up and down the field
The Panthers closed to 21-16 on a 33-yard TD run by DeShaun Foster with 12:39 remaining. Carolina tried for a two-point conversion that failed. The Patriots came right back with a drive that reached the Carolina 9, where Brady threw an interception in the end zone.
That pick proved even more costly when, on 3rd down from the Panthers' 15, Jake Delhomme connected with Muhsin Muhammad on a Super Bowl-record, 85-yard TD pass that gave Carolina (which again failed to convert a 2-point conversion attempt) a 22-21 lead with 6:53 to go.
The Patriots responded with a 68-yard touchdown drive, highlighted by Brady's 18-yard completion to David Givens on 3rd-and-9, which set up a 1-yard scoring toss to linebacker-turned-tight end Mike Vrabel. The Pats then added a two-point conversion when Kevin Faulk took a direct snap from center and darted into the end zone for a 29-21 lead with 2:51 to go.
The fireworks had only just begun.
With Delhomme completing passes of 19 yards to Muhammad and 31 to Ricky Proehl, the Panthers moved quickly into scoring position, tying the game on a 12-yard pass to Proehl with 1:08 to play.
But, when Carolina kicker John Kasey's kickoff went out of bounds, the Patriots didn't have far to go to get into field-goal range. A 17-yard pass from Brady to Deion Branch (his 10th catch of the game, for a total of 143 yards) set up a game-winning kick by Adam Vinatieri from 41 yards out with four seconds remaining.
The kick was reminiscent of Vinatieri's field goal two years earlier, against the Rams, in Super Bowl XXXVI, when he nailed a 48-yarder as time expired.
Jim Donaldson continues his six-part series on the Patriots, this time highlighting the Pats' brain trust -- the front office. Also, Syracuse continues to hobble through the Big East season with a 71-64 win over Providence College. Download file