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A defiant Bill Belichick went to his podium on Saturday. The New England coach, visibly agitated, did his best to squash any notion the Patriots willingly deflated footballs to gain an advantage against the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship. â€śI believe now 100 percent that I have personally, and we as an organization, have absolutely followed every rule to the letter,â€ť said Belichick.
Super Bowl XLIX is his sixth as a head coach, tying him with the legendary Don Shula for the most all-time. He boasts a 3-2 record in the NFLâ€™s biggest game. A victory over Seattle and he joins Pittsburghâ€™s Chuck Knoll as the only head coaches in NFL history to win four Super Bowls.
The Patriots have thrived under Belichick, establishing a tradition that rivals any franchise including the 49ers, Cowboys, Packers, and Steelers.
It all started on September 23, 2001 when N.Y. Jets linebacker Mo Lewis knocked out New England quarterback Drew Bledsoe. Subbing in for Bledsoe was second-year quarterback Tom Brady. The seeds of a dynasty were officially planted.
This Sunday, Brady becomes the first quarterback in league history to start six Super Bowls. The former two-time MVP is coming off a season in which he faced heavily scrutiny after a 41-14 pummeling from the Kansas City Chiefs in week 4. The loss caused many fans and media types to question Bradyâ€™s status among the NFLâ€™s best. Even calls for his backup, Jimmy Garoppolo, to become New Englandâ€™s starting quarterback began to pickup steam. Brady did as he always does. He proved his critics wrong. Including two playoff games, he has thrown for 3,911 yards and 35 touchdowns since that fateful night in Kansas City.
The Patriots drafted Brady in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft with little to no fanfare. Sure, he was a marquee college player, having led Michigan to a win over Alabama in the 2000 Orange Bowl. As a prospect, though, he didnâ€™t have an elite arm and his skinny frame left many scouts wondering whether he could handle the perils of a 16-game schedule. Bradyâ€™s confidence never wavered. As history now knows it, when he introduced himself to Bob Kraft, he said to the Patriots owner â€śIâ€™m the best decision this organization has ever made.â€ť
Indeed it was.
Brady has started 207 of a possible 224 regular-season games since 2001. He missed two starts in '01 playing behind Bledsoe, and 15 in '08 because of a torn ACL. Listed at a healthy 225 pounds, Brady has thrown for 53,258 yards, 392 touchdowns, and has career quarterback rating of 95.9. When debating the greatest quarterback in NFL history, heâ€™s undoubtedly part of the conversation. That alone is a testament to his greatness. The same applies to Belichick when debating the greatest coaches in NFL history.
Yet, all anyone wants to talk about leading into this weekâ€™s game is whether the Patriots have been deflating footballs to gain an advantage. Was the PSI in their football 11.5 instead of 12.5? This story is so big that even the national newscasts of the three major networks (ABC, CBS, & NBC) made it their lead story on Thursday. Thereâ€™s no wondering why Belichick felt compelled to call a press conference on Saturday to try to contain the situation.
Footballs donâ€™t win games. Players and coaches do. You still have to throw, catch, tackle, and make adjustments from the sidelines. You have to prepare throughout the week, installing your offensive and defensive game plans.
The Patriots do this better than anyone does. Thatâ€™s why they win games, not because of footballs or even video tapes. Moreover, theyâ€™ve done it over the course of 15 years now, entrenching them as one of the greatest dynasties in NFL history. The '60s Packers expired after Super Bowl II. Their run lasted eight years. The '70s Steelers expired after beating the L.A. Rams in Super Bowl XIV. Their run was six years. The '90s Cowboys expired in 1996, when the Carolina Panthers upset them in the divisional round of the playoffs. Their run was five years. The only other dynasty to match the success of the Patriots was the '80s and '90s San Francisco 49ers, whose run lasted about 18 years (1981-98), yet they needed two coaches and two Hall of Fame quarterbacks to sustain their success. The Patriots have done it with one coach and quarterback.
What weâ€™ve witnessed New England doing over the last 14 seasons has been unprecedented. Instead of honoring the moment, and celebrating the greatness that is the New England Patriots, weâ€™re talking about deflated footballs this week. Thatâ€™s just sad.
To be clear, the Patriots opened themselves up to scrutiny such as this, when they illegally video taped teams practices and coaches from the sidelines. Understandably, this places a bit of an asterisk next to Belichickâ€™s name when comparing him with other legendary coaches. Still, this will be the Patriots third Super Bowl appearance since the 2007 â€śSpygateâ€ť scandal, a reinforcement of their greatness.
We donâ€™t appreciate whatâ€™s in front of us while itâ€™s happening. Green Bay didnâ€™t know what they had in Vince Lombardi until he was gone. San Francisco fans are still trying to replace the greatness of Joe Montana and Steve Young. Will Dallas ever achieve as much success as they did in the 1990s?
The Super Bowl shouldnâ€™t be a time to gin up controversy. It should be a time to appreciate this great game, and the greatness of the teams in it. The Patriots are in the midst of perhaps the greatest dynasty in NFL history, with the greatest quarterback and coach of their era.
Root against them because of their success. Root against them because of their tactics.
But donâ€™t deny their greatness. Instead, appreciate it.
It may not happen again in our lifetimes.