- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 3, 2004

HOUSTON — Sweat was still thick on Scott Pioli’s brow Sunday night about an hour after his New England Patriots won Super Bowl XXXVIII. Amid hoots of celebration in the locker room, the club’s vice president of player personnel was asked whether he had any perspective on the victory, which marked two titles in three years.

“Nothing other than we won the Super Bowl and we have draft meetings in three days,” Pioli said with a broad smile, smoothing back his wet hair with one hand. “How’s that for perspective?”

Don’t expect that mindset to change much as New England’s dramatic 32-29 victory over the Carolina Panthers sinks in. Despite debate the Patriots’ pair of championships might qualify them for dynasty status in the salary cap era, the club seems likely to maintain its work-a-day ethos and refuse to stand around admiring its own success.

An hour after the ultimate victory, the club’s personnel chief was thinking about shoring up the roster for another run. In another corner of the locker room, linebacker Tedy Bruschi talked as though there was a game next week. Ingrained by dour but diligent coach Bill Belichick is a focus on consistent hard work.

“It kind of hit me last week — the [NFL Scouting] Combine is in a couple weeks,” Belichick said at a news conference yesterday. “We know it’s going to be a treadmill. You just go from one thing to the next. But it’s good to be on it again. I’m not complaining.”

The conventional wisdom since the cap was instituted in 1994 was that teams had to shoot for a “window” of opportunity at the title before salary concerns forced them to shed their best players and rebuild. Super Bowl winners in Dallas, San Francisco and Baltimore followed the boom-and-bust cycle.

New England will have to make tough decisions this offseason, and there is talk the club could part with veterans like wide receiver Troy Brown, linebacker Ted Johnson and defensive end Willie McGinest. But the Patriots should have a solid future thanks to strong scouting, coaching and teamwork — the apparent fundamentals of cap-era success.

“It’s a selfless team that enjoys being around each other,” said quarterback Tom Brady, a two-time Super Bowl MVP and perhaps the Patriots’ only headline star. “The camaraderie is special. You don’t find that much.”

The Patriots’ roster of mostly anonymous contributors and interchangeable parts, combined with a similarly defense-centric opponent in Carolina, brought some concerns the Super Bowl would be boring. Those fears were temporarily confirmed when the teams took almost 27 minutes to score, the longest drought to open a game in Super Bowl history.

But things changed in a hurry. In the half’s final 3:05, the Patriots scored a pair of touchdowns and the Panthers a touchdown and a field goal. In the second half, New England grabbed a commanding 21-10 lead two plays into the fourth quarter, but Carolina rallied to lead 22-21 and to tie the game 29-29 with 1:08 remaining.

Brady and kicker Adam Vinatieri, the heroes of Super Bowl XXXVI, then took over. Brady guided a 37-yard drive to set up Vinatieri’s 41-yard field goal, and talk shifted almost instantly to the Patriots’ place among the 1970s Steelers, 1980s 49ers and 1990s Cowboys.

“All I know is that two out of three years in the modern era of football is quite an achievement,” Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis said. “Usually in today’s competition, the way teams are so equal, it’s tough to get teams playing this often in [Super Bowls] and then winning them. Hopefully next year, if things go right, we’ll get an opportunity to sneak up here, just a bunch of bums sneaking up here again.”

Bums perhaps on the verge of becoming a dynasty. Only history will determine how New England ultimately is considered, but the Patriots seem to have a good chance at further success because of the sweat on their collective brow.

“I wouldn’t want to get into [the dynasty talk],” Belichick said. “We’re taking it one day at a time, one week at a time. The only thing we can do now is have a good offseason and build for next year.”

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