- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 31, 2002

NEW ORLEANS Pro football is so darn civil now. Coaches shaking hands at midfield. Tacklers helping ball carriers up off the ground. Opposing players congregating to pray after games. It's amazing, really, that guys still feel the need to wear helmets.
Oh, for the days when George Halas and Curly Lambeau would walk in opposite directions after the final gun. Or when Charley Trippi would wait years to get even for a cheap shot by Ed "the Claw" Sprinkle. Or when Paul Brown would refer to ex-boss Art Modell's football knowledge as "the quintessence of nothing."
Not to get musical about it, but where has all the bad blood gone? You know, Sam Wyche running the score up on Jerry Glanville, Buddy Ryan putting a bounty on the Cowboys' kicker that sort of thing.
All we have nowadays, it seems, are the Patriots and Jets the Rome and Carthage of the NFL. Ever since Bill Parcells dumped the former and took up with the latter after guiding New England to the Super Bowl in '96 the two clubs have been trading punches. And what has made it even richer is that they're in the same division, the AFC East, and have to play each other twice a year.
The Jets landed the first blow, of course, by kidnapping Parcells. Then Patriots owner Bob Kraft demanded compensation since Tuna still had a year left on his contract and got it. Then Parcells signed Curtis Martin as a restricted free agent, which cost the Jets more draft picks but deprived the Pats of their top runner. Then Kraft hijacked Bill Belichick, who was supposed to succeed Parcells as the Jets' coach. Then the Jets demanded compensation and got it.
And that's just the big stuff. There's plenty of little stuff, too.
When the Jets went to the AFC title game in Parcells' second season and gave a good account of themselves against the Broncos Kraft looked like, well, a numbskull. Especially since the Patriots had gone backward under Bill's replacement, Pete Carroll. "How could Kraft have let Parcells escape?" New England fans fumed. "He should have done whatever he had to do to keep him instead of taking away some of his authority over the draft and ticking him off."
And indeed, Kraft was a numbskull at that stage in terms of his understanding of the game, that is. He was in only his third season as an owner when the Patriots reached the Super Bowl five years ago. "I was a neophyte," he said yesterday. "An adolescent. Green."
But obviously, the man is educable, because here the Patriots are in New Orleans, going for a ring again while the Jets are sitting at home, waiting for the next Joe Namath to come along. Vindication doesn't get any sweeter than that.
The mood yesterday at the Fairmont Hotel was so different from the circus-like atmosphere that surrounded the Patriots the last time they were in the Super Bowl. At his daily Q & A session, Belichick was able to talk about the game instead of fending off queries about his relationship with Kraft and his future with the organization (as Parcells had to do in '96). Also, there was no need for him to make a joint appearance with the owner and pretend to be buddy-buddy (as Parcells also did in '96), because right now the two of them are a mutual admiration society.
"It probably was a little surreal," Kraft said of the awkward bantering between him and Parcells five years ago, " like a Saturday night snowball game [against the Raiders in the playoffs]." Actually, it was more like "Springtime for Hitler," but anyway
"I got swept up in that situation," he went on. "But that's in the past. I'm reaching the age where I'm trying to keep only positive memories in my life."
And this Super Bowl will undoubtedly be one of them. But Kraft isn't the type to gloat not publicly, at least. As he put it, "I'm happy to let the results speak for themselves." He did say, though, that it's "nice to have the ownership, coaching staff and personnel people all pulling in the same direction" an obvious reference to the sometimes turbulent Tuna Years. And he couldn't resist mentioning that "if you're ever going to go to the Super Bowl, it's a pretty neat time to go when you're opening a new stadium [next year]."
Times are good for Kraft. The Patriots sell out their games now, they've got a season-ticket waiting list that stretches from Foxboro to Providence and they're in their second Super Bowl in six years. They're also sitting with two big-league quarterbacks, Tom Brady and Drew Bledsoe, and Bledsoe may well be traded after the season for draft picks that would make the Pats more formidable still.
There is, however, one potential cloud on the horizon not to be a killjoy or anything. The first-round choice Kraft gave the Jets for Belichick enabled them to draft a QB, Chad Pennington. Pennington has spent the last two years at Vinny Testaverde's elbow, learning when to chuck and when to duck, but his time is clearly coming. And if he turns out to be a keeper, well, it will just more fuel to the Patriots-Jets fire.
Goody.


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