Monday, February 07, 2005

Another year, another Patriots Superbowl victory, and another gaggle of reporters complaining that the team doesn't give them anything to work with -- that there are no personalities, nothing to cover.

Considering the sheer number of people on the team who are doing astonishing things -- playing both offense and defense, for instance, which has been rare in pro football for decades -- that's odd at first blush. And it goes to a style of success that's also rare in the league: these guys play a nasty game in a nasty way, and don't let anyone forget it, but they play it smart. Everyone knows that Bill Belichick doesn't necessarily go for, say, the speediest players he can get; what's not so well known is the emphasis he places on brains. If you can't figure out where to go, it doesn't matter how fast you can get there. A reporter who was willing to work on it could certainly make a story out of that.

The problem is that it would be a hell of a lot of work. They're smart, articulate guys who give lousy interviews. The team takes its cues on public behavior from Belichick, who sees the public arena as an extension of the game, and gives nothing away. They don't talk about injuries. They don't talk about conflicts within the team or possible weak points. They always talk up their opponent, and never say anything that might be tacked up as motivational material on their bulletin board. "We do our talking on the field", they say. All of them. Multiple times in the same interview, if need be. The saying around here is that they've drunk Belichick's Kool-Aid. One local TV station led up to the superbowl by playing a video of a Belichick press conference with a Kool-Aid pitcher superimposed on his head.

But Corey Dillon didn't stop having a personality when he came here -- he just stopped showing the rough edges in public.

The end effect, still, is a team that's more than a bit like the Yankees of the '90s -- clean cut, hard hitting, and with the resources to be in the championship hunt for quite a while yet, with no sharp edges that show in public. (Compare Belichick's public persona with Joe Torre's). They are a great team. But put them next to, say, the Celtic dynasties, or the glorious gang of idiots from Fenway, and they seem oddly not like a great team from Boston.

By the way, a word about the Eagles: they were better than almost around here was giving them credit for, and gave the Pats by far their toughest game of this year's playoffs. They might have won it if they had run a decent two-minute drill in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter -- a lapse that left fans of Belichick's team gaping. But they also provided an object lesson in the virtues of the Kool-Aid face. Everyone respects the astonishing performance that Terrell Owens put in. What they don't respect -- and he can't seem to understand this -- is the way he was shooting his mouth off about it. Terrell, for your own sake, at least save the bragging for after you've done it.


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