Thursday, February 2, 2012

Super Bowl special: the 3 mistakes that created the New England Patriots' dynasty

Sports Illustrated, writing about Super Bowl 46 between the Patriots and the Giants, outlines three decisions, which appeared to be mistakes at the time, that created the modern Patriots, a team that has been to the Super Bowl five out of the past 12 seasons.

1) Overpaying for the franchise. While bidding for the Patriots in 1993, Robert Kraft felt that the team was worth $115 million, and he was prepared to pay up to $125 million for the team. Prior to this, the Patriots had been owned by a succession of goofy owners (remember Victor Kiam?) and played in the worst stadium in the league. When James Orthwein asked for $172 million (the largest price ever asked for an NFL team at the time), Kraft swallowed hard and paid up, though at the time no one (including his wife) thought it was a price worth paying.

2) Hiring Bill Belichick as coach. Belichick, a successful assistant coach with the Giants for many years, had an undistinguished run as Browns head coach from 1991 to 1995. Nonetheless, after the 2000 season, Kraft had his eye on Belichick, then an assistant with the New York Jets, as a possible head coach for his team. At the time Kraft had decided to hire him, Belichick was under contract to the Jets to become their head coach if then coach Bill Parcells were to retire - which happened the same day that Kraft asked for permission to negotiate with Belichick. After the dust settled (Belichick submitted a famous resignation letter written on a napkin: "I have decided to resign as HC of the NYJ.") It cost the Patriots a valuable first-round draft choice to compensate the Jets for signing Belichick, a price that seemed steep at the time. In hindsight, it was a tremendous bargain.

3) Replacing Drew Bledsoe with Tom Brady at quarterback. Bledsoe was the best quarterback in Patriots history and had led them to the Super Bowl. He had been the #1 overall pick in the draft the year he came out of college. Brady was the 199th player picked the year he came out. In Brady's second year, Bledsoe got hurt, and Brady led the team well in his absence. When Bledsoe was healthy again later in the season, many (including me) assumed Bledsoe would get his starting job back. Belichick and Kraft thought otherwise. They stayed with Brady and the rest is history.

Bold moves that seemed like missteps at the time, and turned out to be brilliant mistakes after all.

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