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Denying dynasty

Despite three Super Bowl titles in four seasons, Patriots say they aren't a dynasty.

By GARY SHELTON
Published February 7, 2005


JACKSONVILLE - They have been through the motions before. By now, they know all of the dance steps.

The coach gets the Gatorade bath. The quarterback grins through the confetti. The owner hoists the trophy toward the stadium lights. The linemen dance and the receivers embrace and the safety tells you how no one ever expected any of this to happen again. Also, there are fireworks.

Yep, say this about New England. They have this coronation business down Pat.

Team Xerox spat out another championship Sunday night. The Patriots outsmarted another coach, frustrated another quarterback and outlasted another defense. They smothered another running game, assailed another offensive line and, in the end, won another Super Bowl. They were smarter than the Huns. They were meaner than the Mings. They were tougher than the Romans.

Three trophies in the case.

Three syllables in "dynasty."

With the Patriots, that is all that is left. When you crown a new king and you notice, golly, it's the same as the old king, you tend to break out the history books. When the wisdom and strength and passion begin to look as familiar as the scowl on Bill Belichick's face, what else can you do but compare men and memories?

Here, then, is the question: Are the Patriots the darndest dynasty ever to rule the NFL?

Here, then, is your answer: No.

I know, I know. We all love the present tense, and we all love to believe we are seeing things that have never been seen before. But let's not get carried away.

No, the Patriots are not the old Steelers. Of course, with today's salary cap and free-agency rules, the old Steelers wouldn't be the old Steelers, either. Same with Lombardi's Packers or Walsh's 49ers or Johnson's Cowboys, all of which played back when a player was an employee for life.

What, then, are we to make of New England? In a tougher time to build dynasties, what do the Patriots have that sets them apart from the one-hit wonders?

Well, there is this: They are the smartest dynasty the NFL has seen. And the calmest. And the most adaptable. And the most humble.

All of their virtues were on display against a plucky Eagles team. Despite the remarkable Donovan McNabb, who had 357 yards passing, and despite the resilient Terrell Owens, who caught nine for 122 yards, the Patriots were poised enough to win.

When has a team ever been smarter, more prepared than the Patriots? When has a team had the temerity to toss away its normal defensive scheme - the 3-4 - in the biggest game of the year? To get more pressure on McNabb, Belichick did.

The brilliance starts with Belichick, a relatively dull man who coaches with the same attention to detail as an IRS auditor determined to close loopholes. But intelligence flows throughout this franchise. The Patriots make fewer mistakes than anyone, from the drafting of players to the signing of free agents to the preparation of a team.

We tend to forget. For decades, we have been mesmerized by highlight films until we forget that mental ability is a skill, too. With the Patriots, it is their most defining attribute. They never seem off-balance or out of control.

Somehow, Belichick is smart enough to get the Patriots to buy into his message. The Patriots are smart enough to listen.

Then, there is the Patriots' remarkable calm. They have won three Super Bowls by a total of nine points, and all three games have been tied in the fourth quarter. Of Belichick's 10 playoff victories, seven have been by a touchdown or less. Put them in a nail-biter, and the Patriots bite nails. Blood pressure never has been one of their problems.

And so, when the Eagles had their way in the early going - a quicker start by McNabb and New England could have been a two-touchdown hole - the Patriots remained poised. Don't they always? When safety Eugene Wilson left the game with an arm injury, Belichick grimaced and went back to work. Doesn't he always?

Remember them this way. Remember how adaptable they were, how they keep plugging kids barely removed from their college proms into their secondary and surviving. Remember how their greatest strength is they have no weakness and their greatest pride is they have no ego. In a league where players leave cell phones in goal post padding, remember the beauty of their blandness.

Try as you might, and a lot of people did, you will not force the Patriots to say the word "dynasty." They do not yodel. They do not beat their chests.

Other teams, the great and the very good, cannot help themselves. Others think of a Super Bowl victory as a pedestal built to proclaim their own wonderfulness. The Patriots? They prefer Super Bowls to superlatives.

"I'm not going to say it," quarterback Tom Brady said. "I never say we're the crap when you guys say we're the crap. So I'm not going to say we're great because you guys say it."

There is one other thing this dynasty possesses that its predecessors lack, of course. It has the opportunity to keep going.

Who is next? What else can throw at the Patriots. Who is tough enough, smart enough, poised enough? Next year, the Patriots will go for four Super Bowls out of five. No other team has pulled that off.

Next year, maybe a Patriot finally will say "dynasty."

But don't count on it.