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The ultimate betrayal?

Book: Then-Pats coach Parcells flirted with Jets during Super Bowl week

Posted: Monday September 20, 2004 9:09AM; Updated: Thursday September 23, 2004 11:57AM
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NASHVILLE -- The messy 1997 divorce of the Patriots and Bill Parcells isn't over.

In a new book on the inner workings of the New England Patriots due out this week, author Michael Holley reports the Patriots have phone records from the New Orleans Marriott the week of their Super Bowl XXXI appearance against Green Bay linking then-coach Parcells to the New York Jets. And the book quotes staff member Bill Belichick -- then the defensive coordinator of the team, now its head coach -- as saying the Patriots were distracted heading into the game because Parcells was "talking to other teams.''

Patriot Reign: Bill Belichick, the Coaches, and the Players Who Built a Champion, published by William Morrow, is a salty, revealing look at the team that has won two of the past three Super Bowls. I was stunned when I found out that Belichick gave Holley, then a Boston Globe columnist, unprecedented access to the team's scouting and coaching areas during the 2002 season, and some access beyond in the two years since. And though it's not likely that Belichick furnished Holley with the information about the phone records -- I'm almost positive it had to come from higher up in the front office -- the book reports that "dozens of itemized phone calls to Hempstead, N.Y., the administrative home of the New York Jets'' were made from Parcells' Super Bowl hotel room.

And the book quotes Belichick as saying about Parcells' alleged flirtation with the Jets: "Yeah, I'd say it was a little bit of a distraction all the way around. I can tell you first-hand, there was a lot of stuff going on prior to the game. I mean, him talking to other teams. He was trying to make up his mind about what he was going to do. Which, honestly, I felt [was] totally inappropriate. How many chances do you get to play for the Super Bowl? Tell them to get back to you in a couple of days. I'm not saying it was disrespectful to me, but it was in terms of the overall commitment to the team."

Monday morning, from his Cowboys' office, Parcells told me he had no comment on the story, the phone records or the book.

It's no secret that Belichick and Parcells parted on bad terms when Parcells retired as Jets coach after the 1999 season and handed the job to Belichick --  and 24 hours later Belichick said he wouldn't take it, uncertain of the direction of management and pending new ownership. Parcells was furious that Belichick, after their 17-year coaching relationship, turned his back on the understanding that he'd take the Jets' job whenever Parcells retired. Belichick, instead, took the Patriots' job, and the two men did not speak for some time.

This quote from Belichick is probably two or three years old, which could explain Belichick's outspoken criticism of Parcells. Last year, when Parcells' new team, the Cowboys, played the Patriots, the two men had a fairly warm exchange at the end of the game. This summer, when I interviewed Belichick for a Sports Illustrated story about his relationship with Parcells, he was cordial, complimentary and analytical about Parcells' influence on his career.

I was pretty sure that Parcells and Belichick would, as the years passed, rekindle the kind of professional relationship they'd had for so many years while Belichick coached under Parcells with the Giants, Pats and Jets. They were never friendly, but their business relationship was good. Parcells appreciated Belichick's tireless, look-under-every-rock approach to game-planning.

You can be sure that, once this stuff hits the Internet fan, Parcells and Belichick will be asked about the story when they meet the press today. I will bet a lot of money that Parcells no-comments it. And I bet even more money that Belichick will do the same, except he may say he knew nothing about the phone records and the quotes are two or three years old.

What this will do to Parcells' image is another question. I've often felt that stuff like this is a factor in him not being elected to the Hall of Fame after leading two teams to the Super Bowl, winning two Super Bowls, taking a third team to a conference title game and a fourth to the playoffs. George Young, the late GM of the Giants, felt on New York's Super Bowl run in 1986 that Parcells was flirting with the Atlanta Falcons. Twice he was deep into negotiations to take over Tampa Bay, and Bucs ownership felt they had deals with him. Both times he backed out at the last minute.

A couple of notes about the book. It's really enlightening. The hard-core football stuff will be a X-and-O guy's dream. Holley evidently had free reign with the team dating back to the Super Bowl win over St. Louis. The scouting build up to that game is revealing. Belichick has enormous respect for the imagination and playbook of Rams coach Mike Martz -- did then, still does.

The Patriots gave their defense six concepts to remember entering the week of preparation. "Don't ever make the mistake of thinking [Marshall] Faulk is staying home to block,'' the Pats' game plan that week said. "That's either a screen or he's going to have a delayed release out of the backfield.'' And: "Remember, no matter what your eyes tell you, you'll never see the same play twice. It may look like the same play, but it's not. Don't play the actual play. Play whatever your assigned concept is.'' And "Be physical with them at all times. They don't like that.''

Belichick told Holley: "We're not going to say, 'Watch out for these 50 things.' It's too overwhelming. The concepts will get it done the majority of the time, as long as we don't give up the big play ... [If] they hit an out for 10 yards, life goes on. Let's take away something and then we'll try to scramble to handle the things that we know we're not quite as solid on.'' Faulk gained 130 yards in the game, but never hit a home run. Neither did the Rams. New England won 20-17 in one of the great upsets in Super Bowl history.

Football is a brutal business. Belichick is brutally frank with his players. In front of his team after a 28-10 loss to the Packers in 2002, Belichick said: "We have a lot of smart guys in this room, but on the football field we play like a bunch of f------- morons.'' Holley writes: "If you are one of the players flinching at the harshness of these words, you might as well begin packing. There is no way you are going to last as a New England Patriot. This is one of the reasons the Patriots' college scouts are asked by their bosses, 'Can this player handle tough coaching?' ''

Belichick doesn't buy the canned and cliché stuff you hear in the press all the time. As the Patriots struggled trying to repeat as champs in 2002, he read in the paper one day that one of players said the team had to get its "swagger'' back. That day, in the team meeting, he said: "You know what? We didn't have a 'swagger' last year. What we had was a sense of urgency about playing well, being smart, and capitalizing on every opportunity and situation that came our way ... It wasn't about a f------- swagger. You can take that swagger and shove it right up your a--, OK?''

Pretty good stuff.

The Parcells stuff might capture the early headlines, like the one on this column. But the book is so much more enlightening than a headline. It meanders a bit, but it's the best thing I've read on football in recent years. And it does a superb job of explaining how Belichick and his lieutenants get an edge in so many things. Like the "swagger'' cliche, they question the status quo. They think. As an organization, they're a bunch of Billy Beanes. I've always maintained that one of Belichick's strengths is is ability to accept the opinions of so many other people. I can remember two specific instances where he said to me during the course of a conversation, "What do you think?'' Another time, when talking about another issue, a controversial one, he said, "What do you think I should do?'' Not that he would take my advice. But the point is, he listens. Then he decides. What a novel concept.

I'm not pimping for the book here. I'm really not. But if you want to know how a really good team works, buying this book would be $23.95 very well spent.

THE FINE FIFTEEN

Seahawks defense
Seattle's swarming defense has allowed an NFL-low 13 points in the first two games.
Robert Laberge/Getty Images

1. New England (2-0). Big win, going to the desert (on Thursday, to acclimate the team to the broiling weather) and overcoming the emotion of the Pat Tillman Day.

2. Seattle (2-0). Dr. Z's dream: Pats-Seahawks in the Super Bowl. How about Seattle equaling its 2003 road win total in Week 2 of 2004?

3. Philadelphia (1-0). I wonder if Terrell and Randy met for a cheesesteak last night at Pat's?

4. Indianapolis (1-1). Edgerrin James has opened the season with 143- and 124-yard rushing games against 2003's fourth- and first-rated run defenses (New England and Tennessee, respectively).

5. Minnesota (1-0). If the defense is any good, this team will be very good.

6. Green Bay (1-1). Mulligan. Pure and simple.

7. New York Jets (2-0). Wins over the Bengals and Chargers don't mean much, except to say that this could be an intriguing team.

8. Carolina (1-1). Heroic win in Kansas City. I don't know what else to call it. Gutty, maybe? Clutch? Amazing, in my mind.

9. Denver (1-1). OK, so the Broncos lost at Jacksonville. I'm not burning Jake Plummer at the stake over it.

10. Tennessee (1-1). Chris Brown is an upright runner, with a Eric Dickerson-like body lean. Boy, he takes a lot of hits. But he'll give this team much more production, if he stays healthy, than Eddie George would have this year.

11. Jacksonville (2-0). There's a good chance this team could play the most boring football since the 1983 Giants. One big difference: The Jags defense will keep the Del Rios in every game.

12. Baltimore (1-1). Looked like from the highlights that Kyle Boller played better against the Men of Steel.

13. Atlanta (2-0). I'm interested, but not convinced.

14. Dallas (1-1). The win over Cleveland looked like it was straight out of the class Parcells taught last week: Scratch-and-Claw 101.

15. Detroit (2-0). It's a start. Now don't send me 63 e-mails telling me I'm dissing the Leos by rating them 15th. I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt, big time, by ranking them in the Fine Fifteen.

WEEKLY AWARDS

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Offensive Player of the Week

New Orleans QB Aaron Brooks, who may be shedding his mistake-prone label. He was 25 of 34 for 279 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in a 30-27 win over the pesky 49ers, capping a pretty tough week for the hurricane-plagued Saints.

Defensive Player of the Week

Indianapolis CB Nick Harper, who made the play that started the Colts on the decisive drive in their 31-17 win at Tennessee. The score was tied at 17 when Steve McNair threw to Derrick Mason in the end zone, and it looked like Mason came down with the ball, with Harper in clinging coverage. "I just played his hands,'' Harper said. "You just keep it cool and can't panic in a situation like that. I just took it out of his hands. Cornerback's a hot spot, but it's one spot where you have to keep your cool.'' Harper, a fourth-year player from Fort Valley (Ga.) State, just turned 30. He's not used to making plays that win games. "Harper's play changed the game,''' said Colts GM Bill Polian.

Special Teams Player of the Week

Indianapolis WR Brad Pyatt, who made one of the best punt-team plays you'll ever see in the second quarter of the Colts-Titans tussle. When the Colts stalled at the Tennessee 39, Hunter "The Punter'' Smith hit a sky-ball toward the goal line. Pyatt sprinted downfield, turning around at the goal line just as the ball was falling toward the 2. Pyatt caught the ball and, falling toward the end zone, was run into by one of his own men. Just before landing with a body part in the end zone, Pyatt spiked the ball at the 1, where long snapper Justin Snow downed it. Tremendous body control and awareness of where he was.

Coach of the Week

Carolina head coach John Fox. Lose Monday night. Badly. Lose your most explosive offensive weapon, Steve Smith, with a broken leg. Lose your bread-and-butter rusher, Stephen Davis, to knee surgery. Travel on a short week to the loudest stadium in the NFL, Arrowhead. Win 28-17. Any questions?

Goat of the Week

CBS Today pre-game analyst Shannon Sharpe. If I praise him to the heights, I have the right to rip him to the depths. Asked Sunday if he could play for Giants head coach Tom Coughlin, Sharpe took being quotable to a ridiculous low. "I would rather die in an abandoned building alone with my family not knowing what happened than play for this guy,'' he said, according to a CBS Sports press release. What a stupid, reprehensible, irresponsible, overreactionary thing to say. Think of that for a second. Shannon, you're going to be good on TV. We all know that. But let's try to make some sense instead of hitting people over the head with Ali G.-esque quotes that make you sound like a fool.

FACTOID THAT MAY INTEREST ONLY ME

The New York Times reported Saturday that in the pre-trial hearing accusing Michael Jackson of molesting a young boy, Jackson "wore a white silk suit, an elaborate waistcoat and peach lipstick.''

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

"We always check out the Weather Channel. That's the No. 1 channel now.''

-- New Orleans head coach Jim Haslett, whose team scrambled out of town Tuesday night, away from Hurricane Ivan, and practiced in San Antonio for three days preparing for their game with the 49ers. As you might imagine, it was hard to concentrate on football all the time.

ENJOYABLE/AGGRAVATING TRAVEL NOTE OF THE WEEK

Walking into Adelphia Coliseum yesterday, I passed two scalpers. One asked me if I needed any tickets. I said no. I walked on, and Scalper One said to Scalper Two: "Hey, you going to Cincinnati today?'' Scalper Two said he was.

I turned around and said: "You're going to work the game in Cincinnati tonight? Really?''

Scalper Two said yes, and he said he would work Colts-Titans till just after noon (Central Time), the time this one started, and then jump in a car with a couple of scalper peers and drive four-and-a-half hours to work the parking lots and environs of Paul Brown Stadium. He thought he'd be there no later than 6, in plenty of time for the 8:30 p.m. game.

I don't know about you, but that is absolutely amazing to me. A professional scalper, working two football games in two different states in two different time zones.

TEN THINGS I THINK I THINK

Lovie Smith
The Bears lost 17 of the 20 meetings with the Packers prior to Lovie Smith's arrival.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

1. I think this would be my message to the Packers: The game you lost Sunday will be the reason you will have to win on the road in January. Maybe not the only reason, but that loss right there was a championship-game-home-field-killer, guys

2. I think these are my quick-hit thoughts of the NFL weekend:

a. I'm watching the end of Seahawks 10, Bucs 6 and seeing the officials try to hand the Bucs a police escort to the end zone. Chris Simms must have done something good in the game because he completed 21 of 32 throws, but that last drive -- and dumb interception -- will not go down on the Simms family highlight reel.

b. Tampa Bay. Eight quarters. No offensive touchdowns. Long year.

c. The Pats had nine days off before Sunday's game at Arizona, and they'll have the next 13 days off because of the bye.

d. I am positive that, even if you read this the moment it is posted on SI.com, that Gunther Cunningham has already put in an eight-hour morning. Dude, you can't play for them.

e. Gun's still seething because here were the Carolina touchdown-scorers: running back DeShaun Foster, a good player making his third NFL start; tight end Mike Seidman, a second-year kid from UCLA who caught all of five balls last season; Kris Mangum, another tight end and former seventh-round draft pick and professional journeyman; and rookie wideout Keary Colbert, making his NFL starting debut.

f. Has anyone thought that the first three Colts games this season could feature matchups between Hall of Fame quarterbacks in each? Could, I said. Could. Peyton Manning-Tom Brady, Manning-McNair, and, next Sunday in Indy, Manning-Brett Favre.

g. Well, Lovie Smith did say the day he got the Bears job that his big focus was going to be to start beating the Packers. Guess he meant it.

h. Seattle wins pretty at New Orleans and ugly at Tampa Bay. At least Matt Hasselbeck got in a bit of a zone with Koren Robinson. Seattle needs him to be bigger than he has the past couple of years.

3. I think I'd pay to see Manning-Favre Sunday in Indy. Unless they meet in a Super Bowl, this will be the last Colts-Pack meeting until 2008, and thus it's exceedingly possible that Manning and Favre never will meet again. That's pretty strange, seeing that these two guys will likely go down among the top 10 quarterbacks of all time, and they're going to meet only twice, in all probability. The Pack won their only previous meeting, when Favre beat Manning 26-24 in 2000 in Tundraville.

4. I think the Broncos deserve a harsher penalty than being docked a third-round pick for cheating on the salary cap. Cheating is cheating, commissioner. It goes to the heart of professional competitiveness.

5. I think I just want to make sure you all know one factoid that I've reported in various venues like HBO and SI.com in the past few days about the Tom Coughlin/late-for-meetings-despite-being-on-time story: Coughlin has set the clocks in the locker room and meetings areas five minutes ahead of real-world time, while asking that players be at team functions and meetings five minutes prior to real time ... which means, in essence, that players should just look at the clocks in the building and follow those, not their watches. So, really, why is this story such a big deal?

6. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:

a. Whoever in the New York Mets front office decided it would be a good idea to trade young lefty Scott Kazmir -- for anything or anybody -- probably shouldn't have a position of responsibility in baseball. Wait 'til you see this kid. Looks like he's 14. Throws like a staff ace.

b. I had to e-mail Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy the other day congratulating him for a line in his Red Sox-Yankees preview column, reliving the 2003 history of the rivalry. "Then came Game 7 of the ALCS when He Who Must Not Be Named listened to a tip from Dan Rather and left Pedro in the game.'' Gee whiz, Shaughnessy's good.

c. I saw very little of the mega-series this weekend, but I did see Mariano Rivera blow that save Friday night on the hit off the end of Orlando Cabrera's bat and the blooper off Johnny Damon's that appeared as though Kenny Lofton should have caught. The conclusion I draw is that the Red Sox picked the wrong time to go cold. If they don't hit better than that -- and they've been spotty with the bats for a week now -- they'll be a quick out in October. Now that the Yanks are a virtual lock for the division title, and it still looks like the Sox will be the wild card, I think the team that faces the Twins in the first round will lose. Facing Johan Santana twice in a five-gamer? That's trouble, people.

d. Coffeenerdness: That is one grim and scalding hot latte you serve up, Coffee Beanery of Nashville International Airport. Not drinkable, unless you're willing to undergo a throat transplant.

e. Joey will go down in TV as the third-worst spinoff show from an all-time great series, right after the unwatchable post-Seinfeld Michael Richards and Jason Alexander debacles. But from what I hear about the new Alexander-as-Tony-Kornheiser show, Listen Up, that one will be just as awful.

f. After ducking into the new world of Colgate freshman Mary Beth King in Hamilton, N.Y., the other day for 20 hours, I can gladly report that she has really nice friends -- including a belle from Birmingham, Ala., the girls have nicknamed "Bama'' -- who are exceedingly grateful for a meal out of the cafeteria. Mary Beth, always good for some surprises, has joined the equestrian team (oh my God, hide the women and horses) and is thinking seriously of going out for the table tennis team. These teams actually play other schools. But I promise: No "Colgate Equestrian Note of the Week.''

g. Tufts senior Laura King, by the way, has four classes and either nine or 10 jobs/internships/life experiences going. And the other night when I called, she was getting ready to play poker with her friends. Someone has to explain this poker thing to me. Even then, I will not be convinced that watching adults play cards on TV is anything but a gross waste of time.

h. I lose more umbrellas than the Mets bullpen loses leads.

7. I think, in case you were wondering, and I'm not sure you were, Samari Rolle is not Miami stud cornerback Antrel Rolle's older brother. "If I had $1,000 for every time someone said to me, 'Hey, how's your brother Antrel doing?' I'd have Peyton Manning's signing bonus. Besides, if he was my brother, no way he'd be at Miami. He'd be going to Florida State.'' Samari was a Seminole, as you might figure. Antrel, who will be one of the top five players picked in the draft next April, is a Hurricane. In more ways than one.

8. I think Joe Gibbs has to start wondering about what Mark Brunell has left in the tank.

9. I think, as I've dabbled in book-writing over the years, I've been asked by some publishing people: "Got any ideas for children's books?'' Never have, but to the readers of this column, if you've got kids who could stand to learn a good lesson or two about friendship and brotherly love, you'll want to consider a book by Ronde and Tiki Barber. By My Brother's Side is the story of how they grew up together and successfully took the road to the NFL.

10. I think the Tillman ceremony looked honorable and respectful, which is exactly what it should have been. Because that's what Tillman was.

WHO I LIKE TONIGHT AND I DON'T MEAN AL MICHAELS

This just feels like a Philadelphia night. First Monday-nighter with McNabb and T.O., Brian Westbrook still healthy, Hugh Douglas and Jevon Kearse with fresh legs to chase Daunte Culpepper ... The only way I see the Vikings winning is by running the ball better than I think they will, say 33 times for 150ish yards, and by the right-side, rookie pass-rush tandem of Kenechi Udeze and Dontarrious Thomas wreaking havoc in the Eagles pocket. But I don't that will happen.

Eagles 30-21.

Sports Illustrated senior writer Peter King covers the NFL beat for the magazine and is a regular contributor to SI.com. Monday Morning Quarterback appears in this space every week.

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