Even to the end, even when the freezing Gatorade came tumbling over his head, he would not crack. Glumly, the Tuna simply fished his headphones out of the ice pond at his feet, clamped them stubbornly over his great purpled ears and went back to work, a thin hard line where his smile was supposed to be. Even with the AFC title gripped in his meaty hand and his spot in NFL history reserved, he wouldn't give in. Jubilation could go to hell.
What coach Bill Parcells and the New England Patriots had done to win the AFC Championship Game on a clear and icy Sunday in Foxboro, Mass., was bring a whole lot of midnight clobbering down on the heads of the Jacksonville Jaguars, turning the Jaguars' carriages into pumpkins, their coachmen into mice and their fairytale season into a grim 20-6 reality check. Yet afterward Parcells wouldn't acknowledge that it was anything more than another win in a mile of them, didn't seem to care that he had become only the second man (Don Shula was the first) to take two different teams to the Super Bowl. In fact, he gathered his troops before him, hushed them and began his speech: "Be here at 9:30 tomorrow to run." There wasn't a wet eye in the house.
Parcells is about as sentimental as a traffic ticket. He is not big on shoulder rides or hugging Greg Gumbel. He does not change his expression or his schedule for anybody. Despite a small armada of media last week for the first home championship game in the franchise's history, he allowed only 40 minutes of access to his players last Wednesday and Thursday, none last Friday and Saturday.
He was just as Garboesque about where his next W-2 form would come from after his Pat hand is played out in two weeks. Reports in Boston had Parcells, the prettiest girl at the NFL's coaching cotillion, already kissed and betrothed to the New York Jets with a three-year, $10 million handshake, which would make him the highest-paid coach in NFL history. When Patriots Pro Bowl tackle Bruce Armstrong was asked why Parcells would leave a Super Bowl contender for the league's worst loser, he was fuddled. "He should want to share in what he's helped build," Armstrong said. "I mean, look at the age and talent core here."
New England owner Robert Kraft keeps saying he'll do whatever it takes to keep Parcells (carried away at the presentation of the AFC trophy after the game, Kraft called him "the greatest coach in the history of the game in modern times"), but privately he keeps adding, As long as he knows he is the coach and only the coach. Kraft is a self-made businessman who owns a paper and packaging company, and he hasn't yet seen one that works when the man in charge of the plant is also allowed to do the taxes, the advertising and the marketing.
Quarterback Drew Bledsoe sounds like a guy who wouldn't mind seeing Parcells leave. In a national conference call before the game, Bledsoe was asked how his personal relationship was with Parcells. "Personal relationship?" Bledsoe said. "We don't have a personal relationship. We're fine when it comes to football, but...." Then he added, "Whether Bill is here or not, this team is going to be successful. We've got good players, a great nucleus, a great owner." That sounded like a don't-let-the-door-hit-ya, if there ever was one, and each time Bledsoe tried to back away, he stepped in it worse. "Look, Bill told me from the beginning, 'I'm not going to be your coach forever,' " Bledsoe said later. "Sometimes, that's a pretty enticing proposition...."
The week was a little nasty that way. Boston had its beans bent out of shape because the NFL had designated Providence as host to the Jaguars, the media and the AFC party. "I guess Pawtucket was already booked," said Boston mayor Thomas Menino. Kraft could only hold his head in his hands. He keeps offering to build a $217 million stadium in South Boston with private funds, and he keeps getting rebuffed by pols and residents. "Look what Boston is missing out on this week," Kraft said. "I hear there are 10,000 empty hotel rooms in Boston this weekend."
If that weren't enough, Foxboro threw a little riot the night of Jan. 7 when the Patriots got the brilliant idea to not allow anybody to queue up at the stadium ticket windows until 6 a.m. This despite the approximately 10,000 people who were milling around at midnight waiting to leap into line at precisely 6 a.m. Fans hid in trees, cruised the roads and stood near the fence by the highway, waiting to jump the second the police gave the O.K. Of course, by 2 a.m. the thing was out of hand. Fights broke out, 10 people were arrested and most of the rest were sent home. Almost all the tickets were sold over the phone instead. The Patriots thank you for your support.
All week it was the Jaguars who looked loose and bulletproof, but they hadn't played a game in temperatures colder than 42° all year, and the Tuna knew it. "Oh, yeah, I think it's a big advantage for us," he said last Friday. "Just as it would be for them if we'd practiced all week in this weather and then gone down there to an 80 degree game." But this is how fear-frozen the Jaguars were by the weather they practiced in last Saturday at Brown University: They had a giant snowball fight. And after practice, offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride returned to the team hotel, found a waiter's serving tray and went sledding.
Sunday's game had that Pop Warner age-group feel too. On his first punt, two minutes into the game, Jacksonville's Bryan Barker leaped high to save a snap, decided to make like Emmitt Smith and try to juke oncoming Patriot Larry Whigham and was tackled at the four. Package for Mr. Bledsoe! Package for Mr. Drew Bledsoe! Two plays later New England had a 7-0 lead.