Bits of Tuna are left over
Parcells's influence still felt here
FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots have a built-in, foolproof defense against the week's biggest potential distraction: time, which in pro football usually begets change. Most of them should have little trouble avoiding Tuna talk, for isn't it easy to steer clear of conversations regarding topics about which you know nothing? Forty of the 51 players on New England's active roster have never played for Bill Parcells. Only eight were here prior to Bill Belichick's arrival in 2000. And to the 18 players with three or fewer years experience, Tuna Bowl is what you reluctantly eat for dinner when you haven't been grocery shopping in a while.
But there are still those who truly can appreciate the job Parcells has done with the Dallas Cowboys and what his return to Foxborough Sunday night means. Players he drafted. Players he molded, and, once in a while, scolded.
"He has a knack for putting the fear factor in players," said Ty Law, who played his first two seasons under Parcells. "Although it didn't work on me."
But Law has seen the Tuna work his magic. In his rookie year (1995), the Patriots went 6-10. The next year, with Belichick aboard as assistant head coach/defensive backs coach, New England went to the Super Bowl.
Law was New England's first-round pick in 1995. In the second round, Parcells took a linebacker from Colorado by the name of Ted Johnson. Curtis Martin and Jimmy Hitchcock were the third-round picks. The year before that, Parcells took Willie McGinest fourth overall. In '93 he drafted Troy Brown in the eighth round. And in '96 he took Tedy Bruschi in the third round and signed Adam Vinatieri.
Those are just the picks who are still Patriots. Drew Bledsoe, Lawyer Milloy, and Terry Glenn weren't bad selections, either. So while much is made of the Patriots' productive drafts under Belichick and Scott Pioli, the team still has a few of Parcells's fingerprints on it.
"He drafted me, and he was the first person I talked to after I got drafted," Johnson said. "From Day 1, he was kind of the guy that started to be my mentor, who I took my cues from. Just his overall philosophy and how he approaches the game. Very disciplined coach, very structure-oriented, attention-to-detail oriented. Those are characteristics that I'd like to think will stay with me and that I've done throughout my whole career."
Law learned to "just go out there and compete hard all the time. Don't be afraid to give up the big play, although he will rip you when you get off the field.
"He expects perfection, and that's what he's getting [in Dallas]. It's not perfect, but he's still getting the best out of his players. One thing that he does do, if you're a talented player and he's on you and you're playing better, but if he still thinks you're not reaching your potential, he'll sit you down just to prove a point."
Parcells certainly has a way of proving points. A player proves himself in the way he responds.
"He'll try to drill you and see how far he can go with you," Law said. "If you back down and drop your head and not perform, he's probably going to look to go elsewhere. He wants you to talk back to him, he wants you to go out there and play harder. He doesn't want you to give up, he wants you to get stronger as he's poking you. And that's what I did.
"I think over time it was more of a respect for me as a player, but at the same time, if he knows he can do it, he's going to keep on doing it just to see where he can go. That's just Parcells. He's a fun coach to play for, but he's the enemy right now, so we have to go out there and win."
That would involve containing Glenn, who leads the Cowboys with 33 receptions, 451 yards, and 5 touchdowns and is the poster child for Parcells's button-pushing capabilities.
"He's playing like the old Terry Glenn that I know," Law said. "I always thought he was one of the more talented receivers in the game. He's starting to show it a little bit. He's probably in a comfort zone right now. I heard one of the commentators say the `she' thing is still lingering. If that's the case, she's playing well, and that's all that matters. When he puts his mind to it, he's one of the best receivers in the league."
Almost no one thought Parcells could turn around the Cowboys this quickly -- they are tied with the Panthers for the best record in the NFC -- but Johnson said, "I'm not that surprised, quite honestly. He brings credibility wherever he goes. Obviously he has the ability to make players believe in him, and it's no different in Dallas. They're rallying around him and doing what he says, and they're 7-2 like us."
Bruschi's focus is making certain his team isn't the one that is 7-3 after Sunday night.
"I don't see who's coaching for them, I see who's going to be playing for them," said Bruschi, "and that's who we have to worry about."
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.