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Dan Shaughnessy

Team is hitting all green lights

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / December 6, 2004

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CLEVELAND -- Boston sports fans have seen a team like this before. Once. Red Auerbach's Celtics, early 1960s.

You've got to be north of 50 to remember those guys, or maybe you've just heard about them, but in 1960, Auerbach's gunners were on their way to a third NBA championship in four seasons. They had the smartest coach and a roster of players who did everything he asked them to do. They stressed team over individual achievement and they always won when it mattered. The owner, Walter Brown, was considered a civic treasure.

Sound like any football team you know?

In 1960 the Celtics rolled to their third championship, which would be the second of eight in a row. These New England Patriots are not going to win the next seven Super Bowls, but they've got a good shot at winning a third in four years when the big game is played in Jacksonville, Fla., Feb. 6.

These Patriots are so good, they have sucked much of the drama out of our Sundays. Most game days, you just know there is no way they are going to lose. Yesterday was one of those days. Playing on the banks of Lake Erie (hard to come here without remembering Oil Can Boyd talking about the ballpark "by the ocean") the Patriots trounced the Browns, 42-15. It got so bad in the second half, I think I saw Earthwind Moreland sneaking into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame next door to check out his mom's favorite band. Rohan Davey replaced Tom Brady with two minutes left in the third quarter.

New England stuck with the time-tested formula. The Patriots have scored first in 17 straight games and they scored first yesterday when Bethel Johnson ran the opening kick back 93 yards to make it 7-0 only 14 seconds into the game. The Patriots have won 30 straight when they lead at halftime and they led Cleveland, 21-7, at the half. They've won 36 straight when leading after three and it was 42-7 after three. Adam Vinatieri always makes his kicks. Yesterday he was 6 for 6 in PATs.

If you are a Patriot fan, the only drama now is following Pittsburgh every weekend, hoping for the Steelers to lose. Home field is going to be crucial when the Patriots get to the conference championship game.

And they are going there. The Patriots are 11-1 with remaining games against the Bengals, Dolphins, Jets, and 49ers. They could lose at the Meadowlands the day after Christmas, but they are looking at a record of at least 14-2 when the playoffs start. In the AFC, only the Colts and Steelers are capable of beating them.

"I hope people aren't taking this for granted," Brady said as he walked to the bus after the rout. "We prepare, and this is hard."

Few of the people around the Patriots are old enough to understand the Celtic analogy. Remember we aren't talking about the Larry Bird Celtics of the '80s or the Dave Cowens Celtics of the '70s. This is something that goes back to the Kennedy administration.

Scott Pioli, architect of the roster, (the Patriots of today, like the Celtics of yore, have had some magical drafts) along with coach Bill Belichick, scratched his head and said, "I was born in '65, so I don't know about those Celtics. I heard they were good, though."

Those Celtics were more than good. They were a model for every coach in every sport. They understood the team concept. They had Hall of Famers but never a scoring champ. They put their egos on the shelf. And they had a coach who was years ahead of the competition.

Belichick is old enough to remember what it was like when Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, and the rest roamed the parquet, but he grew up a football kid in Maryland.

"I was aware of them later when I was at Andover and Wesleyan," said the coach. "I know about Russell-Chamberlain. But I can't make that comparison. Those guys won, what, like nine championships?"

The coach is too smart to bite because it can only blow up in his face. Red would have been the same way if someone had posed such an outrageous analogy back in 1960. Smart coaches don't need to brag about what they are doing. We do it for them. And Belichick, like Auerbach, is maneuvering pawns and knights while his peers are leaning over the checkerboard.

No one ever is going to be Bill Russell, but Brady is cut from the same mold. He is certainly Russell to Peyton Manning's Chamberlain. Like Russell, he is not a numbers guy, but a consummate winner.

The Joe Montana/San Francisco 49ers were Brady's Celtics when he was a kid. "I looked up to them and everything they did," remembered the quarterback. "And yeah, I remember looking at the upcoming game and seeing that they were playing the Saints and thinking, `That's a win.' "

Which is what Patriot fans are doing just about every week this season.

The Dallas Cowboys were Tedy Bruschi's Celtics. He's proud to be a member of New England's new model sports team.

"I hope it would be good to be a fan of our team now and not just because we win football games, but because of the quality of individuals we have here," said the linebacker. "There's a lot of things going on in sports that you would rather not have your kids seeing on TV right now. If I wanted to show a kid what team sports is all about, I'd go buy him a Patriots hat."

Just like when kids had Celtic banners thumbtacked to their bedroom walls back in 1960 -- the last time we saw a team like this team.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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