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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Model team has been worth the wait

The New England Patriots are more than a winning football team in our midst. They are a true role model for coaches and players everywhere in every sport.

Admittedly, the "role model" thing is overdone. Ideally, role models would be the parents, teachers, and coaches who actually interact with young players, but too often it's the poster on the wall who gets the job, and that leaves potential for disillusionment when Mr. Poster ends up on a police blotter or trips on feet of clay. Impressionable youths always are going to look up to superstar ballplayers, and some athletes handle the uninvited responsibility better than others.

That's not what I'm talking about. We can't pretend to know all of the admirable or detestable qualities of these mastodons of Gillette or any other professional sports team. Richard Seymour, Troy Brown, Tom Brady, and Tedy Bruschi all seem like great guys, but we don't really know them. Fine. That's not our job and it's not their job.

But what we do know is that these Patriots at this hour do everything a team is supposed to do, which includes winning but involves so much more than scoring more points than the other team every week.

Take a bow, Bob Kraft, Scott Pioli, Bill Belichick, and all of you players and coaches. The 2004-05 Patriots, as currently constituted, demonstrate the concept of team better than any unit playing professional sports today. This is not simply because they are 15-2 and have a shot at a third Super Bowl title in four years. It's more. In an era of selfish, uncoachable, fundamentally unsound athletes, New England's pro football family has assembled a unit that serves as a standard of success for coaches across the land.

We've seen Gene Hackman in "Hoosiers." We've seen Denzel Washington in "Remember the Titans." Now we're watching Belichick in a reality TV show that gives hope to coaches everywhere. What Belichick is doing is proof that sometimes the players actually buy into the system and put the team ahead of themselves. It's a boost to all the coaches of the world.

"The Patriots definitely make my job easier," says Vito Capizzo, who's coached Nantucket High School for 41 years, winning 284 games. "They are a role model for younger kids. We only had 19 players this year so every player had to learn multiple positions and play both ways. They see the Patriots losing Law and Poole and Seymour, and guys fill in. They learn to pitch in and be successful.

"I'll tell you what else I like. These Patriots don't have a star, really. They play as a team, and everybody gives 150 percent. They also know that defense wins championships."

Think about it. None of the Patriots complain about assignments or playing time. Nobody repeats mistakes. Nobody gets jealous of anybody else.

They do what they are told and appear to do so willingly. If they have disagreements, they keep it to themselves.

They sacrifice for one another. They play out of position without complaint. They don't get hung up on personal statistics. They don't supply bulletin-board material for the other team.

Peter Capodilupo, who has coached football at Newton North for 20 years, says, "It's a great thing to have locally. Remember when they all came out of the tunnel together at the Super Bowl? A lot of coaches seized on that. The big thing is that they respect each other so much.

"I tell my kids that the thing that is important is what your teammates think of you 20 years from now. These Patriots play for their teammates in a profound way. When they tire, they keep working. They accept criticism from other people. They have self-respect and accept the consequences for their actions. `If I drop the ball, it's my fault, nobody else's.' But as a team, they rejoice together."

Brown certainly stands out as a consummate professional. At the age of 33, he has switched from offense to defense. He doesn't make excuses. He just says, "I'm a football player."

Then there's Brady, who has every God-given attribute that could make him a complete jerk and engender tremendous jealousy. The clutch quarterback is simply just too talented, too good-looking, and too poised. Not fair. He's the guy we all secretly hated in high school because we wanted to be him, but the Patriot quarterback is careful to spread the gold and the glory around the locker room. He works as hard as or harder than anyone else. He plays hard and plays hurt. He eschews the entitlements that generally come to the star QB. He is, in fact, the anti-Pedro Martinez.

"If Brady is modest and doesn't care about statistics, then how can the second-string tackle complain?" asks Capodilupo. "Same with Corey Dillon. Money and stats don't seem to be issues. And they've discovered that there are tremendous advantages to being unselfish."

There. A bouquet of gratitude to the footballers of Foxborough. Whether or not they win the Super Bowl again (they will), the 2004-05 Patriots are the perfect team. And they make life easier for all of those underpaid, hard-working men and women who coach our kids.

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

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