Ty Law was officially elected into the New England Patriots Hall of Fame this week.
Bill Parcells was not.
That is dumb.
That’s not to speak ill of Law’s deservedness, particularly because only a fool would argue otherwise. The 1995 draft pick out of Michigan turned out to be the greatest cornerback in Patriots franchise history, a key component in each of New England’s three Super Bowl wins, and arguably should have been Super Bowl XXXVI MVP. If you handed anyone a sheet of paper with Law’s name on it along with a pair of others, and were told to choose only one, as is wont the Patriots Hall fan vote process, it’s an effortless task. Law gets the mark.
Still, how in the hell is Parcells not a member of the Patriots Hall of Fame?
In the grand scheme, the whole process boils down to nothing more than a popularity contest, but that’s perhaps what’s so irking about it. The perception of Parcells among a faction of Patriots fans still seems to highlight that he jumped ship, more concerned about working a deal with the New York Jets than preparing his team for its Super Bowl showdown against the Green Bay Packers. But here’s the gross reality: Without Bill Parcells, you don’t have Bill Belichick. You don’t have Tom Brady, three Super Bowl trophies, or Robert Kraft’s Route One Patriot Empire.
You probably don’t have a team.
I’d say he’s of some importance, no?
As far as owners go, the best thing about James Orthwein is that he wasn’t Victor Kiam, which is actually high praise. Less than a year after he took helm of the Patriots, Orthwein did indeed make the most significant move in team history when he hired Parcells to take over as coach for well-liked, but incompetent Dick MacPherson, who had just led the Patriots to an embarrassing 2-14 record during the 1992 season. It was Jan. 21, 1993.
“I think he automatically gives this organization a credibility that it lost a long time ago,” Beasley Reece, a former Giants player turned semi-coherent broadcaster, said that day. It’s probably the most comprehensive thought the man has ever delivered.
Perhaps there were some underlying layers to Orthwein’s decision to hire a guy like Parcells, namely that maybe there might be some national attention diverted to his team, particularly from St. Louis, where the Budweiser beer baron soon announced he hoped to bring the franchise. When the Midwest town didn’t receive an expansion team in 1993, honors which went to Charlotte and Jacksonville, the owner put his plan in motion to pack up in Foxborough and head west. Of course, in order for that to happen, he would have to break the lease on Foxboro Stadium, which Kraft bought in 1988 from the Sullivan family for $25 million in U.S Bankruptcy Court.
The rest, you know. Kraft bought the team for $168 million. The Empire is now worth around $1.2 billion. But even though Kraft was a fan, would he have ever bought the team if he hadn’t witnessed what we all did during the ’93 season? The building blocks toward only respectability were not only in place, but the potential for greatness as well.
“I’m personally very proud of what we have accomplished in the 19 months that I’ve owned the franchise,” Orthwein said on the day of the sale. “The franchise that I’m passing on is not the one that I purchased. When I bought the team, there was more focus on what was occurring off the field than what was occurring on the field. The Patriots were viewed with disdain, both around the league and in the community.”
It seems so foreign these days, but the Patriots truly were an afterthought. Parcells helped change that not only with his mere presence, but his football acumen. The Patriots chose the right guy in Drew Bledsoe over Rick Mirer. Parcells hit home runs with draft picks like Willie McGinest, Lawyer Milloy, and Law. He signed some kicker named Vinatieri. He brought his guys in, both players from his most recent Super Bowl-winning Giants team, and coaches, including Belichick.
He made the Patriots important.
Fans would seemingly rather point to his 32-32 record with the team and the fact that he left in a messy dispute with Kraft, an impending divorce that prompted old pal Will McDonough to pen a lengthy account of the situation that ran the morning of the Super Bowl. It’s a grossly erroneous take you can blame on the inherent “show me now” attitude the fan base has assumed.
The way the Patriots Hall of Fame is set up, Parcells is always destined to lose. Fans get the chance to vote for one nomination each year, and this year the Tuna only went up against Law and Raymond Clayborn. I mean, at what point does Parcells get competition like Scott Secules? We won’t even discuss why Mosi Tatupu hasn’t been honored yet, but the further we get from those dark days, the more we tend to forget about what really transpired here. If Patriots fans deem themselves an appreciative fan base for everything Mr. Kraft, Belichick, and Brady have given them, they’re completely missing the point if they’re still holding a grudge against Parcells, whose fingerprints were even still on the Super Bowl-winning teams. Belichick lucked out with Brady, but who put the key defensive components – Law, Milloy, Tedy Bruschi, Ted Johnson, McGinest – of that first title team together?
That doesn’t deny Belichick’s coaching, but exaggerates the fact that Parcells’ presence remained eight years after the team hired him. Whatever your particular agenda is, that’s just sort of an indisputable fact.
So is the fact that Parcells is responsible for helping turn a wayward franchise into the NFL powerhouse it is today.
“I knew the Celtics’ history — everybody knows that,” Parcells told the Globe’s Dan Shaughessy prior to his Football Hall of Fame induction in Canton, Ohio last year. “And having followed the Red Sox myself, I knew the respect that they demanded. I didn’t know too much about hockey, but I knew the Bruins were very popular, as well. Once you start to get good players, none of that stuff makes any difference.’’
Orthwein, who died in 2008, doesn’t get the credit for getting the right coach either. He’s remembered primarily for his threat to move the team and little else. Hiring the “big-name” coach is a maneuver many a floundering franchise have attempted in hopes of gaining some level of respectability. Nowhere did it work out with more infinite success than in New England.
Bob Dee, Jon Morris, and Jim Lee Hunt are all worthy members of the Patriots Hall of Fame, just as are Bledsoe, Troy Brown, Bruschi, and Law.
Parcells belongs there too. Whether or not you want to admit it, he’s the biggest reason the fans, the league, and yes, the Krafts, have here what we do now.