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How does a Patriots fan reconcile rooting for Pete Carroll or Peyton Manning?

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  January 30, 2014 08:56 PM

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Don't know about you guys, but I don't think I'll be able to make up my mind about who I'm pulling for in Super Bowl XLVII Sunday until well past the alleged 6:30 p.m. opening kickoff.

I figure it's only after the game begins that my authentic rooting interest/specific loathing will kick in.

With pumped-and-jacked Pete Carroll preening on one sideline and longtime New England rival and recent conqueror Peyton Manning leading the huddle on the opposing side, it's impossible to predetermine who you want to win when you're coming at it from a Patriots angle.

I can't imagine pulling for either to prevail, yet a tie is out of the question, and it's probably bad form to suggest this ought to be the football game to which Bane finally bought a ticket.

Let's start with Carroll. I just can't fathom how any Patriots fan who lived through his exasperating and unfulfilllng time here can root for the guy. The revisionist history -- namely that he must have done a good job since his .562 winning percentage is second in franchise history to Belichick's ridiculous .728 -- drives me nuts.

What happened? Here's what happened. Carroll, who coached the Patriots from 1997-99, inherited an extremely talented young team from Parcells, one that had just come off a Super Bowl appearance. He had a 25-year-old potential franchise quarterback in Drew Bledsoe. He had 24-year-old future Hall of Fame running back Curtis Martin, 28-year-old All-Pro tight end Ben Coates, and electrifying (if troubled) 23-year-old receiver Terry Glenn as the stars on offense, plus role players Keith Byars, Troy Brown, Shawn Jefferson and Dave Meggett, and don't you think Tom Brady would like to be surrounded by that kind of talent now?

Defensively, there was a gifted young core left behind by Parcells -- cornerback Ty Law, linebacker/end Willie McGinest, linebackers Chris Slade and Tedy Bruschi, and safety Lawyer Milloy. The Patriots were set up to contend for years.

And what happened? Gradual regression and diminishing returns due in large part to a lack of institutional discipline, not just through the years but in each individual season of Carroll's reign.

In 1997, the Patriots started 4-0, ended up 10-6, and lost to the Steelers in the divisional round when Todd Collins failed to push Kordell Stewart out of bounds in a 7-6 loss.

In 1998, the Patriots started 4-1, ended up 9-7, and lost to the Jaguars in the first round, in part because of injuries (Scott Zolak started at quarterback).

In 1999, the Patriots started 6-2, finished 8-8, and missed the playoffs. They won their final game that season, with Carroll getting tripped up and falling on his face while running on the field to celebrate the meaningless win. He was soon fired.

It's nice that Carroll can admit he wasn't the coach then that he is now, that he learned from his time here. He does still seem like a nice guy, but he's added a layer of ruthlessness -- there have been an inordinate amount of PED suspensions on his team, which suggests something about the coach.

And his Seahawks players talk of always having to fight for their jobs. That was the most frustrating aspect of his time in New England -- there was no accountability.

Bledsoe, who often spoke of how much more he liked Carroll's approach than Parcells's, stagnated as a quarterback (and was often exposed by less-talented Jets teams, with Belichick helming Parcells's defense).

Glenn, who respected Parcells even as the coach needled him, spiraled out of control. Martin departed to join the Jets. McGinest couldn't stay on the field. Law alternated between brilliant and inconsistent. And with Bobby Grier botching draft after draft, reinforcements never arrived.

A potentially great thing -- a potential Super Bowl champion at a time when the Patriots had yet to win one, when the chance meant everything -- went by the wayside on Carroll's watch. He redeemed himself elsewhere. But to me, he remains unforgivable here.

ma.JPGManning is the lesser of two annoyances, at least entering the game. He used to be a punch-line for Patriots fans ("Cut that meat!," etc.) but in his latter years he's been a worthy foil, someone who has learned to match wits with Bill Belichick and emerge victorious. He's not quite at the level of Mariano Rivera when it comes to most respected Boston opponent, but he's getting there, and he's certainly ahead of Derek Jeter, whose apparent shortstop-for-life entitlement runs counter to the cultivated top-of-the-dugout team-player image. It's like Wes Mantooth says in Anchorman: "At the bottom of my gut, with every inch of me, I plain, straight hate you. But [semi-expletive], do I respect you!"

(I figure the Anchorman analogy is apt because Manning is probably the only man on earth who has been in more commercials than Will Ferrell/Ron Burgundy over the past year.)

But that lesser-annoyance thing, yeah, that would change with a Manning/Broncos victory. There's long been an eagerness in the national media to anoint Manning, affable and fairly accessible football royalty, as the premier quarterback of his generation, if not, absurdly, all-time. One problem with that itchy proclamation -- Tom Brady has been his superior. He's won more championships, he's generally been surrounded by lesser offensive talent, he thrived in cold weather while Manning benefited from playing at least half of his annual games as a Colt indoors, and he owned Manning head to head.

A victory would pull Manning to within one Lombardi Trophy of Brady's haul. And given that he set league record for passing yard and touchdowns at age 37 two years removed from a career-threatening neck injury -- and that he vanquished the Patriots without a moment of drama to get here -- there will be a full-out sprint by analysts to deify him as the best of his era and any era should he win. Thank goodness this game isn't on NBC, because Tony Dungy would be insufferable in the aftermath.

Maybe there's another way to look at it. Maybe none of this -- this being a 13-year run of excellence that just isn't supposed to be possible in the salary cap era -- happens without either of them. Manning didn't exactly hurt the Patriots in the early years of these glory days -- in a sense, his subpar performance in big moments made him complicit in their success. And if Robert Kraft had just hired Belichick in the first place instead of Carroll after Parcells slinked out of town, maybe great things happen sooner. Or maybe Tom Brady never arrives here with the 199th pick in the 2000 NFL Draft and the sliding doors/butterfly effect of that one decision changes everything.

Man, it's a tough call. Champion Peyton, or champion Pete? Maybe the solution is to root against the one Joe Buck puffs up the most.

But I'm picking Denver to win. Man, I was here in '99. I saw it. I saw Pete Carroll literally fall on his face celebrating a meaningless win for a lost cause. And I still can't believe that guy who let a good thing rot here is on the fringe of winning a Super Bowl.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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