If the past week-plus of Super Bowl coverage has taught us anything, it is that sports media can be nauseatingly trite and supremely reductive when it wants to be. Everything boils down to the easy explanation, the elevator pitch, the character-capped snipe.
The local discourse is typically binary. You take a side, I take a side. It’s either Brady or Bledsoe. Parcells or Belichick. Bud Light or Coors Light. The unbridled euphoria of Gary Glitter’s Rock & Roll Pt. 2 or a public relations stratagem that includes eliminating the Patriotic right to scream ‘HEY’ after home team touchdowns. You get the point…
When it comes to the Patriots and Pete Carroll’s tenure from 1997-1999, the reductive and universally accepted narrative from the media is that it was a disaster. It was the failure that drove him to grow professionally and prove doubters wrong at USC. Locally, it was the bridge between the two contradicting yet equally polarizing styles of Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick.
The prevalent memory of Carroll’s time is that he possessed a damaging level of over-exuberance, embodied most infamously by his proclamation that he was “jacked and pumped,” a throwaway line he gave the media once or maybe twice during the build up to important games for the team he was being paid to motivate.
Predictably, the local scribes ran with that little nugget and the rest is (revisionist) history.
Carroll had his flaws and was ill-prepared at that time to be an NFL head coach. The Patriots record fell from 11-5 in 1996 under Parcells to 10-6 in 1997 under Carroll. He lost a win each year, bottoming out at 8-8 in ‘99. He lost mainly with other people’s guys. And the team’s draft picks were horrendous – though Carroll had limited say in personnel.
A .500 record in some years in this age of parity would still be good enough for a playoff slot. With that in mind, it is intellectually dishonest to paint his time here as an unequivocal failure as many do. It is a simpleton’s narrative that fails the memory of a period of a franchise that was on the cusp of greatness but not yet in its midst. To trash the guy that preceded The Guy isn’t fair.
Each of the three teams Carroll coached fell short of expectations. Go ahead and debate how much of a hand he had undoing Parcells’ accomplishments. However, for those of us with the capacity for complex thought, those years served as a worthy prelude to what has transpired in the 15 years since.
Elated, newly hired Pete Carroll:
Hands-on, slightly creepy Pete Carroll:
Athletic Pete Carroll (better release than Russell Wilson!):
Life-is-good Pete Carroll (1997):
Life-is-hard Pete Carroll (1998):
The face Patriots fans hope makes an extended cameo on Super Bowl Sunday:
Lest us forget Bledsoe’s heroics in playing with a broken index finger on his throwing hand. Without a banged up Drew at the helm to steal a couple of games NE had no business winning, the 1998 Patriots would have missed the playoffs and Carroll would have one less playoff loss on his resume right now.
The ’98 Patriots beat the 49ers at home for the first time since 1975 in a game they needed and which Fuckin’ Scott Zolak started, replacing Bledsoe – who had broken his index finger earlier in the season. (The shy, soft-spoken Zolak handled his success as a back-up with the utmost grace and was never heard from again…)
Let’s close with this mindfuck: What if Bills linebacker John Holecek, who missed Drew Bledsoe on this scramble in 1999, had managed to gain the same angle going toward the sideline that Mo Lewis had two years later?