Excellent Modern Day History Of The New England Patriots

 

9780312384852The Blueprint: How the New England Patriots Beat the System to Create the Last Great NFL Superpower
by Christopher Price

 

Review by C. Douglas Baker

 

This book lays out the reason the New England Patriots have been able to sustain a high level of excellence over the past seven years in an era of salary cap limitations that aggressively promotes parity.

Despite this, the Patriots have appeared in four of the last seven Super Bowls, winning three of them. 

Last year they posted an 18-0 record before being defeated in Super Bowl XLII 17-14 by the New York Giants in a rather poorly played game on the Patriot’s part.

How do they do it?

First, Robert Kraft is no longer the meddling owner he was when Bill Parcels was the head coach. He lets the football people make the football decisions, especially on personnel.

Second, Bill Belichick is clearly one of the smartest coaches when it comes to strategy (Super Bowl XLII being an exception).

But he too has learned from his mistakes as head coach of the Cleveland Browns. He treats his players a little differently and has more control over personnel, even though his media skills still lack something to be desired.

Third, Belichick doesn’t try to do everything. It’s impossible. While he has final say over all football related matters, he relies heavily on Scott Piloli, head of player personnel.

Piloli has been with Belichick for a long time and their scouting department turns up high character players who fit Belichick’s system. Their drafts under Belichick have been very good, for the most part, which is critical for building a team.

Fourth, Belichick mostly lets the players police themselves.

The veterans on the team know what it takes to win championships and the team first philosophy that permeates the organization is not just lip service. The veteran players work to make sure everyone stays on this course.

Fifth, the Patriots adroitly manage the salary cap. Unlike a lot of teams they don’t sell out by signing players to huge contracts and guaranteed money to make a one time championship run.

Doing this can hamstring a team for years as players with large signing bonuses counting against the salary cap for years, even if they are no longer productive or even on the team.

Furthermore, there is no sentimentality to their decisions.

They cut Lawyer Malloy, a mainstay at strong safety for several years and a favorite of fans, players, and coaches alike, because of a contract dispute where they felt the amount of money he wanted was not in the long-term interests of team.

And finally they have Tom Brady.

Successful teams must have a decent quarterback at the helm. Brady, a sixth round draft pick, has turned out to be one of the best quarterbacks of his generation. Having mostly a solid defense and Brady at the helm of the offense has been critical to the team’s success.

Overall this book is reasonably well written and is an excellent modern day history of the New England Patriots franchise.

The first part of the book deals with pre-Kraft Patriots history. It was necessary to set up the rest of the book, but there is nothing particularly new here.

The rest of the book does a good job of laying out just why the Patriots have been successful over the past seven years.

That said this book needed a better copy editor. There are many places where conjunctions are missing, which is annoying to the reader.

In one chapter a quote by Belichick is repeated within a few paragraphs of each other. At times the author tells us something and then basically repeats the same information in different words, which is what happened with the redundant quote.

Nevertheless, this is a book that Patriots fans and football fans in general, should greatly enjoy.

The Blueprint: How the New England Patriots Beat the System to Create the Last Great NFL Superpower

Review of Super Bowl XLI Champions DVD: Peyton Manning Wins the Big One

51sjr0-fdl__sl500_aa240_The Indianapolis Colts, after several years of Playoff frustration and failing to meet high expectations, finally won a Super Bowl when they topped the Chicago Bears in the game’s 41st iteration.

But though the team’s tale is one of success, the DVD chronicling it isn’t so great. This highlights package, which has been done for each Super Bowl for several years now, is not one of the better efforts by NFL Films.

I am sure Colts fans will greatly enjoy reliving the long-awaited championship season and will want this as a keepsake. The regular-season highlights are mostly well done, but the Playoff highlights are of mixed quality. The Super Bowl clips were, in general, very good, but a bit lacking in the emotional buildup and suspense that makes these packages a delight for fans.

But the biggest disappointment is that the disc does not have the full game on it as some of the previous editions have. Also, the bonus features are sub-par, as the montages are short and not very informative or revealing.

As with other DVDs in this series, the main feature is an hour-or-so-long highlight reel of Indianapolis’ 2006 season, featuring bits of every regular season and Playoff game and extensive footage from the Super Bowl.

But this version does only an average job of really building the suspense and emotion of the season. It simply lacked the kind of emotional drama and tension I have come to expect in these packages. There also weren’t very many close-up, on-the-field shots that bring the action up-close and personal.

Another key drawback to this production is a lack of completeness; they obscure the real story behind the games by leaving out key details. Yes, that is a complaint you can make about all the videos like this the NFL produces; in the short time span allotted to each game, important plays and turning points are often left out.

This entry in the series, however, is particularly guilty; there is one segment that leaves the viewer with a false impression of what really happened in the game. The highlights of the Colts’ 23-8 first-round Playoff victory over the Kansas City Chiefs show a story that is is only half-correct.

The Colts defense did step up and shut down one of the most potent running attacks (and offenses) in the league by holding Kansas City running back Larry Johnson to only 32 yards rushing. But the Colts offense did not have a great game, though the production extolls the virtues of Peyton Manning and his outfit. Almost nothing was said about Manning’s three interceptions and the general sloppiness and inconsistency of the offense.

Yes, the key story in that game was the Colts D, but without pointing out the shakiness of the offense in its first 2007 postseason game, the DVD gives an inaccurate portrayal of the contest. As an historical record of the Colts’ run to the Super Bowl, I find this egregious.

As noted, this highlights package is average, at best, but there are some good things about it, too. The opening montage has a few nicely understated interviews about the heartbreaking postseason losses of the team in the three prior seasons, twice to the New England Patriots and to the Pittsburgh Steelers in ’05.

The best and most revealing interview was with Jim Irsay, owner of the Colts, who said before the season (paraphrased): “We don’t want our legacy to be one of the best teams to never win a championship. Our legacy has yet to be determined.”

That was a great summation of the position the Colts found themselves in in 2007.

The disc also has a solid chronicle of the Colts’ mid- to late-season breakdown on defense; they became the regular season’s worst team at rushing defense, and this could not continue in the Playoffs if they expected to make a championship run. Scenes that follow show how the defense really turned it around in late December and beyond by shutting down some powerful running attacks, helping propel the Colts into the Super Bowl.

 Of course, Peyton Manning is the star of the show, but kudos to the compilers for featuring the outstanding play of the offensive line, rookie running back Joseph Addai, receivers Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, tight end Dallas Clark, and the impact of the return of safety Bob Sanders from an injury. This more well-rounded approach is refreshing, as the film could have ended up as a simple ode to the team’s signal caller.

The recap of the Colts’ 29-17 victory over Chicago in the season’s final game was generally well done, though emotional drama was notably missing. It did show one awesome play: safety Bob Sanders before the snap, then him rushing toward Cedric Benson, the Chicago running back, and making a picture-perfect hit, tackle, and forced fumble.

It was a beautiful play and an outstanding piece of camera work and editing; the collection could have used more stuff like that. If I were a Colts fan that would have gotten me really pumped. Too bad there wasn’t more of this type of action throughout.

The bonus materials were mostly a complete waste of time. Honestly, this might be the worst I’ve seen yet in these productions.

First, as noted earlier, it didn’t have the full game broadcast, which is a big strike against it for me. It also featured the NFL Network Postgame show, featuring talking heads (mostly Jim Mora, former Colts head coach) saying not much of anything and no real analysis of the game.

There is a heartwarming profile of Colts linebacker Gary Brackett, who lost both his parents within four months of each other and his brother of leukemia about a year later after he donated bone marrow to him, as well as a profile of coach Tony Dungy. There are a few wired-for-sound segments of Manning, Harrison, and the staff in games against the Patriots, but that was nothing special.

The two quick segments on Peyton Manning’s well-known antics behind the line of scrimmage before snapping the ball and how Tony Dungy runs practice were also okay, but uninformative to the avid football fan.

There is a more extensive package for the Colts-Patriots AFC Championship game which offers more thorough highlights than that of the main feature, but this suffers from the same lack of game analysis and drama as the rest of the video.

And, of course, there are the obligatory shots of a few Colts players and Tony Dungy being interviewed during Media Day. This didn’t elicit much really, although the interview with defensive tackle Anthony McFarland talking about Tony Dungy’s coaching style was interesting.

Finally, while I could care less about halftime shows or pre-game bits, I was at first baffled that the bonus materials included the dreadful Cirque Du Soleil affair from beforehand but not Prince’s performance, which I actually found entertaining. But then I realized that Prince slipped in a phallic symbol during the show (and yes, I’m pretty sure he did it on purpose) and that that’s probably why it’s not on the DVD.

Despite the many drawbacks, I am sure Colts fans will find this very entertaining as they relive a great, well-deserved championship season. Congratulations to Indianapolis for a great season.

Disclaimer: I am an avid New England Patriots fan and this video actually made me want to puke. But it did not affect my review of the video. The fact I didn’t break down in tears or break any furniture during the highlights of the AFC Championship game is evidence enough of the general lack of drama-building and emotional tension of the presentation.

NFL Super Bowl XLI – Indianapolis Colts Championship DVD

Review of No Excuses by Charlie Weis

51salmpu0gl__sl500_aa240_No Excuses: One Man’s Incredible Rise Through the NFL to Head Coach of Notre Dame by Charlie Weis with Vic Carucci

Book Review by C. Douglas Baker

No Excuses details the rise of Charlie Weis from a high school football coach to a stint as an offensive coordinator and head coaching candidate in the NFL to the head coach of the storied Notre Dame football program.

Weis certainly doesn’t have the resume of most prominent head football coaches in the NFL. As a Notre Dame undergrad, instead of diagramming plays and obsessing about football like so many other head coaches in his position, Weis longed for a career as a sports broadcaster.

Having also gotten a degree in English, Weis found himself teaching and coaching sports in high school where he started to learn the nuances of the game. Through contacts, Weis eventually wound up as an assistant coach at the University of South Carolina.

While at South Carolina he did some grunt work breaking down plays for the New York Giants. Noticing his work ethic and acumen, Weis was eventually offered a job by head coach Bill Parcells. The job was low on the pecking order but it gave Weis his start in the NFL.

From there, of course, he climbed through the ranks, eventually following Bill Belichick, Parcells’ long time defensive coordinator, to the New England Patriots where he served as offensive coordinator.

Three Super Bowl championships later and a brush with death after gastric bypass surgery to control his weight, Weis was offered a job as head football coach at his alma mater, Notre Dame, a job he just couldn’t turn down.

This book really is not about football. It’s mostly about Weis’ rise through the ranks and his personal work and moral ethics that are the groundwork for what he teaches players and how he tries to conduct himself in the rough and tumble world of professional and big time college football.

Much of his coaching philosophy comes from his sports crazed childhood and current family life, in which he has a special needs child. He seems to have a very solid foundation for a job that requires a great deal of leadership and motivational skills.

The biggest drawback of the book is a lack of material about the biggest games Weis has been involved in as a coach and his football philosophy (the X’s and O’s). There’s little here about the day to day activities of a coach, nor is there a chronicling of the Patriots’ Super Bowl winning seasons which Weis was an integral part of.

Readers looking for a book about football or the New England Patriots (or the New York Giants) will be disappointed. I know I was, a little.

There is, however, a very good chronicling of Weis’ near death experience after gastric bypass surgery and how Tom Brady, the New England Patriots’ quarterback, helped his wife cope with the situation. It’s a rather touching story about Brady and gives insight into why he is so well liked around the league.

Overall, this is a very readable, engaging book and interesting for football fans—despite that it talks little about football specifically.

No Excuses: One Man’s Incredible Rise Through the NFL to Head Coach of Notre Dame

Great Inside Look at The 1967 Green Bay Packers

9780307486325_9780307486325Instant Replay: The Green Bay Diary of Jerry Kramer
Review by C. Douglas Baker

I’m a big professional football fan and love reading about football. Jerry Kramer’s Green Bay Packers diary – which details the 1967 season of the Green Packers, was quite an enjoyable and educational read for me.

For starters, the Green Bay Packers in 1967 were clearly the best team in pro football but were showing signs of aging. This season saw the infamous Ice Bowl against the Dallas Cowboys in the NFL Championship where Jerry Kramer threw a key block to get Bart Starr in for a touchdown, securing a trip to Super Bowl II. And of course this year also saw the Packers win its second straight Super Bowl and the legendary coach Vince Lombari’s retirement from the Green Bay Packers.

Kramer’s diary is pretty much just that – a retelling of what he went through during the 1967 season. Some things are familiar. Don’t let the hyperbole or nostalgia fool you, money WAS a big issue in professional football back then even if the contracts were not that large. Kramer talks a lot about money and business issues in his book.

Kramer also tells us a bit about what it was like to be a player under Coach Lombardi who drove the players relentlessly and made them better than they otherwise would have been both as individuals and a team.

The players clearly had a love-hate, father-son relationship with the coach. Also, some of the stories about the playboys on the team like Max McGee and Paul Hornung are humorous. In today’s NFL it seems the shenanigans of players involve guns and criminality. On this team, it was just booze and chicks, good old boys having fun.

And of course it was interesting to see how Kramer thought of the upcoming opponents – both individuals and teams – as he prepared to face them.

Maybe the most interesting aspect of the book is a bit of introspection on Kramer’s part. He was an older player (31), by football standards, and feeling it. He often wondered why he went through the pain of pro football and it mainly came down to a simple fact – he was a football player. While he didn’t define himself totally by football, in essence that is what he felt he was. Of course the money and the championships made it worth it.

Overall I would definitely recommend this book to professional football fans.

 Instant Replay: The Green Bay Diary of Jerry Kramer

Excellent Tribute to Pittsburgh Steelers Super Bowl XL Championship

51xco1npd0l__sl500_aa240_This Pittsburgh Steelers Super Bowl XL highlight package is very nicely done and should be a real keepsake for Steelers fans. In fact, it may be the most well done highlights package I’ve seen among this video series. It even evoked emotions in this viewer—and I am a New England Patriots fan.

The biggest disappointment in this DVD however, is that the bonus features are awful. There really is only one good segment and the rest is just terrible.

And, worst of all, unlike the past two years, it does not include the entire Super Bowl game! Steelers’ fans should be quite disappointed with the bonus features given what was included in the previous two Super Bowl videos for the New England Patriots. More on that later.

The feature of this DVD is about an hour long highlights reel of the Pittsburgh Steelers 2005 season. It includes highlights of every regular season and playoff game. The highlights for the playoffs and Super Bowl are quite extensive.

It closely breaks down the crazy, topsy-turvy Pittsburgh victory over the Indianapolis Colts in the divisional round of the playoffs, which featured a dramatic Jerome Bettis fumble at the end of regulation that could have cost the Steelers the game.

The video also contains sound bites from coaches, players, and from the locker room during the course of the season.

Overall this highlights package is very well done. I especially liked the opening montage showing Pittsburgh Steelers’ mistakes and losses in several AFC Championship games (some in which they were heavily favored) and Super Bowl XXX against Dallas—reminding us just how close this team has come to winning it all the past 10 years but fallen just short.

It ends with Hines Ward weeping in front of the camera after the previous year’s loss to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, setting the stage for a season that saw them win it all in tough circumstances.

As noted, special attention is given the Steelers’ victory over the Indianapolis Colts in the Divisional Playoff Game, which was quite well done. I also liked many of the close-up, on the field shots that bring that action right into your lap.

The drawbacks to the highlights package, to me, is that for individual games often the drama and key important plays are just not quite brought out enough. I felt they did a better job with the playoff games than the regular season games, at least better than most previous additions.

Also, a lot, maybe too much, attention is given to Jerome Bettis, who really becomes the central focus and story of the video at times. I am not sure how Steelers fans will feel about this but I thought it might have been a tad overdone at the expense of other players.

Finally, and this should not surprise anyone given this is an NFL product, there was not much talk about the poor officiating in the playoff games, which was a very large part of the overall tenor of that year’s post season play and the Super Bowl.

It is unfortunate that officiating was such as issue, but it was, and that this video mostly ignores the issue makes this an incomplete, maybe even inaccurate, historical record.

Now for the big letdown, the Bonus Features. The Bonus Features, frankly, are just not very good. If I weren’t spoiled by the Bonus Features of the past two Super Bowls I probably wouldn’t have that much of a reaction to them because they are, after all, add-ons.

But I am spoiled. It does not contain the entire Super Bowl game and it does not contain post game analysis or interviews. It mostly contains a lot of tripe.

The best, and actually very well done bonus feature, is an even more detailed highlights reel of the Pittsburgh victory over the favored Indianapolis Colts in the playoffs.

It goes through all the drama—to the erroneously overturned interception by Troy Polamalu, Bettis’s goal line fumble, and the big choke by kicker Mike Vanderjagt who badly missed a makeable field goal that would have tied the game on the last play or regulation. It’s quite a well done piece.

You also get little snippets of video about Bill Cowher, Jerome Bettis, Willie Parker, and Steelers’ history that are very short, and frankly not very good. There are media day player interviews on the DVD, as well as the entire half time show, which for me I could care less about. And finally there are Super Bowl promo videos. Who cares about that!

Despite my disappointment in the Bonus Features, overall I give this video a high recommendation for the highlights reel. If you look at the Bonus Features as freebies, then it’s hard to complain too much about it.

NFL Super Bowl XL – Pittsburgh Steelers Championship DVD