It took 15 years, but diligence and patience have paid off for the New England Patriots. They scouted, scrutinized and drafted each of the players who will start for them in Super Bowl XX next Sunday. There were no short-cut trades, no Cinderella free agents.
Only kicker Tony Franklin was acquired in a trade. Only punter Rich Camarillo was signed as a free agent.
Defensive end Julius Adams was the first player drafted, as a second-round choice from Texas Southern in 1971. The other defensive end, Garin Veris, is the most recent. He was a second-round pick from Stanford last spring.
A key man in the Patriots' quest for more than a few good men is Dick Steinberg. He started as a scout in 1973, left in '76 for tours with the Rams and New Orleans Saints, and returned as director of player development in '81 when the search turned serious.
Steinberg was involved in the acquisition of 17 of the 22 starters. He recalled his first draft with the club in '73.
"We had three first-round choices that year: John Hannah, Sam Cunningham and Darryl Stingley."
Cunningham, from USC, is retired. Stingley, a paraplegic since an exhibition game accident in '78, is executive director of player personnel. Hannah will be going to his ninth Pro Bowl after his first Super Bowl.
The Patriots also have used the timely trades of players such as Russ Francis and Jim Plunkett to build on. Francis, a tight end for the 49ers, was the Patriots' surprise first-round pick in '75.
"He didn't play any ball his senior year," Steinberg said. "We found out halfway through the fall that he had found a loophole in the draft regulations. He was academically ineligible his fourth year at Oregon, and to transfer to another school he would have to sit out, and that would be his fifth year he was sitting out.
"Not everybody was aware of it. Before that I don't think anybody ever took a guy that didn't play his senior year.
"He was a hell of a player, then he had some contractual problems and retired, and we traded him (to the 49ers) to get a couple of the draft choices we used to build this team--(nose tackle) Lester Williams and (halfback) Robert Weathers."
Also in '75, the Patriots drafted quarterback Steve Grogan, who currently backs up a younger Tony Eason.
"Another kind of a strange deal," Steinberg said. "Grogan hurt his neck his senior year (at Kansas State) and didn't play, but he was a great athlete and competitor. We examined him and took him on the fifth round. I knew about him because I had coached at Kansas State when he was recruited. (Later), the neck never bothered him."
Steinberg then left the Patriots to join the Rams. He was with them until '80, a tumultuous time for the Rams and his next employer, the Saints.
"I traveled for the Rams in the spring and for the Saints in the fall," he said. "I had seen everybody and had all this information, and we had the Patriots' information, too. We had three teams' reports, so we were in good shape for that draft (in '81)."
That year the Patriots picked five current starters, then four more in '82, among them defensive end Ken Sims, the first player chosen overall, and another four in '83. Sims is injured and won't play at New Orleans. Veris takes his place.
All-pro linebacker Andre Tippett was a second-round pick in '82.
"We had him rated in the middle of the first round," Steinberg said. "He was a standup defensive end at Iowa and he never dropped (into pass coverage). We'd taken other guys like that--Donnie Blackmon, even (Bob) Brudzinski with the Rams. We just thought those guys had the athletic ability to drop, and they were big guys."
In '83 the Patriots took a chance on Craig James, a seventh-round pick who had been Eric Dickerson's running mate at SMU but had already signed with the Washington Federals of the United States Football League.
"We thought we could get him out of that deal," Steinberg said.
A year later they did.
The Patriots surprised some scouts by selecting Eason fourth among the six quarterbacks taken in the first round in '83. Some thought he didn't have a strong arm.
"That wasn't our opinion," Steinberg said. "People said that, but when I was there (Illinois Coach) Mike White walked over and said, 'A lot of people have talked about him not throwing deep, but that's us. Look at his junior film. We lost our whole offensive line last year and changed our pass offense to a short, reading, control-type game because we can't protect long enough to throw deep.'
"He doesn't have Elway's arm or Marino's arm, but he has a strong arm."
In '84 the Patriots traded their two first-round choices to Houston for the top pick in the draft.
"That was the year that the USFL signed all those guys," Steinberg said. "We had two first-round picks but they weren't really going to be first-round quality players. So we decided to put 'em together and go after the blue-chip type, traded the two No. 1s for the first pick in the draft and picked (wide receiver Irving) Fryar."
Those draft bounties have created a deep well of talent.
"It's going to be harder and harder for a rookie to crack the starting lineup," Steinberg said. "These guys are gonna have to wait their turns now."
This year's top choice, Trevor Matich from BYU, remains on injured reserve although he is fully recovered from a mid-season injury.
"There's no room for him," Steinberg said. "He was starting for Hannah at guard when Hannah ripped a calf muscle, but he's really a center. He's gonna be our next center (when Pete Brock, 31, retires).
"This coming year we've got two 2s and a couple of 7s, so we're in good shape."