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Parcells Chasing the Clouds Away : Coach's Winning Attitude Has the Patriots Believing in Themselves Again After a Dismal Season


FOXBORO, Mass. — To hell with subtlety. Walk into Bill Parcells' new office, the one overlooking the Foxboro Stadium field, and you soon find yourself staring at two footballs on a bookshelf.

They are Super Bowl balls, each bearing the game, date and score of a Parcells-coached championship victory. They have absolutely nothing to do with interior decorating, but everything to do with respect.

In no uncertain terms, Parcells, 51, is sending a message, a reminder and a warning to anyone who questions his mission as the latest New England Patriot coach. The bottom line: I've got two of these babies , and matching Super Bowl rings, too. How about you?

Well, if you play for the New England Patriots, the only ring you are likely to own is the one your wife gave you on your wedding day. Actually, there was a Super Bowl appearance by the Patriots after the 1985 season, but who wants to commemorate a 46-10 thumping by the Chicago Bears?

Beginning with that Super Bowl defeat, things turned ugly fast. The Patriots earned a playoff spot the next season, lost to Denver and haven't been seen since. When describing this franchise, numb's the word.

Let's see: four new owners (the NFL included) in five years . . . four coaches in five years . . . one Lisa Olson controversy . . . one victory in 1990 . . . two victories in 1992 . . . tens of thousands of empty seats . . . one terrible stadium lease . . . one persistent rumor--the St. Louis Patriots.

But all was temporarily forgiven and forgotten when the Patriots delivered unto their beleaguered followers the great Parcells. A news conference was held in downtown Boston, attended by more than 100 reporters, as well as Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, who happened to be in the neighborhood for the convenient photo op with Parcells.

With the stroke of a pen, Parcells had given a battered franchise its credibility back and its fans some hope. New England cared again.

"The sky was a little bluer the day we announced it," a Patriot official said.

Patrick Forte, Patriot executive vice president for football operations, put it more bluntly: "This is the first time in this franchise's history we've hired a real football coach."

Since Parcells arrived, Patriot season tickets are once more a hot item, although there are plenty of good seats available. The Patriots have the second-smallest season-ticket fan base in the NFL--21,525 for a stadium that can hold 60,290.

"He's really what we're selling right now," said Ann Parry, Patriot executive director of marketing. "But in the long run, winning on the field is going to sell more tickets."

Parcells barely acknowledged his financial impact--"I'm not in the ticket business," he said--but he did acknowledge that his presence sent a signal to the rest of the NFL.

"I think people in the league generally perceive this as, 'Hey, the Patriots mean business,' " he said, stressing that his comments had less to do with ego and more to do with accomplishments. "Would you perceive it that way?"

Yes, he is told.

"I think (the NFL) would too," he said. "The Patriots mean business. If (Dallas Cowboy Coach) Jimmy Johnson picked up and went wherever, they mean business."

If ever a franchise needed to get serious about winning, this is the one. Say what you will about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but in many ways, the Patriot legacy is more painful to endure. In recent years, there have been front-office follies and on-field flops. Taken as a whole, the Patriots often have been the NFL's version of the comedy channel.

Parcells isn't laughing. He sees nothing amusing about a franchise that somehow forgot to win or worse yet, quit trying. He came to the Patriots not out of pity or curiosity, but because owner James B. Orthwein convinced him that the franchise was worth the trouble.

Parcells asked for a lot of money. He got it. He asked for a certain autonomy. He got it. He asked for a chance to spend some of Orthwein's cash on free agents. He got it. He asked that a commitment be made. He got that, too.

By the time negotiations were completed Jan. 22, the Patriots had done everything but rename the stadium after him.

So after a two-year absence from coaching, Parcells has returned. But it wasn't a seamless transition.

"Your mind begins to race a little," Parcells said. "It's an experience you remember vividly, but you haven't had it for a while. But I knew what I'd done."

Parcells' coaching career began at New England in 1980. He spent a season here as linebacker coach and still has the Patriot helmet, complete with used mouthpiece, presented to him upon his departure 12 seasons ago. The helmet now rests between those two Super Bowl footballs on the bookshelf.

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