NEW ORLEANS — On Day One of Super Bowl Week, the dam burst, flooding the New England Patriots with distractions, blurring their focus and setting them adrift in a sea of rumors and speculation.
The Green Bay Packers? Who has time for them?
The tension that has been building for months, since stories began that Patriot Coach Bill Parcells might be leaving to go to the New York Jets, finally exploded Monday when the Boston Globe ran a banner headline that read, "Parcells to Leave." There was no question mark after it.
That would be distraction enough.
But as the sun set over the nearby Mississippi River, the story grew hotter.
Facing the national media in a previously scheduled news conference, Parcells angrily denied that any decision had been made.
"This is old news," said the coach through gritted teeth, "I'm not going to discuss this, gentlemen. Nothing has changed. . . . When the season is over, I'm going to sit down with [owner] Bob Kraft and we're going to talk it over. That's been my statement since day one. It's been my statement since the middle of the year, the latter part of the year, and as late as last night."
When it was pointed out to Parcells that his agent, Robert Fraley, is used by name as a major source in the story, though not quoted, Parcells insisted that, "My agent didn't talk about it."
Then, Parcells asked the gathered media to believe that he hadn't even called his agent to inquire about the story although it was the dominant topic in town Monday.
Kraft shot down Parcells' contention that Fraley hadn't said anything by issuing a statement of his own.
"It's unfortunate Mr. Fraley, Bill's agent, has chosen this time to publicly discuss his client's contractual status in the media," Kraft said in his statement. "I believe our fans are much more interested in our first Super Bowl appearance in 11 years than the coach's contract and, out of respect for them, I don't plan to discuss this topic any more this week."
Out of respect for the truth, it must be pointed out that the Boston Globe story was written by Will McDonough, who works in both the broadcast and print media and also uses Fraley as a agent, creating the possibility of conflict of interest.
According to a New York paper, Parcells already has a three-year, $10-million offer to run the Jets, who have vacancies in both their head coach and general manager positions.
Parcells is thought to be unhappy that Kraft took his power to make personnel decisions away during last spring's draft, giving the final word to Bobby Grier, the team's director of player personnel.
If Parcells has indeed decided to leave for the Meadowlands, there is nothing he can say until after Super Bowl XXXI without getting his future employers charged with tampering.
If he has decided to stay, then he would logically say so, cutting off the distractions, and allowing his team to focus on Sunday's game.
But if Parcells hasn't made up his mind, and figures that a victory Sunday would put him in a better negotiating position with Kraft, to perhaps regain some of the power he lost, then he will face charges of being a hypocrite. Parcells often preaches to his players the importance of putting the team above all else. Yet he has allowed himself and his own uncertain contract situation to grab the spotlight during this most important of all weeks.
"There's no ego on this team maybe because his [Parcells'] ego is big enough to take care of everybody else's," said New England offensive tackle Bruce Armstrong, not referring specifically to the contract issue.
But Armstrong said it with a smile.
Why not? Say what you want about Parcells, and many have, the man is a winner, a shrewd, tough, demanding football coach with a keen eye for defensive talent, a superb knowledge of the overall game and a work ethic that has landed him in Sunday's Super Bowl, his third appearance in football's biggest show in this, his 12th year as an NFL head coach.
That's why he is so much in demand.
Parcells is already in elite company. After winning two Super Bowls with the New York Giants, Parcells becomes only the second coach of two different Super Bowl teams, joining Don Shula, winningest coach in league history. But Shula didn't win with the then-Baltimore Colts, his first Super Bowl team. So with a victory Sunday, Parcells would stand alone.
What he has accomplished is equal to Shula's feat of leaving the perennially powerful Colts to turn the Miami Dolphins, then an expansion team, into an NFL force that enjoyed a 17-0 season in 1972, the only perfect season in league history.
After eight years as the Giants' coach and two years in the broadcast booth while recovering from heart problems, Parcells took over a Patriot team that was coming off a 2-14 season under Coach Dick MacPherson and was 9-39 over the previous three seasons.
"When you are 9-39, everybody is not playing well," said Parcells, breaking into a rare grin.