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Taking It Personally

There Are Twists Galore to Tonight's Patriot-Jet Game

September 11, 2000|J.A. ADANDE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — The problem with leaving New York on bad terms is that eventually you have to return. Especially if you're in the AFC East division.

So now it's Bill Belichick's turn to come back and open the newest chapter in the long-running, criss-crossing, double-crossing saga between the New England Patriots and the New York Jets.

Belichick has twice been appointed the coach of the Jets, but his trip to Giants Stadium for tonight's game against the Jets will be his second game as coach of the Patriots--two more games than he ever coached for the Jets.

First, Belichick was a pawn in the tug-of-war of Bill Parcells that started this whole feud in the first place, when Belichick was named the Jets' coach and Parcells was dubbed a "consultant" in a thinly-veiled attempt to avoid tampering charges when Parcell bolted the Patriots after the Super Bowl in 1997.

NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue voided that sham, forced the Jets to give the Patriots their third- and fourth-round draft picks in 1997, a second-round pick in 1998 and a No. 1 round pick in 1999 in return for allowing Parcells--"Tuna"--to run the Jets free and clear. Belichick assumed the role of defensive coordinator, the same job he held under Parcells in New England.

When Parcells stepped down from coaching and moved to the front office, Belichick was supposed to be his successor. But Belichick unexpectedly backed out after less than a day, scribbling out a handwritten notice that announced he was resigning as "H.C. of the N.Y. Jets."

Then it surfaced that Belichick was talking to the Patriots, who later had to cough up a No. 1 pick in this year's draft, plus a No. 4 and No. 7 pick in 2001 to compensate the Jets.

Parcells and Belichick are the two main characters in this drama, but the list of supporting actors is long. At total of 19 players and coaches involved in tonight's game have worked for both teams. That includes the new H.C. of the N.Y. Jets, Al Groh, who was an assistant under Belichick. That's why this game has been dubbed the battle of the Tuna Helpers.

Running back Curtis Martin, the top offensive threat from the Patriots, came to the Jets for $36 million in 1998.

Scott Pioli, a player personnel director, worked in the Jet front office and married Parcells' daughter last summer. But that didn't stop him from leaving with Belichick.

Groh, meanwhile, has to coach defensive players who are still devoted to Belichick. There were grumblings throughout training camp and the team didn't like the overly taxing practices, leading quarterback Vinny Testaverde to hold a frustration-venting meeting with Groh that got a little testy.

In New England, after three years under Pete Carroll--who used to coach the Jets, of course--the Patriot players are happy to have Belichick.

"It's more disciplined" Willie McGinest said. "Bill's a leader. He demands the guys to come out and play hard. He demands that you give it all you've got. He has a goal, he brought that goal to us. It's tight around here, that's the way it's supposed to be."

"It's definitely a tight ship," Lawyer Milloy said. "I know the preseason for myself was very mental, with all the things he expects of me, personally."

The coaches have tried to spin it this week so that this game isn't a personal matter.

"The main issue for me is that it's a divisional game," Belichick said at the start of the week. "Every team needs to win its division games. It's a division game on the road, and that's what's really important.

"They're not going to have everyone's personal record in the standings on Monday; it's going to be what the Patriots are, and that's why we're here. It's about what this football team does collectively. It's not about individuals. It's not about my record and your record and somebody else's record."

But to suggest that there isn't any additional motivation for this match brought this reaction from Jet backup quarterback--and former Patriot--Ray Lucas: "Print this: Ha! Ha! Ha!"

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