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Week 15 in the NFL

The Cold War

'Spygate' controversy puts the focus on rematch of the unbeaten Patriots and the lowly Jets, but the teams' feud started well before this season during the days of Parcells and Carroll

December 16, 2007|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Not long ago, when Herm Edwards was coach of the New York Jets, his team had a three-foot-tall bobblehead of him near the door of its locker room. It was a simple reminder there's still some whimsy left in the NFL, a league that often takes itself too seriously.

The bobblehead is gone now.

In its place is a paper shredder.

The message is clear: Sensitive information simply must not, cannot, will not wind up in the wrong hands. Such is the backdrop for today's game between the Jets (3-10) and New England Patriots (13-0), a lopsided matchup pitting two AFC East franchises whose rivalry is now more bitter than ever.

The Jets are facing the against-all-odds task of derailing the Patriots' bid for a perfect season. The forecast calls for terrible weather, but no more unpleasant than the harsh feelings between New England Coach Bill Belichick and his onetime star pupil, Jets Coach Eric Mangini.

In this game, "tale of the tape" takes on an entirely new meaning.

This is the first time the teams have met since the infamous "Spygate" game in September, when NFL officials nabbed a Patriots video assistant with a camera trained on the Jets' sideline. The assistant was videotaping the hand signals of New York defensive coaches, who were sending in encrypted information to their players.

Every indication was it was the Jets who tipped off the league that the taping was going on. Stealing signals with the naked eye is permitted by the league. Doing so with videotape is a serious no-no.

The Patriots were fined $750,000 and docked one of their two first-round selections in next spring's draft. Perhaps more stinging, people questioned the legitimacy of the Patriots' dynasty, wondering whether quarterback Tom Brady was being fed valuable -- and illicitly acquired -- information that allowed him to pick apart defenses with such ease. The suggestion was those three Super Bowl victories were tarnished.

That was the latest and most-public escalation of a football feud that has lasted for years. In the mid-1990s, the controversy swirled around Bill Parcells, then coach of the Patriots. There were widespread rumors that the Jets struck a deal to woo away Parcells, even as the legendary coach was preparing his '96 team to play in the Super Bowl.

So when Parcells made his first return to Foxborough the following season, this time as coach of the Jets, one New York newspaper deemed it "World War Tuna."

Then, there was Pete Carroll. He felt he never got a fair chance to succeed as coach of the Patriots, especially after the club lost star running back Curtis Martin as a restricted free agent to -- who else? -- the Jets. That ensured New England would have to face him twice a season.

As an assistant in New York, Belichick was contractually bound to be Parcells' successor as coach of the Jets. When Parcells stepped down after the '99 season, Belichick resigned at what was supposed to be his introductory press conference. He did so with a clumsily written note on loose-leaf paper on which he resigned as "HC of the NY Jets."

After a major legal battle, he got out of his contract and became coach of the Patriots, bringing with him some key Jets assistants, among them Mangini and Charlie Weis.

The bad blood died down a bit when Edwards coached the Jets and Belichick coached the Patriots, because the two seemed to like and respect each other. But it came to a boil again last year, after the Jets hired Mangini, New England's then-34-year-old defensive coordinator, to replace Edwards.

Soon after, the Patriots filed tampering charges related to Mangini's pursuit of receiver Deion Branch, who wanted to be traded. New England also felt Mangini was trying to poach coaches off Belichick's staff.

Throughout last season, one of the most interesting aspects of the Patriots-Jets games was what happened afterward. Everyone scrutinized the handshakes -- or icy brushoffs -- between the coaches.

First, there was the fleeting, dead-fish shake. Then, after the Jets upset New England in a muddy game at Gillette Stadium, a giddy Mangini gave Belichick a shake with one hand and clasped his forearm with the other.

When the teams met for a third time last season, a playoff game dubbed Hate Bowl I, the coaches shared the world's most awkward hug.

After the Spygate game, a 38-14 blowout by the Patriots, Belichick turned the tables on Mangini, giving the Jets coach a two-handed shake of his own.

So what about this time?

"The handshakes and high-fives and all that . . . Right now, my attention is on the New York Jets, and that's really all I'm thinking about," Belichick told reporters last week. "High-fives, cartwheels . . . I haven't given too much thought about that."

Asked about what he'll do this time, Mangini said flatly: "I don't expect to do anything outside the norm that I do every game with every head coach that I play against."

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