HEY! WASN’T HE OUR COACH?!
For a Jet fan, it was the scariest sight since the last time Neil O’Donnell huddled up with Rich Kotite. The announcers were invoking the holy name of Joe Namath, but the guys hoisting the Rozelle Trophy on Sunday were Bill Belichick and Bob Kraft, principals in the most bizarre chapter in the Jets’ bizarre history.
You remember. Bill Parcells takes the Giants to the Super Bowl. Bill Parcells retires. Bill Parcells un-retires. Kraft hires Parcells. Parcells (and Belichick) take the Patriots to the Super Bowl. Parcells jumps ship to the Jets. Parcells is still under contract to Kraft. Paul Tagliabue has to jump in, and the Jets surrender a bunch of draft picks in exchange for Mr. Parcells’s services. Seeking 238 pounds of flesh, Parcells signs New England’s best player, running back Curtis Martin, to a $36 million poison-pill contract that Kraft has no hope of matching. Kraft counters by sending feelers to Parcells’s top assistant, Belichick. Parcells blocks Kraft by announcing his retirement, thereby kicking in a clause in Belichick’s contract that automatically makes him the new Jet coach. After one day on the job, Belichick resigns to sign with New England. Except that he’s still under contract to the Jets. Tagliabue steps in again, the case goes to arbitration, and the Jets win. Sort of. Belichick’s contract stands, and Kraft has to cough up a No. 1 draft pick before he can steal his coach from the Jets.
Chalk one up for sheer spite. Kraft ends up doing the right thing for all the wrong reasons. But on Sunday night, as Adam Vinatieri knocked a 48-yarder through the uprights, don’t you think a few Jet fans might be willing to give back Shaun Ellis for Bill Belichick?
Sunday left no doubt about Belichick’s ability to devise a defensive game plan to win the big one. As he did with the Giants, against the Broncos and then the Bills, Belichick rumbled with the Rams and won. Marshall Faulk was guarded more closely than the New Orleans water supply. Kurt Warner, for his part, ambled aimlessly around the pocket as if he were running around the supermarket in search of the Chunky Soup aisle. Kordell Stewart or Donovan McNabb would have made Mr. B abandon that strategy with one single 28-yard run. And in Warner’s frustration, he forced the ball into coverage; the Rams had more turnovers than the breakfast buffet at a Motel 6.
Still, God‘s Anointed Quarterback had his chances. After Willie McGinest got caught WWF’ing Faulk on the goal line, negating a touchdown fumble recovery, the Patriots got out of their hit-’em-first game plan and allowed Warner his window. But during the Rams’ penultimate drive, Warner seemed to forget that he had New England on the ropes, taking a sack that took the Rams out of field goal range and probably cost St. Louis the game. Maybe it was Jesus‘s will.
But before we start anointing Pats QB Tom Brady as the new Joe Montana, let’s look at his résumé a little more closely. In reality, he seems more like the new Jeff Hostetler. Obscured by the brilliance of the Pats’ defense and special teams is this fact: In almost 10 quarters, dating back to the divisional playoff game against the Raiders, Brady scored exactly two touchdowns—a six-yard bootleg against the Raiders and an eight-yard pass to David Patten that was set up by a fumble. In both the AFC championship game and the Super Bowl, Brady and the Patriots were outscored from scrimmage by the other offense. And as Brady tried unsuccessfully to grind down the clock in the fourth quarter, I’m sure Kraft couldn’t help but think how good Curtis Martin would look in the New England backfield. But Sunday’s biggest reveries happened here in New York. What fan worth his Joe Klecko jersey didn’t watch as Brady brought the Patriots down the field for the game-winning field goal and think “This coulda been us”? You could see it now. Vinny Testaverde, out of time-outs, passing complete to Martin. John Hall is warming up. The Jets are in field goal range. Twelve seconds. Vinny looks to the sidelines. He lopes up to the line of scrimmage. The Jets set their formation. Three. Two. One. And just before Vinny spikes the ball to stop the clock, the whistle sounds. The dream is over. The nightmare continues.
RIGHT ON GOAL
The waifish American figure-skating gold trio will get the lioness’s share of the media glow during the Salt Lake City Olympics. Yet somewhere on another ice surface, the one on which women go bump in the night, skates a teen just as worthy of adulation. High-scoring center Julie Chu, 19, the pride of her Hong Kong-born grandmother, is the first Asian American to play on the U.S. Olympic hockey team and, at a sturdy 5-8 and 155 pounds, is roughly the size of two Sasha Cohens. Chu, a student body president and captain of soccer, softball, and hockey teams at Connecticut’s Choate Rosemary Hall. She is “Saint Chuey” to teammates like Angela Ruggiero, who calls her “one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.” But on the ice, fellow Olympian Katie King says, “not only is she big and powerful, but she has finesse.” Of her own play, Chu notes, “There are times when I get really aggressive and I’m really in there, but there are also a lot of times where I’m more of the read-and-react type of person. I sit back a little bit more and watch the play develop. And when it’s time to go hard, then I’ll go hard.”
CONTRIBUTORS: ALLEN ST. JOHN, PETER GAMBACCINI
SPORTS EDITOR: WARD HARKAVY