The upshot of the game variously referred to as the Tuna Bowl,
the Soap Opera Bowl and World War Tuna: While the New England
Patriots' undefeated season lives on, the honeymoon of their
first-year coach, Pete Carroll, does not. "Carroll, this loss is
on yaw shouldahs, you s.o.b," bayed one disgruntled lout in the
north end zone of Foxboro Stadium on Sunday night. It had taken
a single play to swing the mood in this rusting structure from
grim to downright ugly. After the New York Jets tied the game
24-24 with 31 seconds left, New England return man Derrick
Cullors fumbled away the ensuing kickoff. Three plays later,
Jets rookie kicker John Hall lined up for a chip-shot field goal
to win the game.
"Hey, Carroll, you better put 'em in f------ pads this week,"
shouted another salty fan. Unlike the man who bailed out as
Patriots coach last January to take over the Jets--Bill (the
Tuna) Parcells, identified on one placard as BILL PAR SELL
OUT--Carroll requires his players to hit only once during the
week, trusting they will remember how to block and tackle on
Sunday. What with New England about to lose to a club that went
1-15 last season, and to Parcells, it seemed to the Foxboro
crowd as good a time as any to start second-guessing the new guy.
Then, with a single, well-timed leap, Patriots reserve defensive
end Mike Jones performed two difficult feats, blocking a field
goal attempt with his arm and transforming Parcells into a
sympathetic figure. In overtime Curtis Martin rushed for 40 of
his 199 yards, Adam Vinatieri kicked a 34-yard field goal, and
New England stole a game it had tried hard to give away.
The week leading up to this grudge match was marked by rampant
civility and extraordinary graciousness. Patriots owner Bob
Kraft and quarterback Drew Bledsoe insisted that this feud
business had been blown out of proportion, that they had gotten
along with Parcells just fine in the three years they were
together. Parcells spoke of the fond memories he had of--and the
good money he made in--Foxboro. If you listened long enough, it
became clear that if Parcells hadn't left New England, this trio
would have started a Thursday-night poker game.
Patriots fans, at least, were truthful about their feelings.
You'd be candid too if kickoff was at 8 p.m. and you'd been
drinking since breakfast. The Foxboro partisans resented the
56-year-old Parcells for walking away from the Pats after having
assured everyone when he took over as coach in 1993 that the job
in New England would be his last. They complained that this
master tactician, ever adept at insulating his squad from
distractions, abetted the creation of the Mother of All
Distractions last January in New Orleans, where his players
spent Super Bowl week commenting on rumors about his imminent
Instead of snapping up CAN THE TUNA T-shirts; instead of writing
signs demonstrating their ignorance of spelling and
punctuation--BILL, YOUR A QUITTER--and instead of blowing up
dead fish by stuffing small explosives down their gullets, as
some nitwits did in a stadium parking lot before the game,
Patriots fans should have been forced, under penalty of having
their Jagermeister supply cut off, to write Parcells a thank-you
Just wanted to let you know that despite the vastness of your
ego and the gracelessness of your exit, we appreciated the job
you did when you were here, inheriting a 2-14 team and getting
it to the Super Bowl in four years. Thanks again, and sorry we
threw those size-D batteries at you on Sunday night.
There are various reasons why New England went into Sunday
night's game having outscored its first two opponents 72-13 and
having sacked quarterbacks nine times while having allowed
Bledsoe to be sacked only once. The biggest of those reasons was
the pear-shaped guy pacing the visitors' sideline with an Archie
Bunker grimace on his face. "Give him credit," a vastly relieved
Kraft said after the game. "It's the third week of the season,
and we've got a playoff atmosphere here. Bill created it. He
laid a great foundation for us." Indeed, the only two New
England starters not back from last season's Super Bowl lineup
were replaced by better players--defensive tackle and former
Minnesota Viking Henry Thomas and former Detroit Lion Zefross
Moss, a toolshed-sized offensive tackle who was blissfully
unaware of what the fuss was about. "All this Tuna stuff," Moss
said last Friday, "I have no idea what people are talking about."
Zefross, here's the Cliffs Notes version of what you missed.
Draft day, April 17, 1996. Kraft and vice president of player
personnel Bobby Grier pulled rank on the Tuna, using the
first-round pick to take Ohio State wideout Terry Glenn. Never
mind that Glenn would go on to catch an NFL rookie-record 90
balls and be named league Rookie of the Year. Parcells had
wanted a defensive lineman. Kraft's power play ensured that
Parcells would not be back for another season in New England.
That suited Super Bowl-starved Jets owner Leon Hess, who
desperately wanted Parcells to clean up the Superfund site his
club had become in two seasons under out-of-his-depth coach Rich
Kotite. Hess gladly handed the Tuna the imperial power over
football operations that Kraft had denied him, even though the
price was steep: New York had to compensate the Patriots with
four draft picks for letting Parcells out of the final year of
his New England contract.
Parcells went at his new job with a flamethrower. Only 26
players remain from last year's 15-time losers. The guys who are
back are back with different bodies. In addition to being poorly
coached last season, "we were overweight," says Jets defensive
end Hugh Douglas, who, upon meeting New York's new strength and
conditioning coach, John Lott, last spring did not care for him.
"The first day of minicamp I was cussing him out," Douglas said
last week. "He worked us like we'd been there for two weeks
already. He worked us like dogs and then made us run six 330s. I
said, 'What the hell is this? I know I came in a little
overweight, but I'm not going to lose all the weight today.'"
Added tight end Kyle Brady, "Check out last year's media guide.
Even our faces were fatter." Check out last week's NFL injury
report. No team had fewer players on it than the Jets, whose
sole entry was Douglas. He was listed as questionable with a
strained groin and did not make the trip to Foxboro despite his
vow, as a headline in last Thursday's New York Post put it, to
GROIN AND BEAR IT.
Without Douglas, the Jets seldom got close to Bledsoe, who
despite having plenty of time to throw played one of his poorer
games (16 of 34 for 162 yards). He threw two touchdown passes
but nearly offset them with his first two interceptions of the
season, on a pair of hideous throws. Outside linebacker Mo Lewis
returned the first 43 yards for a score early in the third
quarter, giving New York a 17-14 lead. The second, by cornerback
and former Patriot Otis Smith, came in overtime at the Jets'
49-yard line and, had it not been for a tough stand by the New
England defense, could have cost the Pats the game.
Bledsoe spent last week insisting that the Return of Parcells
angle was being blown out of proportion. If the game was
special, Bledsoe said four days before kickoff, it was because
it was the Patriots' "divisional home opener." Right. That's why
he threw his first pass about 12 feet over the head of fullback
Keith Byars and later drew an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty
for engaging in a jawing and shoving match with New York strong
safety Victor Green. "I was a little too keyed up," Bledsoe
conceded afterward. "Spent the day sitting around in a hotel
room, thinking about tonight."
Jets defensive coordinator Bill Belichick unsettled Bledsoe by
showing much more three-deep zone than New York usually plays.
According to Bledsoe, that defense tends to take away the middle
of the field, forcing him to work the sidelines. Both of his
interceptions came on ill-advised throws to the outside.
The Jets, it seemed, were the only people not shocked by their
41-3 season-opening win over the Seattle Seahawks. Week 2
brought a dose of reality: Quarterback Neil O'Donnell was sacked
eight times and knocked down on 18 other plays in a 28-22 loss
to the Buffalo Bills. On Sunday night the Patriots sacked
O'Donnell another seven times, twice causing fumbles. If New
York doesn't do a better job of protecting O'Donnell, he'll end
up on the injury report.
That would upset the Tuna, whose players, it's said, are not
allowed to get hurt. So comprehensive is his micromanaging that
it seems reasonable Parcells would somehow be able to control
his players' health. There are hands-on coaches, then there's
Parcells. This season, to ensure that there's no unauthorized
contact between the Jets and the media, reporters aren't allowed
to park in the same lot as the players at the team's Hempstead,
N.Y., headquarters. Coming off the practice field one day in
July, O'Donnell waved the Post's Mark Cannizaro over for a chat
about golf. Upon seeing this forbidden confab, the Tuna melted
down, shouting repeatedly that it was "against the f------rules!"
There was Parcells in the summer's first practice, chewing out
Belichick, who had committed the cardinal sin of conducting a
drill too near a filming tower. "I pay him no mind," said
Belichick. "Bill suffers from prickly heat, which makes him
Or so Belichick might have said, had Parcells allowed him to
talk to SI (permission denied). It's important to Parcells that
his staff speak with one voice: his. Ameliorating this tyranny
is the fact that Parcells's daily press conferences are, as
these exercises go, quite entertaining. In the days before the
Tuna Bowl, his digressions ranged from the nap of the artificial
turf at Giants Stadium to the problem with young offensive
coaches today ("They don't know how to lead-block, counter,
double-team; they don't have the background you need to create a
solid running game"), to the intensity of the rivalry between
Hasbrouck Heights, N.J., where he grew up, and nearby Lodi.
He is brusque, insightful and, occasionally, very funny, as he
showed earlier this season when a breathless TV type posed this
question: "If you win the Super Bowl, will they rename the
Deadpanned the Tuna, "Is LSD back?"
The Patriots could only hope they were hallucinating during the
Jets' touchdown-tying procession at the end of regulation. After
taking possession with 2:18 to go, O'Donnell, working with no
timeouts, engineered a 12-play, 83-yard drive capped by a
sensational, leaping touchdown reception by noted author and
wideout Keyshawn Johnson. Moments later Cullors fumbled, and New
England's sinking feeling became a nauseating one. "When they
lined up to kick that field goal, I felt sick," said Bledsoe.
"It felt like the game was over."
It should have been. From 29 yards, Hall, a rookie who has
connected on field goals of 55 and 52 yards this season, hooked
a line drive into Jones. On the Patriots' first overtime
possession, Bledsoe threw a near-interception, was penalized
five yards for a false start and then was intercepted. Someone
needed to remind him that this was just another divisional game.
Bledsoe, having proved conclusively that this was not his day,
was instructed, on New England's second overtime possession, to
hand the ball to Martin, who had runs of eight, 16, five, four,
four and six yards to set up Vinatieri's game-winner. Afterward,
Patriots outside linebacker Chris Slade marveled at Martin's
durability. "Forty carries?" he said. "The guy's a beast."
Beast is actually his teammates' nickname for Slade, whose
stamina has been the subject of much discussion. Eleven games
into last season, Parcells decided to platoon Slade with Dwayne
Sabb. The Tuna's reasoning seemed sound: New England needed to
get more heat on the quarterback in the fourth quarter. Parcells
hoped to accomplish that by giving Slade fewer snaps earlier in
Slade was furious: He said last Friday that had Parcells
returned to the Patriots, he would not have. One got the
impression that against the Jets, stamina wasn't a problem for
Slade. He had three sacks, deflected two passes and forced a
fumble. As he stood at his locker, looking into a half-dozen
television cameras, Slade had a slightly sarcastic edge to his
voice as he spoke of how pleased he was "to be able to play all
four quarters, to make sure I had enough stamina to finish."
Later, as Slade sat alone in his stall, the sarcasm was gone,
replaced by grudging respect for Parcells. "He ran right at me,"
Slade said. "I thought he would. Bill knew exactly how to attack
Of course Parcells wasn't attacking them. But that's how players
tend to think of one of the NFL's best coaches. You saw it with
Slade and Bledsoe. He takes up residency in their heads. That
space becomes Parcellsland.