January 31, 2008

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LONGSHOTS: Foxboro lads earn pats on the back, and old Celtics mystique makes sense
by Dave Long

It took me a long time to fully understand the blank faces on basketball fans under (gasp) 30 anytime I say something about the Celtics mystique. It seems so natural to me everyone will just understand about them because since the first day I started following sports they were always great and itís just in my sports DNA. But itís been an astonishing 15-plus years since theyíve been anything close to those Celtics. So Iíve finally gotten it through my brain that the younger folks canít truly grasp what it is to always expect your team to wriggle off the hook no matter how big the jam. And while it didnít always happen, it didnít diminish the expectation that from Cousy all the way to Bird someone in green would always find a way. In retrospect, itís the most assured feeling Iíve ever had as a sports fan.

However, I have good news for the under-30 crowd next time I prattle on. As I talk, instead of the Celtics, picture the Tom Brady Patriots, who are exactly what the Bill Russell Celtics were back in the day: a team that always seems to find a way because theyíre tough, smart and, most of all, clutch. One, win or lose on Sunday, to admire now, because it canít always be this good ó can it?

Iím not talking about the undefeated season. Iím much more interested in winning number four and I see 19-0 as the cherry on this Sunday. It would be historic for sure, but if you ask which I prefer for the Brady era ó four Super Bowls and a 19-0 season or five Super Bowl titles ó Iíd take five before I could blink. So would they. The only problem is that to get number four this year they need to get win number 19 too, so itís a moot argument.

What I like best is how smart and versatile they are. In a maddening age of over-specialization, where follow-the-pack pundits make push-bottom, ignore-the-obvious managers like Tony LaRussa out to be ďgeniuses,Ē Troy Brown plays defense and Mike Vrabel is a TD machine in goal line offense. They play Vrabel, Brown, Tedy Bruschi and others on special teams as folks like prickly Ron Borges criticize the injury risks as it turns out to be the absolute edge in helping an unheralded little engine that could win in 2001. In 2003 and 2004, itís the defense theyíre best known for, when the thought to be dumb move of putting a receiver in the injury-ravaged secondary is a life-saver in 2004. And now if they finish this remarkable season off the way I hope they do, the record-setting offense will be the story. All that is a sign of brilliant coaching, which adjusts to the talent it has and the talent that becomes available, and also to circumstances as games evolve and the shifting ways the game is played from year to year. And that includes off-field rules like the salary cap, where, oh by the way, those same follow-the-pack pundits said no team can win multiple titles in the salary cap era.

Wrong again, fellas.

But before they can continue on their way to being an actual dynasty ó like the 49ers who were at the top for 20 years ó they have to finish the deal Sunday. That wonít be as easy as many in these parts seem to think, like legendary triviologist Frank Harlan saying on my radio program heís expecting a 21-point win! The G-Men are good and have peaked at just the right time. A lot of the credit for that goes to the focus gained in the dramatic battle with the Patriots to close out the regular season. And there are things about the football Giants of concern, like their pass rush, running game and especially the Plaxico Burress-Ellis Hobbs III match-up ó yikes!

But hereís why I think theyíll do it. First, there is a lot of yapping coming out of the New York camp from Antonio Pierce and Usi Umenyiora. From the greatest show on turf, to Freddie Mitchell to Anthony Smith, that is always something the Patriots respond to. They do us against the world better than anyone. Second is Coach Bís record against facing quarterbacks the second time in a season. This one is particularly important because Eli Manning has played lights out since throwing four TD passes against the Patriots. They need to find tricky ways to bring pressure to make Eli react quicker.

But the final reason is the biggest. They remind me of the Celtics I spoke of earlier. Particularly, in a weird opposite kind of way, with the worst team in the Bill Russell era. A team led by declining stars in Russell and Sam Jones, prime of life John Havlicek and fortified by role-playing journeymen like Emmett Bryant and Don Nelson. The Lakers boasted a line-up with three of the five greatest NBA players to that point, in Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain. But, thanks to the ugliest series-winning shot in NBA history by Nelson, Boston won on guile, guts and brains.

The record-breaking season says the Patriots have more in common with L.A. But the response to the video-gate hoo-ha, the grumpy old Dolphins and the escape in Baltimore say differently. So do the defense and running game picking up a struggling Brady to grind out a win over San Diego, as does coming back with the undefeated season in deep trouble to beat the Giants and Colts on the road. The bottom line is, like Russell and company in 1969, they found a way to win.

So while I respect how dangerous the G-men are, I say with a history of rising to the occasion New England plays its best game of the year ó though anyone who saw Villanova take out Georgetown in 1985 knows that hasnít always been enough. But I donít think the Giants play the perfect game.

So I like the Patriots to seal the deal on Sunday 34-23 to let the youngíns know as they make history exactly what it felt like to root for those great Celtics back in the day.

Dave Long can be reached at dlong@hippopress.com. He hosts the Absolute Sports Experience at Billyís Sports Bar in Manchester each Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon that is broadcast live on WGAM Ė The Game, 1250-AM Manchester, 900-AM Nashua.


1/24/2008 Mail bag asks about Rice, the hall and wild-eyed liberals

1/17/2008 Peyton manning the fort back home as Pats take on Chargers
1/10/2008 Grumpy old Dolphins are lost at sea on this one
1/3/2008 The primary concern is getting a clear picture
12/27/2007 The annual sports awards close out 2007
12/20/2007 Holiday gifts for the deserving and not so deserving
12/13/2007 Jets land in Foxboro as pat go number 14
12/06/2007 To include or not to include Ellsbury ó that is the questione
11/29/2007 Yanked from the sports pages in the Big Apple
11/22/2007 Here's what I'm thankful for at Thanksgiving
11/15/2007 Waiting game leads to a series of random thoughts
11/8/2007 OK ó it's week nine and I'm ready to talk
11/1/2007 Finally a little shut-eye for a sleep deprived nation
10/25/2007 A rocky mountain high for Red Sox Nation
10/18/2007 Time to go to the mailbag
10/112007 Who'd more popular, Patriots or Red Sox
10/4/2007 IA weekend chock full of nuts, chokes and great moments
9/27/2007 I hate to say I told you so...
9/20/2007 Media and fan bias shades the severity of sports crime
9/13/2007 All round baseball week starts with a look at leaders
9/6/2007 It's Superbowl or bust for Pats in 2007
8/30/2007 The race is on as baseball enters September
8/23/2007 Spine vs. lack of spine theme for school board debate
8/16/2007 Time for thoughts from the summer mailbag
8/9/2007 Will this three make it big in Boston?
8/2/2007 Trading places all in a day's work for Boston GMs
7/26/2007 Getting out of a slump; an ameteur golfer can feel Sox' pain
7/19/2007 Does second chance guarantee a great outcome?
7/12/2007 Masse still a honeymooner in local baseball culture
7/5/2007 Brown Monster a big Fisher Cat hit
6/28/2007 Rambling along with some random thoughts
6/21/2007 The future is now for the C's come Thursday night
6/14/2007 Homers create bonds among fans for generations
6/07/2007 Sox win by losing two of three this weekend
5/31/2007 Lutz of things to think about
5/24/2007 Down 2-0 Mís for playoff payoff
5/17/2007 Baseballs' conventional wisdom is for the birds
5/10/2007 The Rocket lands in Gotham during Monarchs' playoff break
5/3/2007 Raiders say "No Moss" in fight with talented wideout
4/26/2007 A little history on the ancient Sox and Yanks rivalry
4/19/2007 Lessons to be learned from Robinson, Monarchs and I-Man
4/12/2007 A few questions for the sports gods
4/5/2007 Stanton his case on a variety of current topics
3/29/2007 Sox spring back into action on Monday
3/22/2007 A guide for having fun on NCAA hockey weekend
3/15/2007 The madness of March kicks off on Thursday
3/8/2007 Jumping through hoops after an odd season
3/1/2007 A trip to the mail bag for Hippo Sports
2/22/2007 Six degrees of Muhammed Ali
2/15/2007 Monarchs rule as streak reaches 12
2/8/2007 Talking a good game ahead on all-sports WGAM
2/1/2007 Manning the Super Bowl watch more difficult in '07
1/25/2007 Winning and what else matters in college coaching
1/18/2007 ESPN polls are fanning the flames of national lunacy
1/11/2007 Patriots marching to MIami promised land
1/4/2007 Predictions for 2007
12/28/2006 REcognizing the best on the national front
12/21/2006 Present under the tree for all
12/14/2006 Mailbag open for busines at a time filled with questions
12/07/2006 Lions and Gators and Bears, oh my
11/30/2006 Does Fenway frankness roll to the negative side?
11/23/2006 Turkeys and thanks as the big day arrives
11/16/2006 Green-around-the-gills Celts looking to earn some respect
11/9/2006 Blame game reaches new local low
11/2/2006 A week of highs and lows in sport
10/26/2006 Curses! The U is foiled again
10/19/2006 Time for a trip to the sports mailbag
10/12/2006 U turns Granite Stare around on football
10/05/2006 James' gang riding into town to face the Celtics
09/28/2006 Words to describe a lost Red Sox season
09/21/2006 Football Friday can't stack up to Saturday
09/14/2006 A lesson to be learned in remembering a somber day
09/07/2006 Usual pat choice to win AFC East questioned
08/31/2006 Whining won't yank AL East away from NY
08/24/2006 Spring forward or fall behind for Sox
08/17/2006 Trash talking abounds in the Empire over Sox and Pats
08/10/2006 Monarchs call press conference to crown new leader
08/03/2006 Deadly Fenway duo leave mark on history
07/27/2006 Word of the wise gets lost in sports translation
07/20/2006 Looking beyond the Big Three
07/13/2006 Cream rises to the top of baseball talk at the Dot
07/06/2006 Greetings and salutations toThe Nation at mid-year
06/29/2006 Being dealt is a consequence of the trade
06/22/2006 A year later, Boudreau's cup runneth over
06/15/2006 See dogs and cats battle for a different fan experience
06/08/2006 Not Bad Anymore league makes a comeback
06/01/2006 Luck goes Sox way with Lowell in Massachusetts
05/25/2006 Pitching in to help the Sox trade a few places
05/18/2006 Going to school by cutting Red Sox payroll
05/11/2006 Columnist blows his mind; here are the results
05/04/2006 Yanks stormed Manchester 37 years ago this week
04/27/2006 Regular crowd nowhere to be found come playoff time
04/20/2006 Questions and answers from the mailbag
04/13/2006 Local sports teams spring into action
04/06/2006 Predictable Red Sox season lies ahead
03/30/2006 Analyzing this and that as Pats roster shrinks
03/23/2006 A week of following the bouncing balls
03/16/2006 The beginning of four days of basketball bliss
03/09/2006 Many miss the central point of the story
03/02/2006 Better late than never to jump through local hoops
02/23/2006 Celtic green means raw, not envy as it once did

02/16/2003 An issue that is all black and white
02/09/2006 Nomar curses from the UL's Sullivan
02/02/2006 Super memories from 40 years of watching the big game
01/26/2006 A certain uniformity to the inquiries in the mailbag
01/19/2006 Sudden end to Pats' season leave just one thing to do
01/12/2006 Pats on the back for the football team
01/05/2006 Predictions for Manchester Sports 2031
A lesson for Leo the Lip and nice guys everywhere

Chop House opening is Berra of good news
Event-filled weekend missed en route to evil empire
Heroís death lays to rest misuse of the word
Saint Theo ascends to new heights in The Nation
Santa sack filled to the brim with sports
Patriots march through injuries toward threepeat
Sports talk should be on the air
Stars shine brightest when winning is in the mix
The†Demonization of Johnny Damon

Thirty-seven topics and so little space
Too many holes in Sox for repeat
Trip to the injured list makes it a long weekend for local scribe
Turkeys and giving thanks take center stage this week
Yanked from the edge of your seat