EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 28, 2008

Ex-Pats served some humble pie, too

On Pro Football , Bill Burt

GLENDALE, Ariz. - It's usually on Mondays. Bill Belichick, the head chef on Route 1 in Foxboro, brings out enough pies for 10 football teams.

Unbeaten. Untied. And enough humble pie to make you forget about both.

"It's never good enough," says Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel, who was wearing one of those T-shirts that linebacker Adalius Thomas had printed just before the halfway point in late October.

Well, what do Charlie Weis, Adam Vinatieri, Ty Law, Willie McGinest, Deion Branch, Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini all have in common, besides being current household names in the football?

They are very, very talented ex-New England Patriots coaches and players, all of whom played roles, some bigger than others, in building pro football's newest dynasty.

And, like it or not, they have been served the same humble pie Belichick apparently serves to his current crop of 2007 players, who might have felt a little too good about themselves this past fall and winter.

During the Super Bowl runs 2003 and 2004, Pro Bowl players and "irreplaceable" starters like Law and Richard Seymour missed significant time, yet the Patriots went on to not only win consecutive Super Bowls, but win an NFL record 21 straight games.

"Sure, it's tough watching them win without you. Heck, it's tough watching them play without me," said Law four years ago, while sitting on his motorized chair in the Patriots locker room after the Super Bowl victory in Jacksonville. "These guys are like family to me. And you want to be there with them when their winning, contributing. This has been the toughest thing I've ever gone through in my career."

But the ex-Patriots have received their pieces of Belichick pie, too. Sometimes gigantic pieces.

Each of the last four seasons, the Patriots have lost a player or coach - sometimes multiple players or coaches - of note.

"You realize after you leave that everyone is replaceable," says former Patriots linebacker Ted Johnson, who retired after the 2005 season. "Sure, it can be humbling. You'd like to think you played a part in making the franchise what it is today. And I believe I did. But you also understand that when you leave, someone better might come in behind you. ... Yeah, that can be humbling."

Johnson could speak for all of the ex-Patriots still in the league.

In fact the one guy on that list, Weis, says he's in a position where he can admit to the humility and even root for the Patriots to win every game they play.

"If I was in the NFL, I would probably think differently," said Weis from his University of Notre Dame head coach office . "But I root for them every game they play. I was there at Giants Stadium for their 16th win. I am still friendly with Bill (Belichick). I talk to him all of the time. I am a Patriots fan."

Weis recalls a conversation he had with Tom Brady during Super Bowl week when the Patriots played the Eagles, his last game with the organization.

"Tommy said, 'What am I going to do without you?" Weis said. "I told him, 'You don't need my any more.' And I meant it. He and that offense where we were ready for another voice. To be honest, I predicted it would get better after a few bumps. And that's just what happened. I am happy for them."

Not that this is breaking news, but Belichick, according to Weis, is reason No. 1 the current crop of Patriots are among the best that ever played the game.

"The thing Bill (Belichick) does best is he doesn't make it about one person," says Weis. "It's not about one player or one coach. Now, I realize Tommy is one of the all-time great quarterbacks. He is the leader among the players. But it starts and ends with Bill."

And don't forget that darn pie, which according to those in the know, doesn't taste so well.

E-mail Bill Burt at bburt@eagletribune.com. Also check out his daily Super Bowl blog at www.eagletribune.com.