Friday, February 26, 2010

1995 NFL Mail Bag: The New England Patriots

Some of you might remember a few posts ago when I mentioned my upcoming plan to write letters to every NFL, NHL, NBA and MLB team as well as Dick Cheney's uncanny marksmanship. Well, in addition to Cheney not being the only older politician to make us proud lately, you might also recall that this project was inspired by a similar letter campaign I made when I was nine years old to every NFL team.

Well last week I made a trip home to New Jersey where I did the all too exciting activity of filing my tax return. In addition to finding that I received half as much in my refund as expected -- to say nothing of what I owe New Jersey and New York -- I also uncovered a box with all the mail I received as a nine-year-old. Fifteen years later it's time to uncover it all and so every Friday, you can count on me showing you just how generous -- or cheap -- professional football teams were a decade and a half ago.

First up: The New England Patriots.

I'm going with the Pats first because after sending out my deluge of mail, New England was the first to actually respond. This became particularly memorable when my father picked me up from Sunday School at Temple Sinai in Summit, New Jersey, handing over the mail. In my haste to open it on the ride home I almost didn't notice when we were blindsided by a pregnant woman near the Short Hills train station.

Fun times.

Well, in case you're wondering, the Patriots sent me a copy of their "Sideline Report" Newsletter, as well as a handsome 1994 New England Patriots Media Guide. As a bonus the media guide features this hilarious older photo of Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who has gone from bumbling maniac to championship steward in just a short 15 years since I got my mail.

The rest of the media guide is fairly unexciting. If you've worked as a sportswriter before you know media guides are a treasure trove of useful information to beef up your stories, such as Drew Bledsoe's fourth-quarter touchdown passes against the Arizona Cardinals, to name one. Do these have any practical application? No. But we make you think they do.

The real fun, however, came from The Sideline Report, which featured several trips down memory lane in addition to one retrospectively ridiculous story after another. My personal favorite, aside from the Patriots' 35th Anniversary two-page spread (this year they celebrated 50), and the obligatory Sam Adams advertisement in the back (it is Boston after all) is probably this profile on Vincent Brown's physique, deemed by Muscle and Fitness Magazine to be the best in the NFL. Now looking at this photo, he is, indeed, in phenomenal shape. And knowing how clean weight training regimens were in the 1990s, I'm sure his physique, which the article calls "Lou Ferrigno-like", came about entirely naturally. At 6'2" 245 lbs and free of body fat, the article goes on to say, "Brown is proof positive that the body builders' credo can help professional athletes reach their full potential."

Body builders indeed.

Aside from the story on Brown, who has since coached in the NFL, the rest of the magazine featured several other gems. One that caught my eye was on Marty Moore, whom the Patriots selected with the last overall pick in the 1994 NFL Draft, a slot generally known as "Mr. Irrelevant". Moore became the first Mr. Irrelevant to play in a Super Bowl in 1996 and as the story boasts he is "Irrelevant No Moore". And of course we all remember Marty Moore, don't we?

What might really be the best bit in the magazine, aside from the totally sweet pullout Ben Coates poster, is an ad for the now defunct sportswear company Apex featuring Patriots coach Bill Parcells with the tag line, "You Can't Fake Patriotism". Don't get me wrong, I love Bill Parcells for leading the Giants to two Super Bowl titles, and his place as one of the greatest coaches in modern times is more than assured. But his penchant for jumping from one organization to another makes this more than a little ironic, no? Given the statement at the bottom of the ad, "You Can't Fake This", well, perhaps Apex should have tabbed a different spokesperson. Maybe they'd still be in business if they did.

That all more or less sums up the excitement of receiving mail from the New England Patriots in 1995. I find this all pretty remarkable since the franchise's fortunes have changed so dramatically since. At the time they had endured decades of struggle with one flukey Super Bowl appearance to their credit.

Now the Pats have five more Super Bowl appearances to their credit, three championships, and arguably one of the greatest teams ever assembled. Bizarre how this can change so quickly. If the Patriots felt like giving some of that winning touch to the U.S. hockey team today for its showdown with Finland in the semifinals, well, that would be nice. Finland is no cakewalk, but I still like the U.S.'s chances at gritting out a spot in Sunday's Gold Medal Game, where I suspect they'll be rematched with Canada.


Of course, I will continue to think about Olympic hockey primarily for the next few days because the snow is making it difficult to think of anything other than winter sports, though it is providing some surprising benefits. As well, the only other sports team that could distract me is the Mets, who are already apparently suffering from some hilarious injuries.

I'd rather think about something else for a little while. Olympic hockey is going to do the trick.

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