George Young's lesson
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When the USFL breathed its last in 1985, NFL teams grabbed up its future Hall of Famers -- Steve Young, Jim Kelly and Reggie White among them. George Young, the general manager of the New York Giants, signed two offensive linemen, a fullback and a punter, then got three high draft picks for the rights to Gary Zimmerman, another former USFLer who ended up in the Hall of Fame.
All seven of those players -- Bart Oates, Chris Godfrey, Maurice Carthon, Sean Landeta, Mark Collins, Pepper Johnson and Erik Howard -- were important parts of Super Bowl winning teams. Because Young knew teams win championships as often as stars do, a lesson absorbed then by the Giants' 33-year-old defensive coordinator ...
Belichick never acknowledges Young because the two men never liked each other, especially after the older one told the younger that he wasn't ready to take over as head coach of the Giants when Bill Parcells stepped down. (He wasn't.) But anyone who looks at the current Patriots has only to look back at Belichick's apprenticeship with the Giants of the '80s to figure out where he learned -- on a team with a megastar named Lawrence Taylor and a lot of very good players around him.
Young knew that teams are not made up of stars and so does Belichick. That goes against fan perceptions, especially today where the most dominant media outlet in sports (you know, the one that calls itself the "Worldwide Leader'') beats us over the head with personalities and worries little about the bread-and-butter guys on a 53-man roster. The rest of us too often follow.
I remember a couple of months ago answering questions about "how can the Patriots survive without Randy Moss?''
Obviously just fine. Belichick went out and got Deion Branch, who always had chemistry with Tom Brady (that one superstar) and it's worked for 44 catches for 648 yards and five touchdowns in nine games, or one less catch but 211 more yards and three more touchdowns than Branch had in 14 games with Seattle last season. Not to get stat-happy, but Branch's per/catch average in New England is 14.7 compared to 8.6 this year in Seattle and 9.7 last year.
There are other reasons.
The Patriots have five rookies making contributions (although Brandon Spikes has been suspended for the last four games.) Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, the rookie tight ends, have 72 catches for 887 yards and 11 touchdowns. Devin McCourty, the rookie cornerback who is tied for the AFC lead with six interceptions may be a star this year -- in a season without a Ndamukong Suh, he'd probably be a runaway defensive rookie of the year.
Back to the original question ...
Think Albert Haynesworth. Think of the puffed up braggarts the Patriots have buried in their own division, the Jets, who went out and got Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes to be their Randy Mosses. They've scored nine points in their last two games, the first of them a 45-3 loss to starless New England.
Finally, go back to George Young, who died in 2001.
Belichick won't acknowledge him, but he lives in New England.
December 14, 2010; 12:22 PM ET
New England Patriots
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