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    Leigh Montville

    Patriots prove that mind games are path to NFL glory

    Patriots were the ultimate sum of interchangeable parts

    Tom Brady celebrates with Patriots owner Robert Kraft after defeating the Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX
    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
    Tom Brady celebrates with Patriots owner Robert Kraft after defeating the Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX.

    I was hoping that New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick would put Tom Menino into the game. There was an opportunity, second half, free safety Eugene Wilson lying on the ground with a busted arm, a spot now open in the lineup. Menino could have ambled onto the field as if he were looking for dining room chairs placed in shoveled-out parking spaces in Brighton, mumbling in consternation, ready to attack the problem. Wouldn’t it have been a sight? This would have been the final local dropkick in the pants for the disbelievers out there.

    Joe Buck: “It appears that Belichick is putting the Mayor of Boston into that injury-depleted secondary.”

    Troy Aikman: “What next? They tell me from the truck that Menino is 62 years old. He stands no more than 5 feet 9 and his weight, they say, is `unavailable.’ “


    Chris Collinsworth: “I don’t know what Belichick is thinking. I don’t care if this guy is the Mayor of Boston. A 62-year-old man who -- get this -- appears to be wearing eyeglasses is going to have trouble covering Brian Westbrook out of the backfield.”

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    No, he wouldn’t. Of course, he wouldn’t.

    These were the Patriots, the ultimate sum of interchangeable parts, headed toward their third Super Bowl win in four years, unstoppable, unpredictable, unflappable, dismantling the sad Philadelphia Eagles, 24-21, on the perfect green grass of Alltel Stadium in Jacksonville, Fla., one week ago. They were our boys, made in Massachusetts, delivering our blue-state message to the goobers in the heartland.

    The message -- listen up, you goobers -- is that the game is won in the head, not the body. Thinking counts. In the greatest American macho fest of them all, the Patriots once again showed that mind is a solid 3-point favorite over matter. Do your homework. Figure out how to cover your weaknesses, maximize your strengths, do what you’re supposed to do and “bingo,” as Mr. Troy Brown might say. Preparation is everything. Anybody can do this! Everybody, helping each other, can do this! It all works.

    Menino would have fit just fine in that defensive secondary. The engine would have kept on purring.


    Joe Buck: “That was quite a lick that Menino laid on Westbrook.”

    Troy Aikman: “Westbrook looks dizzy.”

    Chris Collinsworth: “OK, it was a nice hit. But how long do you think Belichick’s going to get by with Senator Ted Kennedy at nose guard? The guy’s got some bulk to him, but you just can’t come out of a meeting of the Committee on Foreign Relations and play against the Philadelphia Eagles. I say it’s going to hurt somewhere down the line.”

    For us -- for anyone who knows how to pronounce “Worcester” and “Gloucester,” knows Callahan from Sumner, Allston from Brighton, baked beans from shinola -- the ultimate beauty of these cerebral Patriots is where they are from. They’re from here. The NEW ENGLAND Patriots. They’re from Massachusetts. They run their parade from Copley Square to City Hall. They eat here, sleep here, learn how to win here.

    Drawn from well-considered choices in the annual player draft, from shrewd picks off the waiver wire, from the bargain basement of the free agent marketplace, the players have the pedigree and charm of a collection of mutts from the county pound when they arrive from different parts of the country. This is where they are developed. This is where they are tweaked and twisted, molded, brought to full bloom in Belichick’s hot-house bubble in Foxborough. This is where they learn how to win the blue ribbons for best in show. Unlike the Red Sox, a collection of imported rent-a-stars brought in to do a job, divas and soloists, here and gone, thanks for the memories, the Patriots are a local product.


    The owner is local. The players and the coaches soon become local. They buy houses here. They send their kids to local schools or day care. In a rootless athletic age, they sink roots. A bunch of them even stay when they are done playing. They become local high school coaches (John Hannah) and local broadcast personalities (Steve DeOssie and Fred Smerlas, on television more often than Dr. Phil) and dentists (Bill Lenkaitis), pulling local teeth. They become part of . . . us.

    This is what drives the goobers crazy. The Patriots are us. They are our revenge. The home address of the Lombardi Trophy glows in the night across the land. Massachusetts. Massachusetts. Massachusetts. How can a team from that liberal backwater, from that socialist state, from pinkoland, be the champions of the God-blessed National Football League? How can that be possible?

    No cultural aspect of American life -- not NASCAR nor lawn maintenance nor harmonized Nashville philosophy -- ranks higher with the goobers than King Football. The prodigies at Gooberville High are the scatbacks and the big-beef defensive linemen, the All-American-boy quarterbacks, not the National Merit finalists. The icons are the wise old men who prowl the sidelines, spitting tobacco juice and aphorisms, molding character on top of busted knees for future generations. The mood of entire communities is affected if Goober State wins or Goober State loses on a Saturday afternoon. Football success is as important as breathing.

    So now the sport is ruled by a team from Massachusetts? What do they know about football in . . . Massachusetts? Harvard, MIT, Tufts, Perkins School for the Blind? Massachusetts? Isn’t that where men sometimes marry men and women sometimes marry women and people often sit around and read books? Eggheads and perverts. Do they even PLAY football up there?

    Here’s this coach in his dull hooded sweatshirt, looking for all the world like some absent-minded professor, drawing up plays and saying `Let’s try something we used at Andover against Exeter’ or `This really shook up Bates when I was at Wesleyan.’ Here’s this quarterback nobody wanted, sort of discovered the way Robin Williams found that Matt Damon could do math in “Good Will Hunting,” who just kills everybody. Doesn’t have the stats of that guy in Indianapolis. Doesn’t have the size of that guy in Pittsburgh. Can’t run like that guy in Philadelphia. Beats ‘em all.

    Here’s this team from Tax-and-Spend-achusetts that operates inside a budget, that plays inside a privately-funded glamour stadium, no tax-killer bond issues, no stadium license outrage; a team that is an unselfish model for all teams everywhere. It all works. The only flips are delivered by Tedy Bruschi and Rodney Harrison. The flops are every challenger that comes along. Here are your moral values. Here is your clear thinking. Here are your champions.

    The New England Patriots.

    Joe Buck: “Nifty interception by Menino. Just stepped in front of Westbrook, ran the ball all the way back. Look at the mayor do that bird dance, making fun of the Eagles.”

    Troy Aikman: “Nice block by Kennedy, too, on the runback.”

    Chris Collinsworth: “Who’s this Natalie Jacobson? I think she’s coming out to try the extra point.”

    The goobers might own the country for the next four years, but we own their game.

    Leigh Montville is a former Globe sports columnist. He is the author of “Why Not Us? The 86-Year Journey of the Boston Red Sox Fans from Unparalleled Suffering To The Promised Land of the 2004 World Series.”