NEW ORLEANS - This is the second full day of Patriots processing and, honestly, do you have the hang of it yet? Shortly after 10 o’clock Sunday night, you saw the Superdome clocks reach zero. You saw Adam Vinatieri’s 48-yard kick fall into a protective net. You saw sheets of confetti blowin’ in the temperature-controlled wind.
The Patriots are officially the winners of Super Bowl XXXVI. The Patriots are NFL champions. The Patriots will now have teams coming into Foxborough, Mass., with the objective of making a statement against the defending champs.
I know. The newly rich have rules. You’re supposed to be cool. You’re supposed to pretend you know how to pronounce these Super Bowl hors d’oeuvres, even if you spent last season munching on 5-11 cuisine.
When the NFL schedule is arranged in the spring and people say how tough it appears to be, you’re supposed to maintain perfect posture. You’re supposed to laugh and explain that the schedule is ‘’an inevitable challenge’’ to your position.
Your championship position.
What a neighborhood.
Yesterday, there was Tom Brady - the 24-year-old Super Bowl MVP - going to Disney World. There was Don Shula saying Bill Belichick had one of the finest coaching seasons of all time. There was the commissioner, Paul Tagliabue, talking about New England, and he wasn’t speaking of any problems. Shula and Tagliabue said they were impressed with the game New England and the Rams produced. Tagliabue said the game, a 20-17 New England win, was ‘’extraordinary.’’
No one talked about the Jets. No angst over Bill Parcells and Curtis Martin. There were no references to Hempstead, N.Y., or Hartford. Even Mayor Menino was here late Sunday night to talk about the noon parade he’ll be throwing for the Krafts, no longer his enemies in these born-again Super Bowl times.
There were arguments the last two days, but they were legacy arguments. I heard a few people say Patriots-Rams was the best Super Bowl they’ve seen. Those are the same people, I think, who consider ‘’The Sixth Sense’’ to be a great movie; a great ending doesn’t guarantee a great product. New England-St. Louis is obviously a regional classic, but Rams-Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV was a better game.
But that’s as deep as the arguments go. These are happy days.
At a party early Monday morning, former Patriots cornerback Raymond Clayborn showed up with a smile on his face. ‘’This win was for all of us,’’ he said. ‘’It helps erase some of the pain of 1986.’’
The silver Vince Lombardi Trophy can now be placed in CMGI Field’s reception area. Now no Patriot will have to whisper when talking about the team’s lack of Super Bowl success. No purist will have to worry about other teams liberally borrowing the Patriots’ style, although copying is a post-Super Bowl tradition.
That becomes impossible with Belichick because he is constantly shifting his schemes. The players talk about Belichick as if he is as valuable as a run-stopping middle linebacker. His game-planning skills are legendary. You’ll never figure him out by watching his facial expressions or listening to his news conferences. He is often on defense, trying to figure out your angle.
There is no one like him in the league. He led the Patriots to the biggest Super Bowl upset in 33 years by emphasizing intelligence and relentless team defense. Shula said it was a great piece of coaching because Shula knows what the Rams could have done to New England if the Patriots had been given a different game plan.
Is any of this sinking in yet?
How’s it going to feel when the Patriots are presented with their expensive rings? Or when they are invited to the White House? Or when Vinatieri visits the ‘’Late Show with David Letterman’’ tomorrow? Or if Brady, who has already been in the same room with Ja Rule and Snoop Dogg and Sheryl Crow, continues to dance next to Joe Montana in the Super Bowl record book?
For the last week, I’ve looked out a hotel window and seen the Patriots logo on the side of the Superdome. The thought of the team in the Super Bowl, in Year Two of the Belichick-Scott Pioli program, is shocking. The Patriots’ win, given their style of play, is not surprising. But I still haven’t downloaded all of the information.
The Patriots have won the Super Bowl. They suddenly are in good salary-cap shape. They have a 24-year-old Pro Bowl quarterback, a 24-year-old center, a 23-year-old left tackle, and a 22-year-old defensive tackle. Their coach is considered an NFL genius and, since high school, he has spoken of living in New England.
This is the story of the Patriots, the best team in the NFL. It’s going to take a few days to get used to this neighborhood.