What I Learned from the 2001 New England Patriots

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With the start of the NFL football season this week, I'm focusing on values, financial and otherwise that I've learned from football. I've long been a fan of the New England Patriots, even when they were embarrassing. I watched every game of their 1-15 season in 1990. They were equally embarrassing off the field with a few players' sexual harassment of reporter Lisa Olson. It is hard to imagine an organization being any more disappointing.

Things got better with the arrival of star quarterback Drew Bledsoe with that Patriots making the Super Bowl in 1996. However, they fell short of winning it, and watched their coach resign to manage another team. Things went downhill from there until they finished with a poor 5-11 record in 2000.

The Patriots lost the first game of that 2001 season. Their best receiver, Terry Glenn, wasn't playing due to a combination of injuries and off-the-field problems. Then the September 11th attacks happened. Football was the last thing on Americans' mind. Joe Andruzzi, a Patriots starter, especially was thinking about his two NYC firefighter brothers. They both survived, to be honored at game two of the season, the Patriots vs. the Jets. The Patriots lost this game as well, but that was the least of their problems. Star quarterback Drew Bledsoe was injured so severely on one play that internal bleeding almost killed him. The team had lost much of the little talent it showed in previous seasons. Absolutely nothing was going right for the team. I prepared myself for 1990 all over again.

Mitigating your Setbacks with a Back-up Plan - This is the first lesson I learned of the season. Few people had realized that the Patriots had gathered a number of players that could help out in emergency situations. A player by the name of Tom Brady came in to replace Drew Bledsoe. Troy Brown and David Patten stepped up to replace Terry Glenn. The defense finally clicked with a bunch of veteran cast-offs from other teams.

Work at Improving Everyday
Over the next 8 games of the season, the Patriots managed to go 5-3, to get to a mediocre 5-5 record on the season. You could see on the field on that the players were starting realize where they needed to be on each play. Better than just knowing were to be, they were executing.

After that 5-5 record, they proceeded to run off a streak of wins that no one saw coming.

Take Advantage of your Opportunities
There is a saying that success is the residue of preparation, execution, and good luck. The Patriots definitely had luck on their side this season.

  • The Patriots won a game against the Bills from a great play by a player who was literally unconscious. David Patten caught a ball, got hit so hard that he fell unconscious, dropping the ball and the Patriots won. The referees concluded that part of his body had been touching the football while another part had been out of bounce. In other words, the childhood rule of electricity applied.
  • To be able to skip the first round of the playoffs with their poor start, they needed approximately 732 different things to happen. Going into the last three weeks, I noted that they had to win all their games (an obvious requirement). They also needed another contending team (I think the Dolphins) to lose their first remaining game, beat another contending team in their second game, and then lose their third game. Of course this all happened and the Patriots got to skip the divisional round of the playoffs, rest up, and gain home field advantage for the first game of the playoffs.
  • In the first playoff game against the Raiders - the Patriots really had the luck on their side. In a very famous game the Patriots appeared to had fumbled the ball only to have the referees pull an obscure rule to save the Patriots season. They also had one of the best field goal kicks of NFL history, a 45 yard kick through a driving snow - a play with so little chance for success most teams would even attempt it. With another field goal they were able to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

When the Odds are Against You, it's Time to Shine
The Patriots then went to play Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs, a 14-15 point underdog. It's extremely rare for a team under those odds to win. However, they survived an injury to the hero Tom Brady, with Drew Bledsoe coming back from his injury to lead the team to victory.

It all culminated with a trip to the Super Bowl against the Rams. The Rams were looked at as an unbeatable team that year. They had the top ranked offense scoring over 500 points, which has only been done once since. The Rams defense was virtually as stingy as the Patriots, giving up just one more point. Las Vegas again decided that the Patriots should be a 14-15 underdog.

Team Work and Unselfishness
I learned last lesson in the pregame announcements. The Patriots had chosen all year to be introduced all at once, instead of individually, the norm. The NFL especially likes the drama of the individual announcement in the Super Bowl. However, the Patriots risked a fine and said they'd all come out together as they've always done. They stood up for they thought was right.

The Super Bowl started off great for the Patriots and they got off to an early lead. However, the Rams came back stealing momentum and tying the game up with less than two minutes to go. The Patriots had one last chance with the ball, but I remember the announcers (specifically John Madden) clearly saying that they should hold the ball and take their chances in overtime. The Patriots didn't agree and Tom Brady engineered one of the best drives in NFL history getting the Patriots in position to kick the winning field goal as time ran out. The game was over and the 2001 New England Patriots were left celebrating their victory.

While I went through all the lessons I learned, I didn't emphasize what they really meant to me. With many of the Internet companies not getting funding and not being profitable, I had been laid off. It meant that I not only had lost my income, but not having a job left me feeling like I didn't have a purpose. I had unrequited crush on a girl who I thought could become more than a friend, which kept me awake for days on end. It was my darkest hour were each day seemed to just get worse than the previous one.

However, I figured that if the Patriots could overcome the odds, then I could as well. Six years later, with a good income, some solid savings, a couple of ventures that give me great satisfaction, a new wife who I love, and I feel like I was the one that the Super Bowl.

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Posted on September 6, 2007.

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