BOSTON -- The New England Patriots yesterday held a downtown news conference, and it was extraordinary -- even by the lofty standards of this star-crossed franchise.
More than 100 representatives of the (New England and New York) media gathered to hear team owner James Orthwein announce that Bill Parcells will be the 12th coach in franchise history.
This is a big deal. Very big. This was so big that Gov. William Weld was up there on the stage with Orthwein and Parcells. Weld gave a short speech and officially welcomed Parcells to New England.
The governor. Imagine. Does Mario Cuomo come out when the Yankees hire Buck Showalter?
Only in New England. Only the Patriots.
Weld saw nothing extraordinary about his appearance at a news conference announcing a new coach of a local professional football team.
"It's my responsibility to make sure we get a first-class facility and that the team remains in New England," said the governor. "This move is going to increase the value of the franchise a lot. I think Bill Parcells is the No. 1 name in football."
The governor wore his President's Council for Physical Fitness jacket. A Patriot official said Weld appeared at the request of Orthwein.
Now that the Patriots are set for a while, Weld has to worry about the New Boston Garden, the Old Boston Garden, the 1994 World Cup, the 1998 World's Fair, the 2000 Olympics and the 2001 Space Odyssey. Boston wants to host all of 'em.
The governor came because the Patriots are more than just a football team. They are a way of life. Chaotic life. When it comes to the Pats, the standard stuff never applies, and that's why yesterday's introduction of Parcells featured several non-football angles.
There has been much speculation that Orthwein, a St. Louis resident, will move our team to his hometown.
Orthwein said, "It's not my intention and it never has been my intention to move the team out of New England ... I'm here right now and I'm going to be here for the foreseeable future."
Weld said, "I think the team will stay here."
That should make everybody feel better.
Extraordinary. Had any other NFL team hired Parcells, all discussion would have centered on his old-timey style of smash-mouth football. There would have been nonstop talk about the draft, about X's and O's.
Not here. We get a new coach who seems too good to be true and all we can do is wait for the other shoe to drop. Will there be a new stadium? Was yesterday's announcement held downtown Parcells wouldn't change his mind when he saw Foxboro? Will Orthwein move the team to St. Louis? Will he sell the team, then order Parcells to "meet me in St. Louis"?
Orthwein's appearance at Parcells' inauguration was a mild shocker. We have not seen much of the long-distance owner. He has not answered many questions about his plans for our pro football future. The team supposedly is on the block for $110 million. But it's believed Orthwein is using the New England franchise as a hostage -- a St. Louis expansion franchise is the ransom.
We tried to pin him down yesterday.
"Sir, would you sell the Patriots to a local group before you're awarded an expansion franchise?" we asked.
"Before I get an expansion team?" he answered. "Uh, er, I'm in no hurry to do that."
We tried again.
"But would you sell the Patriots if there was an acceptable offer on the table now?"
"What I want to do is build a team and get things looking a little better here," he said.
The peculiar Weld-Orthwein alliance took a little bit away from Parcells and everything he brings to the mix.
The arrival of such a successful, coveted, high-profile coach should energize the sluggish, oft-burned New England sports fan. We're in a big-time losing streak around here, but we're 2-0 against New York in the last month. Both Tom Coughlin and Parcells chose New England over New York. The Gotham scribes yesterday wore long faces as they chronicled the rejection.
It's tough to determine when we last welcomed a proven coach " of this magnitude. The Patriots never have done it. Ditto for the Celtics and Bruins (Red Auerbach made his name here and Brian Sutter never has won a playoff series).
The last time Boston lured a coach like this was in 1948 when the Red Sox brought Joe McCarthy out of retirement. Like Parcells, McCarthy was a proven winner in New York (seven World Series champions). Bostonians felt great to grab a guy who'd made it big in New York, and much was expected. It didn't work out too well. McCarthy's two full seasons produced two near-misses on the final weekend of the season. A year later, McCarthy resigned.
The Patriots are 9-39 in the last three seasons. Parcells faces an enormous challenge. But he's not looking for a mere six wins or .500 ball. He said he wants to build a championship-caliber team. He said, "The commitment the Patriots have made to Bill Parcells allows the possibility that that could occur. I pledge to the fans of New England, and the players, that I will not rest until we approach that goal."
Sounds like a lot of sleepless nights.
"No one passed a rule that we can't win in '93."
He says the right things. He is a man of action. Long may he run the Patriots. And long may they run in New England.