They talked all week about moving on, about leaving the past behind, about adjusting to new beginnings.
No, Bill Parcells said, he didn't want to revisit history. He didn't want to relive his messy divorce from the New England Patriots or his nasty fallout with Patriots owner Robert Kraft or his domineering relationship with his former Pro Bowl quarterback.
Neither did Drew Bledsoe, the Pro Bowl quarterback, want to renew the sometimes public feud that has percolated since Parcells abandoned the Patriots two days after Super Bowl XXXI.
But all that denial was problematic, if not impossible, this week. There is no forgetting the past in New England, and apparently no forgiving Super Bowl week, when Parcells' visage superseded that of his players at every turn.
It all got dredged up like flotsam and jetsam, re-created in chapter and verse, and there was nothing Parcells or Bledsoe could do to stop it.
Sunday night, when the Tuna returns to Foxboro Stadium to face his old team as coach of the New York Jets, that angry past is going to rise up and take a bite out of someone.
Whether it's the Patriots -- favored by more than a touchdown -- or Parcells depends on how well New England handles the passion of the moment.
Parcells didn't make any concessions to the hostility awaiting him, even as he was about to enter the lion's den.
"All that hype evens out when you get hit in the mouth a few times," he said at a midweek news conference.
Make no mistake: This is merely the first round of what promises to be a long-running rivalry. Parcells has a six-year contract, worth $2.4 million a season, as coach and general manager of the Jets.
He's in the same division with the Patriots, who look like the class of the AFC, and Bledsoe, 25, who figures to play in a few more Pro Bowls, if not Super Bowls. He owes the Patriots two more draft picks -- including a No. 1 in 1999 -- as compensation for joining the Jets last February.
And he has all this baggage from New England, where he elevated the Patriots from 2-14 ignominy to AFC champions in four years. Yet, even as Parcells was taking the Patriots to Super Bowl heights last January, he was grating on them in ways that are not easy to overlook.
The list of grievances against Parcells includes:
His heavy-handed way of dealing with players. He referred to rookie wide receiver Terry Glenn as "she" in training camp a year ago. He said cornerback Jimmy Hitchcock couldn't play. He once called running back Curtis Martin a one-game wonder. He benched linebacker Chris Slade down the stretch last season, only to reinstate him in the playoffs. (Still, it should be noted this abrasive style produced two Super Bowl victories for Parcells when he coached the New York Giants.)
His rumored departure from the Patriots stole the spotlight Super Bowl week. "It got played up at the Super Bowl," said offensive tackle Bruce Armstrong. "It took away from some of the things that could have been written about the players and some of the attributes we had that week. It was what it was. Personally, I
think it could have been handled a little differently, but that's just my opinion."
Once the Super Bowl was over, Parcells bolted from New England without so much as a farewell. That pushed some players over the edge. After Pete Carroll was appointed the new Patriots coach last February, Bledsoe was outspoken in his criticism of Parcells.
"He didn't say anything to any of the players," Bledsoe said then. "You'd like to think that, when you go through some of the things we all went through with the guy, that he'd at least say goodbye.
"But from the get-go, Bill has been about Bill. That's the way it is, that's the way he is."
Parcells and Bledsoe are the central characters in this strange saga. Parcells was especially rough on the young quarterback he took with the first pick in the 1993 draft. In four years and 59 regular-season starts under Parcells, Bledsoe won 32 games and threw for 80 touchdowns. Twice he passed for more than 4,000 yards a season.
But the relationship was one-sided from the beginning, and Bledsoe chafed under Parcells' harsh coaching methods. The switch to Carroll has lifted a heavy burden, and in two blowout wins this season, Bledsoe has seemingly blossomed, both as a leader on the field and as a quarterback.
"Our personalities are very similar," Bledsoe said of Carroll. "We relate to each other professionally and on a personal level. We share the same ideas on what's important on and off the field."
Carroll, who has his own motive this week -- he was fired in 1994 after one season as Jets coach -- comes off as a caretaker to Parcells' heavy-handed manipulator. His laid-back style is to praise and encourage Bledsoe, not berate him.
"I believe in this guy a great deal," Carroll said of Bledsoe. "He's a fierce competitor. I think he's a great student of the game. He has displayed everything you can display in terms of preparing. He's meeting all the expectations I can come up with right now."
Predictably, Bledsoe has toned down him comments about Parcells this week.
"This whole thing is overblown," he said. "It's like a lightning rod in that it's being dissected and analyzed.
"I'm proud Bill was my coach. We had two good years and two not-so-good years. We've moved on. We're in the Pete Carroll era."
Parcells has done nothing to inflame emotions, either.
"If the Patriots win the championship, I'll be happy for them," he said. "I'd like to see somebody in the AFC win one."
Parcells also defended himself against the criticism that he didn't say good-bye after quitting the Patriots. He said he had just one season-ending meeting during his time in New England, and that was after the first year.
"I've spoken to a number of those players over the course of the year," he said. "Not all -- is that clear? -- but I made a fairly earnest attempt to get a hold of just about the whole group of guys to tell them how I felt. They know that I wasn't able to get a hold of everyone; a lot of their phone numbers change. But the players know how I feel."
Parcells said he benched Slade last season after the team nearly blew big leads against Jacksonville and the Ravens. Reasoning that Slade was tired, Parcells said he rotated him with Dwayne Sabb to save him for the end of the game.
Slade was so upset by the demotion, he would not have re- signed with the Patriots last February had Parcells stayed.
"When Bill was here, it was more of, 'Put my foot down, we're going to do it my way,' and he's a lot more intense [than Carroll]," Slade said. "Bill got it done his way. Now Pete, on the other hand, is a lot more laid-back, a West Coast-type guy. But we're getting it done his way, too.
"I'm going to get something straight for the record. Bill Parcells is a great football coach. He and I just didn't agree on some things toward the end of last year."
Among those Patriots who remain in Parcells' corner are middle linebacker Ted Johnson and kick returner David Meggett. But most players are motivated by the return of their former leader.
"Sure, we want to show Bill and the rest of the world we can win without him, but that's not the sole incentive," Bledsoe said.
"We won quite a few games when he was coaching," free safety Willie Clay said. "There's a little resentment, but everyone here respects him. I want to beat him like anybody else. There's always extra incentive.
"I just want to play a great game. If I play well, I'll show him what I want to show him. You always want to show this is what you left behind."
Previews: Looking ahead to Week 3. 8d
Rankings: Rating the teams, 1 through 30. 8d
Strine: Pats have greatest incentive. 8d
Ravens' Jackson loves to talk trash. 9d
Pub Date: 9/12/97