Parcells changed everything for Pats

As a kid growing up in suburban Boston in the 1980s, there wasn't such a strong connection to the New England Patriots franchise. Don't remember seeing many Patriots hats and T-shirts among friends and relatives. Don't remember always seeing games on the television every Sunday afternoon.

There were times when the interest spiked, for sure, like the 1985 season that resulted in a Super Bowl appearance. But it never truly sustained. The ups and downs were so volatile.

Bill Parcells was the catalyst that changed that, at least for this at-the-time teenager. He was a reason to invest. He, along with No. 1 overall draft choice Drew Bledsoe, was a reason to hope that things were going to get better.

Parcells will officially be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday, and although he most often is associated with the New York Giants (rightfully so), his four-year tenure in New England from 1993 to 1996 is also a significant part of his Hall of Fame career.

It was a mess when he arrived.

"The organization itself was in quite a bit of turmoil and flux and change, and that continued for a while until the present ownership got in place," Parcells recalled of his tenure. "Then things settled down there for the better, obviously."

The Patriots were the second stop on Parcells' NFL tour, post-Giants. From here, he went on to the Jets and Cowboys as head coach, then turned his attention more to the team-building side as executive vice president of the Dolphins.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick, forever linked with Parcells from his time as an assistant on his Giants staffs and one year in New England (1996), summed up Parcells' impact this week.

"Pretty much every [franchise] he came into was not doing well when he got there," Belichick said. "Either they were the bottom or close to it, [and] he made them all pretty competitive in a very short amount of time, on several occasions, the first year.

"Two Super Bowls in New York, and that franchise hadn't done a lot in a while. Great coach, great evaluator, does a great job with his team, whatever capacity it was. I have a lot of respect for Bill [and] learned a lot from him and am glad I had the opportunity to work with him and work for him. [The Hall of Fame is] certainly well deserved."

Although some Patriots followers might hold it against Parcells that his coaching future became a distraction leading into Super Bowl XXXI -- he left for the Jets -- many also acknowledge that his arrival changed everything. Belichick, who was head coach of the Cleveland Browns at the time, remembers competing against Parcells' Patriots teams.

"[It was] definitely an example of a team that was pretty much rock bottom when he got here [and he] rejuvenated the franchise; he made the Patriots very competitive in a short amount of time, putting them into a strong position," he said.

Then Belichick joined the Patriots staff in 1996, when the team won the AFC championship.

"We had a good, young football team that came up just a little bit short against Green Bay. I think he certainly deserves the lion's share of putting that team together and the whole program together during that period of time," Belichick said. "We can go on and on, but I think all the accolades for Bill are well deserved and I personally value his friendship and have a lot of respect for him as a person and as a football coach/football person. It's not just coaching. It's beyond that with him."

Playing for Parcells for just one year, his rookie season in 1996, Tedy Bruschi credits him for helping establish a foundation Bruschi carried with him the rest of his career.

"I wish I had him more [years]," Bruschi said during his induction speech into the Patriots Hall of Fame this week. "He helped me become a professional football player, not so much football knowledge but football survival, and how you survive in this league. He said to all of us, 'Football will give you a lot of things -- you can buy a nice car, you can buy a nice house, it will get you some fame. But there are certain things you have to earn in the game of football. And you have to earn your respect, and you have to earn championships.' That's what Bill Parcells taught me."

Bruschi, who remembers driving from practice to the stadium in Parcells' Cadillac Eldorado, when Parcells would ask him father-figure type questions, wasn't the only one. In many ways, Parcells taught Patriots fans what went into restoring a franchise's credibility, how to revive a dormant organization. It wasn't always perfect, and the ending was messy, no doubt about that.

But, as Parcells is inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday, let us not forget his turnaround work in New England.

His arrival brought hope at a time when there had been little reason to have any.