|Too S'Martz for his own good|
By Ralph Wiley
Page 2 columnist
And that, ladies and geniuses, is why they play the game.
They come along now and then, like Mr. Mike Martz. Before the game teaches them the basic humility needed for any martial art, you can almost hear 'em thinking, "Oooo, my system is so smooth. Oooo, lookit. I made separation. I made open space. I. I. I. My scheme is so sweet."
Know who's next in line? Spurrier. And we encourage them. Media types. "Brilliant scheme. Yada-yada."
Most of them forget there are no new things. Not in football.
You just knew the Rams had this game in them somewhere.
You just knew the right team would bring it out.
You couldn't know it was the Patriots.
You could only believe.
The Patriots believed more in what Bill Belichick gave them to work with than the Rams believed in what Martz gave them. Rightly so. "We felt like we can stand in there against anybody," Belichick said.
He turned it into a heavyweight title fight. If you were comparing the Patriots to a heavyweight champion, then they would be Larry Holmes. Workmanlike, with two well-oiled pistons for fists called O and D; could knock you out, unspectacularly, but you were no less knocked out. You could ask the Rams. Once you bust an ammonia cap under their effete noses and revive them.
The Rams' big-time playmakers -- Bruce, Aeneas, Marshall-Marshall-Marshall -- were game-planned into oblivion by Belichick, who it seems would as soon have his fingernails pulled out with pliers as think a game would come easy, or was his due, somehow.
The Patriots never threw a ball at Aeneas. No arrogance in them. Just leave him alone. They put their best guy, Ty Law, on Ike Bruce. They closed down on Faulk as best they could, and the latest incarnation of Genius helped them do it.
Tom Brady lives forever. And it's good. The right team won.
So go ahead, Boston. Revel in your time. Eat it up.
I would, if I were you. Your team lives forever. So do you. That's the way it works. That's what makes the game click inside us. That's why nobody came to work late in Boston on Monday.
As for Mike Martz, well, he did prove something.
Ain't but one Bill Walsh.
Martz couldn't resist. He was going to make it happen through the air. John Madden expected it of him, after all. He was a genius. But anytime a healthy Antowain Smith outrushes a healthy Marshall Faulk ... somebody needs to put up a sign:
... WEAR A HARD HAT.
Kurt Warner? Nice story, good guy, Bootstrap City and all that, but, the Patriots were his makeup remover. Joe Montana, he ain't.
Warner was put in the position of trying to move around back there, run for the goal, stoppin' and startin' like he was Donnie McNabb.
Frankly, it's a wonder he didn't get killed.
A man's got to know his limitations. If he doesn't, his coach should.
Warner's coach encouraged his limitations. It was almost pathetic at times, watching Warner trying to improvise, run the ball near the goal line, force balls in there, have trick feet in the pocket. If he could do all that, he would've been a first-round pick. But he's the kind of player who, if you tell him something's going to be there, and protect him, he'll hit it. Improvisation is not his thing, but he had to try because Genius Martz left him hanging by asking him to make plays that weren't there. By stubbornly refusing to admit that Bill Belichick had his preferences and tendencies figured cold. By not saying, "Let's just take this third quarter and put the seed in Marshall's belly. That's going to be positive yardage, wear 'em down, make the safeties come up at the same time."
Instead, Martz was stubborn in his pass calls -- seven straight to start the third quarter! -- and Patriots corners Law, Smith and Buckley, set up by Bad News Belichick, jumped routes, reversed Warner's soft toss, picked him, returned him into Rams territory or for TDs. The Patriots got the word Tampa Bay held the Rams in check by staying deeper than the deepest, bouncing Warner, reversing ball, or knocking it and tooth fillings loose ...
... because you knew the Rams would throw it.
That ain't genius. It's ego, run amok.
Genius in football is simpler than that.
It's not exploding receivers out of set like quail out of a covey.
In football, genius is simple: Do what they don't expect you to do. If they expect you to run, pass. If they expect you to pass, run.
The Patriots beat the Rams because the Rams were predictable. The Patriots won straight up, legit. If you dig ball, you gotta love it.
Troy Brown, not a first-round pick, not a prototype, got cut by the Patriots, not the most encouraging thing to happen to a man, but who stuck to his knitting, handled his business, calmly and methodically grew in his craft, then made play after play in a Three-Game Sortie against the Raiders, Steelers and Rams.
That's drama. Can't luck your way through the NFL playoffs. It even takes something more than talent when facing a line of head-knockers like the Raiders and the Steelers, then a circus like the Rams. It takes an indefinable something inside, something that has nothing to do with genius, and that's what the New England Patriots had.
They had a plan. They had a mission. And they had chest.
Their genius, Belichick, was reluctant to take credit, deflecting it after the game, in the hard-won, hard-rock knowledge that "Hey, I can draw up anything I like but somebody good must execute it."
And Brady, Brady, Brady ... what can you say about Tom Brady?
You gotta love him. Something about him. Something humble. Something talented. Something straight up. Something good. Something other guys will lay themselves on the line for.
Wonder where Drew Bledsoe will be next year?
Egg on your face today? Don't worry. There's enough crying towels to go around. Maybe Mike Martz will lend you use his.
So methodical beats genius. So simple beats genius. So humble beats genius. Brady, who you gotta love, now that you know him, humble in the last drive, taking the check-downs even as Madden was saying the Patriots should play for overtime, not trying to do too much, then finally hitting the cunning Troy Brown ... cocky Dre' Bly overrunning that tackle ... Brown getting 10 extra yards then getting out of bounds ... just that simple ... simple as that.
So maybe now Mike Martz will grow a little hard shell of humility, like Belichick did, figure out what Belichick did -- Hey, I don't play. It ain't my show. Hey, it's me who's gotta give the players the best chance to look good, the best chance to win a game.
Maybe Mike Martz will be back one day.
But not right now.
Right now, Boston's hooked up.
It's sick. In a good way.
Ralph Wiley spent nine years at Sports Illustrated and wrote 28 cover stories on celebrity athletes. He is the author of several books, including "Best Seat in the House," with Spike Lee, "Born to Play: The Eric Davis Story," and "Serenity, A Boxing Memoir."