Patriots Super ghosts spread success

Ivan Fears has a ghost story to tell.

He’s been a New England Patriots assistant coach for 19 years. He knows what has turned the New England Patriots dynasty from one decade into another. He feels it every time he walks into the locker room.

The Patriots won three out of four Super Bowls a decade ago, and if they beat the Philadelphia Eagles for the second time in the NFL’s biggest event on Sunday, they will have done the same thing this decade. Besides head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady, what’s the connection? How can an organization keep this level of excellence?

“We do live off those ghosts from the past,” Fears said of this current group with regard to the Super Bowl champions of the 2001, 2003 and ’04 seasons. “That locker room is dominated by that spirit, I tell you. We always talk about where do these guys get it from.

“When they come here, they get it from the locker room. What we’re going to be? It’s got to be something the locker room gives them.”

Ghosts. Ghosts of players like linebackers Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel. Defensive linemen Richard Seymour and Vince Wilfork, or kicker Adam Vinatieri, receivers Troy Brown, David Patten.

Not spooky ghosts. Friendly, helpful ghosts. Those were great players, and they left behind a collective great spirit.

It’s interesting to draw the comparison. The general feeling is the Super Bowl Patriots of a decade ago (other than the 2007 team) were built on defense and ran the ball more. Brady was more than just a facilitator; he was a two-time Super Bowl MVP in that first run, was approaching but still not considered an all-time great.

“The first group that won three out of four, the first group, they were all together for awhile,” said another longtime Patriots assistant, Dante Scarnecchia. “This group is kind of like pieces of this guy, that guy… I know we always approach the year as a new year.”

“We had some great defensive players, some guys who could do some things on offense,” Scarnecchia said. “Some guys not many people thought much of, like Troy Brown. They just came through, you know?”

Former Patriot safety Rodney Harrison, now an NBC commentator, says the thing that stands out for that first era was simply the talent. “Just look at the talent we had in our Super Bowls,” Harrison said. “It was a mixture of guys who had played a long time and you had players who looked up to the veteran players.”

His NBC compadre, former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy, had a hard time coaching against those teams, finally breaking through in the 2007 AFC Championship Game.

“I look at their identity,” Dungy said, “and they had great players all around. The second time around, it’s been so much offense. The first time you thought of them more defensively than an offensive-oriented group. To me, that just speaks to the greatness of Coach Belichick.”

Which would you prefer? How do you compare the two?

“I hadn’t put any thought on that,” Fears said. “That team, that era before was dominated by strong personalites on defense. We had a defensive core that set the tone that we still live by, with Bruschi, Vrabel, all those guys, Wilfork, Seymour and Harrison. That was who we were. On offense we fed off of all those guys.

“Now we’re more on the offensive side with Brady, Slater on special teams. We’re a little different. The older guys are all on the offensive side of the ball.”

Scarnecchia says it helps that despite different coordinators, the basic offense system has stayed the same. But Fears is right. The veterans were on defense back from 2001-2004. The vets now, with a few exceptions, are more on offense.

“Obviously the game’s a lot different now than what it used to be,” Brown said. “They don’t have any big name defensive stars like we did. We had some pretty well-known players on that team.”

It’s funny, Brown went through the opposition both Patriot eras notched their Super Bowl wins against: NFC West (Rams, Seahawks); NFC South (Panthers, Falcons) and now the Eagles twice, if the Patriots pick up the win. Interesting similarity.

Here’s the other big similarity:

Winning. It makes for a ghost story that lets Patriots fans go to sleep with smiles on their faces.

Tom King can be reached at 594-1251, tking@nashuatelegraph.com., or @Telegraph_TomK.