Sunday, January 18, 2015

Super Bowl 49: Pete Carroll's Revenge?

The Seattle Seahawks had to wait only one year to get back to the Super Bowl, but Pete Carroll has had to wait 15 years to get back at the New England Patriots.

Whereas the NFC champions are aiming to repeat as NFL champions, their head coach – who is driven by competition the way Moses was driven by commandments -- may privately be looking for some internal measure of nerds-like revenge. Winning the Super Bowl last year was professional exoneration. This time it’s personal for Pete.

It’s versus the Patriots, an ideal victim-to-vindication scenario perfect for Disney.

Following the 1999 season, Carroll was unceremoniously fired by the Patriots, though he never had a losing season in three years as their head coach. He was replaced by Bill Belichick and we all know how that worked out. The Patriots selected Tom Brady 10 weeks later with the 199th pick in the 2000 NFL player draft and he and Belichick went on to five Super Bowls, winning three in a four-year span.

The Patriots and Belichick are the last to win back-to-back Super Bowls. Carroll now has the Seahawks primed to do the same and unseat them for that honor.  Poetic justice?

Understand that Carroll loved being head coach of the Patriots. So did his parents. When Carroll was named head coach in New England, he had a giant satellite television dish installed in the backyard of his boyhood home in Greenbrae, California so his mom and pops could watch all the Patriots games in their living room rather than get in their car and drive 15 minutes to the nearest sports bar. His mother, Rita, had her recliner positioned closest to the TV set, watching over Pete on the sidelines long before Erin Andrews.

When Carroll returned to coach the Patriots for the first time in the San Francisco Bay Area in an exhibition game against the 49ers in Candlestick Park he arranged for his dad, Jim, to have a press pass and ride the elevator to the press box to watch the game rather than have to maneuver up and down steps in the stands. Jim sat in the back row of the press box wearing a Patriots cap and jacket and forgot about press box protocol that there is “absolutely no cheering in the press box.” Jim couldn’t contain his enthusiasm – now you know where Pete gets his DNA spirit – and cheered loudly whenever his son’s team had a big play in that preseason game. I had to leave my press box seat to gently and quietly remind Jim of press box etiquette.

It was annoying to some in the press box, yet it was obvious to me how proud Pete’s parents were of Pete to be the Patriots head coach.

However, the puppy love the Patriots had for Carroll waned like lobsters in boiled water. He had the misfortune of succeeding the popular Bill Parcells, who left the franchise over lack of power with his famous parting shot, “If I’m going to be asked to cook the meal, I’d like to be able to pick the groceries.”

Patriots owner Robert Kraft moved quickly to hire Carroll, but player personal decision-making remained in the hands of Bobby Grier. Carroll loved Boston and Pats fans, but never lived up to expectations of Parcells-loving Patriots media who perceived Carroll to be a high-strung, back-slapping California surfer dude way in over his head and about  as tough as clam in chowder.

Carroll couldn’t buy their respect – or the groceries. Kraft relented to family advice and outside pressure and fired Carroll, though he still calls it the most difficult decision of his career. Kraft and Carroll remain friends.

It turned out for the best. Carroll learned from his experience in New England and became a more focused and better prepared coach for it. We all know how that’s worked out. Carroll climbed to prominence by coaching USC back to national championships and Seattle to an unexpected first Super Bowl win.

Unfortunately, Jim and Rita didn’t live long enough to see that day. They left a year apart shortly after their son was fired as coach of the Patriots. 

So if Pete Carroll has extra motivation to beat the Patriots in Super Bowl 49 you can understand. The Seahawks should want to beat the Patriots not only for Pete’s sake but for heaven’s sake.


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