JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- New England Patriots vs. Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl 2005. And
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- New England Patriots vs. Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl 2005. And 2006. And 2007.
Don't laugh. Both franchises are built to last, as much as any team can last in the topsy-turvy NFL of the salary-cap, free agency era.
Whether the Eagles win their first NFL championship since 1960, or the Patriots become the second team to win three Super Bowls in four years, both will be favorites to win conference titles next season. There is nothing fluky about either franchise.
"We try to use the same formula we use in business," Patriots owner Robert Kraft said. "And the primary thing is to get good people. And when you get good people who have a long-term commitment and share your vision on how you want to do things, then good things can happen."
Such as dominating the NFL in a period when parity is rampant and 8-8 teams make the playoffs. Not only has Kraft hired the right people -- coach Bill Belichick, vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli -- but Belichick and Pioli have brought in players who perfectly fit in Foxboro.
That's hardly luck. Sure, they found Tom Brady in the sixth round of the 2000 draft, but they also held onto Brady by keeping four quarterbacks that season, the only team to do so, Pioli said. And when Drew Bledsoe got hurt in the second game of 2001, in stepped Brady, who has yet to lose a playoff game.
The draft is key
New England drafts well, particularly after the first round. Under the current regime, the Pats have also gotten receiver David Givens, center Dan Koppen, cornerback Asante Samuel and defensive lineman Jarvis Green in the fourth round or lower. In the second round have come starters Matt Light, Deion Branch and Eugene Wilson.
The Patriots search for a specific kind of player in the draft and, especially, in free agency. They always seem to find them: versatile, unselfish and eager to prove themselves.
"The system is a system that a player has to be selfless, have to be extremely competitive because of the very competitive environment, and it takes a lot of discipline," Pioli said. "When you talk about discipline, it's not about how long their hair is, or how much jewelry they wear. We have certain expectations of guys being in the right place at the right time and doing their job a certain way."
That's also where the versatility comes into play. So receiver Troy Brown can become a nickel back. Linebackers Willie McGinest, Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel can pop up anywhere on the field. Five receivers fit into the passing game, and Brady seems comfortable throwing to any of them.
When Belichick sought a running back to balance the offense, the Patriots traded for Corey Dillon, who was labeled a malcontent in Cincinnati. It turned out Dillon's problem was dealing with all the losing the Bengals do. With the Patriots, he set a team rushing record and could be a key against the Eagles.
Pats can equal Cowboys
New England is facing the possibility of losing clutch kicker Adam Vinatieri, receiver David Patten and starting guard Joe Andruzzi as free agents. And cornerback Ty Law's 2005 salary cap hit is a prohibitive $12.5 million.
More likely, as Brady noted, those teammates will stay.
"Anyone who plays on the Pats understands that our goal is a team goal," he said. "You make sacrifices to fit into a general structure of what the team is trying to accomplish."
What the Patriots are trying to accomplish is to equal the Cowboys' three titles in four seasons (1992, '93 and '95) under far more difficult circumstances. Just ask Jimmy Johnson, who coached the first two of those championship teams in Dallas.
"Yeah, I think they are a dynasty since the salary-cap era," Johnson said. "I think the job Bill Belichick and that organization and his coaches have done might be the best coaching job ever in the history of the NFL. Because when you get free agency and player movement and you've got to get them ready to play not only every year but every week, a different group, you've got to be a pretty good football coach."
Eagles' best will return
Andy Reid has shown he's a good coach, too, getting the Eagles to four straight NFC title games. They finally got back to the Super Bowl -- first time in 24 years -- by beating Atlanta last month.
Even if the Eagles fail today, don't expect them to fade away. They have $18 million available to spend, and though six starters are unrestricted free agents -- Corey Simon, Jermane Mayberry, Jeremiah Trotter, Derrick Burgess, Chad Lewis and Jon Ritchie -- only losing Trotter would be particularly damaging.
Philly has most of its best players signed to long-term contracts, including Donovan McNabb, Terrell Owens, Jevon Kearse, Brian Dawkins, Lito Sheppard, Michael Lewis and Sheldon Brown. Kearse was signed as a free agent last year and Owens was acquired in a trade.
Also, the NFC is a mess, with the Eagles far superior to any other contenders. The Patriots don't have that luxury in the stacked AFC.
Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie styled his organization after such past dynasties as the Cowboys and 49ers. Minus the championships, his franchise is very similar to Kraft's.
Similar decisions, results
"We are the two winningest teams this decade," Lurie said. "Both invested well over $300 million in new stadiums. We each hired coaches in an unorthodox fashion -- us a non-coordinator, and Bob trading for Bill.
"Both teams are built around franchise quarterbacks. Both are high-character teams. There are a lot of similar value systems for each team. We each place a high value on the quality of people in our organization. And it's not just high character, but high intelligence -- people who like to think outside the box and people willing to make controversial and unpopular decisions. We both understand that decisions need to be made that sustain the long-term excellence of the franchise."
Most of those decisions have been on target.
Even though the Patriots or Eagles will lose tonight, they could have something else in common next year, and the year after.
More Super Bowl appearances.