A VIEW FROM THE FORT: Nostalgia Breeds Nausea; Some Perspective On The Pats, Revs and the Future.
Posted by Mike Marshall on September 20, 2009
By: Jim Dow
When viewed through New England Revolution-biased eyes watching the re-branded “Boston” Patriots open up this season’s NFL campaign was a painful exercise in myriad ways. While the old-school uniforms were certainly an improvement on the Fashion Institute techno-tighties with accompanying Elvis logo inspired by some marketing idiot with the visual taste of a meatball, horrific memories rushed back of a cash-starved franchise constantly that long labored in the shadow of a more prosperous big brother.
Of course back in the day the top dog plied its’ trade well down the soon to be completed Rte. 95 just off the Grand Concourse in Yankee Stadium as the New York Football Giants while today the big boys (literally) waddle around right next-door, just down the hall, sharing a mildly down market Rte. 1 address that has been tarted as yet another overpriced shopping mall on the endless strip from Maine to Florida. The 15 to 18,000 crowds at B.U. Field and subsequently Fenway Park look like the Bernabau compared to the few folks who currently turn up for Revs matches at Gillette these days and while the inept, perpetually insolvent stewardship of the somewhat sleazy Sullivan family has been replaced by squeaky clean folks who have accomplished great things, winning the notoriously fickle support of the local supposed real football fans hasn’t been one of them and, currently, on the verge of the MLS’s 15th anniversary, things are only getting worse.
A couple of weeks ago I was taking a photograph hard by Bayou Lafourche, so far south in Louisiana that New Orleans is referred to as “up nawth,” when an affable looking, largish gentleman ambled over and introduced himself, curious as to what I was up to. Turns out, after I said my piece (“I’m a photographer from Boston working on a project about…”) he told me that his name was Robert (Bob) Huth, born and brought up in deepest Southie who ended up living in Cajun country after meeting his bride-to-be while in the military. But the six degrees of separation didn’t end there as he told me that he had been a taxi squad player for the old Boston Patriots in their first AFL season back in 1960 and that he had actually been pressed into the breech, due to injuries, defections and general malaise, to play a couple of regular season games. And, funnily enough, I remembered watching him from the old rickety portable stand on the north side of B.U. Field, way back when. The bargain basement Sullivans and coach Lou Saban had been so desperate for bodies that they had signed young Bob with no college experience from the South Boston Chippewas, a local semi-pro
team of note. I suspect the reader knows where I am going here.
Viewed in the cold light of day with an enormous dollop of hindsight, is Steve Ralston more or less the equivalent of Gino Cappeletti, Jay Heaps a sort of Tommy Addison, Shalrie Joseph like Larry Eisenhauer and Taylor Twellman the contemporary equivalent of the “Sweet Kentucky Babe” Parelli? Well, if you think of the Revs as being analogous to the old 60’s/70’s Beantown Pats and Barcelona, Chelsea or Inter being the Bears, Giants or Packers of similar vintage well, yes. Which is not to say that all of the aforementioned weren’t and aren’t fine players, they were and are, they just weren’t and aren’t the very, very best in the world and when they are/were surrounded by significantly less skilled individuals like the kind one gets from the lower end of the procurement line the game they played/play just suffers by comparison. Just look at the TV ratings of the AFL vs. NFL in the 60’s and MLS vs. the world today. Reality bites.
So whose fault is that? The Patriots got better only because the upstart Jets beat the overconfident Colts and the post-merger NFL became a lot more socialistic than anything the supposed socialist in the White House has proposed. Until the Krafts took over and actually brought in serious pigskin professionals to run the show, the Patriots just sucked, with just a couple of single season exceptions, mostly due to the fact that they were run on a shoestring. And now in the early 21st century Steve Nicol and Paul Mariner have to put Chippewa/BC talent next to the likes of Joseph and Ralston to try and compete in a league that is getting better and better and on a budget that, pre-inflation, Mike Holovak and perhaps even Billy Sullivan would find embarrassing.
Where to place the blame? To some extent it is the work of MLS itself, a set up that perpetually penalizes success and rewards mediocrity, something that the NBA, NFL and NHL do as well but with fat TV contracts, draft choices that have zero alternatives and plenty of shirt sale and season tickets in hand. Clubs like the Revs have no resources beyond their paltry ticket sales and the shared liabilities/profits of single entity and while Robert Kraft may be a charter member of the NFL competition committee, he doesn’t seem to understand, or at least honor the fact that to succeed in soccer you need to spend more money than the next person, no matter what the rules. Given his level of intelligence I find it impossible to believe that he doesn’t know, which makes for a truly cynical analysis of the situation. Worse, while the current best teams, Columbus, D.C, Houston and Seattle may have similar player pay packets dictated by the salary cap, outside of DP’s (Shellotto, Emilio, Landin and Lunjberg), their coaching, scouting and other management outlays are likely considerably higher than the Revs. And then, of course, there are those pesky DP’s, oh, did Toronto just sign De Guzman…
Starting up from scratch on a shoestring is never easy and, admittedly, New England got behind the schneid from the very start with horrible coaching and player decisions until Steve Nicol took over in 2002. Again, who was running the ship? After all, folks like Stapleton, Zenga and Clavijo could easily be compared to zombie incompetents like Clive
Rush, Ron Erhardt and Dick MacPherson, although, Mike Holovak, a good one, equals Steve Nicol, both worthies hamstrung by a budget made up in beancounterville. MLS gifted the Revvies some quality (Brown, Ralston, etc.) when the Florida teams folded in 2002 and I doubt if there had been any serious scouting prior to the canny Scot’s and the knowing Northerner’s trips to places like Buenos Aires, Cameroon, Costa Rica, Ghana and Toronto. But scouting isn’t signing and therein lies the rub, the coaches can find all the talent they can assess but then comes the really hard work which, on face value, Kraft Sports doesn’t have the appetite or tactical nous for. After all, we know that the coaches came back from their trip to Argentina with a short list of 40 players of interest. Has a single Argie ended up on the Revos books? It is a lot easier when dealing with the closed shop that is the NFL where the best draftees have no place to go, other than to dance with the one that brung them. Belicheck is a genius, shit, he’s shooting fish in a barrel sitting there in front of the computer, let’s see how he does in Ghana, Costa Rica or BA. Bluntly put, Kraft Sports, Inc. is happy to give Parcells and Belicheck the money for the groceries, Nicol and Mariner have to survive on food stamps. Or, to continue the supermarket metaphor, the coaches bring the shopping list, which might be appropriate for Whole Foods or at least Star Market, the ownership opts for day-olds, example, Jose Sand vs. Kehli Dube and if the names don’t resonate, go Google, the Revs scouted and recognized the former in Argentina. He plays for Lanus and is thinking of Dubai.
And now the transfer window is closed, the trading deadline come and gone and while Babe Parelli (Twellman) is down for the season and likely his career, the folks in charge have done nothing, nothing to replace him. Yes, they brought in Edgaras Jankauskas who may be slow of foot but has a delicacy of touch that is delightful, yet the team has only two forwards in a league where you need at least three and really four to succeed. If this were the Patriots, there would be useful strikers and their partners prepping on the taxi squad, ready to fill in if and when the circumstances dictate, as in right now.
With the draw in the Swamp the chances of making the post-season got next to nil and given the current state of the squad that may be for the best. Everyone in the organization needs to look hard in the mirror, from top to bottom and decide if there need to be significant changes for the future. From the development program to the location of the stadium, to players, coaches, everything and everybody needs to be re-evaluated. The team is in transition, and while some of the factors have been beyond anyone’s control, all competitive professional sports teams potentially face the same problems every season. Certainly some good new players have been brought in, perhaps as many as five but one is way past the sell-by date (Jankauskas), another maddingly inconsistent (Osei), two are kids who might also fit that label (Alston and Barnes) and one basically untested (Videria). All of these five may prosper next season and if (huge if) Twellman returns, Larentowicz doesn’t bolt for Scandinavia (fat chance), Joseph is fine and Heaps, Ralston and Reis continue to play at a high level, well in the 2010 MLS you cannot fill in with Chippewas and hope to succeed.
The ambitions of ownership need to be higher than that.
Of course the final straw in the whole Pat Patriot revival is the memory of playing in Fenway Park with that funky stand hauled over from B.U. Field and set up in front of the Green Monster. Those Friday night games (Revs fans, remember them too?) where crowds of 15,18, 20,000 would go mental, plastered on Narraganset or whatever crap was sold then, supporting a team that was certainly colorful, often entertaining and fun to watch in person but always under funded and suffered by comparison with Roosevelt Grier, Frank Gifford, Sam Huff and Y.A. Tittle, to say nothing of Guillermo Barros Schellotto or Juan Pablo Angel and that it just staying inside MLS.
Does the metaphor hold? I’m afraid so. More on an urban stadium next time…