Former Patriots coach Rod Rust passed away yesterday morning, according to a team press release. Rust was 90 years old.
If you don’t remember Rod Rust, you’re either too young or turned your head away from the NFL for a few moments, because Rust only lasted one year as head coach of the team. And while all reports say that he was a good man who the players enjoyed, a head coach he was not.
The 1990 Patriots were the first team I remember following for a full season - as much as a nine-year-old who had to wait for the Sunday night highlights because the game was blacked out due to pathetically low attendance at Foxboro could, at least. I think it was the uniforms, combined with an old Steve Grogan Mello Yello commercial that they played once in a while. I liked Mello Yello, and I liked football, and so I took to Rod Rust and his merry band of misfits like a moth to a flame.
And I use that cliched analogy correctly, because Rust’s 1990 Patriots are in the conversation for the worst team in the history of professional football. They weren’t just bad - they were off the charts, holy jeez, borderline impossibly bad. To my knowledge, the ‘90 Patriots are the only team to accomplish all of the following in a four month span:
- Finish the season 1-15
- Score the fewest points in the NFL by a wide margin
- Find themselves down 9-0 to a team before that team ran a single offensive play
- Lose four games by a combined score of 168-41
- Score 10 points or fewer in 10 games
- Lose 14 straight
- Make national headlines for sexually harassing a female reporter in the locker room following a practice
- Trade the first overall pick in the 1991 draft to the Dallas Cowboys, who used it to draft 10 year starter Russell Maryland and begin the Cowboys Dynasty of the early 90s
The silver lining to all of this is that the Patriots spent the next few years cleaning house. The 1991-92 seasons saw the team finish with a combined 8-24 record as the rebuild continued, ultimately leading to the signing of Bill Parcells and the drafting of Drew Bledsoe. The rest, as they say, is history.
I write this article today not to rag on Rust, who did the best he could and deserves the be treated with respect; rather I thought it would be a good opportunity for us all to look back on Rod Rust’s time with the Patriots so we can appreciate these days in which we get to complain about a 38-31 road win against a very good team that sees the Patriots sitting at 1st place in the AFC East because the defense didn’t get enough stops and there were too many turnovers for our liking. The Pats used to be a national laughingstock. And I don’t know about any of you, but I’d rather be the team that everyone loves to hate than the team that nobody even cares about.
So thank you, Rod. You’re as much a part of this team’s history as Jim Plunkett, Gino Cappelletti, Bob Kraft, Tom Brady, and Bill Belichick. May the next step of your journey be full of double-digit wins and Duckboat parades as far as the eye can see.