The New England Patriots now have six Super Bowl victories, and all of them have come in the last 18 years. I thought now would be a good time to look back and see who was most responsible for those wins.
1. Robert Kraft
There’s no debate here. This list has to start with Kraft. When he bought the team, it was a joke, and on the verge of moving to St. Louis. What some people may not know is that he actually bought the stadium before he owned the team. He had grown up a Patriots fan, and after the Sullivans went bankrupt thanks, in part to Michael Jackson, Kraft jumped in and bought Foxboro Stadium. When he bought it, in 1988, the lease with the Patriots went through the 2001 season.
When James Orthwein tried to move the team to St Louis in 1993, he offered Kraft a deal to buy him out of the contract he had signed. Kraft made it clear that he would never break the contract, and, knowing he’d be stuck in New England, Orthwein sold the team the next year. Kraft paid $172M for the club — at the time the most anyone had ever paid for a sports team. People thought he was nuts to invest in any team, never mind the Patriots. Thankfully, he trusted his gut, and didn’t listen to them. This past season was the 25th in Kraft’s ownership, and all the Patriots have done since is win. They’ve appeared in 14 AFC Championship games and 10 Super Bowls, 6 of which they won.
Kraft hasn’t always been right (we’ll talk about that in a minute), but almost all of his investments have paid off. His planning is legendary, as he always seems to have his sights set on the long game. From buying Foxboro Raceway in 1985, to buying the stadium in 1988, to buying the team in 1994. Speaking of planning, when he bought the organization, he told the team that he was planning on not just having a state of the art stadium, but also a whole shopping complex around it. His vision has turned the Patriots into arguably the most successful franchise in the NFL, but also one of the most profitable.
2. Bill Parcells
This one might be a surprise, but there’s a very good reason why he’s here. What’s that reason? Bill Belichick would not be the Patriots’ head coach if Bill Parcells never coached the team. Kraft has talked about the respect that he had for Belichick when he was on Parcells’ staff, and that was a big part of the owner not only going after Belichick, but giving him the keys to the whole franchise. Speaking of giving Belichick control of the team, that would’ve never happened if it weren’t for the mistakes that Kraft made with Parcells. When Parcells was the coach, Kraft would give his input on players and even went so far as to sometimes influence who the Patriots drafted. If you don’t believe me, maybe you’ll trust Parcells himself.
That was a mistake that Kraft would not make again. He realized that he needed to stay out of the football decisions — something that he had consistently done with Belichick at the helm. That doesn’t happen without the mistakes he made with Parcells, though. When Parcells was allowed to pick his guys, they turned out alright: Ty Law, Tedy Bruschi, Troy Brown, Willie McGinest, Ted Johnson, and Lawyer Milloy. All of those guys were key players in this Patriots dynasty.
The last thing about Parcells: he brought legitimacy to a franchise that was the laughingstock of the NFL basically since it’s inception. The day after Parcells was named head coach, there was a long line of people (including my father and uncle) waiting to buy season tickets. Those people weren’t there because they were excited about getting the #1 pick in the draft, they were there because they knew that Parcells could help turn this franchise into a legitimate contender, and that’s exactly what he did.
The way he left the team may have left a sour taste in your mouth, and maybe you’ve never forgiven him for it. I can understand the bitterness, but there’s no denying that, not only did he help save football in New England, but he was a huge part of the start of this dynasty.
3. Bill Belichick
I went back and forth between Belichick and Tom Brady here, but ended up deciding on the former. The biggest reason? The Patriots are the ultimate team, and, although I don’t think that culture would be possible without Brady, Belichick and his staff consistently get the most out of all the players on the roster.
Think back to 2001: that offseason was filled with mid-level free agents who were huge parts in the road to the team’s first Super Bowl victory. Bobby Hamilton, Mike Vrabel, Roman Phifer, Anthony Pleasant, Mike Compton, Bryan Cox, Antowain Smith, David Patten, and Marc Edwards. All those players made contributions on the way to at least one Super Bowl, and not one of those players were aggressively pursued by any other teams.
And Belichick just continued to do it. Whether it’s taking guys like Stephen Neal and David Andrews and turning them into great players, or trading for players in-season, like he did in 2014 with Akeem Ayers and Jonathan Casillas, and like he did again in 2016, when he traded for Kyle Van Noy, or this year, when he acquired John Simon, Ramon Humber, and Albert McClellan. All the players mentioned played a role in making their team great. Whether it was a small role, like on special teams, or a big role, like the one Van Noy has carved out.
Then there’s the other trades. Like the Deion Branch trade that ended up in Randy Moss and Jerod Mayo, or the first rounder in 2013 that netted Jamie Collins, Logan Ryan, and LeGarrette Blount. Or maybe the second round pick back in 2009 that ended up getting the Patriots both Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski. Oh, and lastly, you may not remember this, but there was a serious debate about Drew Bledsoe vs Tom Brady, especially after Brady went down in Pittsburgh and the veteran won the AFC Championship Game.
He did what he had been doing since Bledsoe came back healthy: he stuck with Brady. As a second year head coach, who went 5-11 the year before, sticking with a sixth-round, second year quarterback takes some stones. To stick with him over the Pro Bowl quarterback that just signed a $100 million deal the previous offseason could be called downright crazy. But, as Belichick always says, he did what he thought was best for the team, and thank God he did. All of this has been totally unnecessary, because you probably were surprised he ended up at three and not two, but sometimes we forget just how good Bill really is.
4. Tom Brady
It took four spots to get to the GOAT, but I think it’s justified. Of course I do, it’s my list, here’s why you should think it’s justified too. He is one player on a team of 53. I know he’s arguably the greatest player in NFL history. I know that he has orchestrated the two biggest comebacks in Super Bowl history. He’s the only quarterback I ever want playing for my team. But I just can’t put him over Belichick.
If you say he has had fewer weapons than Joe Montana and Peyton Manning, I’ll agree with you. He’s done more with less than any other quarterback ever. That’s what makes him the GOAT. But I still can’t put him over Belichick. That doesn’t take anything away from Brady. That doesn’t mean I think that he is only good because of his head coach. Anyone that thinks that either Belichick or Brady wouldn’t be successful without the other one is crazy.
They wouldn’t have reached this level of success without each other, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they had still ended up close to the best that had ever done it by the end of their careers. With that being said, I think that Belichick has had just a little more to do with the overall performance of the team since he took over. So Brady ends up in fourth.
5. Adam Vinatieri
Casual football fans may be pissed that we’re even talking about a kicker, never mind that he’s the fifth most important person in the dynasty. But that’s exactly what he is. Let’s look back to the start of the dynasty. At the end of 2001, when they had to win out to get the bye, he hit game winning kicks in weeks 12 and 14, and he hit the kick that sent the week 14 game to overtime as well. Then, there’s the Oakland Raiders game. It’s obviously known for the Tuck Rule, but Vinatieri made the best kick in the history of the NFL that night, and if he misses it, they lose and their season is over. Who knows what happens to the franchise if they lose in the first round of the playoffs in ‘01 instead of winning the Super Bowl.
Speaking of the Super Bowl, Vinatieri also hit a field goal as time expired to win Super Bowl 36, and then did it again in Super Bowl 38 (he missed two previous kicks in that game, but he hit the one that mattered the most). He’s also just a bad man. He’s still playing football. He was a rookie in 1996, even Tom Brady was only a freshman in college in 1996. When he eventually retires, assuming he does actually retire, he’ll be a first ballot Hall of Famer. No other explanation should be necessary.
So that’s the list, let me know what you think on Twitter or in the comments. Also, a quick Honorable Mention to Drew Bledsoe, who was a model teammate and held the 2001 team together when he could’ve tanked the morale to try to get his job back. Plus, he still came through in the AFC title game to lead the Patriots to Super Bowl 36, even after all he had been through that season.
Also a quick shoutout to Matt Mattos, who got me thinking about this topic. Maybe I’ve even convinced him to accept my Parcells take, although I doubt it.
Pat is the host of The Patriot Nation Podcast
Interact with him on Twitter @plane_pats