- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Bill Parcells has a coveted gold jacket as a class of 2013 inductee to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It’s the jacket that matters most.
But here in New England, the debate about whether he should be fitted for the traditional red jacket given to those inducted to the Patriots Hall of Fame rages on. It's the highest honor handed out by the franchise and includes a spot in a sparkling shrine created in 2008 by the owner with whom he once clashed, Robert Kraft.
For the third time in four years, Parcells has been voted among the three finalists by a committee of 20 media, Patriots staff and alumni. (This reporter is part of the committee.) Parcells’ fate will now be determined by a fan vote on the team’s official website that continues through mid-May.
My hunch is that Parcells, the team’s head coach from 1993 to 1996, will again fall short.
In his first year of eligibility, 2011, he lost out to quarterback Drew Bledsoe, his first draft pick upon arriving in New England (No. 1 overall).
The next year, Parcells was edged out by one of the team’s most popular all-time players, receiver Troy Brown, who was also part of Parcells’ first draft class (eighth round).
In 2013, Parcells wasn’t even a finalist, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. No one was going to beat out linebacker Tedy Bruschi, who was a third-round pick in Parcells’ final year as coach.
This year, it’s going to be hard to top cornerback Ty Law, who, like Bledsoe, Brown and Bruschi before him, is now in his first eligible year and was also a Parcells draft pick (1995 first round). Law looks like the favorite among this year’s finalists, a group that, in addition to Parcells, includes cornerback Raymond Clayborn (1977-89).
Parcells’ candidacy is polarizing, which pretty much sums up his time here.
Some swear by him, forever indebted to his role in reviving a franchise that had fallen on hard times (2-14 the previous year) and was a flight risk to possibly relocate. Parcells was hired by then-owner James Orthwein in 1993 and brought immediate credibility, professionalism and hope upon his arrival. By his second year the Patriots were in the playoffs. By the fourth year they had reached Super Bowl.
Others swear at Parcells, unable to forgive the way he left the franchise and where he ultimately wound up coaching next -- the hated New York Jets. He lost some of his clout to make personnel decisions, which sparked this unforgettable quote: “If they want you to cook the dinner, at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries." His departure as coach was a significant and distracting storyline before the Super Bowl XXXI loss to the Green Bay Packers.
To some, that alone makes his candidacy for the team’s Hall of Fame a non-starter, not to mention he was here for such a short time.
This writer, who arrived on the beat the year after Parcells departed, is more forgiving. I’m a supporter of Parcells’ candidacy.
One of the reasons is the recent list of inductees -- Bledsoe, Brown and Bruschi, and now with Law as the projected favorite this year. If Parcells wasn’t the coach, they might have never been Patriots in the first place. Their presence in the Hall traces back in part to Parcells’ tenure and what it represented at the time: a foundation of excellence that is carried on today.
I’d even go as far as to say that if Parcells didn’t coach in New England, Bill Belichick might never have been hired as head coach in 2000. We’ve all heard the stories about how Kraft and Belichick struck up a friendship in 1996, the year Parcells hired Belichick as an assistant in New England. That ultimately led Kraft to hire Belichick four years later when he decided to move on from Pete Carroll (Kraft’s track record on coaching hires looks pretty good today), and the three Super Bowls won in 2001, 2003 and 2004 had a lot of Parcells' flavor in terms of the players on the field and the coaches on the sideline.
But more than all that, I remember what life as a Patriots fan was like in the years before Parcells arrived. And what his arrival sparked: a region’s passion for football ignited, the Super Bowl-winning coach with credentials giving New Englanders a reason to jump on board and believe better days were ahead. They were.
Then there’s also this: Parcells is good enough for the Pro Football Hall of Fame but not the Patriots Hall of Fame?
When Parcells was a finalist for the first time in 2011, he said he wasn’t aware the team even had a Hall of Fame and expressed regret for some of his “domestic misunderstandings” with Kraft (who had purchased the team in 1994) that he added were later resolved. I’ve wondered about that.
How would Kraft really feel if Parcells was inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame? And how would Parcells feel about coming back to New England to accept the honor?
I hope it happens. It would be a compelling storyline, but more than that, I think it would be well deserved.