Super bowl stardom

The New England Patriots’ favorite letter this season has been "D." It can be taken to mean dedication, dominance or devastating defense. It can refer to the delirium to be found in Foxboro, Boston and their environs each week. But as they ready to play in their third Super Bowl in four years, a game they enter with a mind-blowing 8-0 record in the playoffs, and a seven-point line from Vegas, the letter D can only mean one thing: dynasty.

Sure, they say all the right things, which usually means they say little at all, and with the taciturn genius Bill Belichik at the reins, that’s to be expected. But you can see the D’s floating behind those red-white-and-blue eyes. You can see it in the simmering ferocity of players like Tedy Bruschi, who came off the field after having eviscerated Peyton Manning, frothing, "How many points they score? Three?! Come on, now!" It was one of the most lupine displays of sporting aggression I have ever seen. It was terrifying, and exhilarating.

Welcome to New England.

They say that offense wins games, but defense wins championships. The Pats have all their bases covered here. Their defense is consistently one of the league’s most baffling, with shifting, intertwining patterns of linemen and backs that can leave an opposing passer feeling like he’s looking into a class-V rapid without a life jacket.

Ferocious blitzing melts into drum-tight coverage in the secondary, where even the loss of Hall of Famer Ty Law hasn’t slowed New England down at all. They’ve even moved a wide receiver, Troy Brown, into the cornerback position, and he gets better every week. Rodney Harrison is one of the best defensive athletes in the country, and their front four falls like a wave into offensive lines.

Speaking of the O-line, when was the last time you saw Tom Brady get plastered? Can’t think of it? That’s because it rarely happens. Even when defenses get to him, he’s usually gotten the ball away already, but it’s rare that he gets pressured. Bolstered by nearly unknown players like Steven Neale, the Patriot’s Brady-protectors are among the leagues best.

Once a back-up to current Bills QB Drew Bledsoe, University of Michigan product Tom Brady has emerged as the clutch quarterback in the NFL. In addition to his undefeated record in the playoffs, he’s only lost four games in the last two years. He’s won on gorgeous, floating arcs, and gritty goal line surges.

The Patriots can win ugly, and they can win pretty, and Brady, for some reason perennially underrated, is the confident skipper piloting this ship. Though his passer rating isn’t the best around, and his overall numbers aren’t too eye-popping, what does impress is the number in the win column – the only one that counts.

If Brady is the skipper, Belichik is the admiral. Widely considered the most brilliant mind in the game today, Belichik grew up watching his father coach at Navy. As a boy, he played catch with Heisman winners Joe Bellino and a guy named Roger Staubach. Heard of him?

Belichik’s father, at 86, shows the fierce accountability and pride that animates his son’s coaching philosophy, "Tom Brady doesn’t give a goddamn whether he gets any credit, or Troy Brown or Corey Dillon. They’re all interested in the objective, and that’s to win. If they win, they all get credit. I don’t see any of them thinking that they are the ones responsible for making the team go. Everybody recognizes that if we all pitch in and work like hell, and do what the coaches plan, we will succeed."

If the good people of New England have their way, come Feb. 6, that’s exactly what’s going to happen.