Notebook > Sports

Patriots reign

Sports | Conventional NFL wisdom would have dictated that coach Bill Belichick's assistants would have been hired away years ago

Issue: "Social Security breach," Feb. 19, 2005

It took three Super Bowls, but finally one NFL team seems willing to copy the New England Patriots. In a league where copycatting runs rampant, no team dared to duplicate the Patriots' success. That is, until Cleveland hired Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel.

Conventional NFL wisdom would have dictated that coach Bill Belichick's lieutenants, Mr. Crennel and former Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weiss, would have been hired away years ago. But until now, NFL teams haven't been willing to mimic the Patriots' straightforward approach. The lack of interest forced Mr. Weiss to turn to the college game for a head coaching job (Notre Dame).

Unlike the dynamically offense-oriented St. Louis Rams or defensive-minded Baltimore Ravens, whose extreme philosophy lent for easy imitation, the Patriots built their championship teams on an understanding of pro football's salary cap, coaching, and balanced teamwork. Ironically, it's Cleveland, who once gave up on Mr. Belichick and Mr. Crennel, that will be the first to try duplicating the Patriots' success. And the Patriots will try to recreate it again, but this time without some architects.

So-so Sosa?

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The arrival of the newest Oriole probably means one thing for Jay Gibbons: a return to first base. Mr. Gibbons, the Orioles solid right fielder, knows he'll have to bend to accommodate Baltimore's biggest off-season acquisition, right fielder Sammy Sosa. "That's OK with me," he said. "If it helps us win, then this works to our benefit. This is my fifth year here and it's time to start winning." Actually, the Orioles have been losing for seven years, and the addition of high-profile sluggers like Albert Belle and Rafael Palmeiro hasn't seemed to help.

And the Mr. Sosa the Orioles traded Jerry Hairston Jr. to get might not even be the Mr. Sosa who dominated the National League for close to a decade. Two seasons ago, the slugger was suspended for corking his bat. During last year's finale, Mr. Sosa left the clubhouse before the last game even finished. New teammate Larry Bigbie says Mr. Sosa just needs a change of scenery: "They're happy to have him out of Chicago, and I'm happy to have him in Baltimore. I think he'll be a great addition to the team and to the city. I might end up calling all those Cubs fans around the all-star break and see how many want him back. Maybe all he needs is a clean slate."

Like Mr. Sosa, Randy Johnson (New York Yankees), Pedro Martinez (New York Mets), Mark Mulder (St. Louis), and Carlos Beltran (Mets) will try their skills in different uniforms once spring training kicks off.

Around the Horn

· What took Magellan's crew three years took Ellen MacArthur just over 71 days. A huge flotilla and about 8,000 people greeted Ms. MacArthur at an English port after she returned from a voyage that made her the fastest ever to circumnavigate the world in a sailing vessel. The Briton sailed the 26,000-mile course alone in a 75-foot vessel, braving huge storms and encounters with whales to shatter the around-the-world record.

· The small town of Gleason, Tenn., certainly seemed pleased that Nashville Rhythm owner Sally Anthony's decision to fire Ashley McElhiney was reversed. That meant the Feb. 5 Rhythm game in Gleason was only a temporary homecoming. Ms. McElhiney, who was temporarily fired as coach of the ABA team after a bizarre dispute with Ms. Anthony, is the first female coach of a men's professional sports team. About 80 percent of Gleason residents showed up to support the town's favorite daughter.

· Discouraging news in the NHL: Players and owners aren't even talking anymore. The lockout will almost certainly tank this season and possibly the next. Both sides have dug in around the issue of a league salary cap-something pro football and basketball have but baseball and hockey do not.

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