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Associated Press/Photo by Winslow Townson

History repeats

Sports | It's hard to imagine an unlikelier hero for the New England Patriots than Matt Cassel

Issue: "Northern light," Sept. 20, 2008

Matt Cassel hadn't started a game at quarterback since high school when New England quarterback Tom Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury during the NFL opener Sept. 7 against Kansas City. For the Patriots, it was another crushing blow in the first meaningful game since losing last season's Super Bowl to the underdog New York Giants after putting together 18 straight wins.

It's hard to imagine an unlikelier hero for the Patriots than Cassel, a career backup whose only collegiate start came at tight end. Then again, it's hard to imagine a franchise more willing to believe they can once again find magic from a relative unknown. "You just can't expect a young guy that hasn't had a lot of experience in the NFL to come in and dominate," legendary coach Don Shula told the Boston Globe. "You want him to step in, do his job, get help from his teammates, and don't make a lot of mistakes. The rest of the offense, the defense, and the kicking game have to do their parts. All of the units have to come together."

But Shula made those comments in 2001 when the Hall-of-Fame coach was asked what the Patriots could expect out of unknown quarterback Tom Brady after franchise leader Drew Bledsoe went down from a vicious hit. No one expected much from Brady-a sixth-round pick that had been fourth on the depth chart in 2000. By the end of that season, Brady was the Patriots starter and earned the Super Bowl MVP award.

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Now, pundits around the league will be saying about Cassel what they said about Brady in 2001. Cassel says he's ready to step in for the four-time Pro Bowl quarterback and three-time Super Bowl champion after spending time at USC backing up Heisman Trophy winners Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart. "You have to just say, 'Look, I'm going to be playing here,'" he said after his relief victory over the Chiefs. And for the first time since high school, "playing here" for Cassel actually means something. Patriots fans will have to wait and see if lightning strikes in the same place twice.

Glory road

If not for Disney, perhaps few would have noticed the passing of legendary college basketball coach Don Haskins, who died after years of poor health on Sept. 7. He was 78. Years after becoming the first coach to play an all-black starting lineup en route to winning a national championship in 1966 for Texas Western (now, UTEP), Disney turned the story of Haskins' team into the 2006 feel-good sports film Glory Road.

In the final game of the 1966 NCAA basketball tournament, Haskins' little-known Miners upset the heavily favored and all-white Kentucky squad coached by Adolph Rupp. Despite being hailed as a pioneer of integration, Haskins said he started five black players simply because they were the best five he had. "I just wanted to win the game," he told the Albuquerque Tribune when Glory Road premiered in 2006. Haskins won 719 games in his 38-year career with UTEP.

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