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A Look Back: 15 Years Ago, The Jets/Patriots Feud Begins

By Alan Schechter
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This morning, we take a look back in Jets history 15 years. The year was 1997 and, the feud between the New York Jets and the New England Patriots began. Well, the Jets and the Patriots had been rivals since the 1960s and the days of the AFL, but 1997 was the year that everything came to a head. And it came to a head because of the man to the right, Bill Parcells.

To look back, let’s set the scene first.

The 1996 season came and went, and it was not a good one for the New York Jets, as they went 1-15. Frankly, it was pathetic. Rich Kotite was the head coach, and he liked to talk about how the team was “swarming”, and this was indication to him that the team was getting better. They were swarming all over for 1 win. That was a heck of a lot of “swarming”, that showed no results at all.

All the while, an interesting season was going on in New England. The Patriots were on their way to an eventual Super Bowl appearance against the Green Bay Packers. However, Bill Parcells was becoming dissatisfied with his position as head coach of the Patriots. He had begun receiving resistance to making the draft picks that he wanted to make, was overruled on some picks, this type of thing. This was the year of the famous “If you want someone to make the dinner, you ought to let them buy the groceries” quote. Bill was not happy, and he wanted out.

Then, the fun began. On Jan 31, 1997, Bill Parcells stepped down as the head coach in New England. At the time, the rumors were swirling that Bill was interested in coming to New York to ressurect the Jets, and this made Patriots owner Robert Kraft ticked off. He had the NFL review his contract, and confirm that Parcells was contractually obligated to the Patriots, and he was required to coach them, or nobody. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and the NFL agreed, blocking Parcells from coaching any other team in the league.

Kraft was angry, his anger directed mainly at Bill Parcells, and that spilled over to anger at the New York Jets.

”I’ve been through hell because of this,” Kraft said. ”I’m just supposed to hand Bill Parcells to a team in my division? I don’t think so.”

On February 6th, the situation became even more interesting. To work around the block that Parcells has in his contract against “coaching” any other team, the Jets decided to get creative. They decide to hire Bill Parcells as a “consultant” for the year 1997 while his contract runs out with New England, and put Bill Belichick in the head coach position. In 1998, Belichick would step down, and Bill Parcells would assume the head coaching position.

As creative as it was, everyone saw through this deal. Heck, Stevie Wonder could see what the Jets were doing. They were naming Bill Parcells as the de facto coach while not making him the official coach. Everyone knew this was going to get ugly between the two teams.

Robert Kraft also saw through it, and rightfully so. The Jets were using creative language to get around the issue, so Kraft immediately went back to the league to have them rule that Parcells could not work for the Jets in any capacity in 1997.

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue finally had enough and scheduled a meeting between the two teams. He basically told New England that they knew Parcells would be with the Jets in some capacity, and told the Jets they knew they wanted him to coach the team. Couldn’t the two teams get together on some kind of deal to end this fight already? Was it this worth it to Kraft to block Parcells from working for the Jets at all?

Finally, the two teams left the meeting with a deal in place sending draft picks to the Patriots, in return for his release from his contract and therefore permission to coach the Jets.

The rest, as all Jets fans know, is history. From Belichick, to Brady, to Mangini…etc. The rivalry lives on, and is one of sports fiercest rivalries. Fifteen years ago, it began.

This was: A look back.

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