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Review: “The Dynasty” Episode 1 – Backup Plan

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FILE - In this Aug. 4, 2000, file photo, New England Patriots backup quarterback Tom Brady warms up on the sidelines before an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions at the Silverdome in Pontiac, Mich. Brady grew from a sixth-round draft choice into one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history. On Tuesday, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell hears Brady's appeal of a four-game suspension for using deflated footballs in the AFC championship game. How will that affect Brady's legacy? (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)

The New England Patriots’ incredible run under the trio of Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick, and Tom Brady is being captured in a docuseries called “The Dynasty” on Apple TV. Patriots Football Now will be reviewing each episode. There will be ‘spoilers’ about the content of the episodes in these reviews, but presumably, anyone reading already knows the outcomes of the actual events.

The first episode of “The Dynasty” kicks off with a montage of clips from the entire ten-part series. It appears at some point this docuseries will take a turn for the worst for Bill Belichick supporters. But Episode 1: Backup Plan was a tremendous start for all except the Bledsoe family.

Opening of Episode 1

Legendary Boston sportscaster Mike Lynch, in file footage, brings viewers to the stage of the press conference where the ownership of the New England Patriots franchises changes hands. James Orthwein announces the sale of the team to Robert Kraft, who remains in his position 30 years later.

As somebody who grew up a Patriots fan long before covering the team, the selection of the Patriots fans who spoke, or at least the editing of their comments, left a lot to be desired. It was an awkward start to what became an excellent episode. The main purpose it seemed was to set the stage for how Drew Bledsoe was the one bright spot on the roster.

This is the first place the docuseries strays from Jeff Benedict’s book of the same name. Bill Parcells and the 1996 AFC Championship team were not mentioned. It jumped from Kraft buying the team to the Patriots getting ready to play a game against the Jets in 2001 following 9/11.

This series will not be able to cover every aspect of the two-decade run for the Patriots, but there was a moment in that first game after 9/11 that is hard to forget but was not shown. New England offensive guard Joe Andruzzi led the team on the field carrying American flags. His brothers, who were FDNY firefighters, joined him on the field before the game. It was a special moment of that season that did not make the final cut.

One thing that did hilariously make the cut was a Patriots fan screaming, “Take ya hats off!” during that game’s National Anthem.

That post-9/11 game would ultimately have an even bigger focus for the future of the franchise, which was detailed.

The $100 Million Quarterback

Tom Brady was the New England Patriots starting quarterback for the bulk of their success under Bill Belichick. However, he was not the team’s franchise QB when the run began. That distinction belonged to Drew Bledsoe.

Bledsoe was the highest-played NFL player when he signed a 10-year contract worth over $100 million with the New England Patriots in March of 2001. The number one overall pick in the 1993 NFL Draft, Bledsoe is shown to be the franchise, a figure similar to what Dan Marino had been for the Miami Dolphins a decade earlier. Despite the huge contract, this is somewhat revisionist history. Bledsoe had won just 21 games over the previous three seasons and had not been selected to a Pro Bowl since 1997.

Drew Bledsoe was a very good player with an incredible arm, but his value to the team had been debated by many even back then. But for a franchise without much historical success, Bledsoe was one player that the team, and many of their fans, hung their collective hats on.

“He was like a son to me,” said Robert Kraft.

But in that game against the New York Jets, Bledsoe gets leveled by a Mo Lewis hit. He ends up being taken to the hospital, waking up to find a tube coming out of his chest, Two pints of blood had to be drained from his lungs. His future playing football, both immediate and long-term for the 0-2 team, was very much in doubt. It was very scary.

The team was winless after two weeks, would be without the face of the franchise for the foreseeable future, and forced to rely on a sixth-round pick who had never started a game in the National Football League. This is not how most dynasties are born.

Tom Brady’s Beginnings in New England

Bob Lobel, another legendary Boston sportscaster, is heard saying, “The Pats will look to 24-year-old Tom Brady, making his first start as an NFL quarterback.” It is the game after the Bledsoe injury and Brady is still an unknown commodity, to say the least.

If Brady’s talent wasn’t immediately evident, his leadership was. Offensive lineman Damien Woody recalled Brady standing in front of his teammates and telling them to believe in him. Veteran linebacker Tedy Bruschi chuckled at the memory, recalling himself thinking, “Look at the kid, he’s trying.”

Contrary to narratives that would be spun after years of excellence, Tom Brady did not immediately step in and turn everything around in New England. The loss of Bledsoe forced everyone around Brady to step up even more, which they did. It allowed Brady to simply play his role in helping do enough to win.

“At that time the defense pretty much ran the team,” explained Willie McGinest. “We were the foundation.”

Knowing they didn’t have Bledsoe to rely on, the defense stepped up their game and it led to immediate success. In Brady’s first start, which came against Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts, New England prevailed 44-13. Tom Brady passed for 168 yards and no touchdowns but also committed no turnovers.

“We kicked their ass,” exclaimed Brady, while acknowledging he was not the primary reason behind it.

“He was not Tom Brady, The GOAT,” said teammate Ty Law. “He was just Tom.”

Brady’s First Training Camp

David Nugent was a defensive lineman from Purdue. The Patriots selected him in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft. New England took Nugent at No. 201 overall, two picks after selecting Michigan quarterback Tom Brady. Nugent was Brady’s friend and roommate as an NFL rookie.

In many ways, despite Brady not playing as a rookie, this was some of the best footage of the episode. Nugent took home videos of Brady, their condo (which Brady purchased from Law), and stories new to even longtime Patriots enthusiasts.

The humble beginnings of an NFL rookie are shown. They stayed in a truck stop called the End Zone Motel, next to a dumpster, celebrated making the team, played video games, and competed in Techmo Bowl. Turns out Brady was a sore loser and caused damage by throwing controllers. Shocking how much the greatest NFL player ever had in common with my brother around that time.

“I didn’t like losing, period,” Brady said of his video game tantrums. “I still don’t like losing. If I’m gonna play I’m gonna play to win.”

This philosophy served Tom Brady well throughout his career. Nugent was not sure Brady would make it, but Brady always had the mentality of somebody who wasn’t just happy to be there.

“He was the backup, to the backup to the backup” explained Nugent, “but he wanted to be the starter. Tom told me ‘When my moment comes, I’m gonna be ready for it.'”

Tom Brady’s infamous NFL Combine performance was also shown. From his unimpressive shirtless physique (for a professional athlete) to his slow 40-yard sprint, and an awkward three-cone drill performance. Watching it 25 years later, it isn’t hard to fathom how he was available at No. 199.

Quarterback Controversy in New England?

After a few solid starts by Tom Brady, he believed he was ready to keep the role of QB1. He expressed this while out with teammates Ty Law and Lawyer Milloy, each of whom discussed it. To put it nicely, the duo didn’t pay much attention to what their quarterback had to say. It was Drew Bledsoe’s team as soon as he returned. Everybody knew that.

Bob Lobel was shown on a panel of Boston sports media members that included Bob Ryan, Dan Shaughnessy, and Steve Burton. Lobel was posing the question of whether or not there was a question of who should be the New England Patriots starting quarterback when Drew Bledsoe was given the green light to play.

“Bledsoe’s the quarterback the second he’s ready to play,” stated Ryan.

“And Brady knows that,” added Burton.

Most people agreed. Bill Belichick was not one of them.

Drew Bledsoe Cleared to Play

The Patriots held a press conference in which medical personnel confirmed Drew Bledsoe had been cleared to return to playing. “I anticipate being the starter on the team again,” Bledsoe said at the time. That would never happen.

Bledsoe indicated from the first phone conversation he had with Belichick after getting cleared to play, he thought his coach would have been more excited. When Belichick opted to stick with Brady, reporters asked Bledsoe if he was hurt or frustrated by the decision.

“Next question,” replied Drew Bledsoe.

Bledsoe’s wife Maura Bledsoe was interviewed for the series. It is uncomfortable watching any family members or loved ones talk about such matters because they are not impartial. Nor should they be. Clips have revealed that Tom Brady, Sr. will be among those being interviewed in the series. The elder Brady has made his displeasure with how certain things were handled in New England very clear in the past. No spouse or parent, etc, should be criticized for sticking up for somebody they love.

Maura Bledsoe stated that her husband, “Had built this team, this franchise, and for one hit to change everything…I was just saying ‘There’s no loyalty.'”

Robert Kraft stated, “I thought Drew was treated unfairly.”

Was Drew Bledsoe treated unfairly? That is tough to say. Bill Belichick’s job was at stake after a 5-11 first season in New England. His job as head coach of the New England Patriots was not to be fair, it was to win. He believed Tom Brady gave the Patriots the best opportunity to win. Would it have been fair to Brady, his teammates, and the rest of the organization to not put them in the best position to win?

Flashback to Cleveland

Bill Belichick coached the Cleveland Browns from 1991-to-1995. Belichick faced a similar quarterback situation in Cleveland. As he did in New England, Belichick removed a popular and accomplished quarterback. With the Browns, it had been Bernie Kosar.

Scott Pioli, who worked with Belichick in both Cleveland and New England, is excellent in this segment. He explains how Bill Belichick knew that moving on from Kosar was the correct move in Cleveland. Unfortunately for the Browns, they did not have a solution ready to replace him. Todd Philcox turned out not to be the answer.

The flashback to Belichick’s Browns days is important for several reasons. Bill Belichick knew what such a decision could mean. He received threats. The situation was incredibly tough on Belichick’s family, with police patrolling the entrance to the neighborhood he lived in. And ultimately, the lack of success in Cleveland cost him his job.

Robert Kraft allowed Bill Belichick the power to make the decisions about who would play, regardless of Kraft’s fondness for Bledsoe. But if Belichick and the rest of the coaching staff were going to keep their jobs, going with Tom Brady needed to work out well. Everybody was well aware of this fact.

“It just needs to be right,” cautioned Robert Kraft.

Loss to the Super Bowl Champions

The first episode ends by showing the New England Patriots losing to the St. Louis Rams in Week 10 by a final score of 24-17. Tom Brady’s two interceptions from the game are shown. This was another area in which the reality of the situation was not necessarily conveyed properly.

The 1999 St. Louis Rams won the Super Bowl. The 2001 edition of the Rams was even better. Heading into that game St. Louis had a 7-1 record. They won the week before 48-14. Their defense had forced 19 turnovers in those first eight games. So yes, New England did lose the game and Tom Brady did not play great, but the implication is that the game was an absolute disaster. The Patriots owner certainly seems to remember the loss more negatively than this writer.

“Watching the game, I felt that Bill (Belichick) had let us down,” stated Robert Kraft.

Episode 1 Review: 9/10

Not everything is going to get into the docuseries. That needs to be accepted now (by me). There were a few omissions I didn’t love, like the Andruzzi brothers after 9/11. While I don’t agree with everything that was said about Drew Bledsoe, or said by Robert Kraft, it is also possible my memories are simply different from that time.

What was truly awesome from the first episode was the amateur footage taken of a young Tom Brady by his David Nugent, Drew Bledsoe talking about pranking Tom Brady in camp, and veterans from the 2001 team laughing about the memories of Brady believing he could be the man when nobody else did.

But for those who watched the 2001 New England Patriots play, seeing many of the players who contributed to the team’s success featured in the highlights is outstanding. Twenty-three years later, many people have trouble viewing the team much beyond Belichick, Brady, and a handful of other franchise legends. But to see Antawn Smith, Mike Compton, Bobby Hamilton, Bryan Cox, Otis Smith, and others brought back a lot of fond memories. It truly was a team.

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