Bruins' teammates don't see Thomas as a distraction


Bruins' teammates don't see Thomas as a distraction

WASHINGTON, D.C. Tim Thomas was one of the first waves of Bruins players to retreat off the ice at the Verizon Center Tuesday morning, and that normally means the 37-year-old goaltender is readying for a night stopping pucks against the Capitals.

But it was no normal day for Thomas, and it was difficult to determine whether his exit meant he was starting or simply giving himself enough time to dress and get out of dodge before the bothersome questions began.

Thomas wasnt in the Bs visiting dressing room when it opened up for the media access portion of the afternoon, and once again his teammates were thrust into the role of answering for the oldest guy on the team. The goaltender has not offered in-person comments about skipping Mondays White House visit, and it appears that Tuesday wont be the day he goes beyond a Facebook post.
His Bruins teammates were uniform in stating Thomas political actions wouldnt be a distraction, and it was about his right to individual expression. Nobody might be more understanding of that than Andrew Ference, who has his own deep-rooted personal and political beliefs that can sometimes butt heads with the collective group.

Its something that was a very rare opportunity. All of us made our own individual decision to go because its a good thing, said Ference, serving out the second game of a three-game suspension vs. the Caps. I think as everybody has already said its his decision. He believes strongly in things, and, well, so be it. Its not for us to really delve into because its his business.

I obviously have a different viewpoint. I think this a wonderful country. The government has done so much for us. I think thats why we were so thrilled to go because we had a different viewpoint. Everybody has a different point of view and thats this country as well, right?

Steve Kampfer, like Thomas, is a Michigan native and was honored as one of only three US native team members invited to visit the Presidents home on Pennsylvania Ave. There was no hesitation in the young defenseman when it came to visiting something as symbolically significant as the White House, and getting a behind-the-scenes look at something he pored over for four years in Ann Arbor.

Its Timmys decision. Its his beliefs and his right to do whatever he wants. We all had a great time going to the White House, said Kampfer. For me it was a dream come true because I studied politics in school. I was a political science major in school, so to shake the Presidents hand was awesome. Its something Ill never forget.

Peter Chiarelli reiterated there would be no disciplinary actions levied against Thomas because of a personal decision to decline President Barack Obamas invitation but there will certainly be questions for Thomas until theyre sufficiently answered by people curious about his decision.

Im not going to regulate free speech, said Chiarelli, who confirmed he spoke with Thomas several times imploring him to change his mind about his White House absence. Tim is his own person. Hes been that way for the five or six years that Ive known him. That hasnt changed and it wont change. We won a Stanley Cup and were doing well this year."

This didnt come across my desk last week." continued Chiarelli, "This is something Ive known about for three months. I know what his beliefs are and his political position is. That statement was entirely consistent with his position.

If Thomas plays Tuesday night against the Capitals he could face a healthy collection of boos from a Washington-centric crowd already viewing him as the opposition. Things could be really interesting a week from today at TD Garden when the Bruins open up the traditional second-half with the Ottawa Senators. Thomas will clearly get a healthy dose of those questions from the national hockey media during the upcoming All-Star weekend in Ottawa.

One has to wonder what the Bruins will do organizationally if their fervent, proud fan base takes Thomas decision personally, and voices their disapproval early and often with loud booing. Its hard to envision that given his heroics in the Cup win, but politics-based reactions are sometimes difficult to gauge.

Thomas could simply throw a shutout down Ottawas throat and have the fan base on his side again once the conversation shifts to hockey rather than Tea Party politics. Its easy to envision the Bruins simply bulldozing over this most current speed bump and continuing on their merry way into the playoffs with Thomas.

Players like Milan Lucic indicated they knew well ahead of time Thomas wasnt going to attend the White House event, and theyre very familiar with his conservative-leaning beliefs. Theyve been able to win with Thomas espousing his beliefs before, and its something most feel like they can simply do again whether or not he decries the government publicly.

Weve had the same group of guys around here for how many years now? Were the same group of people, said Ference. Its not like the locker room all of a sudden changed one day. Its the same people, its the same personalities and we all know each other extremely well.

Were all practically married to each other. Its not like there are any secrets about viewpoints or personalities." continued Ference, "Maybe its interesting for everybody else to read on the outside, but for us its another day. Its the same family weve had for the last few years. It hasnt changed the dynamics for us.

Its difficult to argue with Ference, but theres also this: an entire nation of US citizens werent as familiar with Thomas individual beliefs as they are this time around. As always the people will decide how his actions are ultimately received, and his teammates will decide if things ever become a distraction.

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

For all the flack that Matt Ryan got heading into this season, he’s been a damn good quarterback. Is his career on the same level as Tom Brady’s? Of course not, but this regular season saw him stand as Brady’s peer, making him an MVP favorite.

One of Ryan’s biggest challengers for that hardware is the same man who stands in the way of him winning his first Super Bowl. Though he missed the first four games of the season due to suspension, Brady finished second in the league in passing yards per game and threw just two picks in 12 games while tossing 28 touchdowns.  

So Super Bowl LI will pin the quarterback with the best numbers overall (Ryan finished two touchdowns behind Aaron Rodgers for the league lead but threw for 516 more yards and had a higher completion percentage) against the quarterback with the best touchdown/interception ratio ever for a single season. 

In other words, this is a Super Bowl that puts what one could argue are the season’s two best quarterbacks each other. That’s pretty rare. 

Going back the last 25 years, there are four candidates for such meetings: Manning vs. Brees in Super Bowl XLIV, Favre and Elway in Super Bowl XXXII (this one is a stretch), Favre and Bledsoe in Super Bowl XXXI and Kelly and Rypien in Super Bowl XXVI.. 

Why haven’t the two best quarterbacks squared off in the Super Bowl more often? Because Brady and Peyton Manning played their entire careers in the same conference, silly. It’s taken other players entering their echelon to even set up such a scenario, and that’s why Brees’ Saints beating Manning’s Colts serves as the only example during Manning or Brady’s career. 

The strong performances of those who dominated the regular season have often carried over into their Super Bowl meetings, but not always. Drew Bledsoe and Jim Kelly (both throwing two touchdowns and four picks in Super Bowl losses) are examples of the wheels falling off in the final game. 

Here’s a breakdown of past occurrences. Note that all four of them saw the winning team score at least 30 points, something the Pats have done just once in Brady's four Super Bowl wins: 

Super Bowl XLIV: Brees vs. Manning

Brees led NFL with 34 touchdowns in regular season; Manning finished tied for second with 33

Final score: Saints 31, Colts 17

Brees: 32/39, 288 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Manning: 31/45, 333 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT

Brees completed a postseason in which he had no turnovers and did so in a nearly exactly average game for him that season, as e averaged 292.5 yards, 2.26 touchdowns and less than one interception per game in the regular season. The two quarterbacks also combined for just one sack. 
Super Bowl XXXII: Favre vs. Elway

Favre led NFL with 35 TDs in regular season, Elway finished second in TD/interception ratio

Final score: Broncos 31, Packers 24

Favre: 25/42, 256 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT, fumble lost 
Elway: 12/22, 123 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT

Again, this is the forced one because Jeff George (3,917 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, nine interceptions) had the better regular season than Elway (3,635 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, 11 picks). Elway may have been the winning quarterback, but he didn’t have anything to do with the win. Terrell Davis carried the Broncos, playing through a migraine and rushing for 157 yards with three touchdowns en route to Super Bowl MVP honors. 

Super Bowl XXXI: Favre vs. Bledsoe

Favre led NFL with 39 TDs, Bledsoe third with 27

Final Score: Packers 35, Patriots 21

Favre: 14/27, 246 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Bledsoe: 25/48, 253 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT

Both quarterbacks took five sacks in this game. For Bledsoe, it was the most he took all season. The game was the third four-pick performance of his NFL career. 

Super Bowl XXVI: Kelly vs. Rypien

Kelly led NFL with 33 TDs, Rypien second with 28

Final score: Redskins 37, Bills 24

Rypien: 18/33, 292 yards, 2 TD, INT
Kelly: 28/58, 275 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT, fumble lost

Turns out five turnovers (and being sacked four times) is not a recipe for winning the Super Bowl. Kelly’s 58 passes thrown set a Super Bowl record.

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Working for the Patriots makes you attractive to other teams. Many have left, but Thomas Dimitroff and Scott Pioli are finally showing that major success can be attained in the process. 

Dimitroff and Pioli have built a team in Atlanta that will play for the franchise’s first Super Bowl title on Feb. 5. While many have been hired away from Bill Belichick's Patriots to lead other organizations, Dimitroff is the first of the defectors to get to the Super Bowl on his own. Adding an old friend in Pioli has played a part in that. 

Dimitroff served as New England’s director of college scouting from 2003 through 2007 before becoming Atlanta’s general manager in 2008. He hired Pioli in 2014 as an assistant GM after the longtime Patriots director and vice president of player personnel had a messy stint as the Chiefs’ GM. 

Executives and coaches (even Field Yates; yes, the fair-haired boy from the television) leaving the Patriots for better positions with other organizations has been common, but with the new positions have often come diminished success compared to New England. 

Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Bill O’Brien, Charlie Weis (in his brief return to the NFL in 2010) and Josh McDaniels make up the list of coordinators who have left winning with the Patriots to experience a dropoff without Brady and Belichick. John Robinson (Titans), Jason Licht (Buccaneers) and Bob Quinn (Lions) currently serve as GMs elsewhere, while former Pats secondary coach Joe Collier works with Dimitroff and Pioli as the Falcons’ director of pro personnel. 

It’s only fitting that Dimitroff and Pioli will have to go through Belichick in order to secure a title on their own. Winning without Belichick has proven hard enough for his former colleagues; winning against him will be even harder.