Here's a nice little piece of what-if? pondering . . .
What if Bill Parcells hadn't left the Patriots after their Super Bowl XXXI loss to the Packers? Would the franchise's journey to excellence -- nearly derailed in the Pete Carroll/Bobby Grier Era before Bill Belichick arrived -- come sooner? Or would it ever have happened at all, considering that Belichick, eager to run his own program, may not have stayed in New England under Parcells?
It's hard to say . . . but, as it turns out, it's something Parcells has thought about.
"I regret leaving New England. Had we done things differently . . . " Parcells told USA Today's Jim Corbett. "I had a good young team there. I hated to leave that team, because I knew what we could do."
He bolted for the Jets after the 1996 season because of differences with owner Robert Kraft. He and Kraft have since reconciled, but it was pretty nasty there for a while.
"I was absolutely too headstrong," said Parcells. "And he might have been a little headstrong, too. I think both Kraft and myself, retrospectively, would have done things a little differently."
"I think we would have been a great team together at a different time," Kraft agreed, "me understanding what I understand now, this being my 20th season as an owner, and him being seasoned. I wish it could have worked out differently . . . It would have been pretty special."
Parcells -- who resurrected the Patriots after being hired by Kraft's predecessor, James Busch Orthwein, in 1993 -- made the Jets the dominant team in the AFC East in the late 1990s, supplanting what appeared to be a budding New England dynasty. But now he wishes he had stayed to finish the job in Foxboro.
"You know who I had?" Parcells said. "Curtis Martin, Ben Coates, Tedy Bruschi, Terry Glenn, Willie McGinest, Drew Bledsoe, Shawn Jefferson, Ty Law, Lawyer Milloy, Troy Brown and Adam Vinatieri. Nobody knows that I signed him."
Considering how it turned out -- New England won three Super Bowls in four seasons under Belichick from 2001-04, made it to two more Super Bowls after that, and remains one of the handful of franchises that's a championship contender every season -- the Pats probably don't feel the same sense of regret. Because no matter what they might have done under Parcells, it's unlikely he would have hung around long enough to build and maintain this level of dominance.
But it's still interesting to think about.