FOXBORO, MASS. — FOXBORO, Mass.
I WALKED into the New England Patriots offices yesterday expecting to see this Sam Jankovich from Miami step to the podium with a broom in his hand to sweep away 30 years of Patriots debris. "There'll be no broom," said Sam Jankovich. There was no broom.
Just Sam. Just Sam and five years to rebuild the Patriots. And, just Sam seemed as if it might be enough.
"There'll be no massive changes," said Jankovich. Eyebrows were raised. These are the Patriots. "There'll be no clean sweep," said Jankovich. Glances were exchanged. They're 1 and 13. No broom. Just Sam?
"If I didn't think I could succeed, I wouldn't be here," said Jankovich. "I am here to succeed."
Just Sam, a Serbian grandfather who brooks no fools. Just Sam, who has done so much in Miami. Just Sam, who said the Chicago Bears of yore and now are his kind of team, Randall Cunningham and Mike Ditka the tight end his kind of players ("Aggressive players"), and Don Shula and Bill Parcells and a certain coach in Dallas his kind of coaches.
I walked out of the Patriots offices as if I had been listening to Leo Buscaglia for an hour (Sam Jankovich, too, says all is possible with a good heart). I walked out of the Patriots offices as if Lee Iacocca had been pitching me personally for an hour (Sam Jankovich, too, is now selling patriotism with his product).
And, indeed, I walked out of the Patriots offices with a new and different feeling.
Jankovich's message was inspiring. Fifteen times, at least, Sam Jankovich and Victor Kiam said this was a "new era" for the New England Patriots. Fifteen times at least, I was lifted from my seat in inspirational ecstasy. The promised land beckons. Hope! I listened to the master's master plan.
First and foremost, the Patriots organization will have class (ah, we've been wandering the desert 30 years waiting for those words). Then it will be organized. Next, no slackers will be tolerated and unhappy souls will be shipped onward (Irving? Irving Fryar? They're whispering your name). Finally, the Patriots will have the will to win.
So I stepped out of the Patriots offices with a light step. It's been so long. So long since I can't remember when. Since before their last victory. Except I can't remember when that was, either. And then I stepped into the 32-degree winds.
The cold, cold world. Where inspiration sometimes dies very quickly. Where words mean little, and actions so much more. Class, yes. But what about an offensive line? Organization, definitely. But what about a game plan and a defense and special teams? The will to win, certainly. But what about a coach?
"I can't look you in the eye right now," said Jankovich, who has never fired a head coach, "and tell you for certain, 'Yes, Rod [Rust] will stay, or no, Rod will go.' " No, that will come in two weeks, after this season mercifully ends, when all appearances are that Rust will be gone.
And perhaps the New England way of doing football. Significantly and symbolically, no Sullivan stepped to the podium yesterday as this latest Don Quixotean quest of the Patriots -- find one and the same man to both stabilize and invigorate this football team -- was announced. Patrick Sullivan graciously had stepped off to the side, those code words "community liaison" added to his diminished duties, and the football team was Jankovich's. Total control was his. The contracts said so.
Victor Kiam told of how he decided two months ago that the Patriots were adrift in a lost sea. Philadelphia Eagles owner Norman Braman, a Kiam pal, called the New England owner and said, in effect, "Victor, your ship is out of control. It has no rudder."
And who is the rudder? asked Kiam.
"Sam Jankovich," said Braman, who was first known as a Miami auto dealer and became the bridge between Kiam and Jankovich. "Sam Jankovich is your rudder."
We don't know him. His words must be taken on faith. He promised a winner, as promise he must. And, on Jan. 2, he FTC begins the task, the burden, the quest, that even Don Quixote would pass up as too daunting. Building the Patriots into an organized, class operation that wins and wins.
We'll see what he does on the seventh day. But on the first day, at least, Just Sam had restored hope to the Patriots. That is a good start.