American Football: Only parallels with 1991 favour Parcells

Can Super Bowl history repeat itself? Matt Tench reports from New Orleans
For dedicated students of the cyclical theory of sporting history, Bill Parcells makes an intriguing case study. The last time he was at the Super Bowl, six years ago with the New York Giants, he was leading the underdogs into what was widely believed to be his last game with the club. It is exactly the same this time.

Parcells' probable departure from the New England Patriots, after they have played the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, has dominated proceedings here, just as his imminent divorce from the Giants - he left a couple of months later - did in 1991. As he did then Parcells has attempted, without success, to play down the story. One report suggests that he has already signed for the New York Jets. Parcells simply says he will review his position after the Super Bowl.

His habit of guiding clubs to success, then leaving prematurely has drawn comparisons with Kenny Dalglish, but the analogy is only partially successful. If Dalglish's reasons for moving on have revolved around pressure, with Parcells the issue is power. He left the Giants because of frustration with the personnel decisions made by the team's autocratic general manager, George Young, and seemed to have gained the authority he sought when he joined the Patriots four years ago. But under a new owner, Robert Kraft, this appears to have been steadily eroded, a process emphasised by the choice of Terry Glenn, the wide receiver Kraft coveted, as the Patriots' first pick of last year's draft rather than the defensive player Parcells preferred.

When Parcells requested that a year be taken off his contract, making 1996 his last season, his departure was widely predicted, but as the Pats progressed to the Super Bowl, so the clamour to keep him grew. This week, however, it has been clear that Parcells and Kraft remain at odds over his responsibilities - there has also been talk of a personal rift - and it seems almost certain that Parcells will return to New York where the Jets are thought to have promised him complete control.

Known as a players' coach, many will miss him, but not it seems the most important one. Drew Bledsoe, the Patriots brilliant young quarterback, has suffered more than most from Parcells' unforgiving tongue, and there were detectable signs of relief as he reacted to this week's stories.

"I've known throughout the last four years that at some point in my career Bill is going to be gone," Bledsoe said. "Sometimes it's pretty enticing."

Bledsoe will have to play at his very best for the Pats to have any chance, with even Parcells acknowledging his side's status. When the Packers' Mike Holmgren claimed himself as the underdog head coach, because of his lack of Super Bowl experience, Parcells retorted: "I don't know about that. I know whose team is the underdog."

Overmatched in just about every area, the Patriots appear to have only one factor in their favour, the cyclical theory of history. Back in 1991, Parcells won.