Patriots do a number on critics

Cam Cole
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For those who question their path to perfection, they have a simple answer: 18-0

Now, about those asterisks. You know, the one that would accompany the New England Patriots' 19-0 season into the record book, if they should win Super Bowl XLII on Sunday, because of that spy camera head coach Bill Belichick had placed on the New York Jets sidelines to intercept coaches' signals.

Or the figurative one that would have to go beside safety Rodney Harrison's name because of the performance-enhancing substance (reportedly human growth hormone) he used to rehabilitate knee and shoulder injuries, when it looked as though his 14-year career might be over.

Rodney Harrison. Photo by The Associated Press

Scottsdale, Ariz. - Now, about those asterisks. You know, the one that would accompany the New England Patriots' 19-0 season into the record book, if they should win Super Bowl XLII on Sunday, because of that spy camera head coach Bill Belichick had placed on the New York Jets sidelines to intercept coaches' signals.

Or the figurative one that would have to go beside safety Rodney Harrison's name because of the performance-enhancing substance (reportedly human growth hormone) he used to rehabilitate knee and shoulder injuries, when it looked as though his 14-year career might be over.

Admitting those transgressions, accepting punishment for them - Belichick's $500,000 US fine, the Patriots' $250,000 penalty and loss of a first-round draft pick; Harrison's four-game suspension - were one thing. And a good thing, considering how little truth is being told out there about cheating in, say, baseball land.

So here sat Rodney Harrison on Thursday morning, inexplicably unbothered by the throngs at the Patriots' posh golf resort hotel in Scottsdale, and a reporter thought: well, why not?

"I don't care what people think," Harrison shot back, to a question about the inevitability of the Patriots' legacy suffering, and his own, given their scrapes with the NFL sheriff.

"It doesn't matter. We're here in Arizona, and we've won one game, 18 times in a row. So whatever happened in the past is in the past, whatever suspensions or fines they were handing out, it's dealt with. We've moved on, and we're looking forward to Sunday."

Indeed, the Patriots have adopted the Tiger Woods numerical answer to criticism. Two years ago, Canada's Stephen Ames declared Tiger beatable in the Accenture Match Play because of his tendency to hit the ball sideways off the tee.

Woods won nine of the first 10 holes, closed him out in the minimum, and when asked if Ames' criticism had fired him up, answered: "9-and-8."

So the Pats' response to any nit-picking of their achievement is: "18-0."

You think they're old on defence, where teams have been moving the ball up and down the field on them with remarkable ease the last few weeks?

Harrison: "We have a bunch of veteran guys with a lot of experience. You're going to give up some points, you're going to give up some yards.

"But guess what? We're 18-0. So what does that say?

"Not bad for a bunch of old guys, huh?"

You think the Giants almost beat them in the last game of the regular season?

Harrison: "Everyone says that, but they lost. They lost the game. We played our worst defensive game of the year, gave up 35 points, played terrible. Well, it was the last game of the season - I guarantee you we're not going to play that way Sunday - but we walked away with a win. We're 18-0."

You think Tom Brady has appeared vulnerable lately and Randy Moss hasn't appeared at all? 18-0, baby.

Harrison has been this season's lightning rod, for reasons ranging from his alleged loss of a step to his drug suspension to his reputation as a dirty player. Not to mention that he's played everywhere but defensive line.

"Unfortunately, when people put a label on you, it sticks. But I'm old-school. I play hard. I play the game the way it's supposed to be played," said the 35-year-old, and that description would fit any of the Pats' defenders who appear to be getting long in the tooth -- notably linebackers Junior Seau (39), Tedy Bruschi (34) and Mike Vrabel (32).

"Bill wants smart, tough guys who play well under pressure, and that's what I think we have," Harrison said. "They say we're old, but we're fourth overall in scoring defence, and we're 18-0, and none of that matters.

"The common theme (of criticism) is speed, speed, speed, but if you don't know where you're going, getting there fast isn't going to help you, 'cause you're going to be in the wrong spot to make the play. Our guys are veteran guys, smart, well-prepared, and we play extremely hard."

Harrison may come across as an angry old geezer, but he is capable of at least a little self-deprecation. Asked if he was less likely to commit the stupid penalty for a late hit now than earlier in his career, he said: "I hope so. That's all I've got left is my wisdom. I'm just an old man trying to hang on with these young guys."

And whatever you may say about the Pats' 18-0 refrain, you won't catch any of them talking about 19-0.

Let Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress predict victory, even the final score. Let the Giants show up for Super Bowl week in black suits, signalling an intent to preside over the Pats' funeral.

"One of the signs coming into our (locker room) says: 'Shut up and do your job.' A lot of guys will say stuff to get their 30 seconds of fame. (Burress) is a talented guy, he really doesn't have to talk like that. But he'll have his opportunity to back it up on Sunday. We'll see what happens."

And the Pats won't address the historical implications until it's over.

"It's a one-game season. We hope to go undefeated in this game, like we hoped to do each of the previous 18," Harrison said.

"If we go out and do the job Sunday, all the accolades, all the things you guys are going to print and think about us, are going to take care of themselves. If we take care of business, we'll have the rest of our lives to think about it and sit around and tell ourselves how great we were. But this isn't the time and place."

Organizations: New England Patriots, New York Jets, Giants Harrison's Burress

Geographic location: Scottsdale, Ariz., US, Scottsdale Arizona Canada

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