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The source for back issues of Clint's Corner. Forget a trade? Were Clint's predictions correct? Here's every edition, verbatim.

For 12/22/98

As Chris "Boomer" Berman of ESPN always says, "THAT’S why they play the game!"

Going into Sunday’s game against the 49ers, I did not see one Internet or print media prognosticator give the Patriots a snowball’s chance in hell of winning this game. You would have gotten better odds in Las Vegas betting Tom Finneran would be the guest mascot donning the "Elvis" costume.

Missing from the defensive side were Ted Johnson and Willie McGinest. That’s $50 Million in payroll. The $42 Million QB was also sitting out, replaced by Scott Zolak, who has had about as much action over the past 5 years as the Tin Man before Dorothy happened along. Tony Carter was inactive, and Terry Glenn is out for the year with a broken ankle. Add to that the fact that the 49ers had been steam rolling their recent competition, and it was just impossible for the Patriots to win this game. Just as unthinkable as the lowly Rams upending a streaking AFC team earmarked for the post season.

The 24-21 win over the now 11-4 San Francisco 49ers was perhaps the first complete team win since the Kansas City game back in early October. All phases of the game were clicking this Sunday, and it was fun to watch. The defense limited the #1 scoring offense in the NFL to two touchdowns, and pitched a 2nd half shutout. The offensive line opened up holes and afforded good protection, even in the red zone. Robert Edwards made all the right moves, and showed that tough North-South mentality that had been missing during his slump. Edwards showed power up the middle, speed to the outside, and grace as a receiver.

As a backup quarterback, Scott Zolak did everything that was expected of him and more. Perhaps his stats of 14 completions for 205 yards won’t turn any heads across the NFL, but Zo lead the offense to 3 touchdowns, and more importantly, did little to hurt his team’s cause. Add in a perfectly thrown 61 yard TD bomb, a crucial 20 yard pass on 3rd and 17 late in the game, and of course the 4th down conversion while under fire, and Zolak deserves a game ball. There are at least a dozen or so quarterbacks starting week after week in the NFL who don’t show what Scott did coming off the bench. His teammates rallied around him to ensure the game was not his to win or lose, but you can’t take away from the fact that in Zolak’s 8 year career in the NFL, he is now undefeated in "big" games.

Lastly, but certainly not undeserving of mention, is the coaching staff. As a touchdown underdog at home, Pete Carroll and his staff reminded the team all week that no excuses would be accepted. He acknowledged the enormous challenge facing his team, yet fully expected his players to meet it. The game plan on both sides of the ball was effective. When you hold the ‘9ers offense to 14 points, you have done your homework. When your banged up offense rushes 31 times and passes 30 for a total of 332 yards, it’s a well-called game. If we’re all so quick to jump all over Pete Carroll when the team comes out flat against the Rams, we must do the diligence of giving him credit when they surpass everyone’s expectations and clinch a playoff spot.

The NFL’s Red Sox...

In all sincerity, congratulations are in order to Bill Parcells and the New York Jets for clinching their first ever AFC East divisional title. They did it the hard way by beating Buffalo, Miami, and New England on the road on their way to a 6-1 divisional mark with just next week’s home game against the Patriots remaining. The Jets efforts have also earned them a 1st round bye. Many, including myself, had visions of a top 10 draft pick coming the Pats way in April. Looking at Glenn Foley, a patch work offensive line, and essentially a "no name" defense back in August, I thought the Jets would do well just to equal their 1997 tally of 9 wins. Quite to the contrary, the Jets are sending a quarterback to the Pro Bowl, have arguably the best offensive line in the division, and have allowed the 2nd fewest points against them in the entire NFL.

All that being said, I would liken the Jets recent success to Al Bundy scratching a $1 Million lottery ticket. He would be so suspicious of his good fortune, he’d be afraid to leave the house to cash it in. I am of the opinion, and I’m sure most die-hard Jets fans will agree with me, that for every good thing that befalls the Jets, there exists an even greater equalizer. Thus is written the Bundy rule.

To put this in terms a Patriots fan may better understand, consider for a moment the Red Sox. If they went 162-0 in the regular season, who among you would pencil in a World Series celebration at City Hall Plaza? Anyone? Anyone? 1-15, 11-5, or 12-4, Joe Walton, Rich Kotite, or Bill Parcells, the Jets are the Jets are the Jets, and they will always be the Jets. Not that the Patriots have a display case full of Vince Lombardi trophies, but we’re talking about a team here who until 1998 had seen as many winning seasons since 1960 as the White House has seen Presidents.

Call me overly optimistic, but if the banged up Pete Carroll led Patriots somehow stumble into the Meadowlands this post season, I would not be surprised to see the wheels finally come tumbling off the Jets wagon. I’m still waiting for Vinny Testaverde to bump his head and realize that he is Vinny Testaverde, not Joe Montana. Like Wile E. Coyote peddling a bicycle over an open canyon, the Jets defense is going to suddenly realize that what they are doing is impossible, and crash and burn. Kyle Brady cannot continue to be a threat in the red zone, and Jason Fabini needs to be reminded that he is a low paid 4th round draft pick, not Tony Boselli.

So many things have gone right for the Jets this year that it should scare a devoted follower right to the bone. From the Testaverde "touchdown" against the Seahawks, to facing the 13-2 Falcons with DeBerg at the helm, the Jets have got to be reaching the end of their pot of gold. The Jets have a 2 run lead in game 7 of the World Series. It’s the bottom of the 9th, the batter has two strikes, and the bases are empty. What could go wrong? Just hold the champagne until the 3rd out. Trust me.

Farewell to Foxboro?

As 60,000+ jubilant fans exited the stadium on Sunday, we all had to wonder if we’d be back in two weeks. Not being one to play the odds, I have already sent in my playoff ticket invoice. The Patriots stand as good a chance as the Dolphins or Bills to be the #1 wild card team in the AFC, hosting a playoff game the weekend of January 2nd.

If Scott Zolak and the rest of the team can continue to bring their "A" game and beat the Jets, the only way the Pats would not host a playoff game would be for the Dolphins to knock off the 13-1 Broncos and 13-2 Falcons back-to-back. Should the Patriots lose to the Jets next weekend, they would still host a playoff game if Miami loses to both Denver and Atlanta, and Buffalo loses at New Orleans.

The only givens in the AFC are that Denver and the Jets will take a week off, and Jacksonville will host a 1st round wild card game. Unless Tennessee can sneak into the picture, it looks like Jacksonville will be hosting one of either the Pats, Dolphins, or Bills, with the remaining two squaring off against one another.

The lowest advancing seed will travel to Denver, with the other week 1 winner traveling to the Meadowlands to face the rested Jets. As it stands now, the Jets have a 75% chance of facing a divisional opponent when they open the post season.

This writer is hoping it’s the Pats, and Jimmy Hoffa will have already loosened the lug nuts on the Jets’ bandwagon.

A Special "Thank you"...

As some of you may already know, last Sunday I was presented with the Joseph R. Mastrangelo Trophy, which annually honors the BankBoston sponsored "Patriots Fan of the Year". It was quite a thrill to have Robert Kraft and Ira Jackson from BankBoston present me with the trophy on the field an hour before kickoff. Also present were Adam Mastrangelo and his wife Stacie, representing Adam’s late father Joe and the rest of the Mastrangelo family.

Joseph Mastrangelo was an original Patriots season ticket holder, and was a devoted fan of the franchise. When he passed away unexpectedly in 1986 following Super Bowl XX, the Mastrangelo family, with cooperation from then Patriots owner Billy Sullivan, established the annual award as a tribute to their father and to all devoted members of Patriot Nation.

BankBoston took over sponsorship of the award 5 years ago, but the Mastrangelo family remains very much involved. The trophy depicts 7 fans in the stands enjoying the game, with a likeness of Joe standing to cheer in the back row grasping his trademark cigar in his right hand.

Those of you who know me personally, especially friends and family who have known me since I started following the Patriots at age 10, know that my fanaticism for the Patriots goes beyond just the game on the field. Going on 20 years now, the Patriots have been more of a hobby than simply a following, and a passionate hobby at that.

My family and I have had season tickets since 1986, and during the 13 seasons since, I only failed to attend a home game a handful of times while attending college 5 hours from Foxboro in Winooski, Vermont. During those 4 seasons between 1988 and 1991, the Patriots averaged less than 6 wins, and never made the playoffs. During my senior year, they were 0-8 at home. That still did not stop me from making the 10 hour round trip, by myself, to meet my parents at the game more times than not.

I graduated college in 1992, and have been living in Massachusetts ever since. Being closer than 5 hours away, I have not missed a home game in the past 7 seasons, including the playoffs. I had a close call this year when my wife gave birth to our beautiful daughter Alyson, but September 2nd was just far enough in advance of the 6th that I was able to be there against the Colts for the home opener.

No longer on a college budget, I have also been spend-foolish enough to attend 14 away games since the 1994 season. Last season, I traveled to see the Jets, Bills, Bucs and Jags in the regular season, and also made the 8 hours drive to Three Rivers Stadium for the playoff game. Also in the travel log are the Giants, Cowboys, Falcons, Browns, Ravens, and of course Super Bowl XXXI. Being a new father has put travel way on the back burner, but I still made a day trip (a loooong day trip) to Buffalo a few weeks back, and I’ll be leaving my driveway for Tuna Bowl IV in the Meadowlands at 7:30 a.m. this Sunday.

My silver tailgate van can been seen on the wallpaper background of main page. I’ve had the van for 6 seasons, and it is emblazoned with 4 foot Patriots Logo’s on each side. The Mass. plate is "PAT VAN", and has air horns an 18-wheeler would envy. My car was factory ordered in two-tone blue and silver, and the Pats logo went on the back window at the dealership before the license plates. Those plates read "GOPATZ". (Someone out there already has the one with the "S"!)

Last spring I had the basement in our home finished off into a Patriots "museum" of memorabilia. A picture is worth 1,000 words, and I showed Bob Kraft plenty of pictures of that room. The walls are all blue and silver, separated by a Patriots border, and each wall and table surface is adorned with Patriots collectibles.

Some would say I’m a little overboard with my devotion to the Pats, but I have immensely enjoyed every ounce of effort, both emotional and financial, that I have "invested" in this cause. My wife knew what she was getting into when she married me, and as she says, the Patriots are simply part of who I am. As the 12th annual recipient of the Joseph R. Mastrangelo Trophy, I take both comfort and pride in knowing there were 11 before me, and at least one big guy up above, who understand.

I cannot even begin to fully express my thanks to the Patriots, BankBoston, my wife, family and friends, and especially the Mastrangelo family for making Sunday, December 20, 1998 a day I will never forget.

Thanks for reading this week, and let’s get ready for Tuna Bowl IV!