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Greatness and Champions

Driving to work this morning, I overheard a sports radio personality (someone I hadn't listened to before, so the name escapes me, sorry) talking about Sunday's New England/Indianapolis game in the NFL.  He was talking about the similarities between the Patriots and the Chicago Bulls and specifically how the Bulls were such a roadshow in the 1990's.

Despite all their success, they had a huge edge in tough games.  They played loose, yet with a chip on their shoulders as if they were the underdogs.  I tend to agree.  There is just something different about a dynasty-type championship team---one that can keep it together for an extended period of time.

Clearly the New England Patriots have that champions' edge.  They have unbelievable coaching, especially on the defensive side of the ball, and employ a heady, always-doing-something offensive leader by the name of Tom Brady.  I knew going into the game that the media generated concerns about their "depleted" secondary were overblown and would not be a deciding factor in the game.

New England is one of the most structurally sound teams around.  They bring in the right players for their system, are incredibly disciplined on the field, and have stars at key spots such as defensive end, tailback and quarterback.  Their coach also happens to be a football genius.

This doesn't mean they're unbeatable.  In fact, Tom Brady said on an interview before the game that the entire team knows they can be beaten on any given day.  They approach each game fully aware of their mortality, yet have a swagger that defies their sense of reality.  It works.  They simply take their best shot each time out and have the utmost faith in what they are doing.

What does this have to do with college football, you ask?  Well, I see the same psychological, coaching and structural ingredients brewing in a cardinal and gold cauldron just a few miles east of the Pacific Ocean, at USC.  Their coach is Pete Carroll---like Bellicheck, a defensive mastermind.  They have rode two savvy quarterbacks to success in Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart (perhaps the best college or pro comparison to Tom Brady).  They have a striking confidence yet keep themselves under wraps before the press.

You could see something brewing the week of the Orange Bowl with USC.  They were a bit quiet, almost edgy with the press in the days leading up to the game.  Yet once they hit the field, Pete Carroll was smiling, a bit goofy looking, but you could see that the game was his big stage.  The players didn't look overconfident, or worried.  Simply ready.  Just another game.  I saw that yesterday with New England, from the first snap to the last.  I saw it over an eight year period with the Chicago Bulls.  I don't know how to fully describe it, but once you've seen it you know---they've got it.

This season should be an interesting one for the Trojans.  They may not win every game, but I think they know they're the best team in college football whether a championship happens or not.  There's just something to them, that you know they'll be back the year after and the one after that until complacency sets in, or a scandal, or injuries, whatever it is that breaks up great teams.  And it will happen.  But not yet.  In the meantime, the Trojans are college football's answer to the New England Patriots and Chicago Bulls.

It's an impressive effort in this era of parity.

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