We hope you Patriots fans out there popped a bottle of your best bubbly or homebrew on Thursday. After all, Oct. 21 was the 35th birthday of one of the greatest figures in Boston sports history: former New York Jets linebacker Mo Lewis, the kingmaker and Camerlengo of modern pro football. Consider this his Cold, Hard Football Facts birthday card.
Never heard of the Camerlengo? The Cold, Hard Football Facts exist only to place knowledge where ignorance once ruled, so we culled this definition from no less an authority than www.fact-index.com:
"The Camerlengo is responsible for the formal determination of the death of the reigning Pope. After the Pope is declared to be dead, the Camerlengo removes the Fisherman's Ring from his finger and smashes it with the golden hammer, symbolising the end of the late Pope's authority. The Camerlengo is furthermore responsible for convening a conclave to elect a new Pope, and takes charge during the conclave's proceedings."
Lewis didn't have a golden hammer, but he did use his polyethylene shoulder pads to end the reign of a weak leader, and usher in the era of a strong one, even hastening the subjugation of his own people in the process. Never in modern sports history have the fortunes of one team and so many individuals changed so drastically on a single play.
Lewis, of course, effectively ended the productive career of Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe with a spine-crushing hit in Week Two of the 2001 season. Bledsoe suffered internal injuries, including a sheared blood vessel that could have killed him. It hurts even to watch it today: the 6-foot, 5-inch Bledsoe standing fully erect as he lumbers awkwardly like a wounded moose up the right sideline, never even attempting to drop a shoulder and make, as they say, a "football move." The Camerlengo met him with a crushing hit to the torso.
Bledsoe, of course, was replaced by an unheralded second-year quarterback named Tom Brady. The Patriots ascendancy began at that moment.
With the New York Jets heading to Boston this weekend for just the third time since that fateful day, the Cold, Hard Football Facts honor the career of the Camerlengo and outline just how dramatically the fortunes of the New England football franchise changed on that day.
* The 6-3, 258-pound Camerlengo was taken out of Georgia in the third round of the 1991 draft.
* He played 13 seasons in the NFL, every single one of them as a New York Jets linebacker, before being cut in March 2004. (Even an NFL kingmaker must answer to a higher authority).
* The Camerlengo played in 200 games. He recorded 14 interceptions, 52.5 sacks, and 1,370 tackles – second most in team history.
* He recorded 74 pass deflections, forced 19 fumbles, recovered 13, and returned four passes for touchdowns, also second best in Jets history.
* The Camerlengo was named to three Pro Bowls and, in 2003, to the Jets all-time team.
The Cold, Hard Football Facts suggest the Camerlengo be named to the Patriots all-time team, too, as no one has done more to change the fortunes of a franchise that had been one of the most inept in NFL history. In fact, New England's football fortunes did an abrupt about-face courtesy of the Camerlengo, the likes of which have never been seen in modern pro sports. Consider these Cold, Hard Football Facts both before and after the Camerlengo.
BC: The Patriots were 8-9 in the playoffs over a 41-year period.
AC: The Patriots are 6-0 in the playoffs over a three-year period.
BC: The Patriots were sputtering through a 5-13 run.
AC: The Patriots went on a 14-3 streak that culminated in a climactic, walk-off, game-winning scoring drive in the Super Bowl and one of the biggest upsets in NFL history.
BC: Bill Belichick had a 42-58 career coaching record.
AC: Bill Belichick has a 45-12 record.
BC: Belichick was considered an emotional basket case.
AC: Belichick is considered the smartest, most ruthlessly efficient coach in football.
BC: The Patriots in the Belichick era scored just 16.4 points per game.
AC: The Patriots scored 44 points in their next game AC (their most in five years) and went on to average 25.1 points the rest of the season.
BC: The Patriots were noted for a team record 14 straight losses during their 1-15 1990 campaign.
AC: The Patritots set an NFL record with 20 straight victories in 2003-04.
BC: Franchise fortunes were symbolized by phantom roughing the passer call in the playoffs.
AC: Franchise fortunes were symbolized by the "tuck" rule in the playoffs.
BC: Patriots were bumbling franchise that could never be counted on to win the big game.
AC: Patriots have mastered the art and science of pulling out tough victories in big games.
BC: The Patriots won 14 games in a season (including playoffs) just once in 41 years.
AC: The Patriots have won 14 or more games twice in three seasons.
BC: The Patriots were a middling NFL nobody.
AC: The Patriots are the dominant team in pro football.
BC: The Patriots were 0-2 in Super Bowls (and 0-3 in title games), losing by scores of 51-10 (AFL), 46-10 and 35-21.
AC: The Patriots are 2-0 in Super Bowls, winning dramatically in the last minute by scores of 20-17 and 32-29.
So when you're watching the Patriots play the Jets Sunday, and gearing up for Game Two of the World Series, take a moment to think of the Camerlengo and wish a happy birthday to the man who declared the old Patriots dead and ushered in the era of the New England football dynasty.