"There is no word to use except for 'impressive,'" former linebacker Tedy Bruschi said.
New England was a bottom-of-the-rung franchise in the early 1990s that got a much-needed spark in 1993 when it hired Bill Parcells as the head coach and selected quarterback Drew Bledsoe with the top pick in the draft. Then, Robert Kraft bought the team a year later and gave the organization the commitment it needed to find some legitimacy.
In the five years prior to Kraft's purchase, the Patriots had an NFL-worst 19 victories. Since 1994, the Patriots lead the league in Super Bowl titles (three), conference championships (five), total victories (211), division titles (11) and playoff victories (18).
This weekend, the Patriots are hosting four honorary captains from the 1996 team that won the AFC Championship, a squad that helped the team get a jump on its successful run. The honor has given Bruschi, Bledsoe, Troy Brown and Ty Law an opportunity to reflect on the growth of the franchise in the 15 years since the organization's second trip to the Super Bowl.
"When I first got here [in 1993], this team was under different ownership," Brown said. "They were in transition to Parcells who was more of a discipline-type coach. The team was kind of in bad shape. He came in here, he cleaned house, he fired a bunch of people, cut a bunch of players and everything was transitioning over to the 'Parcells Way.'
"What I do think was the biggest turn in the organization was when Mr. Kraft bought this team in 1994. You could see him, and he was talking about getting the right people in here and challenging people. That's what he did. He's gotten the right people in. It took him a couple times, a couple tries to get it right, but he got it right and from then on, the hiring of Bill Belichick and his staff.
"Expectations are really high, and they keep them high and they won't accept anything less than what they think you can do. I think that's the key."
This weekend's circumstances have also made the former players proud. Brown, Bruschi and Law each played for the Patriots' three Super Bowl-winning teams, and they're happy to see the organization continue its success.
"It's really been a pleasure to be a part of, and not even looking at it from an analytical point of view, it's just nice to see them continuing the way it's been," Bruschi said.
And by viewing it, from a first-hand perspective and now on the outside, the former Patriots know they were part of a special turnaround — one that may never happen again.
"It's incredible, and I think it's an unprecedented run since Mr. Kraft bought the team and hired the coach that he hired in coach Belichick," Law said. "It's going to be hard to duplicate something like that. You've got to give credit to the front office. It's absolutely incredible, and I don't see something like this happening for a long, long time."