Ditka on The Patriots: The Greatest Coach-Quarterback Combination In The History Of Football

ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown host Chris Berman and analysts Cris Carter, Mike Ditka, Tom Jackson, and Keyshawn Johnson previewed the NFL’s Conference Championships with Suzy Kolber, Merril Hoge, Bill Parcells, guest analyst Greg Jennings and NFL Insiders Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen. Some excerpts:

On Joe Paterno’s passing…
Ditka: “He (Paterno) recruited me in high school in 1957. I was at Aliquippa. He came to the high school and recruited me. He was the backfield coach under Rip Engle. And my parents fell in love with him. I fell in love with him. I was goin’ to go to Penn State. At the last second, I changed my mind. Ended up goin’ to Pitt because I wanted to be a dentist. Unfortunately that didn’t work out, thanks that it didn’t work out because the patients are a lot safer. Let me say one thing about him. He is – there was an old saying a long time ago that Grantland Rice said about class. He said, ‘Class is a hard thing to define,’ he said, ‘but once you see it,’ he said, ‘you never forget it’. This was a man of class. Not only in football, but in life. With his family, with his friends, with that university, with everybody he met, he handled himself with dignity and class in every situation. It’s a sad day really for Penn State and for his family. And really, my sympathy goes out to them.”
Parcells: “(I) had the opportunity as a very young coach at Army to coach against Coach Paterno – as I was an assistant… To put it in a condensed form, just think about all of the young men’s lives that were affected by contact with this man. And that’s thousands of players. That’s legacy in itself in my opinion. It’s something to be very proud of. He’s a remarkable guy.”

On whether Joe Flacco and the Ravens can keep pace if the game is high-scoring…
Carter: “Absolutely not. I don’t know why we’re foolin’ ourselves… And if the game gets too high scoring, then Flacco is more likely to blow the game, than to keep it low.”
Johnson: “I don’t think Joe Flacco could compete with Tom Brady and put points up. Period. I mean that’s just the bottom line like CC (Cris Carter) said. When you look at Joe Flacco and you look at his regular season statistics, okay. You look at his post season, not so okay. And when I watch him and I watch his body language and his demeanor, he looks like a scaredy-cat out there playin’ to me.”
Parcells: “I kind of feel sorry for Flacco in a couple ways. And here’s the reason why. When he first came into the league, what had been the Ravens’ formula for winning? It had been runnin’ the ball and defense. And so when he was integrated into the system, that’s what he was integrated into… Problem is now, everyone’s trying to compare him to Brees, Brady, Manning, those kinda guys who come out and throw for 400 and be the reason that they win the game. And I’m not sure that that team is built to do that.”

Greg Jennings’ reflections on the Green Bay Packers’ season and their loss to the Giants…
Jennings: “When you go through a regular season and have success the way we had success, and you don’t really taste the failures and the lulls, you see some of the things that you need to correct, but you don’t really get to experience those losses. I think sometimes that plays against you. But, in our case, I think we just came out sluggish in that game. The Giants were a team that was rolling at the time, and they’re still rolling now, playing good ball, and I think that’s really what it’s all about. It’s not how you start; it’s really, ultimately how you finish. And I know that sounds cliché, but it’s fact. You know, any time you can get a team and you can find your identity and you can start rolling at the right time, you know, the Green Bay Packers of last year, that’s what the Giants are doing and that’s what we did last year, and that’s ultimately what you want as a head coach and as a team.”

On confidence in quarterback Alex Smith and the 49ers…
Johnson: “I think you have to have confidence in him, Boom. You can’t go away from that confidence. I think Jim Harbaugh instilled that in him as an ex-quarterback himself. Put him in a position as Tommy said to win the football game, not once, but twice… over the course of the season he has six fourth-quarter game-winning drives which is tied for first in the National Football League.”
Carter: “This is not only about the quarterback; it’s who he’s goin’ to throw to. I feel a lot more confident about Alex since he’s settled in with Harbaugh, when they get a major weapon. If you look at Steve Young and Joe Montana, their success was tied to the weaponry which they put around them. Now you put the same type of weaponry around him, I’ll have far more confidence.”

On the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick legacy…
Ditka: “If they go to the Super Bowl and win the Super Bowl again, I don’t think anybody can question that this is the greatest coach-quarterback combination in the history of football. It really is. I think the game’s different now, but you can’t take it away from them. What they’ve accomplished together is unbelievable.”
Jackson: “If they win another Super Bowl, any discussion about coach and quarterback, I think Coach Parcells, you would agree – they would have to be included.”
Johnson: “Five Super Bowl appearances, possibly four championships and a number of records. And let’s not get into the winning percentage. I mean, consistent.”
Carter: “I think they’re the greatest, especially if they’re able to pull it off. But, not because of the numbers, but because of their development. You need to get one picture of Tom Brady at the NFL Combine, and you’ll see why he was a sixth-round pick. But for him developin’ into the quarterback that he has and Bill Belichick, great coordinator – was not a very good head coach and was not a good communicator – but the word on the street is, guys in the National Football League, they want to go to New England now. Why? Not because of the nice stadium, not ‘cause of the owners, because of Bill Belichick, and that’s a huge change.”

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