Seau not running from history

Dan Wetzel

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Junior Seau danced amid the cold air and falling confetti, grabbing every teammate he could find for a mammoth celebratory bear hug to mark not what had just happened but what still might.

With their 18th victory in 18 games securing the AFC championship (21-12 over the San Diego Chargers), history awaits the New England Patriots – the stakes long past a mere championship and barreling toward immortality.

Seau, ever the emotional warrior, ever the student of his sport, wasn't afraid to embrace the possibility of achieving the NFL's first perfect season in 35 years and first 19-0 one ever.

"You cannot refute, if we happen to go in there and do what we need to do, separating is key in history (and) we have a chance," Seau said. "And that's all we ever need. All we know is that, we work every day (to) position ourselves to have a chance on game day, a chance, and we do. We have that chance now."

A chance at everything: a chance at forever, a chance at the rarest of perfections.

The Super Bowl is, of course, every team's ultimate goal, but they award one of those every year. Not since the Miami Dolphins in 1972 has a team gone undefeated. No team has even finished the regular season without a loss until the Patriots did it this year.

Maybe the rest of his teammates are too used to winning, too bought into the personality of their all-business coach, Bill Belichick, to admit the dream, but no one can (or wants to) douse the passion that pours from Seau.

"Junior's 100 percent emotion," Tom Brady said.

So it was no surprise that as everyone else talked about leaving the undefeated goal behind when they finished the regular season or preaching about how the playoffs are a series of one-game seasons, here was Seau talking straight from the heart.

"Right now, we're going to embrace this time, this moment," Seau said.

Here in an era of parity and salary caps, where the league's motto of "On Any Given Sunday" is proven true on every single Sunday, the idea of a perfect season seemed perfectly impossible.

No one ever really came close, even the greatest teams stumbling in December under the pressure of the chase and the amped up performance of their opponents.

But New England is a veteran team of winners handpicked by Belichick. Seau was one of them. He was retired and mostly hanging out at the beach when the phone rang nearly two years ago, Belichick on the other end.

"He said, 'I've got a position for you,' " Seau said. "He didn't say, 'Would you like to come and play?' He said, 'I have a position for you.' That's the world champion coach calling a guy that had just gotten into surfing.

"I'm going to answer that call."

He did and the Patriots have answered 18 consecutive calls this season, a streak of brilliance built on personalities such as Seau. They've won big and small, beautiful and ugly, from behind and so far ahead they got accused of running up the score. They even won with controversy, caught illegally filming the New York Jets in the season opener.

But throughout the run, they've changed the expectations of greatness in the modern era of the NFL. The focus, the drive, the humility, the ability, the rock-solid core values of a group that believes completely in each other has been so profound that, if anything, it hasn't been fully appreciated.

Sunday against the Chargers, it wasn't the record-setting combination of Brady and Randy Moss that put New England over the top. It was a gut-it-out running attack and a bend but never break defensive effort that kept shutting the door when San Diego threatened a touchdown.

So to some, the definable success of what had just occurred meant more than the ethereal dream still ahead. When Belichick and Tedy Bruschi, the two most matter-of-fact members of the franchise, hugged on the sideline, the only perfection discussed was the just-completed performance.

"You know how focused the man is," Bruschi laughed about Belichick. "He just said, 'Great job in the red area tonight.' With him, it's always about the game."

If that's what got the Patriots here, then fine. But Belichick is also a history buff – be it military or football – and no matter what he says, deep down he knows what this means, what this is all about for the game and, even more so, for him.

Seven years ago, when his then-upstart team won its first title, he was a coaching role model, a guy who got a group of humble underdogs to come together and maximize their abilities.

But since then, for some fans, he's become the league's resident villain, the scowling face of questionable ethics and endless success.

However, what he's always preached, what the Patriots have always practiced, was again on display Sunday and every other week preceding it. This was another team win, another 53-man performance. Really, very little has changed around here.

For Belichick and his team, now the football's evil empire for many, 19-0 would be the ultimate vindication.

So New England goes for this improbable perfection now: one game for history, one game for everything.

"We have a chance," Seau kept smiling. "We have a chance."