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Success, and failure

This weekend brings two lengthy discussions on the causes of poor performance. At SI, Paul Zimmerman examines historical NFL dynasties - e.g. the 60s Packers, 70s Steelers, 80s Forty-Niners, and 90s Cowboys - looking for clues which might predict a decline in performance of the Patriots.

It's an intriguing examination. Though Zimmerman ultimately comes up empty, that is a result in itself. Aging players, head coaches with happy feet, and loss of the will to win appear to be factors in prior eras. None of these seem poised to knock down Belichick's Patriots. Zimmerman doesn't make the analogy, but it seems to me that the Patriots are most like the Forty-Niners, who had a great quarterback, an innovative coach, and a sustained run of excellence, which continued even when they were surpassed by the Cowboys. If the analogy fits, the Pats have quite a few good years ahead of them.

At the other end of the scale are baseball's Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Mark Topkin gives them the treatment in today's St. Petersburg Times.

The Devil Rays have compiled "one of the worst cumulative seven-year records (451-680) of any expansion team." Lack of management experience may be one reason they got off on the wrong foot:

While the Rays stocked their inaugural roster with veteran players, they fielded too many rookies in key management positions. The owner, Naimoli, had never owned a sports team; the general manager, Chuck LaMar, had never been a general manager; the manager, Larry Rothschild, had never managed. Of the six department-leading vice presidents on the 1998 staff, only one had done his same job before.

The original partnership agreement made Naimoli managing general partner, a role that "automatically renews itself annually." Oops. Naimoli owns just 15% of the team, but 100% of the mistakes: "nothing can be done without his approval, and his reach seems to extend everywhere." He sounds like Steinbrenner without the cash.

Naimoli's former partners gave up last May and sold their interests to New York investor Stuart Sternberg for $60 million. They would surely have received a good bit more had they been able to remove Naimoli from control of the organization. Beware of the perpetually renewing clause!