New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, used Tiznow as inspiration for his team in 2001.

New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, used Tiznow as inspiration for his team in 2001.

Associated Press

Super Bowl: Tiznow vs. Smarty Jones

Yes, there are ties to Thoroughbred racing in this year's Super Bowl that will be played Feb. 6 in Alltell Stadium in Jacksonville, Fla.

The Philly Frenzy that began last spring with Smarty Jones has now carried over to professional football, as Philadelphia once again has reason to celebrate after the Eagles defeated the Atlanta Falcons 27-10 to win the NFC championship.

And who can forget that it was Tiznow who was the impetus for what has become football's next potential dynasty.

For Philadelphia sports fans, the Eagles have taken over where Smarty Jones left off. First, it was the Flyers who came close to a championship, only to fail to make it to the Stanley Cup finals. Although Smarty Jones subsequently failed to sweep the Triple Crown, his resounding victories in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Preakness (gr. I) and fairy tale story turned him into one of the greatest sports heroes in the history of Philadelphia. Smarty transcended the Sport of Kings, eventually to become a national hero, but it was Philadelphia and its suburb of Bensalem that were able to claim him as their own.

Pennsylvania governor Edward G. Rendell proclaimed one day "Smarty Jones Day" in the Keystone State, and said following the Preakness, "That was just awesome. It was great for Pennsylvania, but it was great for racing. You look at this little horse and you compare him size-wise to the others and you ask, 'How does he do it?' It's right here (pointing to his heart). The best thing to be tonight in terms of money is a Philadelphia bar owner."

Now, Philly's wild ride continues with the Eagles, who ended three consecutive years of disappointment in NFC championship games. As they did with Smarty, the city erupted in celebration following Sunday's victory over the Falcons. Now, they are one game away from claiming two of the greatest sporting prizes in the world – the Super Bowl and Kentucky Derby.

If there is anything that can stop this latest "Philadelphia Story" from ending with a championship, it the New England Patriots, a team on the verge of joining such legendary dynasties as the Green Bay Packers of the '60s, the Pittsburgh Steelers of the '70s, the San Francisco 49ers of the late '80s and early '90s, and the Dallas Cowboys of the early-to-mid '90s. The Patriots advanced to the Super Bowl by defeating the Steelers 41-27 Sunday.

But how and when did the reign of the Patriots begin? It all started one day in November of 2001, when coach Bill Belichick attempted a most unusual method of finding a way to motivate his lackluster team that had begun the season by losing two of its first three games. Then, floundering with a record of 7-5, they were in danger of not making the playoffs.

Instead of showing game films or giving motivational speeches, Belichick showed his team a tape of Tiznow winning that year's Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I), in which the horse fought back in one of the gutsiest performances in memory to defeat the European titan Sakhee.

Belichick, like his former boss Bill Parcells was a fan of Thoroughbred racing, and by showing his team the tape of the race, he hoped to impress upon them what courage and a fighting spirit can accomplish. He told his players their situation was not unlike Tiznow's; that in the end it all comes down to who wants it the most.

After watching the tape, the Patriots were unbeatable, winning their next seven games, including dramatic last-minute victories over the Oakland Raiders in the AFC championship game and the powerful St. Louis Rams in the Super Bowl. Another dramatic Super Bowl victory followed two years later, and a third is only one game away. Like Tiznow, the Patriots have shown time and again that when it comes down to a nail-biting finish, they want it the most.

During the Christmas holiday of 2001, Tiznow's trainer, Jay Robbins, received a Christmas card from Belichick that read simply: "Thanks for the inspiration." The following February, Belichick presented the Eclipse Award for champion older male to the connections of Tiznow, a fitting ending to a remarkable story.

He said at the time, "I am very excited to be participating in this year's Eclipse Awards. As an avid horseracing fan and someone who appreciates greatness in all sports, it is truly an honor to be involved with recognizing the finest horses and owners in the world."

And thanks to one of those horses, Belichick and his team now stand on the threshold of greatness.