Coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady have formed the most dynamic tandem in NFL history for the New England Patriots. This hasn't been St. Vince and Bart Starr rolling through a mini-NFL. This hasn't been Bill Walsh and Joe Montana riding along on the unlimited investment of owner Eddie DeBartolo.
Nope. This has been two guys taking on a full monty of competitors and the parity dictated by a hard salary cap to win games at a spectacular level.
On Thursday, Belichick and Brady were confronted by a hostile media wanting answers as to why footballs used by the Patriots were low on air pressure during Sunday's 45-7 victory over Indianapolis in the AFC Championship Game.
While watching these individual news conferences, I could sense the pain of the coach and quarterback as the media jackals shouted their skepticism in the form of repetitive questions.
I had seen that look of agony in years past, when a tandem blessed with superior guile and fierce determination reached greatness, only to be confronted with the skepticism of critics wanting to diminish the achievements.
"It's jealousy,'' Larry Hennig said. "Harley and I know all about that.''
Yes, in an attempt to get insight into the hurt that Belichick and Brady must be feeling today, I contacted Hennig. He should be remembered as one of Minnesota's grandest athletes, yet Larry, even at age 79 and as a doting grandfather to 25, is more closely linked to the alleged rules-breaking in which he engaged with tag-team partner Harley Race.
Larry "Pretty Boy'' Hennig and ''Handsome'' Harley Race were first united in the AWA (American Wrestling Association) in September 1964. Immediately, the new tandem put together a 47-match winning streak, while also proclaiming to TV interviewer Marty O'Neill that they possessed "the minds of Einstein, the bodies of Hercules, and the faces of the Goddess of Love.''
In a phone conversation this week, Hennig offered a logical reason for the boasting: "Harley and I only said those things because they were true.''
Even all these decades later, the comparison in success and venom faced between Belichick/Brady and Hennig/Race is undeniable. Consider:
Brady became Belichick's starting quarterback in the third game of the 2001 season. When you throw out the 2008 season when Brady was hurt, the Patriots have a record (playoffs included) of 179-55, a winning percentage of .765.
Hennig and Race became partners in the fall of 1964 and filled arenas as a tag team for most of the next five years. George Schire, author of "Minnesota's Golden Age of Wrestling,'' documented the Hennig/Race record as 294-83, a winning percentage of .780.
All you have to know about the jealousy-induced bias faced by Pretty Boy and Handsome Harley is this: Of those 294 victories, only 13 came by disqualification. Of the 83 losses, 27 came when Pretty Boy and Handsome Harley were disqualified.
Plus, the AWA never offered as much as a reprimand to the Crusher for using the pejorative "the Dolly Sisters'' to describe Hennig and Race.
"They were all out to get us, without success,'' Larry said. "We kept the title even after Harley got stabbed in the Chestnut Tree [bar] in Minneapolis. Two guys were beating up a hooker, and he came to her rescue. Harley was taking care of one guy and the other stabbed him … almost hit the heart.''
Race was back in action in a little more than a week. These great athletes and gorgeous men didn't lose the title in the ring. They lost it when Hennig suffered a horrendous broken leg in a singles match with the wily Verne Gagne in Winnipeg, and Larry couldn't wrestle for a few months.
Harley left for the NWA, a rival organization, and was many times a champion. Larry became "The Axe'' as a singles wrestler. Son Curt became a large attraction as "Mr. Perfect'' before his death at age 44.
Curt's son wrestles as Curtis Axel and has done well in the WWE. He's one of the 25 grandkids who make the golden years delightful for Larry and Irene, his wife of 59 years.
"I couldn't remember the names of the grandkids, so I gave them numbers,'' Larry said. "They would be at our place at the lake and I'd say, 'Hey, Number 8, I've had enough out of you.'"
Harley lives in Kansas City. Larry and Irene have the place near St. Cloud.
"The thing about Harley and me, we never had an argument in our lives,'' Hennig said.
One reason is that, in moments of high controversy, Pretty Boy and Handsome Harley would stick with their story of innocence until caught red-handed — a lesson another great tandem, Belichick and Brady, wisely has adopted.