Make it to the Super Bowl and your team will become like one of those slick Manhattan skyscrapers: the end result is admired, but the tedious groundwork often is forgotten.

If justice is served, the team picture of the New England Patriots will include the artist's name in the lower left corner: Dick Steinberg, the team's director of player personnel since 1981.

"I don't think we've really made any genius moves," Steinberg said, "or any real dumb moves."

How do the words "shrewd moves" sound, Dick?

The Patriots' numerical progression since 1981 -- from 2-14 to 5-4 (in the strike season) to 8-8 to 9-7 to the current 14-5 -- has been spun of drafts full of scouting accuracy and calculated risks, as well as of trades that brought young and bountiful returns.

Of the Patriots' 45 players, 36 were drafted by the team. Remarkably, this includes all 22 starters. Injured defensive end Kenneth Sims (1982) and wide receiver Irving Fryar (1984) both were selected with the first picks in the NFL draft. Kicker Tony Franklin (trade) and punter Rich Camarillo (free agent) are the Patriots' only starters who came around the bend the harder, more circumspect way.

The Patriots haven't missed too often with their high-round picks recently: 15 of their 22 starters were drafted in either the first or second round, including Brian Holloway, Stanley Morgan, John Hannah, Julius Adams, Tony Eason, Tony Collins, Garin Veris, Raymond Clayborn and Fryar.

"The team needed a lot of things," Steinberg said, recalling his arrival in New England in February 1981. His first two selections were tackle Holloway, now a three-time Pro Bowl selection, and running back Collins, a 1,000-yard rusher in 1983.

"We didn't draft for need then, just the best players," Steinberg said. "It just so happens the two best guys were a lineman and a running back and the local people went crazy because our defense wasn't stopping anybody."

You have to read deeper to fully understand how the Patriots rose from a "Stupor Bowl" jalopy in 1981 to this year's Super Bowl jewel.

Okay, so Steinberg might have missed the pre-eminent right stuff back in the 1983 draft when he selected Eason with the 15th pick of the draft, letting future all-pro Dan Marino slide to Miami with the 27th pick. Eason was the fourth quarterback selected in the first round, behind John Elway, Jim Kelly and Todd Blackledge, just ahead of Ken O'Brien and, of course, Marino.

"We went with all of the measurables: height, weight, speed, arm strength, accuracy, touch, awareness versus the blitz, leadership and production in the senior year," Steinberg said. "We had Eason rated ahead of Marino because he could run better. There were just a few more pluses to Eason, we felt."

He added that he has been pleased with the development of Eason, who has thrown 35 touchdown passes and 30 interceptions in his three seasons.

Then again, the Patriots were chancy enough to take running back Craig James, then of the Washington Federals of the U.S. Football League, in the seventh round of the 1983 draft. James has rushed for more than 2,000 yards and caught 49 passes over two seasons.

"When you had to take USFL players in the regular draft it was hard to figure when to take them," Steinberg said. "It was a judgment shot. It was an instinctive thing. We waited as long as we could.

"We wouldn't have taken Craig if we hadn't known some things. Number one, the Federals weren't too stable and No. 2, our coach at the time, Ron Meyer (James' college coach at Southern Methodist), knew the guy representing Craig well and we figured there might be a way to get him out."

One more thing about the makeup of these Patriots. Has anybody noticed that cornerback Mike Haynes, tight end Russ Francis and safety Tim Fox -- all once-upon-a-time all-pros for New England -- are nowhere in sight?

All three veterans were traded in 1982 or 1983 because of irreconciliable contract hassles and/or because of what the Patriots viewed to be diminishing returns.

Haynes went to the Raiders (along with a seventh-round pick) for the Raiders' No. 1 pick in 1984 and a No. 2 pick in '85. Next, Steinberg packaged the Raiders' No. 1 with the Patriots' top pick in 1984 and traded both to Cincinnati for the No. 1 pick in the draft and -- voila! -- hello, Irving Fryar.

Fryar became the league's leading punt returner this season (14.1 yards per return), breaking off two returns for touchdowns. The Patriots used the Raiders' No. 2 choice to select Central Michigan safety Jim Bowman. He is the same guy who fell on Raider Sam Seale's fumbled kickoff in the end zone for the touchdown that beat the Raiders, 27-20, in an American Conference semifinal two weeks ago.

Tight end Francis returned from his one-year retirement in 1981 and soon after was sent packing (along with New England's second-round pick in the 1982 draft) to San Francisco. In exchange, the Patriots received four of the 49ers' top choices in that same '82 draft (No. 1, a pair of second-rounders and a fourth).

With those four picks, New England selected nose tackle Lester Williams, linebacker Andre Tippett, tackle Darryl Haley and linebacker Brian Ingram.

Four years and 43 1/2 quarterback sacks later, folks are wondering how the Patriots got Tippett in the middle of the second round with the 41st pick overall.

"Andre Tippett was a standup defensive end at Iowa and he was never involved with drops in coverage," Steinberg said. "So there was development involved in getting him ready to play. Maybe that's why nobody took him before us.

"Even though he had played only two years at Iowa, we never doubted he couldn't be taught to drop and cover."

After six years as a New England starter, Fox (a former No. 1 choice) was traded to San Diego for the Chargers' second-round pick in 1982 and third-rounder in 1983. A trend started to become obvious.

The first of these picks was used to select running back Robert Weathers. He's the guy who scrammed down the left sideline for the 45-yard run that set up the second-quarter touchdown that erased Miami's only lead in New England's 31-14 AFC title game victory last week.

The latter pick was used to select right tackle Steve (The House) Moore, a starter and key spoke in the wheel of the running game.

Steinberg has used a strict, numerical grading system for scouting at New England, unlike Redskins General Manager Bobby Beathard, who scouts on gut instinct. Not the Patriots. If a college receiver's molars are straight, he may get a few extra points from Steinberg.

"It's not an exact science," Steinberg said. "We're just trying to reduce the odds of the crapshoot. What we strive to do is get our money's worth on a guy."