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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Patriot Way

The New England Patriots have been the NFL’s most successful franchise in the 21st century. In the 13 seasons since Head Coach Bill Belichick took the reins in 2000, the Patriots have had 12 winning seasons, made 10 playoff appearances, won 10 division titles, played in 7 AFC Championship Games, won 5 AFC Championships, and won 3 Super Bowls. Absolute dominance in their trade….

What Is “The Patriot Way”?

Over the years, the term, “The Patriot Way” has been injected into the sports lexicon. Patriots personnel and media alike attribute their way of doing business as the key to the team’s long term success. The organization has presented The Patriot Way as a cold, efficient, no-nonsense dedication to achieving and winning. They position themselves as an organization of high character individuals with limited tolerance for off-the-field issues and distractions. This…is The Patriot Way.

I have a different take on The Patriot Way. The Patriot Way is a clean shaven, coat-and-tie, modern version of the Commitment to Excellence – The Oakland Raiders Way…the late Raiders owner Al Davis' way. It is the way known for four decades by the motto, “Just Win, Baby!” And the Patriots have transposed it into their blueprint in the modern game with remarkable seamlessness.

The Raider Way

For you younger readers, understand that prior to 2003, the Raiders were the model of achievement in professional sports, not the laughing stock they became in the last 10 years as Davis aged, became excessively erratic (even by his eccentric standards), and the club was plagued by drafting and coaching fiascoes. They were the villains of the NFL. Fans either loved or hated them, but everyone respected them. More years than not, opponents feared them.

The Raiders had a reputation for taking big risks. They signed other teams’ castaways and rejects that Davis thought had high-level football ability remaining in their careers. The Raiders gambled on individuals with questionable character issues. They were renegades on the field: some say “rough”; some say “dirty”. Most would agree they were intimidating. 

The blueprint of The Patriot Way! 1

The South End of a Northbound Bull

Unlike the Raiders, who were openly frowned upon by the mainstream but were completely transparent in how they won, the Patriots have presented a corporate America-like face. They have been admired by the media and the critics. Behind the scenes, it is clear to me that they harbor surly and unsavory people and practices. What you see when the camera lights are on is not necessarily a reflection of what happens behind the scenes. 

The Patriot Way, Spygate – In 2007, former New York Jets Head Coach Eric Mangini reported to the NFL that Bill Belichick instructed his film crew to videotape the defensive signals of his division opponents for years, going back to The Hoodie’s arrival in 2000. Presumably, the Patriots would study them and attempt to use the information gathered in the return match. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was reportedly made aware of this practice the year before and instructed Belichick to stop. 

How did Mangini catch the Pats? Mangini was an assistant on Belichick’s staff before earning the top coaching spot with the Jets. And where did Belichick try to implement this tactic? In a Week 1 game against Mangini’s Jets. REALLY?!?!? Talk about trying to hide in plain sight…!

The scandal became known as Spygate and fueled a host of rumors and innuendo about other possible misbehavior. The Boston Globe alleged that the Patriots videotaped the walkthrough of the St. Louis Rams prior to Super Bowl XXXVI in New Orleans, the Patriots first Super Bowl win. The allegation was never proven and the Globe retracted its claim during the 2008 offseason. But the damage was done.

The Patriots were docked a first round draft pick and both the team and The Hoodie were fined a total of $750,000. Just the cost to do business…The Patriot Way! The Patriots have lost in both of their Super Bowl appearances since Spygate.

The Patriot Way! 2
The Patriot Way, Randy Moss – The Patriots acquired future Hall of Fame wide receiver Randy Moss from the Oakland Raiders (that’s ironic) prior to the 2007 season. Let me be crystal clear: there is no question…ZERO...about the talent Moss brought to the team. There is also no question that controversy and chaos follow Moss everywhere he goes.

Moss would go on to set a single season record for touchdown receptions, helping the Patriots to the only 16-0 regular season record in NFL history, en route to winning the AFC Championship. Three years later, in 2010, Moss would publicly throw the Patriots under the bus, demanding a contract extension. Moss was soon traded back to the team that drafted him, the Minnesota Vikings, implying that Moss’ antics weren’t in line with “The Patriot Way”. The Vikings would soon release Moss, with soon-to-be-fired Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress saying Moss was a “programmatic non-fit”. Moss reportedly undermined Childress with the last straw being embarrassing, rude behavior by Moss at a catered team event. 

Not bringing in off field distractions…”The Patriot Way”! Unless, of course, that player can help your offense break records and reach a Super Bowl…. 

Apparently "The Patriot Way" includes pulling the rug from under their franchise quarterback (Tom Brady, right). How many times have the Pats unceremoniously cut his favorite targets (Randy Moss, left) without warning? 3

The Patriot Way, Albert Haynesworth – Defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth was released by the Washington Redskins. In 2009, Haynesworth, a two time All-Pro, signed a $100 million free agent contract with the Redskins and then everything went to hell in D.C.. Haynesworth did not like the 3-4 defensive scheme that the Skins were transitioning toward (which would have rubbed out Haynesworth’s statistical contributions). He constantly butted heads with Redskins coach Mike Shanahan in 2010, failing a conditioning test in training camp and eventually being suspended for conduct detrimental to the team.

The Patriots brand of vulture capitalism surfaced, trading a fifth round pick for Haynesworth, a physical beast, just before the start of the 2011 season. The Pats had enough of Haynesworth, the last straw being a sideline argument with assistant coach Pepper Johnson during a game,  and released him late in the regular season. Haynesworth has not played a game since 2011. 

Acquiring disruptive players who are bad teammates is not “The Patriot Way”…unless you can acquire that guy for peanuts and he has the potential to blow up the middle of your opponent’s offensive line.

The Patriot Way! 4
The Patriot Way, Chad Ochocinco – Prior to the start of the 2011 season, the Patriots acquired perennial Pro Bowl wide receiver Chad Ochocinco from the Cincinnati Bengals for a pair of low round draft picks. Ochocinco was coming off of a relatively productive season with the Bengals, considering his age, the two games he missed due to injury, and the absolute ineptitude of the Bengals in the 2010 season. Ochocinco’s resume is a borderline Hall of Fame resume. His reputation is that of a “look at me” showman. Certainly not consistent with The Patriot Way!

In all fairness to Ocho, he kept quiet during the 2011 run to the Super Bowl by New England. Unfortunately, he was quiet off the field and on it, only starting three games and catching 15 passes during the regular season. Reportedly, Ochocinco had trouble catching on to the offensive system. The Pats would lose Super Bowl XLVI to the New York Giants and Ochocinco soon lost his job, being cut shortly after the season. 

Signing flash-in-the-pan showmen is not The Patriot Way! Signing such a player with the understanding he’d better tone it down is. Even when the former class clown transitions to the teacher’s pet, if he doesn’t shred defenses on the field, he is rewarded with a pink slip. The Patriot Way!

Ochocinco (left): I'm all on board with The Patriot Way! Brady (right): Don't get too comfortable on board.5
The Patriot Way, Aaron Hernandez – The embodiment of The Patriot Way is found in former tight end Aaron Hernandez. Hernandez was an eye catching, standout talent at the University of Florida. The red flags of behavioral issues and alleged gang affiliations caught so many eyes that this early round talent fell to the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft. Getting blockbuster talent on the cheap – The Patriot Way! 

The Pats took a flyer on Hernandez and it paid off on the field in a big way.  In Hernandez’s Pro Bowl season of 2011, he and fellow tight end Rob Gronkowski, with their size, speed, and hands, were too much for opposing defenses to handle, especially with future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady calling the signals. The Patriots reached Super Bowl XLVI, losing to the New York Giants. Hernandez was rewarded with a lucrative contract extension worth nearly $40 million with a record (for a tight end) $13 million signing bonus.

On June 26, 2013 Hernandez was arrested and charged with first degree murder in the shooting death of 27-year-old Odin Lloyd. The Patriots released Hernandez that morning. Signing gangbangers…if they can help you get to the Super Bowl…it’s “The Patriot Way”!

The Patriot Way! 6

Success can reveal the character of an organization. It can also help cover up or enable people to overlook some of its less desirable attributes. The Patriots have been a model of efficiency on the field. However, they are not to be heralded as superheroes hanging out in The Hall of Justice. They are just another championship caliber organization in the industry of American sports. The Patriot Way is just that – their way, nothing more.

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