Remember when the Patriots relinquished their draft rights to Christian Peter in 1996, maintaining that the behavior of the defensive tackle from Nebraska was “incompatible with our organization’s standards of acceptable conduct?”
According to reports at the time, Myra Kraft personally demanded that the team cut all ties with Peter, who had racked up eight convictions in seven years, the last coming one month before the draft when he grabbed a woman’s throat in a Nebraska bar.
Myra is gone, and so too, it seems, is any semblance of a Patriots’ philosophy of “acceptable conduct.” That is, unless their definition of acceptable conduct is that players can do anything they want off the field so long as they produce on it.
We give you Albert Haynesworth, Corey Dillon, Randy Moss, Aqib Talib, Brandon Meriweather, Brandon Spikes, Alfonzo Dennard, Nick Kazur, and now, Aaron Hernandez.
Makes you long for the relatively harmless old-school Animal House antics of Rob Gronkowski.
Hernandez, apparently, is in big trouble. He is under investigation in connection with a homicide, and his level of cooperation with police to this point has been minimal. According to authorities, the home security system at his North Attleboro mansion was destroyed, he mysteriously hired a team of maids to clean his house and he handed over his cell phone in pieces.
As of this writing, Hernandez has yet to be charged with anything. Even if he is, he might be innocent. But his sordid background, which includes a pending civil lawsuit for allegedly shooting a friend in the face in the Miami area earlier this year, suggests otherwise. His refusal to cooperate with police doesn’t help. Of course, maybe he just happened to drop his cell phone, his home security system went kaput and his home was due for a cleaning. But one couldn’t help but shudder at the sight this week of TV cameras tracking Hernandez’s white SUV as it exited Gillette Stadium. That was too weird for words.
Trouble for the 23-year-old is hardly unique. It’s the reason a first-round talent slipped to the fourth-round in the draft, allowing the Patriots to select him even as numerous reports warned about failed drug tests and other maturity issues. Not surprisingly, the ever cock-sure Patriots, who always think they know more than anyone else, were convinced they could turn the kid around simply by introducing him to the “Patriot Way.”
This “Patriot Way” mantra has long felt like a load of bull anyway. The Patriots are no different than any other franchise; they’re just a whole lot more arrogant about how they go about it. They will do whatever is necessary to win, and they will suit up anyone who can help them accomplish that goal. They will also quickly jettison players who no longer fit their needs, usually because those players want to be paid appropriately for their efforts. Ty Law, Lawyer Milloy and Deion Branch were early examples; Wes Welker is the latest.
I’m not saying there is anything wrong with this approach. Business is business, and the NFL is as callous a business as any in sports. But please, spare us the holier-than-thou attitude. It sounds good when Jonathan Kraft maintains there is a “sense of obligation that comes with [playing for the Patriots], because in my family’s mind, you’re carrying our last name as well.” It also rings hollow when those words are uttered at a press conference announcing the signing of a punk like Haynesworth.
The Patriot Way? It’s about as real as the Wizard of Oz.
Rob Duca was an award-winning sports columnist for the Cape Cape Times for 25 years. His work has also appeared in numerous other publications, including Sports Illustrated, the Boston Globe, the Baltimore Sun, Yankee magazine, Cape Cod Life and Golf & Leisure Cape Cod
Rob, I remember the Christian Peter thing very well. Back then, it seemed that the “Patriot Way” really meant something.
I suspect, however, that the period where “The Way” was real was brief and just a matter of happenstance. There definitely was a core of solid citizens in the locker room back then from Bruschi to Brown to Malloy and Bledsoe and it’s likely that a strong club house did develop. But was that really by design? I suspect not. In fact, I suspect that that club house and that era was the exception to the general rule. Then, when that group won 3 Super Bowls, it became legendary and the myth of the “Patriot Way” was born.
Another contributing factor was probably Belicheck’s completely unsentimental approach to player personnel: Where other teams would, due to things like loyalty, keep a player whose off field behavior had compromised his value, Belicheck would just cut the chord. I doubt that was due to any strong commitment to ethics, but rather it was due to Belicheck’s hard headed sense of reality: The same hardheadedness that has led the team to say goodbye to veterans rather than pay them.
Overall, I believe that the “Patriot Way” was real once, that it developed by happenstance, that IT was the exception not the rule and that – as you explain very well – it’s just irritating hyperbole today.