Saturday, January 06, 2018

The War of the Patriots' Succession

In the first season of the '90s cop show "Homicide," David Simon's first hit, a rookie to the homicide squad, played by Kyle Secor, complains to his veteran partner Andre Braugher about the lack of camaraderie in the squad. "In my old (name of squad here), we'd do things together. It was more like a family."

      "Oh, we're like a family," replies Braugher's character, "a REAL family." He then goes on to explain how Homicide's various rivalries, jealousies, bad personal relationships, grudges, etc. were a spur that drove each cop to excel at their individual jobs.

That scene popped back into my mind after many years while reading Seth Wickersham's ESPN article on the Patriots in 2017, because it was my main takeaway from the engrossing story. The Patriots are a REAL family as written by Simon. It's part of the reason they win so much. If they win the Super Bowl again, a reasonable bet right now, it will be (slightly) the result of discord at the top, not in spite of it.

There is absolutely nothing, nothing at all, described by Wickersham that hasn't happened to some other highly successful team in NFL history, no all of pro sports history, at some point. Alex Guerrero's weirdness adds spice to mix, for example, but rest assured other star players have had confidantes, business partners, dealers, etc. whom management found most problematic. It's actually sweetly wholesome that the franchise and the business partner of its star player Tom Brady were at odds over methods of proper nutrition and exercise. He could've been selling Bitcoins after all.

Hall of Fame quarterback jealous and resentful of who he perceives as his designed replacement? Joe Montana and Steve Young could each speak at length on that topic. A pair of ferociously competitive and talented people who know damn well there's only one job for them are seldom going to be best of friends.

An owner making a vital personnel decision with his heart overruling a coach using his head? Why, we don't even have to look outside Boston for that one. As a rookie columnist in 1990, I wrote that if the Celtics didn't trade Larry Bird while he still had value, they were doomed to a long spell in the sub-.500 wilderness. Boy, were people mad at me, both inside the Celtics and out (Larry wasn't though. He respects cold-bloodedness). Management went with its heart, and the wilderness was duly entered.

As an older columnist, I came to partially regret my rash if correct proposal. Sports without sentiment isn't much fun. If the Celtics wanted Bird to stay with them until retirement, that was an understandable and laudable sentiment. If Bob Kraft feels the same way about Tom Brady, I understand and sympathize. Kraft was a Pats fan before he became the Pats' owner. He made a fan's call on an owner's decision. No owner can pay two starting QB salaries. He must pick one, or let the coach do it.

Did Belichick want to keep Jimmy Garoppolo and let Brady go after this season? Bill will never tell, although he might leak. For the purpose of more clicks, let's assume he did. That would certainly explain his dealing Garoppolo to the 49ers, a team where the quarterback could both start right away and a franchise with lots of cap space to make Garoppolo rich if he did well. In the past, when Belichick has traded a player because of contract issues, the coach has seemingly gone out of his way to ship the recalcitrant to the worst possible situation.

In the final analysis, Wickersham's story boils down to an owner siding with his superstar player over his coach. Even with Hall of Fame coaches, that's not exactly a new story. Art Modell fired Paul Brown, the only coach whose record is match for Belichick's because the coach and Jim Brown were at odds.

What will Belichick do next? Well, for the next month, he'll spend 19 hours a day thinking about how to win three more football games. Brady will do the same. They'll spend much time together, and believe me any past frictions will never come up. As both Belichick and Bill Parcells have said of each other, "we did a lot of winning together." That is football's ultimate bond. In the heat of battle, it outweighs any other relationship issue by tons.

When the battle's over? Until yesterday, I thought speculation Belichick would leave the Pats was hooey. Why should he? Why not ride the Good Ship Brady until it sinks, then transfer to his yacht and sail for Nantucket.

Then Jon Gruden signed that 10-year, $100 million contract with the Raiders, and my assessment changed. If Gruden, out of coaching for as long as I've been out of journalism, is worth $100 mill on the free market, what's Belichick worth? Belichick'd have to be as inhuman as his public image not to be curious as to that question's answer.

And Belichick is not inhuman. Nor are Kraft and Brady. They are full of personal goals, strong emotions and messy interactions just like the rest of us. The only surprise in Wickersham's story comes from its readers. Are they surprised to learn that Hall of Famers are people? If so, how sad.

Does Wickersham's story damage its three principals? Not as far as I'm concerned. I have no idea why any Patriots fan would resent a word of it, that is, I wouldn't if I didn't know why some do to the point of hysteria. They are victims of the myth of the Patriot Way.

The Patriot Way in reality is, "we do what it takes to win games." The myth has embellished that homely truth to present New England's offices and locker room as a sanctuary for self-abnegation, where the TEAM comes first, last and in-between and never is whispered a personal agenda. It's a myth fit for eight-year olds and it doesn't speak well of any adult who believes it. If the myth is now biting Kraft, Belichick and Brady in the ass, they are learning myths have a way of turning on their creators.

The unmatched historic success of the New England Patriots rests on how its guiding lights, Kraft, Belichick and Brady, have been able to convince themselves and everyone else in the franchise that their personal agendas, which no person is without, and the team's goals ran in the same direction. Often they did, sometimes they didn't, but they did so often enough to help win five NFL titles and counting.

This morning, Brady and Belichick's personal goals are exactly the same. The next title. Their working relationship will be excellent. After the season, they will return to being actual people and we'll see what happens. For now, they are Quarterback and Coach, two characters that are part human and a damn bigger part Football.


Post a Comment

<< Home