“THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.” — Thomas Paine, "The Crisis"
“What the [expletive] happened to the Delta I used to know? Where's the spirit? Where's the guts, huh? This could be the greatest night of our lives, but you're gonna let it be the worst.” – Bluto, "Animal House"
I’ve been living, sleeping, eating and breathing the Patriots for a while now. This isn’t my first rodeo. And unless you’re an incoming freshman who’s new to town, or a 6-year-old who stumbled onto WEEI.com by accident while looking for Wii.com, it’s not your first, either.
So by now we all should have noticed a pattern here. We should have realized that there are at least two months during the NFL calendar that, while they might be great for other NFL cities, just aren’t meant for Patriots fans. One is March, the start of the NFL free agent period. That is the time for crazy, out of control, profligate lunatic franchises like the Washington Redskins to fill their shopping carts with overpriced free agents like Paris Hilton on a coke binge while their fans rejoice. And the Pats pick through the remainder bin for bargains, role players and aging, minimum salary veterans you never heard of. For things that make you go “Whom?”
The other time of the year that isn’t great for Patriots fans is … now. All of August and into the beginning of September. This is the time that tries your soul. The Pats never play well in the preseason. They make inexplicable roster moves. Cut guys you never thought they’d cut. Keep guys you’ve never seen play well. Give you zero insight into their injury status. And invariably go into Week 1 with a roster that looks overloaded in some areas and coked-out Paris Hilton thin in others.
While the Jets are performing the biggest, most shameless circle jerk seen on HBO since that hippie group was on “Real Sex,” Patriots fans are left to ponder the mystery of Bill Belichick’s methods like the Riddle of the Sphinx.
But it has been like this for 10 years now, so we should all be used to it. The dynasty was built this way. Belichick is the man who signed career “Who?” Mike Vrabel and made him great. Who cut Lawyer Milloy a week before the season. Who for years carried career preseason disaster Matt Cassel, who is now one of only 32 people on Earth who can write “NFL starting QB” in the “occupation” box on his tax return. What I’m trying to say is, Belichick and his organization know what they’re doing, and deserve as much slack as we have rope to give.
But as far as I can tell, they’re getting none. The Patriots have earned nautical miles of latitude. But all I’m hearing is attitude.
Honestly, it’s been years since I’ve seen the public mood so bad among Pats fans. You’d have to go back to the Pete Carroll Error, or possibly the year 1 A.B. (After Belichick) to find so much negativity. There aren’t enough 'o's in the words “doom” or “gloom” to describe the general tone and tenor around here as we stand on the welcome mat of the 2010 season.
A few weeks ago here I talked about the Boston sports media and its open hostility toward the Patriots. And while I don’t condone it, at least I can understand it to a point. The Pats as an organization treat the press like a necessary annoyance. The way you put up with bees because they fit into the food chain somehow. The Pats don’t play ball with reporters, curry favor or play grab-ass with them. And I imagine it gets frustrating after a while to try to cover a team that’s focused solely on winning and not on giving you printable quotes. And the frustration manifests itself in negativity. After all, the Nixon White House was pretty secretive. So when stuff started hitting the fan, Ol’ Dick didn’t catch much of a break from the nattering nabobs. I get how that works. But what I don’t get is why virtually every fan I talk to this year feels the same way.
Go on the fan sites like PatriotPlanet.com, and every other message board thread has a subject line starting with “What’s the deal …?” “What’s wrong with …?” or a simple “WTF …?” I was a guest on Planet Mikey last week and between the Red Sox and the Pats talk, it sounded like all the calls were coming from an end of the world suicide cult that had us on speed dial. Every time I talk football with someone this preseason and try to say anything remotely optimistic I get the same head-shaking look of disapproval I get from my kids when I try make them eat vegetables.
You want an example? I’ll give you an example. Laurence Maroney. LoMo’s career numbers are comparable to the guys drafted near him in 2006. And he’s the Patriots' all-time leader in yards per carry. (Seriously. Look it up.) But say something at all positive about Maroney’s production and you might as well be on Fox News supporting the Ground Zero mosque.
Or Randy Moss. He’s a rare talent and has been a model Patriot, and if you don’t like watching him play football you should just admit you’re not a sports fan and go apple picking this Sunday. But so determined are people to find fault with the guy that he can’t possibly win.
CBS Sports last year went so far as to send Mike Freeman to Foxboro to shadow Moss’ every move like gotcha journalists trying to catch state workers goofing off. So, naturally, Freeman saw exactly what he wanted to see: Moss giving a half-assed effort. And he didn’t let a little thing like 10 catches for 116 yards get in the way of a good story. Hell, Marvin Harrison of the Colts shot a guy in the street and didn’t face that kind of scrutiny. And this week Moss himself lit the torches of the anti-Randy crowd by talking about his contract:
“I am a little older and understand the nature of the business — the older you get the more your skills supposedly diminish, but I think I am getting wiser in how to use my physical skills. That’s the frustrating part when you put so much heart and desire into things and feel like you are not wanted.”
By the standard of Disgruntled Future Free Agents, that’s some pretty weak cheese. But still the comments set off the kind of storm Hurricane Earl was supposed to be. Tuesday, the airwaves were filled with clueless toolbags harping on Moss, saying he’s way out of line here, he’ll be a cancer, and watch, now he’s going to quit on us. Of course none of those knuckleheads had a bad word to say about Darelle Revis of the Jets, who, in the same situation as Moss, stayed home rather than work with his team to get ready for the season. Apparently, only Patriots players are carcinogenic.
I’ll concede that the Patriots defense has serious questions. Not because the Pats don’t have talent. They arguably could be the most physically athletic defense they’ve had in memory. But they’re also probably the youngest starting unit in the NFL. Short of having a rookie QB, I can’t recall a team relying so heavily on inexperienced players at one position as the Pats are in the secondary this year. And for the 10th year in a row they’ve opted NOT to have a pass rushing specialist on the roster. So any concerns are legitimate. But since when, when you have questions, does it mean the answers will all be “no”? Am I being naïve to put my trust in a coach who’s been figuring out how to coach defenses for 35 years now? Or should have more faith in the vitriolic trolls who’ve been harping on him every step of the way?
The answer is easy. I’m dancing with the coach that brought me here. Since 2001, the Pats have had the highest winning percentage of any pro team in any sport. Over a 100-game stretch they won 82 games, something no other NFL team has ever done. They won three titles and three years ago built what should have gone down as the greatest team of all time. Belichick is fifth all-time in winning percentage, and the guys in front of him are the ones they name trophies and stadia after. He didn’t get to this point by listening to the negativity of the clueless, mouth-breathing nincompoops in bars or on the radio, and neither will I.
At some point you’ve got to just cast doubt aside and put your faith in the one that’s rewarded it time and again. If for no other reason than the kind of success we’ve seen here is a rare thing. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to sit here with the “sunshine patriots,” racing to be the first one to say they called the end of the dynasty. F that. This Patriots run has been the best time I’ve ever had as a Boston sports fan, and I’m not about to let it be the worst.
I’m on Twitter @jerrythornton1