The Patriot Way is history...
The Patriots can't claim the moral high ground anymore...
Aqib Talib trade signals change in Patriots philosophy
The Patriot way is only about winning now
Team can't profess that its standards are different
These were some of the sentiments voiced by fans and media last week after the Patriots made a trade-deadline move to acquire cornerback Aqib Talib, a player whose background makes the likes of Albert Haynesworth and Corey Dillon look like choirboys in comparison.
At the forefront of these complaints is the notion that the Patriots have somehow set themselves up as moralists by continually touting the "Patriot way" and insisting that all players be held to a higher standard than other NFL teams. This implies that players with the background of Talib would never be welcomed on the roster.
The Boston Globe's Sunday Football Notes claimed that this move represented a radical shift in the thinking of the Patriots. The column bluntly directs people to "spare everyone any holier-than-thou notions about what the Patriots represent" and questioned "Where is the line on character for the Patriots." The conclusion was then drawn that the "Patriots unquestionably have become a win-at-all-costs organization."
I don't dispute that Talib is unlike anyone who has suited up for the Patriots in the Bill Belchick era. He likely has the ugliest rapsheet of anyone, and lest you forget, there have been some players with checkered pasts walking through those doors in the last decade. Having this guy on the team I root for does make me somewhat uncomfortable, though not unduly so. It's a football team that I watch on television. Do I get morally outraged at actors on television and movies who have ugly rapsheets? No. Why should I get that way about sports?
The issue I have with the tone of the column, and the comments from others in the media about the end of the "Patriot way" makes me think that the notion of the "Patriot way" is largely a media creation.
Quick, when was the last time you heard Bill Belichick up on the podium espousing the virtues of the "Patriot way?" How about never? Does Tom Brady in his weekly interviews talk about indoctrinating teammates into the "Patriot way?" Does the team send out press releases saying they passed on this player or released that one because they didn't hold up to the standards of the "Patriot way?"
If any Patriot former or present has mentioned the "Patriot way," I would say it would be Tedy Bruschi -- it is almost a pet phrase of the former linebacker turned ESPN analyst. From what I've heard, however, Bruschi uses in terms of how the team approaches things, rather than some moralistic code.
Mike Reiss in his mailbag this week stated the following in answer to a question on the topic:
I have never heard Bill Belichick talk about the "Patriot Way;" it's more of a media-born phrase. If anything, the idea of a "Patriot Way," to me, is more about what the player does once he is here. No matter the past transgressions, he gets a clean slate and the Patriots hope the strong culture they have in the locker room helps bring out the best in that player. It doesn't always work out, but this approach isn't anything new.
I would add that the "Do your job" mentality is also part of that. The way that the term "Patriot way" is used by many fans and media is very different from that description. As stated earlier, it seems to be used more as a statement about the character of the people on the team, and that they insist on only those of the highest fortitude on their team.
Dan Shaughnessy also tackled this topic this week with his column entitled "The Patriot way is only about winning now." He quotes Jonathan Kraft from August of 2011 as evidence of this moralistic superiority:
"If you're going to be a part of this organization, there's a responsibility and a sense of obligation that comes with it, because in my family's mind, you're carrying our last name as well.''
Can you name a sports organization that does not refer to themselves as a "family?" Or an ownership group who doesn't care about what reflection their team has on themselves? The Kraft's and the Patriots are not unique in this thinking. I don't know how stating that the organization is a family is somehow touting the notion that there is a "Patriot Way" that is moralistically superior to other organizations.
Shaughnessy further goes on to insist that "Belichick's bosses cease and desist with the once-quaint notion that the Patriots are different. ... You remember all that, right? Myra Kraft would object and Christian Peter would be gone. The Patriots were about family. Team above self. The Patriot Way. We do things differently here."
I don't recall anyone, even loose-lipped Jonathan Kraft, ever claiming any of those things that Shaughnessy put in italics above.
No, the "Patriot way" as most commonly used, is a media creation that has been brought in to use for the purpose of swinging the moral hammer down on the organization. Whenever the Patriots bring in someone with a checkered part, they can bleat and bewail the downfall of the "Patriot way." They can write columns about it, and devote hours of sports talk radio to wailing about how the Patriots have lost their way.
The only ones playing the holier-than-thou cards here are the media.
Bruce Allen is a Media Columnist for SB Nation Boston. Twitter: @BruceAllen.