Last week’s column about the “Patriot Way” had some excellent points. Yes, Tom Brady is an elite quarterback who deserves to go out in style with more than three rings on his hand. Yes, the “Patriot Way” has slipped in recent years. But it is important to remember why and how it started in the first place: Myra Kraft, team owner Bob Kraft’s wife. In the fifth round of the 1996 NFL Draft, Christian Peter, a defensive tackle, was picked up by the Patriots. A week later, they dropped him. Myra Kraft, in no uncertain terms, said he had to go. A month before the draft, Peter had been convicted of grabbing a woman by the throat in a bar, his eighth overall conviction at that point. Myra pioneered the “Patriot Way” and after she got sick with and died from cancer, that “Way” began to falter. The worst and most public faltering has been represented by Aaron Hernandez’s “legal battles.” Let me be clear, Aaron Hernandez is not “facing incarceration.” He is incarcerated. Facing trial—for murder. That is not a trivial lawsuit. To fail to mention the reason behind his “legal battles” is a disservice to the man he is accused of killing. It is also worth noting that Hernandez was picked in the fourth round of the 2010 Draft, 113th overall. He had first round talent, but no one wanted to touch him because of his history at the University of Florida. This would not have happened before the “Patriot Way.” The Patriots changed the way the league functioned, whether anyone wants to admit it or not.
Another “brittle” tight end was drafted in the second round the same year as Hernandez, 42nd overall. This was not an investment after the dust had cleared, this was an investment long before that. If anything, Hernandez was an investment after Rob Gronkowski got injured. Despite his injuries, Gronkowski has proven himself to be a valuable long term investment.
Speaking of investments — to critique the roster of receivers for the Patriots is fair. They may not be doing so great now, but to critique the investment is not fair. You know who was a risky investment in 2000? Tom Brady. He went in the sixth round, 199th overall. Look how that panned out. Investments are risky no matter what you do. You could invest in someone that looks golden now, but could burn out in a year. Or you could invest in a 27 year-old receiver who has more years left to train up, to change and get rid of a 32 year-old receiver who maybe has reached his prime, and maybe is on the far side of the hill. Conversely, maybe he’s still climbing and you shouldn’t have franchised him.
The Patriots are not having a 2007-caliber season right now. But how often does a season like that come along? Considering how the cards have been dealt, I’d say the Pats are doing pretty well. Sometimes the team is more important than any individual. The season ticket holders who have been coming to games for 20, 30, 40 years now don’t keep coming because of Tom Brady. Yeah, it’s great to win, but they come for the team. It’s because of the fans that the team exists at all. The Patriots have a unique program when it comes to season ticket holders. If you get caught scalping your tickets for a game, then you’re gone. That’s it. If you want to hang on to those seats you’ve had for years, then you sell them at face value, back to the team so they can sell them to the fans who have been on the waiting list for 20 years, or the fans who can’t even dream of affording season tickets and just want to get to one game without selling their first born.
In 2001, when the Patriots won the Super Bowl for the first time, they did something surprising. They asked to be introduced as a team. They ran on to the field together, as the New England Patriots, because the team’s the thing, not the individual. Players sell jerseys. Teams sell tickets. Players win awards. Teams win championships.