Bring on Weekend (cont.)
Posted: Wednesday May 2, 2007 2:41PM; Updated: Wednesday May 2, 2007 3:10PM
Nor do I necessarily question the team's decision last Saturday to use its first-round draft choice on former University of Miami safety Brandon Meriweather, even though he was one of the players at the center of that ugly brawl vs. Florida International last season and was also involved in a gun-related incident.
But I'll tell you this: I sure am sick of hearing the Patriots portrayed as the sole NFL team with principles and integrity, while their 31 competitors are depicted as heartless mercenaries who'd employ, say, Mel Gibson if he could run a 4.3 40 and play press coverage. (He definitely knows how to backpedal.)
This is not to say that the New England roster isn't full of high-character guys. In terms of commitment to the team concept and love of the game, it doesn't get much better than Brady, Tedy Bruschi, Rodney Harrison, Richard Seymour, Matt Light, Troy Brown, Larry Izzo and a few other veterans. After several unhappy seasons in Cincinnati, halfback Corey Dillon was able to join the Patriots in 2004 and thrive without incident -- the theory being that these leaders were able to keep him in line.
"I've seen guys come in from other places and fall right in line, and the guys who didn't, they got rid of immediately," said Browns linebacker Willie McGinest, who, until his release following the 2005 season, was probably the strongest presence in the Patriots' locker room. "You can go all the way back to Terry Glenn, and then look at guys like Duane Starks and Tyrone Poole -- if you weren't with the program, you were gone. Meanwhile, people said Corey Dillon was troubled when they got him, and how many problems did he have there? The one thing he wanted in life was a ring, and he knew he had to do it their way to get it."
This is why, in McGinest's view, the Moss deal was a smart gamble for the organization. "You've got leaders on the field," he said Tuesday from the office of his L.A.-based record company, 55 Entertainment, "and that's the main thing. With Randy, people in there will be able to say to him, 'Listen -- if you want to win, you have to do X, Y and Z.' How many guys has he been around in the past who could say that to him with any authority? These are the types of players he's been losing to all these years and watching win Super Bowls, so he has to listen.
"He lost a little bit of his spunk and love for the game because of all that s--- he was going through in Oakland, but now he's on the dream team. So, if he's still got baggage and still got problems, something really ain't right."
As much as I respect McGinest, I don't quite buy the Dillon-Moss analogy. As miserable as Dillon was during the Bengals' dark era, I don't ever remember him being accused of quitting. Moss, as far as I know, is the only high-profile athlete to have bragged about not giving his all -- "I play when I want to play." He backed up his words by failing to finish routes in Minnesota and, once he got to the Raiders, outright dogging it as Oakland bottomed out.
Moss also said stupid and divisive things on an almost weekly basis last season and basically pouted his way out of Oakland. Because of owner Al Davis' shaky cash-flow situation (sources say he has been trying to sell a 30-percent share of the team for more than a year) and desire not to undermine new coach Lane Kiffin, Moss almost certainly would've been released by the Raiders had the Patriots not stepped up to make the trade. So much for the argument that Moss was taking a "pay cut" by offering to reduce his salary from the $9.75 million figure he was due to receive in '07; he was never going to see that money, anyway.
Next rationalization from the new breed of Moss apologists? That Moss, who by his own admission lost interest because the Raiders weren't winning, can be forgiven for that apparent sin because it's a sign of his competitive nature.
Really? That's an interesting way of looking at sports. Try this exercise: Imagine you're playing a pickup basketball game, and your team is trailing by a large margin and in danger of getting bounced from the court. If one of the people on your team -- say, the most talented player -- loses interest and stops trying, how do you feel about him or her as a competitor?
Have you hurled the ball against the backboard yet? Or just plain hurled?
Yet Moss -- and this is what bugs me -- is essentially being rewarded for having been a selfish, cowardly jerk. He just scored one of the plum jobs in football and, sources say, did so after several months' worth of being wooed on the phone by Brady, the emblem of valor and selflessness. Said one Patriots source: "Brady was sort of the dealmaker." The quarterback also restructured his contract to help make the trade possible.
It's hard to picture Moss not being motivated to be a good soldier in New England. If he shuts up and focuses and works hard for the next nine months, he may well end up celebrating a career resurrection, enjoying the fat contract that inevitably will follow and being re-branded as a champion who restored the Patriots' winning aura. If so, everyone will say and write that the Pats, because of their emphasis on character and integrity, were able to bring out the best in Moss, who was really just a misunderstood warrior all along.
And that, of course, will be complete and utter crap.
"I'm not mad that they did this," the former Patriots player said. "I'm mad that for all these years, when everyone wrote that their values were different, they ate it up. They're no different than anyone else, and they never were. We had a run, and the rest is just propaganda.
"I bought into all that stuff about the 'Patriot Way,' and then when I went to [a new team], I was blown away by how loudly guys outside of the organization shot it down. They'd say, 'You guys don't do s--- different -- you've just got Tom Brady.' I argued with them at first, but looking back, there was no lower percentage of jackasses there than on any other team. Some of the guys they drafted, even in early rounds, were selfish and unreliable and horrible to have around."
Those are three adjectives, based on Moss's nine-year body of work (and numerous conversations with those who've been around him), that I'd use without hesitation to describe the Pats' new deep threat. Yet when people I respect as much as I do McGinest tell me they think the move was a positive one, I have to at least consider that viewpoint.
"It was odd, them trading for Randy," he conceded. "I only get it because I was there. If I'm looking at it from the outside, no, I don't get it. Since I've been there and I understand how they can convert guys like Randy, I understand it, but I can see how others wouldn't."
I hear you, Willie. And I also believe the high-ranking Patriots official who told me that if Moss makes one false move, "He'll be gone -- period." Cool. Good for them. But, in the end, I can't sign off on the notion that the conversion of Moss will be as seamless as everyone appears to believe it will.
To borrow a term often used by a certain hoodie-wearing coach, I think Moss is what he is. At best, I see him doing what Terrell Owens did with the Eagles in '04 -- keeping things together for one productive season and triggering hearty portions of premature praise for himself and for the organization. At worst, I see him acting like a clueless, selfish, defiant malcontent who is physically incapable of stopping himself from saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.
Either way, can we all agree to put away the harps and halos when we celebrate the Patriots' imminent triumphs?
As the former Pats player concluded, "When we were winning championships, it wasn't just that we were good -- it had to be that we were smarter, more principled and more virtuous than everybody else. And now that I've thought it through, I don't understand why. Look, they have a great owner and a brilliant coach; they evaluate players well, and they have Tom Brady. Why can't that be enough?"
From now on, it'll have to be.
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