Another rallying cry (cont.)
Posted: Wednesday January 16, 2008 4:28PM; Updated: Wednesday January 16, 2008 4:45PM
Now this. At 11:15 Wednesday morning, when media was allowed into the Patriots' locker room, Moss was waiting. This was a surprise. Moss talks almost exclusively in postgame press conferences, and almost never during game week. But on this day, he wanted to speak, and he did. Twice. First for about four minutes and later for nearly 10. Both times surrounded by a five-deep circular scrum of cameras, microphones, notebooks and digital recorders.
He was measured, passionate and plausible. It's too early to take sides or draw conclusions (the Sean Taylor case has taught us that), but Moss did a nice job of leveling the playing field when silence would probably have left him judged guilty, given his history.
"In my whole entire life of living 30 years, I've never put my hand on one woman, physically or in an angry manner," Moss said. "All I know is a friend of mine, a young lady, had an accident where she hurt herself ... And they called my attorney, try to get 'X' amount of dollars out of me [Moss later said it was "six figures''], and if we don't get 'X' amount of dollars, we're going to go to the press before this game.''
Moss issued several more denials and explanations along these same lines, but just as pointedly explained this frustration at becoming embroiled in such a situation after behaving and playing so well. "Throughout this whole season, everything has been positive,'' said Moss. "Why would I bring something negative? Come on.
"This is something negative, a black cloud hanging over my head,'' said Moss. "That's something I did not want, coming into the season, is anything negative. Everything I tried to do, from getting here early and making sure I eat the right food, all the way to practicing and playing good, I wanted all that to be an A-Plus.''
Moss said he went to Patriots' coach Bill Belichick last Friday and made him aware of the situation. Belichick's advice, said Moss, was to just worry about football.
Got that right. And he will. Because that's what the Patriots do. They worry about football. They are nearly distraction-proof in their ability to stay together, on-message and in the moment.
On Tuesday, Belichick addressed the media and three times used some variation of the phrase, "It's a one-game season.'' Three players followed him to the podium, and two others I spoke to in the locker room, all employing the same phrase. It is no accident. Belichick has hammered the media this week with the assertion that the Chargers have been the best team in the AFC since Thanksgiving. Yesterday, quarterback Tom Brady was on a national teleconference and, sure enough, he referred to the Chargers as the best team in the AFC over the second half of the season. The boss speaks and the players parrot. Either they believe in him implicitly, or they believe he will make them win, and either way, it is an effective management system.
The Moss affair will not dent that mindset. In fact, you can almost guarantee that the Patriots will use this situation -- one woman filing for one TRO -- as further evidence that the world hates them.
Think back to Spygate. In the wake of the videotaping incident on the opening weekend of the season, the Patriots closed the circle ever tighter. To a man, the Patriots took the blowback from Spygate as an affront to the dignity and professionalism of their franchise and, more to the point, their coach.
In early October, linebacker Tedy Bruschi told me that in the aftermath of the week 2 blowout of San Diego, when Spygate Fever was running at its hottest, he shouted a question to his teammates in the locker room, "How do we feel about playing for Bill Belichick?'' and received an emotional response. Those emotions carried deep into the season.
"I don't think we've forgotten about [the criticism],'' Bruschi said before the Oct. 14 game at Dallas. "Bill is our coach. We stand behind him, and we want him to know that. We consider ourselves to be a family. And when you single out somebody in our family and criticize them, we rally around then. We say, 'Come here, you're one of us.''' In that same week, Sports Illustrated's Peter King had reported that Dallas coach Wade Phillips had said Spygate represented a "black mark'' on the Patriots' dynasty.
That, too, fueled their work.
It is an old football tactic, to circle the wagons tighter in the face of criticism or adversity, and for coaches and players to create motivation from the slightest disrespect. The Patriots have made an art form of this method. Whatever becomes of Randy Moss in the legal system, his travails will only make the Patriots tighter. Stronger. And better.
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