Monday, April 30, 2007
Dan Shaughnessy: This is a huge change from their usual route
April 30, 2007
Where's Bob? Where's Myra? And who invaded Bill Belichick's body over the weekend?
The Patriots look like they're going to the Super Bowl in Arizona in February. They came within a few plays of making it to their fourth ubergame in six years in January and they have addressed all their major needs in one of the most active offseasons ever.
But at what price? What happened to the sanctimonious standards they've set? For years they've been preaching team above self and telling us how proud they are of the fine young men who wear their uniform. And then in 24 hours they drafted a gun-toting cheap-shot artist last seen stomping on a prone opponent during a disgraceful brawl . . . only to drop the bombshell of the draft by trading for Randy "I play when I want to play" Moss.
So there you have it fans. No more talk about how the Patriots are different from everybody else. They very well may be better than everybody else, but talent seems to be the only measurement for a Patriots jersey in 2007. And most fans will be OK with that. Foxborough Sundays this fall are going to be wildly entertaining.
Close your eyes and imagine Tom Brady throwing to Moss. There'll be no more worries about "stretching the field." No more dependence on the guy (Reche Caldwell) with the Calvin Schiraldi Eyes. Moss has 101 touchdown receptions in his nine seasons. He may have lost a step, but he's way better than anyone the Patriots have and he gives Brady a weapon he's never had. It's likely to bring out the best in Ben Watson, too.
Moss's rap sheet goes back to his teen years. He went to jail for 30 days when he was a high school senior after pleading guilty to an assault charge. A positive test for marijuana while he was in jail added 60 days to his sentence. In 1996 he was charged with domestic battery after an altercation with the mother of his two children, but the charges were dropped (as they so often are in those cases). Then there was the Minneapolis arrest for nudging and knocking down a female traffic agent with his car in 2002. There was a little weed in Randy's vehicle, but we doubt it was his stuff. No big deal.
There's also Moss's multiple crimes against sport. He's the guy who left the field in a game against the Redskins when there was still time remaining on the clock. Video inspection regularly reveals him taking plays off when he is not a primary option. He doesn't like to block, and his "I play when I want to play" remark is not something you'd expect to hear from Rodney Harrison or Tedy Bruschi.
Oh, and then there was the episode in Green Bay when he simulated mooning the fans and using a goalpost to wipe his butt. Sheryl Crow might have applauded the act in the interest of paper-saving, but Joe Buck aptly described it as "disgusting."
There'll be voluminous verbiage in upcoming weeks about the Patriots' unique ability to make over troubled talents. Corey Dillon will be cited as a guy who changed his behavior once he donned a Flying Elvis helmet. Indeed, Dillon was a model citizen off the field while he was here and he got the ring he'd coveted.
In this spirit, it's assumed Moss will drink the Gillette water, see the light, and become a humble, quiet, and selfless team guy. There's some arrogance to this -- the same arrogance that assumes the other 31 NFL head coaches and front offices are clowns and jokers. But there's also some truth to the assumption that a lot of players get smarter and more coachable when they come to New England.
From a football perspective, the acquisition of Moss isn't much of a gamble. The Patriots gave up only a fourth-round pick, and Moss agreed to restructure his odious contract. If he's got anything left, it's a steal of a deal. We get to see Brady throw the deep ball to a guy who can go up and get it.
Meanwhile, if Moss goes into knucklehead overdrive, the Patriots can just say goodbye. That's the beauty of the NFL. Management always has the hammer.
In his news conference yesterday (done via conference call even though Moss was at the stadium earlier in the day), Moss went into Mark McGwire speak saying he didn't want to talk about the past. He blamed most of his problems on the media (always a popular strategy), and said, "I have never been a selfish ballplayer."
It's a lie. A guy who says, "I play when I want to play" and a guy who walks out on his team while the game is still going certainly deserves a reputation as a selfish player. But that doesn't mean he can't change now that he's a Patriot.
While we're on the topic of fibbing, here's this whopper from Bob Kraft (as told to the Globe's Mike Reiss): "I don't think we've changed our philosophy."
Wow. Tell that one to Christian Peter.
Maybe Moss will morph into Troy Brown. But the public perception of the Patriots -- something very dear to Kraft -- is forever changed. His football men successfully bounced the Red Sox-Yankees off the landscape for a couple of days (which Kraft is obsessed with) and made his team better, but back in March he was still bragging about a locker room stuffed with "the kind of people . . . who fit the profile of what we want."
Brandon Meriweather doesn't fit that profile. Moss doesn't fit that profile. Which makes one wonder if this wild spree represents any split at the top of the Foxborough masthead.
Belichick and Scott Pioli are proven champion-builders and have been given the freedom to buy all the groceries, but Kraft must have some serious reservations.
Say goodbye to that high moral ground, Bob. The Patriots this weekend put their standards on the shelf in the quest for victory. They might be the best team in football, but the Patriots are no longer "different" from all the other NFL organizations.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.