Playing the usual game of show and don’t tell at Gillette
Welcome to Patriot Place, where speculation meets stupid, where secrecy and self-importance conflict with truth and information. Fans love their team. The team does its best to win. And the people hired to gather information about the operation are stonewalled because the organization believes that no good can come from disclosure.
It’s a fascinating game we all play, and it was beautifully demonstrated yesterday when reports regarding the team’s two most important players splashed down just five days before the season opener.
Randy Moss said, “It kind of feels like I am not wanted,’’ as part of a 56-second interview with William Bendetson of cbssports.com. Moss hadn’t said much of anything since February, and these inflammatory remarks were getting some serious traction yesterday morning when it was reported that Tom Brady and the Patriots were close to terms on a three-year contract extension. That report in now is a holding pattern.
If the Patriots were the Jets, we’d all sit back and wait for the next episode of “Hard Knocks’’ and laugh at behind-the-scenes video of players and coaches swearing and eating and joking about superstar contracts and player holdouts.
But the Patriots are not the Jets. The Patriots are the Nixon White House of sports. They see demons everywhere. They bash dissent, deny the obvious, and rely on a silent majority of loyalists (including some credentialed media) to pledge allegiance.
The Patriots have a Kremlinesque video camera trained on the assembled media during Bill Belichick’s press conferences. (Think they’d send me a highlight tape of myself eating cookies and asking keen questions over the last 10 years?) I’ve always wondered whether there is some in-house lackey responsible for logging the tapes and identifying enemies.
Belichick is brilliant. He is blessed with unusual intellectual curiosity for a man in his profession, and he is capable of delivering fascinating information. Veterans of the Patriot press room have learned tons of football during some of those informal Fridays when Bill lets down the guard and teaches us about the game he loves.
Unfortunately, that’s not what we get most of the time. Most of the time it’s the Stupid Game, as Bill fulfills his mandated media requirements while revealing as little as possible.
While the airwaves and cyberspace were buzzing with Moss/Brady reports yesterday, the Stupid Game played out at Gillette.
Asked about the Brady contract story, Belichick said, “I don’t have anything to report on contracts,’’ then, “You can use the same answer I used last week. If it’s the same question, I’d give you the same answer, how about that?’’ And “Right now, really, our focus is on the Bengals. That’s what we’re working on. As far as a lot of future planning and contracts and all of that, I’m not really going to get into those now. Our focus is on the Bengals, and that’s where we’re going to keep it.’’
When the topic came around to Moss, Belichick went into Terry Francona-on-Manny Ramirez mode, circa 2004-07: “I would just say on Randy that he is a professional. He’s had a good training camp. He’s played very well since he’s been here. He’s played at a very high level and I hope that continues. He’s well-liked and respected on the team.’’
Dodging the inevitable followups (got to laud the football scribes for trying) about Moss claiming he was unhappy, Belichick said, “He didn’t say that to me, so I don’t really have any comment on that.’’
Quarterbacks coach Bill O’Brien and director of player personnel Nick Caserio followed Belichick and followed the party line perfectly. Moss didn’t say anything to them about being unhappy. Randy has been nothing but positive. There’s nothing to add regarding Brady.
There won’t be much more. Brady speculation will run wild until he finally signs. If there is no new contract by Sunday, we’ll wonder how he feels about playing with no job security after all he has done for the franchise. Brady will smile and say nothing about it. The only information will come from unnamed people “close to Tom.’’
Meanwhile, we will watch Moss and report every nuance of every snap he takes. We will assess his body language. Randy will come out and speak after Sunday’s game and open the session with an arrogant, “Y’all get three questions,’’ then bolt after three precious answers. Maybe he’ll remind us again that he has big shoulders on which to carry the weight of the whole world.
In the good old days, the Patriots were able to win games despite the noise. None of the silly stuff mattered because they won.
It’s different now. Distrust and arrogance are a tougher sell when you don’t have the same talent and experience. If the Patriots don’t win, it’ll be hard to drown out the distractions.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.