Since my team (Pittsburgh) is no longer playing, I have nothing to write about, so I decided to jump over here and give you thoughts of an outsider looking into your organization. Of course, I am not telling you anything you don't already know, but I thought you might be interested to hear what an outsider thinks of the New England Patriots' organization. Quite simply, you are the gold standard of the NFL. You will not win Super Bowls every year - no one does. The competition is fierce and others will take their turn. However, you still set the bar for the rest of the league. If any team (AFC especially) wants to sit atop the mountain, New England is always one of the hurdles, many times the main one, to go through. So here goes. Here are my four cornerstones of the New England Patriots and why you are currently the gold standard in the league:
#1. Krafty Ownership
Bob Kraft was an extremely successful businessman before he became a football owner. He understands personnel and organizational structure as well as anyone. He understands distance. He knows exactly the right distance between himself and the people who work for him. He doesn't get too close, like the owner of the Cowboys, who smothers his coaches and micromanages, and he isn't too removed, like the owner of the Browns, who is never to be found. Kraft lets his people do work without breathing down their necks, yet is close enough for them to feel his support. Moreover, he is an outstanding league man. When important NFL matters are discussed, debated and negotiated, Bob Kraft is always in the huddle. What impresses me most is that he puts the interest of the league above his own franchise interest. It takes tremendous fortitude to do that. His New England market could have major advantages over most other markets if football ever went down the path of baseball. But Kraft understands that the chain is only as strong as its weakest link, so he votes for league strength instead of his own. Patriots' fans should be very proud of that. Moreover, when you do win, it is not because you have inherent market advantages. It is because you have deserved victory on a level playing field.
#2. The Combo
If there was a Mount Rushmore of NFL coach-quarterback combos, the images of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady would be carved alongside Lombardi-Starr, Walsh-Montana and my own Noll-Bradshaw. It amuses me how most of America thinks Belichick has the personality of a geranium. To the contrary, he might be the neatest dude in the country that no one understands. I probably wouldn't want to be the man's spouse - he is married to his job - but I would love to be his father, son, brother, best friend or next door neighbor. I think he is warm and caring to those in that group. His public persona, which he couldn't care less about, is jaded by his disdain for the media. In his mind, the media is a necessary evil and waste of time. Belichick could be looking at more film or working on a chalkboard instead of refusing to answer questions that do not help his team. He simply is not going to divulge any information about strategies, injuries or personnel that would provide intel for 31 NFL teams.
#3. Chess over Checkers
The Patriots play chess while the rest of the league plays checkers. I love my front office, and I certainly can't argue their first-round picks, but it sometimes frustrates me that we don't use all the weapons available when acquiring talent. With little variance, we simply wait for our turn in the draft to pick players. We move our checkers one at a time, one space forward. Most other NFL teams, while not quite as conservative as the Steelers, basically do the same, with an occasional trade here and there. Meanwhile the Patriots use all the weapons - rooks, bishops and knights, to make their team better. They take chances on free agents. While they certainly don't all pan out, the cost is minimum, meaning the Randy Mosses and Wes Welkers of the world who do pan out are far more asset than Albert Haynesworth is a liability. And draft day? Belichick becomes Bobby Fischer. The Patriots are constantly looking to trade up, trade down or trade players that will put them in better position. As a result, they come to the table with a pocket full of chips. Any poker player will tell you that the guy with the best chance to win is the guy with the most chips in front of him. How is it that New England usually has three of the top 40 picks when they always pick at the bottom? They play chess while others play checkers.
#4. Ahead of the Power Curve
Everyone knows that the NFL is a copy-cat league. Film travels like lightning. Do something well and the next guy will figure out the antidote. The game has been evolving with offense and defense one-upping each other since 1920. New England is ahead of the power curve. They don't react to others as much as they act and force others to react. Now they have a two tight-end package that no one currently has the answer for. Eventually there will be an antidote, but meanwhile, New England is working on the next rabbit in the hat that will continue to force others to chase them. In addition, the Patriots are constantly thinking outside the box. Mike Vrabel catching touchdown passes? Troy Brown playing offense and defense? Aaron Hernandez rushing for 61 yards in a playoff game? Julian Edelman all over the place? The Patriots aren't shoe-horned into stigmatic ways of thinking. They are forever ahead of the game, not chasing it from behind.
Again, I am certainly not telling you anything you don't already know. I just thought you might be interested in what outsiders think, or at least this outsider. Enjoy the Super Bowl. You have deserved it.