Yesterday, Rodney Harrison and Leon Gray were inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame. It was a great event — one that saw perhaps the greatest offensive lineman in NFL history, John Hannah, talk about the greatness of his good friend Leon Gray (who passed away in 2001), both as a player and a person. It had heartfelt speeches from Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick, and, of course, Rodney Harrison.
But there was something else that was on display as well: the impact that the alumni, especially the ones who played for Belichick, have on the current team.
It’s no secret that Bill Belichick values the positive impact that his retired veterans can have on his current team. Just this season, he hired Jerod Mayo as outside linebackers coach and also brought Troy Brown in to assist during practice. He worked with Pepper Johnson for years, and he even asked Harrison to coach for him. That’s a different story for a different day, but let’s say that I think, if he could have everything, he’d be in Foxboro coaching.
Nevertheless, it’s the alumni who don’t coach whose impact can be seen on days like Monday. Lawrence Guy said that “the Patriot Way has not changed since they played until now. You see how the development of the team keeps growing and growing from sticking to one way.” The players today are able to look at these ‘legends’ (Guy’s word, not mine, but I like it) and see that they put the same type of work in.
Those past greats listened to the same coach tell them how things were supposed to be done, and they have multiple rings to show for their effort. These newer Patriots now also have multiple rings to show for their work. The group is always changing, though, and it is great to have such a talented and experienced collection of players that bought into the system and are now showing the new blood how things work.
It’s also not just in the way guys handle themselves and work together in the locker room. After practice, Willie McGinest was working with some of the younger defensive linemen on hand positioning, and was later holding court with a group of D-linemen that included, among others, first-year Patriots Michael Bennett and Chase Winovich. Because, make no mistake about it, coach Belichick is extremely important, and his system is great, but these alumni are incredibly talented.
I think what Belichick has done is coaching them to be as smart off the field as they are on it. Think about how many former players are coaches or analysts. It’s not a coincidence that so many of them can effectively communicate their knowledge of the game to others. When those players come back, as they so often do, they bring with them the wisdom that they learned in this system, and they come ready to teach.
They ensure the Patriot Way continues on, as it is not only Bill Belichick’s legacy, but also their own.
Pat is a host of The Patriot Nation Podcast
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