Even before Aaron Hernandez's arrest on murder and gun charges, many were ready to dub the situation the end of "The Patriot Way."
However, the Patriots Way is still alive and well, and this unfortunate chapter is only more proof of it.
The Patriot Way was born the moment the 2001 Patriots were introduced at Super Bowl 36 as a team instead of individuals. In that moment, for right or wrong, the Patriots were dubbed as a collection of unheralded hard-workers who beat better teams simply because they were more of a team.
The reputation of the Patriot Way stuck with the Patriots since that moment 12 years ago and carried on simply because Bill Belichick and Tom Brady were still at the franchise's forefront. Outside of them, none were present for that first Super Bowl win.
But the Patriot Way has grown into an over-romanticized media concoction and is now held over the Patriots' heads whenever they or their players slip up—on or off the field.
Shaughnessy revived this quote from Jonathan Kraft as evidence of the organization's pride in the Patriot Way:
"If you’re going to be a part of this organization, there’s a responsibility and a sense of obligation that comes with it, because in my family’s mind, you’re carrying our last name as well,’’ Jonathan Kraft said after the Patriots signed Albert Haynesworth in 2011. “We just want [them] to understand what it means to be a Patriot and that there are certain things that are as important to us, and in some cases, more important to us, than winning.’’
The Krafts are the target of both Shaughnessy and Borges, while Marvez uses a quote from Scott Pioli, but the opinion is the same: that the Patriots front office preaches a holier-than-thou approach with its personnel.
But the history is clear. The Patriots were never averse to taking a chance on a player with past off-the-field troubles. Maybe the 2001 team lacked any egregious examples (see Bryan Cox), but that never meant the Patriots were a team built only of saints by decree.
Since then, the Pats have taken chances on many players with spotty pasts, with Rodney Harrison and Corey Dillon being the first and most famous examples. Some, like Dillon, have worked out. Others, such as Brandon Meriweather, Albert Haynesworth, Brandon Tate and Chad Johnson, did not.
But all received a clean slate and a fair chance to prove they could help the team win.
The Patriot Way has never been about the standard of conduct in New England, though as far as players who have fallen out of line, the organization has stayed true to the words Jonathan Kraft spoke.
After his arrest, Aaron Hernandez's release was swift and done without concern for the financial ramifications.
So now, with the media circus that has surrounded Hernandez's investigation and subsequent arrest, there has been plenty of speculation that the Patriots are no longer living up to an ideal that was bestowed upon them after their idealistic introduction in New Orleans in February 2002.
But this latest controversy has only reinforced the real meaning of the Patriot Way, and that has always been about putting the team above yourself and focusing on football as the first and only priority.
Simply put, it comes down to Bill Belichick's favorite line: "Do Your Job." The very words on the player's entrance to the stadium.
That is the Patriot Way, and players who can follow that mantra can find a home and excel in New England regardless of their past. And if they cannot, they'll be discarded immediately and without remorse, just like Hernandez was.
Whether you're a first-round pick, an off-the-street free agent or have a history of run-ins with the law, there's no prejudice when you take the field in New England.
That is truly idealistic.
Being the only football team in history with a full roster of great guys with clean pasts? Unrealistic, especially in football. Hockey? Maybe.
The Patriots continue to give players second chances, yet instead of being credited for it, they're reprimanded for "losing their way."
The 2001 Patriots were a special team, but the fascination with them set an unattainable and hyperbolic precedent. The real Patriots Way is alive and well, and it's not about answering to a higher moral authority for all personnel decisions.
It's always been about football and will continue to be.
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