When thinking of “fun,” the New England Patriots haven’t often been the first NFL team to come to mind. That, of course, is overlooking the rather obvious assertion that winning Super Bowls has to be pretty fun for professional football players. Is that not why they play the game?
But something has apparently changed in Foxborough, Massachusetts over the past two years. For the second consecutive year, Patriots coach Bill Belichick canceled the final two practices of spring OTAs and ended minicamp with a team-building activity. What that experience would be wasn’t provided to the media, since media access to the players was also scuttled with the cancellation of practices.
Fortunately, the vast horde of reporters that covers the Patriots stayed on the story and uncovered some particulars. Well, it actually appears to have been one reporter: The Athletic’s Jeff Howe. How did the Patriots engage in team-bonding this year? Paintball!
Unfortunately, there appear to be no other details available and since this wasn’t a public exercise like last year’s team-building activity at Boston’s Fenway Park, no specifics are likely forthcoming. Maybe it’s worth keeping an eye on the social media accounts of various Patriots players for some peeks.
(Although, really, if you take out your phone for photos or videos during a paintball game, won’t you get lit up by the opposition?)
So the story of the Patriots’ 2019 team-building paintball game may be left to our imagination. Did coaches participate? If so, did anyone take the opportunity to exact some vengeance on Bill Belichick for any hard practices, film room lectures, or sideline vitriol? (Maybe not the best way to make an impression if a roster spot is uncertain.)
Did Tom Brady pepper any receivers with paintballs for dropped passes or offensive lineman for missed blocks? Maybe Matt LaCosse was looking to take out some of the competition at tight end. The same might go for the receivers who participated in the exercise.
And we’re talking about professional athletes who got to where they are by being very competitive. But was there anyone who maybe took the game a bit too seriously? It would’ve been Julian Edelman, right?
The idea that the Patriots don’t have any fun through the course of a season is a perception that team officials have seemingly been working hard to dispel in recent years. Many have likely always thought that playing for New England was joyless with a terse, no-nonsense coach like Belichick in charge and the business-like approach conveyed by players such as Brady.
Gripes from former Patriots like Cassius Marsh served to confirm that perception as well. Last year, Marsh — who had been waived by New England in November 2017 — aired his grievances over his time in Foxborough to the San Francisco Chronicle.
“They don’t have fun there. There’s nothing fun about it. There’s nothing happy about it,” Marsh told the Chronicle‘s Eric Branch. “I didn’t enjoy any of my time there, you know what I’m saying? It made me for the first time in my life think about not playing football because I hated it that much.”
Marsh also admitted that he was asked to do things he didn’t like, such as cover running backs and slot receivers instead of rushing the passer. But the no-fun narrative was continued by Philadelphia Eagles tackle Lane Johnson, who called Patriots players “robots” and said the organization was run by fear.
Whether there was any truth to those assertions or not, the Patriots were apparently concerned about that perception and have taken steps to disprove such notions. Still, it would be fun to hear more about this paintball game. Maybe that’ll happen during the next Super Bowl off-week.
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