If the start of the NFL season is akin to Christmas Day, then the first day of Training Camp has all the excitement of at least Thanksgiving.
Tomorrow morning the New England Patriots, arguably the most scrutinized, magnified, analyzed, talked-about team of the offseason, will take to the practice fields across from Gillette Stadium and show off what they’ll be working with this season.
It would be easy to dismiss the Pats already, as many have. The scandal involving former tight end Aaron Hernandez is nothing short of tragic and the ripple effect it has one an offense built to score points has yet to be seen. But tomorrow will offer the first true glimpse the public has had of the team since Hernandez was arrested.
But there’s a bigger story here than training camp. Over the last couple of days, Bill Belichick has made a sincere, heartfelt (even emotional) statement about Hernandez and Tom Brady, Vince Wilfork and other team captains put in their two cents. The resounding sentiment? From the top down, the Patriots want to prove they can overcome the loss of one key player and be a better example for their community than their former teammate.
That’s great and all, but can they win without Hernandez? And Wes Welker? And with an oft-injured Rob Gronkowski? And a defense built to hold a lead, not win games?
Yes. Yes they can.
I believe in the New England Patriots.
I believe if you have good coaches and good front office leadership, you can overcome loss and injuries.
I believe if you have a mechanically sound, elite quarterback, you can compete with any team in the league.
I believe if you emphasize teamwork over individual success, you can bring 53 guys together in times of hardship.
I believe in the system Belichick has put in place over the last 13 years and I don’t believe one player has the power to nullify all the good it has done.
Will the Patriots win the Super Bowl this season? Who knows? They could. But if they don’t, it won’t be because of Aaron Hernandez. Or any other individual.
What scares people about the Patriots this season is the unknown. For the last 12 years, it has just been assumed that they would win the division, have a solid record, advance in the playoffs, and be a Super Bowl contender. That’s not a given this season. Yet, has it ever really been a given in recent years?
It seemed to be a given in 2010, when the team went 10-6 and then were blown out of the wild card round of the playoffs by the Baltimore Ravens.
It seemed to be a given in 2011, when the team went 14-2 and then were bounced from the divisional round of the playoffs by the New York Jets.
There is no certainty in football. Of all the professional leagues, it is the most precarious.
So for once, Patriots fans just have to enjoy the ride without knowing what, exactly, will be taking the field come September.
A whole new world indeed.