September 30, 2016

Six In One – Pats Pairings

by Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff

Everybody needs a solid partner. Johnny Unitas had Raymond Berry. Wyatt Earp had Doc Holliday. Heck, even a solo guy like Michael Jackson had Quincy Jones.

In about a month my partner and I will be walking down the slope to the Patriots practice fields to check out New England’s first day of training camp (I married well, if I do say so myself). In honor of our wedding anniversary Monday, this edition of picks involves the top half-dozen New England pairings during the Bill Belichick era.

Bob Kraft & Bill Belichick: Um… yeah. In other breaking news, Pangaea looks ready to separate into continents. We take this match-up for granted now, but remember, it took a couple of bad break-ups to get these kids together (Kraft and Pete Carroll, Belichick and the NYJ). Since then, Kraft has done a great job of letting Bill do what he does, i.e., create an expectation of winning. A blessing to any Patriots fan, long-term or no.

Tom Brady & Corey Dillon: You might think of Brady eloping with a particular pass-catcher, but when it comes to receivers, Our Tom gets a bit fickle. He’s had plenty of top targets, but only one top rusher. In 2004, his first year with the team, Dillon ran for a club record 1,635 yards at 4.7 yards per tote. Meanwhile, Brady passed for 28 TDs and a 96.2 rating, his best numbers until the insanity of 2007 (50 TDs, 117.2 rating).

And, oh yeah: 2004 was New England’s last Super-Bowl-winning season. If that doesn’t get you at least a little intrigued at how Fred Taylor will do in Foxboro, well then I just don’t know what makes you tick.

Randy Moss & Wes Welker: More than Brady and any one receiver, this tandem brought spectacular numbers to New England’s offense. They met cute in 2007 (one traded for a second-rounder, the other for a fourth) and hit it off: Moss scored a record 23 TDs while Welker tallied a franchise-record 112 receptions. They made it through a difficult time (The Game That Shall Not Be Named) and even found success with new acquaintance Matt Cassel last year. Moss and Welker brought the type of fireworks not seen at Foxboro outside of the Fourth of July. They hope to have a repeat performance this year as they reunite with Brady. Call it a renewal of vows.

Rodney Harrison & Ty Law: The wily veterans got to a point in their relationship that they could afford to improvise, at times switching positions to confuse quarterbacks (such as with Peyton Manning in the January 2004 AFC Championship). When Law went down on the hellish Heinz Field turf in the fall of 2004, Coach Belichick did an amazing job of improvising with the likes of undrafted rookie Randall Gay, receiver Troy Brown and oddly-named Earthwind Moreland. Blame it on bad luck, bad officiating, or bad hands, but since that season, the Patriots secondary’s playoff effectiveness has been only slightly better than that of Roger Clemens.

Tedy Bruschi & Mike Vrabel: Now that he’s off to revitalize the Kansas City defense, it’s time to give Vrabel credit for what he and Bruschi did together for New England. Whether rushing Kurt Warner into an ill-advised pass in Super Bowl 36, holding down the middle in lieu of the failed Chad Brown/Monty Beisel experiment or catching touchdown passes, Vrabel did everything asked of him except stop aging. Bruschi enters his 14th year in New England looking to continue contributing on the field and off, helping along the new crop of linebackers who hope to take the team into another era. This area won’t see a tandem like that in the foreseeable future.

If Belichick’s defense relies on its linebackers, the last pair from its three Super Bowl wins will be missed. How much they’re missed will depend on…

Belichick & Undrafted Free Agents: One aspect of NFL Draft weekend that New England fans have come to enjoy actually begins right afterward, when the Pats start picking up undrafted rookies. This year’s linebacker group will include Pierre Woods from Michigan, Gary Guyton of Georgia Tech and possibly Vince Redd out of Liberty. Whether it’s the linebacking crew or players like Gay, Mike Wright or BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Belichick looks like he sure can pick ’em, especially after others don’t.

Now a bonus pairing, in honor of my wife’s and my seven years together. Call it Six In One Plus One:

Patriots Place and The Fans: Yes, Foxboro Stadium had its high points, including its ability to amplify crowd noise (and its tendency to engender touching relationships – literally – with fans sitting on either side of you. Oh, you metal bleachers!). Still, what used to be little more than a plot of Astroturf in the middle of a parking lot is now a destination, a modern stadium surrounded by enough shops and restaurants to keep fans occupied between morning and afternoon training camp sessions. Plus, now that the hotel is open, we can watch practice, go to the spa, get some dinner and check out a movie.

My heavens. Maybe we should postpone our anniversary for a month. I’ll consult with my partner.

Chris Warner can be reached at [email protected].

Patriots on NFL Network This Week (6/17 – 6/23)

A highlight this week on NFLN is the 2009 Big 33 High School All-Star game live from Hershey, PA. The game, which matches up Ohio’s best high school players versus all-star talent from the state of Pennsylvania, has boasted an alumnus in every Super Bowl ever played.

Some notable players to participate in the Big 33 All-Star game include: Super Bowl MVPs Joe Montana and Joe Namath, Dan Marino, Matt Millen and Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The game will be seen Saturday at 7:00 PM ET on NFLN.

For Patriots-related programming this week, we have the following, which on the whole, is a much better schedule than we’ve recently seen:

Thursday, June 18

5:30 PM – NFL Replay: Miami Dolphins vs. New England Patriots (Week 16, 2007) (HD)

Monday, June 22

8:00 PM – Super Bowl Classics: Super Bowl XXXVI – New England Patriots vs. St. Louis Rams (with U2 Halftime Show) (HD)

12 MIDNIGHT – Super Bowl Classics: Super Bowl XXXVI – New England Patriots vs. St. Louis Rams (with U2 Halftime Show) (HD)

Tuesday, June 23

11:00 AM – Super Bowl Classics: Super Bowl XXXVI – New England Patriots vs. St. Louis Rams (with U2 Halftime Show) (HD)

9:00 PM – Game of the Week: San Diego Chargers vs. New England Patriots (2006 Divisional Playoff) (HD)

12 MIDNIGHT – Game of the Week: San Diego Chargers vs. New England Patriots (2006 Divisional Playoff) (HD)

There’s certainly alot to choose from if you’re doing some sports betting online this weekend.

Six In One – The UFL

by Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff

For our half-dozen points this week – and considering the drought of NFL action – it seems like a good time to take a look at the United Football League.

More football? Intriguing. You’re reading the words of someone who appreciates Canada’s wide-open-spaces version of the game, as well as Arena ball’s claustrophobic freneticism. (Good news, AFL fans: after having to sit out this winter, they’re trying to refresh for the 2010 season). It’s admirable that a group of businessmen want to start up another moneymaking league not called the NCAAs.

As a matter of full disclosure, I’d love to work as a UFL promoter. Maybe it comes from reading too much about Bill Veeck, but getting in on the ground floor of this thing looks exciting. Sure, it could be the XFL or the USFL, but it could also be minor league baseball: an inexpensive, up-close look at a beloved sport. 

With that in mind, six things for the UFL Commissioner Michael Huyghue to consider. And yes, I had to double-check that spelling.

Name Your Teams: The league has proposed starting four franchises this fall, yet we have no idea what the team names are and won’t until mid-July. Delaying this could become a huge problem as branding becomes key. In the early 1990s, the Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars made millions on memorabilia before the teams even hit the field. We’re a sports-nut nation: people enjoy new teams and tend to support their hometown franchises. Heck, if Boston started a WNBA team, you think they wouldn’t sell hats and jerseys?

 (I know the perfect name for that hypothetical squad, by the way: The Boston Banshees. As proof that no idea is original, I’ll note that this was also the name of a local cycling club.)

You’ll Thank Me Later: continuing on my naming hot streak, here’s my list of monikers for the proposed UFL team sites through 2010.

Hartford Locomotives – call them the Locos for short
Las Vegas Bats – avoids the tempting-yet-best-left-untouched gambling issue.
Los Angeles Mayas – Mysterious and powerful, with kick-ass graphics.
New York Squid – who messes with a squid? They come out at night and look weird.
Orlando Racerunners – a speedy lizard indigenous to Central Florida.
Sacramento Salmon – the Chinook swim up the Sacramento River annually.
San Francisco Kingfishers – a local bird known for its hunting ability.

Hey, Commissioner Huyghue, take any of these you like. I’ll just put them on my resumé. (A free t-shirt wouldn’t hurt, either.) Keeping with that theme …

Stick With Your Mascots. No matter what they are, eventually they stick with you. If you remember the debut of Wally the Green Monster in 1997, your probably recall cringing. Yes, Wally was better than an actual Red Sox mascot because socks don’t do anything except get dirty, get washed, or get lost. Still, having what resembled a nauseated, morbidly obese Muppet running around Fenway didn’t exactly inspire fan loyalty. Now? He’s beloved. Go figure.

The worst mascot ever was the 1996 Olympic symbol Izzy the Whatizit, which looked like a Saturday morning cartoon character inspired by Hieronymus Bosch. Why is Izzy the worst ever? Lack of commitment. Potential fans looked at that thing and thought, if the people charged with creating this monstrosity couldn’t take the time to figure out what it is, why the heck should I?

Seriously, they should have removed the lightning bolts, changed the shoes, and called it “Georgia the Blue Frog.” Nice and easy. The lesson: most names are kind of dumb anyway, but over time, they tend to grow on fans. Regarding the NFL, you don’t hear anyone asking questions like, “What, exactly, is a Packer?” or “What if Paul Brown’s surname had been Leibowitz?”

Although, you must admit, “the Cleveland Leibowitzes” has a ring to it.

David Beat Goliath: While the UFL has preached catering to underserved markets, their first four site proposals include Las Vegas (cool), Orlando (great), New York (what?) and San Francisco (unh?).  Not sure where they’re going with those last two. Yes, the New York franchises actually play in New Jersey, and San Francisco hasn’t been a regular playoff contender since stone-washed jeans, but we’re looking at two of the more rabid fan bases in the NFL. Put in a simpler way, while someone who owns a couple of Niners jerseys may hesitate to plunk down the money for a Kingfishers jersey, a Sacramento native who’s a half-hearted Niners fan would be more likely to spring for a Salmons uniform.

Improve The Website: This has happened over the past few days (serves me right for not posting this column sooner). The league has added video from various tryouts and taped interviews with noteworthy players (ex-Patriot Jermaine Wiggins is a fine example). Still, the UFL should let their designers loose, with the type of video-game graphics that cause psychological damage in lab rats.

I’m also surprised at the lack of in-house media promoting a fan-friendly face for the UFL. A broadcaster commenting on league events would bridge the gap between the league board and the fans. (Again, I’m available: not only do I write about football, I used to work out.) It’s important to see and hear some of the tryout players and coaches in action; it would help to have a media type fill in the blanks.

If You’re Going to Blog, Blog: As of Monday the 15th, Commissioner Huyghue had blogged three times in June, putting him two ahead of the Globe’s Bob Ryan but far behind most bloggers.

Listen, I understand that this “information age” in which we live contains a hell of a lot of useless information. What I’d like is a twice- or thrice-daily accounting of what the commissioner is doing. Again, this might be a job for his assistant or the aforementioned media person: is he in New York? Is he planning a trip to Las Vegas? Has he decided on names for his freaking teams? Make no mistake: the tweeting (twittering, whatever) has been consistent. Maybe he could stick to that and cut out the blogging altogether.

I know I sound critical, but I want the UFL to succeed. It’s fun to take on a new team and get involved in its ups and downs. It’s also difficult to have too much football.

Chris Warner can be reached at [email protected]

Six In One – Roster Realities

by Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff

As we head into the news abyss of NFL vacation time, six players on my mind this week:

Where There’s A Wilfork: Anyone else concerned about the contract status of Vince Wilfork? Because it sure scares the bejeebus out of me. Thinking that rookie Ron Brace can take the place of Wilfork this year undervalues the impact that number 75 has had on opposing teams (both literally and figuratively).

Maybe the Pats need money to sign a veteran pass-rusher like Greg Ellis. Makes sense. But it’s worth asking if a defense with Wilfork and, say, Pierre Woods on the outside is stronger than a Brace/Ellis combination. For whatever it’s worth, I think it is. It would feel awful to look back on 2009 and see this team as one top-level player away from gaining its fourth Super Bowl, much like the 2006 Deion Branch-less Patriots. So, please: sign Vince. It’ll be worth it.

Grading Pass/Fail: When New England went out and signed former Pat Patrick Pass, it told us a few things. Mostly that – despite plenty of chatter to the contrary – the Patriots need a fullback.

If anything, Coach Bill Belichick wants options. Former Pat Heath Evans never caught more than 10 passes in a season, but his blocking improved steadily in his time at Foxboro. BenJarvus Green-Ellis lacks the same receiving skills as Pass. Russ Hochstein? Really? We’ve got to stop looking at last December’s performance against Arizona, a warm-weather team who would rather have been collecting tolls on the turnpike than making tackles at Gillette. Right now, as the all-around fullback New England would want, Pass looks like the best option.

Seems a shame they didn’t give a longer look to former PD Q&A subject Tony Fiammetta, though. We would have totally had an in with him. Sigh.

Vinny, Vidi, Vici?: Not sure whether linebacker Vinny Circiu will make the team, but he’s got a solid chance to get a spot on special teams. While New England will miss players like Larry Izzo and Kelley Washington, it looks like they are cultivating a new crop of special teamers who have a chance to contribute as backups. Add 2008 starter Paris Lenon to the group (leaving all Lions jokes aside), plus stalwart receiver Sam Aiken and second-year pass-rusher Vince Redd (seven special teams stops in five games), and new coach Scott O’Brien has some bodies to throw around.

Go Fourth, Young Man: New Patriot Greg Lewis has been something of a forgotten man of late, especially with the return of Tom Brady and his two favorite receivers (Randy Moss and Wes Welker, for those of you new to this whole NFL thingy), plus the signing of zephyr-like vet Joey Galloway. Lewis, who joins Welker and Sammy Morris in the “If the Pats can’t beat ‘em, they sign ‘em” group, hasn’t garnered a lot of reports from camp this spring. Spring debates over whether or not Lewis would be a suitable third receiver have morphed into summer discussions over his special teams work.

In other words, this team is freakin’ loaded.

New Kid On The Blocks: Penn State’s Rich Ohrnberger joins the ranks of what New Englanders hope will be a class of underrated offensive linemen. As it’s near impossible to judge his ability when he’s kept from hitting anyone, we’ll have to wait and see how Ohrnberger (and Sebastian Vollmer and George Bussey) work out once the pads get donned.

Far be it from me to make a prediction (I think my call on safety Marcus McClinton making the team more or less puts the kibosh that happening again soon), but with plenty of contracts up in 2010, it’s a good year for the kiddoes.

Back In A Flash: Kent State quarterback Julian Edelman remains one of the more intriguing picks of the draft. The former Golden Flash has shown great quickness and agility in running routes at receiver, and according to reports from the usual suspects (Mike Reiss, the PFW guys, etc.), Edelman has spent a lot of time with Coach O’Brien working on special teams. At the very least, he’s got a shot to make the Michael Bishop school of preseason excitement. If he sticks with the team, he’ll become a fan favorite within about 24 hours.

That’s all for now. Next week, we’ll try to put together some thoughts about non-NFL football, which may be coming to a stadium near you.

You can email Chris Warner at [email protected].

Patriots On NFL Network This Week (June 5-9)

By Bruce Allen, Patriots Daily Staff

Once again this weekend there are some Patriots replays available on NFL Network. One of those however, is last season’s week 13 stinkbomb against the Pittsburgh Steelers, being shown multiple times. I don’t know about you, but I’ll be skipping that one. Maybe it’s just my Patriots bias, but it seems to me that most of the Patriots games they show on NFLN are games that they lost. The Ravens game from next Tuesday is an exception. In that one, you get to see future Jets head coach Rex Ryan call the ill-fated timeout that gave the Patriots another chance…

Also, Mike Reiss from the Boston Globe is scheduled to be in the NFL Network studios today to talk Patriots.

Here’s the on-air Patriots-related items this week:

Saturday, June 6th

  • 2:00 PM – Game of the Week: Indianapolis Colts vs. New England Patriots (Week 9, 2006) (HD)

Sunday, June 7th

  • 4:30 PM – NFL Replay: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. New England Patriots (Week 13, 2008) (HD)
  • 12:30 AM – NFL Replay: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. New England Patriots (Week 13, 2008) (HD)

Monday, June 8th

  • 8:30 AM – NFL Replay: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. New England Patriots (Week 13, 2008) (HD)
  • 2:30 PM – NFL Replay: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. New England Patriots (Week 13, 2008) (HD)

Tuesday, June 9th

  • 5:30 PM – NFL Replay: New England Patriots vs. Baltimore Ravens (Week 13, 2007) (HD)
  • 9:00 PM – Game of the Week: Chicago Bears vs. New England Patriots (Week 12, 2006) (HD)

Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Stop Hating The Jets…

ryanBy Bruce Allen, Patriots Daily Staff

…along comes Rex Ryan.

When Eric Mangini was fired following yet another New York Jets stretch run collapse, some might’ve thought that perhaps the animosity between the two franchises would take a little breather. Maybe the games this season wouldn’t be quite the over-the-top storyline-filled dramas that we’ve come to expect. Maybe it would just be about football.

If we’ve learned anything over the years, it is that Patriots/Jets is always going to be contentious, no matter who the faces on the sidelines are. Whether it was Weeb Ewbank, Joe Walton, Bill Parcells, Herman Edwards or Mangini, the games between these two franchises have always been circuses.

It seems clear that Rex Ryan aims to keep it that way.

The new Jets coach was a guest on WFAN’s Mike Francesa show yesterday, and when the subject of the Patriots came up, Ryan showed he isn’t afraid providing bulletin board material for opponents:

Francesa: You know this division has been dominated by Tom Brady and the Pats in a very big way and you also know it’s you know, you know what’s going on, you know that the Pats have a deep hatred for many reasons for the Jets and they love to beat nothing more than the Jets. How about the relationship and how about the idea of the Pats and their dominance does that mean anything? Is that something you specifically have to attack, because they have been such a dominant figure in this division?

Ryan: Well believe me we’re going to attack ‘em. There’s no question about that and you know whatever you know you gotta take it from then. And you know, I think last year obviously Miami wins the division…

Francesa: Well, no Tom Brady…no Tom Brady

Ryan: No Tom Brady and all that, and obviously, I think he makes a huge difference. You know there’s no question he makes a huge difference. And I played him before and things like that, we played with a team that won five games, and if I don’t call a timeout we beat them, at least that’s what everybody says, so I’ll accept that. But, I’ve got confidence that we’ll give them everything they want and maybe a little bit more, so we’ll see what happens.

Confidence is good.Quiet confidence has historically proven to be a better strategy than the in-your-face style, but this is the son of Buddy Ryan we’re talking about here. That was just the opening salvo, and pretty benign, overall.

Francesa: So do you think it’s important to send a message to that team or they’re not any different than anybody else in the division or does it means something because of the way they have dominated the division?”

Ryan: I think we already have sent a message to them, so that they can read between the lines.”

Francesa: Oh, you think you have sent a message to them?

Ryan: Oh yeah! No question. Yup.

So what is this “message” they’ve sent up to Foxborough? Messageboards are abuzz…was it a kneebrace with a fish inside it? Was one of the lesser-known Kraft boys kidnapped? Where there hang-up, crank calls placed to Belichick’s office? Was “stealing” Larry Izzo the zinger? WHAT WAS THE MESSAGE?

Francesa: In what way?

Ryan: You know, they can figure it out and when they come here the second week of the season we’ll see.  ‘Cause see, I never came here to kiss Bill Belichick’s, you know, rings. You know,  I came… you know, to win. Let’s put it that way and so we’ll see what happens. I’m certainly not intimidated by, you know, by New England or anybody else and so, you know again, I’m not a guy that is going to say well, this guys that. Hey look, Tom Brady is a hell of a quarterback, no question. I’ve got great respect for him, but I also have a great deal of confidence in the people we have in this building. Again, if that team can beat us, if New England can beat us, then they must have one hell of a football team.”

There’s a whole lot of rambling going on there. I just know that when the two teams meet and Bill Belichick’s holds out his hand full of Super Bowl rings, Rex Ryan is not kissing them! No way, no how.

And yeah, if the Patriots somehow manage to beat this Jets team, a team without an experienced quarterback, then we might as well give them the Super Bowl. Yeah, the Super Bowl is in week two this season. Didn’t you know?

Speaking of rambling:

Francesa: Coach, I would say that is music to everybody’s ears here in New York I would say. They loved hearing just what they just heard, you know that?

Ryan: Well again they’re probably…you know, they probably want to win as bad as I do, and I think, you know, we’re gonna put a team out there that they can be proud of and again, you know we’re going to try to have from the first day, the most physical team in the National Football League. I really I truly believe if, at the end of the day, if we can accomplish that then we’re going to be really successful and again, you know how I feel about it and that New England whether it’s New England, Miami, Buffalo, us, anybody else – Pittsburgh – anybody else. We’re all under the same salary cap so for me to sit back and say that, well, you know we’re going to… you know, let’s just, you know, kick and scratch and maybe be .500 you know, maybe we’ll see.. it’s their first year in the program… – that’s ridiculous.

What’s ridiculous is that Ryan went on, and on, and on after this, I just cut it off at that point. He went on to say how the Jets have the best coaches in the National Football League, the best facilities in the National Football League, the best support staff in the National Football League, and the best fans in the National Football League. You get the picture.

Earlier in the day, Ryan had taken another little jab at the Patriots during the Jets OTA media session, as reported by Roderick Boon:

So as Ryan talked about Harris and how he needed some stitches to close the cut on his lip, he couldn’t help but joke around in the same way that he’s done since he arrived on the scene.

“I don’t know how many,” Ryan said, referring to the number of stitches required to get Harris’ cut under control. “We’re keeping that from New England.”

Ryan is a sportswriter’s dream. He’s going to be entertaining, and fill their notebooks with quotes like the above. His last head-coaching experience was in 1993 with Morehead State. He has never been a head coach at any level. He has a rookie quarterback in Mark Sanchez, and the other quarterbacks currently on the roster are Kellen Clemens, Erik Ainge and Chris Pizzotti. The defense may well be very good, but unless he is hoping Sanchez can be Joe Flacco, then it could be a tough year for the Jets offense.

It also appears that he has the Patriots on his mind, perhaps more than he should. With all his talk, he’s at least guaranteed that one tradition will continue.

The Patriots/Jets games will continue to be fueled by animosity. Really though, could it ever be any other way?

On Rodney Harrison, and the Big Picture

by Scott Benson, Patriots Daily Staff

Word has it that today Rodney Harrison will announce his retirement from the NFL after a stellar 15 year career in professional football.

The good news is that we’ll be able to keep in touch, as Harrison is expected to immediately catch on as a television analyst with NBC’s Sunday Night Football.

So comes to a close a grand career – the only man to ever record both 30 career sacks and 30 career interceptions – that saw three Pro Bowl nods and two unforgettable world titles as a New England Patriot.

It’s one of the oddities of life that our last discernible memory of Rodney Harrison as a Pat may be his ill-fated defense of the Eli Manning pass that somehow stuck to the side of David Tyree’s helmet in Super Bowl XLII.

I’ve thought about that play. I wouldn’t have wanted another Patriot defending that pass. If Rodney Harrison of all people couldn’t stop that completion, it wasn’t going to be stopped.

But that single play falls well short of telling the whole story; Harrison was the consummate strong safety as a Patriot. A true presence inside with his physical, often chippy play (if he had remained a Charger for the last six seasons, we would have hated him, yet we loved him because he was ours, despite his flaws. That’s a real tribute to his effectiveness as a very valuable asshole…a champion asshole), Harrison also possessed the speed and range to duplicate that presence even in the deepest recesses of the secondary. I’ll never forget the time he grabbed a Ben Roethlisberger pass and raced the length of Heinz Field for a particularly delicious touchdown (the vaunted Steelers flat quit the play once he caught the ball) in New England’s second AFC Championship win in Pittsburgh.

I’ll also never forget that picture of Harrison after his first world title as a professional, taken from the playing surface of Houston’s Reliant Stadium. He stands triumphant, his arm in a sling, as red, white and blue streamers fall from the domed ceiling after the game’s close. He’s emotional in victory, just as he was when the clock was running, and the outcome was in doubt. In many ways, that single picture sums up the whole Rodney Harrison experience, at least as it pertains to his time in New England; broken maybe, a raw, exposed nerve yes, but most definitely and defiantly unbowed.

Even the HGH suspension at season’s dawn in 07 can’t dim what Harrison, a fifth round pick in 1994, accomplished as a pro. Here’s another thing I’ve thought about – I’m done judging whether this drug or that is legal when it comes to ballgames. These guys know the risk, and we fat asses in the stands ought to know the score by now. We as a nation opted for better living through science a long time ago, and believing this segment of society indefinitely exempt simply because they’re chasing a ball across a lot is – at best – naïve. Just as naïve as believing that this is somehow effecting the outcome of the competition; let’s just say it’s still a level playing field, and call it good. I got too much to think about as it is.

Anyway, Harrison paid the price (a four-game suspension during a historic 16-0 regular season), just as he did as a player every time he took the field. From my end, this was a fundamentally decent man and professional who I’m convinced did everything in his power, day and night, to make sure he and the rest of the New England Patriots were as successful as they could possibly be.

Like a lot of Patriots fans, I unabashedly loved the guy, and I’m sad to see his time here come to an end.

Yet at the same time, I’m pleased to see someone moving on so gracefully, and laying the groundwork for the team to do the same. I happened to see videotape of Harrison’s 08 season-ending injury today, and I couldn’t help but think that an even-slightly younger and healthier Rodney might not have been as discombobulated by a scrambling Jay Cutler as the present day one was. But the even-slightly younger and healthier Rodney didn’t live here anymore. Confronting a reality like that is done better sooner rather later for everybody concerned.

Yet today is a day for reflection, not planning. And our reflection is that for the fans, and for the organization itself, Rodney Harrison was a real treat, from the first play to the last. It has been our collective privilege to bear witness to all of it.

Final thought – in the big picture, and on balance, I think history-altering free agent signings like Rodney Harrison (and Mike Vrabel and Roman Phifer and Mike Compton and Anthony Pleasant and Antowain Smith and…you get the picture) should count a lot more than second and third-tier misses like Monty F***ing Beisel and Dealtha O’Neal. On balance. In the big picture. I. Am. Just. Saying.

Yeah, it’s been a whole four seasons since you were fortunate enough to get immediate and ultimate gratification from the personnel machinations of New England’s executives. But a great many of you have taken this “drought” as an excuse to gleefully show the worst side of yourselves; the side that’s a spoiled, whiny, self-involved, pathetically typical know-it-all asshole, convinced they know better than the men who on their own turned our meager fan existence into one of arguable NFL significance.

By the way, that’s the bad kind of asshole, not the good kind. Not the good, loveable kind, like the inimitable Rodney Harrison.

Scott Benson can be reached at [email protected].

Six In One

by Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff

Well, it’s June, a mere seven or eight weeks before training camp begins. Because the lack of practice does little to stem dreaming about football, Patriots Daily brings you these half-dozen thoughts this week.

While perusing the usual blogs, including Mike Reiss, Christopher Price and the PFW guys at www.patriots.com, consider stopping by PD for a few opinions (which we will give and take).

Comment, praise, flame away. Your call. In any case, here’s what I’m thinking…

The Fabled 18-game Schedule: There’s been plenty of commentary on the proposal for an 18-game regular season. If I could say something to Commissioner Roger Goodell, it  would include a reminder about the goose who laid the golden eggs.

You see, every autumn, the NFL lays a golden egg on Sundays. In the tale the farmer gets impatient and cuts the goose open for more eggs. No more goose. Regarding the NFL, I have yet to hear anyone complain that the season is too short (missing the playoffs notwithstanding). If we’re not going to listen to Aesop, we should listen to the players (or the players’ ankles and knees that, come December, start clicking and clacking like a Tito Puente tribute band). We could even get a lesson from “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire,” a show that ruled the air until ABC’s heavy rotation dulled its edge. The proposed schedule goes against so many clichés, it’s laughable, from “don’t fix what ain’t broke” to “everything in moderation.”

It has been argued that there are already 20 games played, but the final preseason tilt does not equal Game Two (see the capital letters?). Besides, scrimmages are a good way to evaluate backups and shape up the roster for September. With two fewer preseason matchups, Patriots fans could have missed Gary Guyton playing himself onto the squad or Matt Cassel running around like a rabid ferret. Yes, something should be done about paying full price for a fifty-percent product, but we shouldn’t punish the players for that.

This Is The Best Column Ever, Guaranteed: Just something that came to mind after Cleveland Cavalier Moe Williams guaranteed a series win over Orlando. Could we put the kibosh on the guarantees, please? While the word is defined in part as “something that assures a particular outcome,” what we need to look at is the original word “guaranty,” which involves a formal security. In other words, if you don’t fulfill your promise, you give something back.

Hey, I’m fine with that. The next time Ocho Cinco guarantees a Bengals victory and loses, he can give Cincinnati fans their money back. But these so-called guarantees mean as much as a million-dollar bet with a four-year-old. If you’re going to make a statement, back it up.

The Light of Paris: It’s a bit confusing to read about how Paris Lenon is too light for the middle linebacker spot in the 3-4. According to the roster, Lenon’s 6-2, 235, not much less than Jerod Mayo (6-1, 242), Gary Guyton (6-3, 242) or Eric Alexander (6-2, 240). The argument gains traction with Tedy Bruschi (6-1, 247), but since the days of Ted Johnson (6-4, 253), Pats linebackers have gotten smaller. Whether or not Lenon turns out to be another Monty “Missed Tackle” Beisel or Chad “Overpowered” Brown will have more to do with leverage and ability than five to 10 pounds. Won’t it?

My heavens, I hope so.

Surprise! (Again?): In preparing for if and when the Patriots sign an undrafted free agent this season, the top three look like Virginia linebacker Antonio Appleby, Kentucky safety Marcus McClinton and Arkansas cornerback Jamar Love. Though many have given Appleby the (far-too-early) nod, I’m going with McClinton. Based on the Pats’ depth chart Appleby is fighting Alexander, Lenon, Guyton and Vinny Circiu for playing time inside (not necessarily in that order). Love sits behind a crop of new vets (Shawn Springs, Leigh Bodden), second-year players (Terrence Wheatly, Jonathan Wilhite) and a talented rookie (Darius Butler) who many thought would go in the first round (and by “many” I mean me). Meanwhile, McClinton’s free safety spot has James Sanders starting with only Brandon McGowan and Ray Ventrone ahead of him. Going by sheer numbers, McClinton looks like the frontrunner.

Seriously, Coach Belichick. I make dozens of these decisions every week. Give me a call.

Some (Up)Tight Ends: Who among tight ends gets the boot in 2009? While many fans have grown tired of Benjamin Watson failing to live up to expectations, it looks like new Pats Chris Baker and Alex Smith could bump out David Thomas (which would provide yet another blow to the Patriots’ 2006 draft. Still, of the aforementioned top three, who’s the receiving tight end? Watson has good feet, but sometimes it looks as if they take the place of his hands. Neither Baker nor Smith is blessed with great speed (each listed at 258 pounds), which means that Thomas still has time to prove himself. It’s just that the clock appears to be ticking.

Patriots Offense To Struggle in 2009: Ha. Made you look. Think about what just happened there. If I wrote a column based on the above line, or about how the New England roster had grown tired of Bill Belichick’s surly demeanor, you might react to it. You might post it elsewhere, and more and more bloggers would pick it up. Kind of like if I’d reported a few months back that Brady’s 2009 season is in jeopardy. So, Tom Curran, Karen Guregian and Micah Warren, among others, seem to have jumped the gun on the bad news.

At least they didn’t make any guarantees.

Chris Warner can be reached at [email protected].