Listen: If there’s one thing I know after having played for the Patriots for 13 years, it’s that you don’t wanna be late to a Bill Belichick meeting.
So when I woke up one morning in December 2000 and realized that there was a team meeting starting in 20 minutes, I immediately thought, Oh, shit….
Then I threw the sheets off, looked out the window and saw the first snowfall of the season.
I’m a Louisiana boy, born and bred. This was only my second season in New England, so this was only my second year of experiencing snow. And it wasn’t the kind that we used to occasionally get down South where it would hit the ground and immediately melt.
This was Northeastern snow — the kind that sticks.
I lived approximately 15 minutes from the Patriots facility — I knew because I had timed the drive just in case I ever found myself in a situation like this. But the snow was a wild card. In those conditions, I didn’t know how long it was going to take me to get to the facility.
I just knew that I was probably gonna be late.
I had seen guys get fined for being late to meetings before, but this wasn’t just any meeting. This was a Saturday morning meeting, the day before a game. Being late would be inexcusable. So there was no hesitation. No brushing my teeth or taking a shower. I mean, it was like 20° outside and I didn’t even put on winter clothes. I just grabbed the first jacket I saw, threw on some slippers and jumped into my car in the sweats I had slept in, and took off.
The drive was hilarious. I was like a police officer, driving with my hazard lights flashing and weaving in and out of traffic in the ice and snow.
Now, if you’ve ever driven in or around Boston, you know that Bostonians — like most people — don’t take too kindly to being cut off. So I had people honking their horns at me and shaking their you-know-which fingers at me, and I was like, “I’m sorry! I’m late for a Bill Belichick meeting!”
If they had only known my situation….
So I finally arrived at the facility, pulled into the parking lot and threw the car into park. I don’t even think I locked the doors. I just got out and hit the ground running, full sprint, through the snow, in slippers.
As I approached the building, I saw Coach Belichick walking into the meeting room, so I went around to check the back door. Thankfully, it was open, and I slid in the back way and into an open seat. By the time coach turned to address the team, I was sitting down, sweating, and pretending like nothing had happened.
And then he looked directly at me. He didn’t say a word. He just gave me this you’re-lucky-you-made-it kind of look.
Coach always knows.
Damian Strohmeyer/SI/Getty Images
I’ve heard people talk about the Patriot Way. I don’t know where that phrase originated, but I think somebody in the media said it first, and it just kind of stuck. We actually used to laugh about it sometimes in the locker room. Like, The Patriot Way … what does that even mean?
And it’s like people are always trying to define it in different ways.
Some people say it’s the way Coach Belichick runs the team, preaching accountability and placing a strong emphasis on doing your job. Some say it’s our style of play, with Tom Brady as our quarterback. But truthfully, it’s neither.
The Patriot Way ain’t about nothing but winning, man.
See, Coach Belichick is the kind of guy who doesn’t care what you do on your own time. He wants you to know football and he wants you to come to work every day and do your job to the best of your ability. Anything else, he doesn’t really care.
One day in 2006, we all walked into the locker room after practice, and there were three tires — like, car tires — stacked up in front of Matt Cassel’s locker. We were all looking at each other like, What the hell is this?
The backstory is that there was a pretty crazy prank war going on that year. Guys were going back and forth and doing God knows what to one-up each other, and Tom Brady and Matt Cassel were at the center of it.
So come to find out, that day Tom Brady had hired somebody to take the tires off of Cassel’s car, put three of them in front of his locker and then hide the fourth somewhere around the facility.
I mean, picture this: Cassel comes in from practice, and he’s sitting in front of his locker on top of his own car tires, unwrapping the tape from his ankles. Meanwhile, his car is out in the parking lot on cinderblocks. And guys are just walking by, laughing.
I don’t know how or where he found the fourth tire, but I’m pretty sure he found it. And later on that day, we were watching film, and Cassel was like, “Man, that was messed up. But I can’t really do anything about it.”
Now, you always have to know your place in the locker room, and Cassel knew that he couldn’t go too hard to get Tom back. I mean, Cassel was the backup, and Tom was … well, Tom.
So the offensive linemen stepped in to pick up the slack.
We had a bunch of jokesters on our O-line, and Matt Light was the biggest one. So a couple of days later, Matt and some other linemen went out to the parking lot and opened the sunroof of Tom’s car. I think it was a Lexus 460 or something like that. I don’t even know how they got into Tom’s car, but they did — and they dumped huge bags of packing peanuts — you know, those little Styrofoam bits used for shipping — through the sunroof until it was overflowing. Every nook and cranny of Tom’s car was filled with Styrofoam peanuts.
Up until then, Coach Belichick hadn’t really taken notice of the prank war, because we were all still coming to work every day and taking care of our business.
But after the tires and the Styrofoam pranks, coach came into a team meeting and said, “Let’s not let this get out of hand.”
And guys knew what that meant.
That’s how our teams always were, though. We laughed with each other … a lot. But it never got in the way of the ultimate goal: winning. That was partly because we would never let it, but it was also because Coach Belichick would never allow it.
Stephan Savoia/AP Images
That’s one thing about Tom that I don’t think many people understand: On Sundays, they see Tom the competitor — and don’t get me wrong, that’s a huge part of who he is.
In fact, here’s another quick story….
Back in 2001, when Drew Bledsoe got hurt and Tom took over at quarterback, we knew there was something special about him right away. You could just feel it.
We used to run offensive drills where we would run plays against the air. No defense, just skill guys executing plays. And I can’t even tell you how many times we’d run a play and after it was over, Tom would be like, “Kevin! Stop! Let’s run that again.”
It didn’t matter who he was throwing to. If a pass fell incomplete or if something wasn’t right, he would stop the show and run the play over and over until we got it right. And if we didn’t have enough time, he’d ask us to stay after practice to run it again. Or if there was even a slight miscommunication he’d take us all into the meeting room after practice and draw the play up on the board to see what we got wrong.
Watching him operate this way, we all thought, Damn … this is a guy who was drafted in the sixth round, and he has that kind of confidence and work ethic? That’s pretty special.
He wasn’t the biggest, strongest or fastest guy. But he always wanted to compete against the biggest, strongest and fastest because he loved the challenge and he wanted to make himself better.
So yes, that competitiveness is a huge part of who Tom Brady is.
But the thing a lot of people don’t realize about him is that he’s also one of the guys.
This is a guy who, when the schedule came during the off-season, would identify the defensive coordinator for each of our opponents and start looking back at film from everywhere that coordinator had coached in the previous five years — just to study tendencies and get a step ahead before the season started. That’s how dedicated he is to his craft.
But he’ll also yank the tires off your car, just for fun.
Charles LeClaire/USA Today Sports Images
The Patriot Way ain’t about nothing but winning, man. That’s it.
I thank God every day that I played my entire career for the New England Patriots. It gave me so many opportunities that I otherwise would not have had. I got to play in and win a Super Bowl in my home state of Louisiana, on the same field where I had won a state championship in high school. That was something special. I played in five Super Bowls and won three rings.
But most of all, I got to play my game, be myself and grow as a football player and human being.
The Patriots allowed me to be me.
And at the end of the day, I guess that’s also the Patriot Way.
If you play in New England, it means that Coach Belichick thinks you can fit as a piece of his puzzle. He has a specific job that he needs done, and he thinks you can do it. So my advice to any Patriot would be to know what that job is — and if you don’t know, all you have to do is ask him … he won’t sugarcoat — and then go do whatever it takes to be really good at that job.
That’s what I did. And I — just like the rest of the guys I played with — didn’t care about how many touches I had or how many touchdowns I scored or how much shine I got.
The only thing I cared about was winning.
And we did a lot of it.
That’s the Patriot Way.
Elise Amendola/AP Images
I got a chance in August to thank Patriots fans and the entire organization when I was inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame. That was a special honor for me. Everybody — from Coach Belichick and my teammates to the fans in the stands — believed in my abilities and allowed me to be who I am. I mean, that’s all anybody can ask for in life, right? To be accepted for who you are and to be appreciated for what you bring to the table?
You all allowed me to have that. And for that, I am forever grateful.
But I gotta be honest, Pats fans … y’all are spoiled.
Yeah, I said it.
Winning will do that.
But that’s O.K., because we loved spoiling you, and I know the guys on this year’s team still love it. We love winning and we take great pride in being a team you can be proud to call your own. That’s why we do what we do.
Tom Brady and Coach Belichick won’t be around forever. They’ll leave the game one day, just like I did and just like everybody eventually does. But if I know anything, it’s that … well … it’s that you don’t wanna be late to a Bill Belichick meeting — like, ever. But also that Tom, coach and the rest of the guys are gonna work their butts off to keep on spoiling the best fans in sports with more wins, more milestones and hopefully more Super Bowl rings.
Because that’s how we roll.
That’s just the Patriot Way.