These aren’t your older brother’s New England Patriots.
Sure, they have the same head coach and the same quarterback from the silent era that was the early part of the 21st century, but despite Bill Belichick’s autocratic tendencies and Tom Brady’s penchant for talking while saying absolutely nothing, the New England roster has been enriched in recent years by outgoing, amiable, funny and borderline over-divergent personalities.
In defense of the seemingly lifeless players of Patriots past, those groups generally didn’t have the ability to easily deliver their thoughts in 140-character fragments for the world to see. Twitter has changed everything.
Remember when Chad Ochocinco signed with the Pats in the summertime and we all figured his social media antics would end up placing him in Belichick’s doghouse, or worse? That never happened (it was his arms and legs that landed him in the doghouse). And while Ocho has continued to tweet away, his teammates are giving him a run for his money in that category.
I dare you to scroll through the timelines of guys like Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Zoltan Mesko, Ross Ventrone and Rich Ohrnberger (seriously, please read all of Ohrnberger’s — you won’t regret it) and not laugh out loud at least once. If you can do that, it probably means you’re a psychopath or a German or both.
It amazes me that Belichick has been so accepting of such Twitter openness from his players, like when he brushed off Rob Gronkowski’s Twitpic with a porn star earlier in the season. But it’s all about mutual respect and sticking to a golden rule.
“As long as we’re not stepping on any toes in the organization then it’s fine,” Mesko told me. “As long as we’re promoting the Patriots’ brand and not putting ourselves out there in a negative way.”
Yet some of the tweets might be construed as at least slightly offside, which has me wondering if Belichick has had to call anyone out.
“Oh, maybe once or twice,” said Mesko, “but those (occurrences) are so rare that we don’t even remember it.”
Ventrone thinks the team’s lighthearted approach to social media has helped them on the field.
“I think it just shows how tight we are as a group. We have fun together, and I think that’s why everyone plays so well together. We just have a blast together.”
“I think you’ve gotta have a sense of humor,” added Ohrnberger, who’s not even sure Belichick is aware of his sometimes obscene Twitter account. “Everybody on the team genuinely likes each other so it’s a fun atmosphere.”
Belichick himself has shown a sense of humor. It squeaks through in the odd press conference, like when he mentioned earlier this week that the people of Indy like him a lot more after he attempted (and failed to convert) a fourth-and-two in the crucial moments of a loss to the Colts in 2009.
Maybe Belichick is a little funnier than any of us assumed.
“Coach Belichick’s pretty funny,” said Ventrone. “More like a dry humor, but he’s a pretty funny guy. He has one-liners every now and again that really make you chuckle.”
I asked Ohrnberger to give me some examples, and suddenly the mellow and fun-loving lineman turned deadpan serious.
“I can’t speak of private affairs within the organization, but I think he’s got a great sense of humor.”
Predictably, Belichick had nothing to say to me about his players’ involvement in social media, other than to say that he wasn’t involved and doesn’t “care much about Twitter or MyFace or any of that kind of stuff.”
It wasn’t the first time Belichick has pulled the “MyFace” reference out of the bag, which has me wondering if his reaction to such questions is a joke in itself.