One of the most interesting matchups of Super Bowl LII had nothing to do with the actual X’s and O’s on the field.
Instead, it was a battle of two entirely differently cultures.
On one hand, you had The Patriot Way: a system designed to sacrifice individuality in exchange for reaching ultimate team success.
On the other hand, you had the fun-loving Eagles, who planned group celebration touchdowns and let their personalities show.
We obviously know how things turned out. It took a close, hard-fought effort but the Eagles ultimately overcame adversity and dethroned the dynasty that was favored to win yet another title.
One Eagles player, Lane Johnson, took Philadelphia’s championship victory as a way to show that the Patriots’ model doesn’t have to be the only way to win big in the NFL. He went as far to call the Patriots a “fear-based organization.”
Not surprisingly, Johnson drew criticism for his comments about one of the league’s most successful franchises. But it’s difficult to say he was really off the mark when you consider all the dysfunction happening in New England.
ESPN’s in-depth reporting from January revealed how there’s a lot of tension in that organization. It didn’t stop there. There were rumors about Rob Gronkowski retiring early because he wasn’t happy anymore. Tom Brady, meanwhile, has been uncharacteristically absent from OTAs as he “pleads the fifth” when asked if Bill Belichick truly appreciates him.
In more recent news, former Patriots player Cassius Marsh said he “hated” his time in New England and “it made [him] for the first time in [his] life think about not playing football because [he] hated it that much.”
Some have tried to detract from Marsh’s comments by saying he wasn’t that good of a player anyway. Well, one player who IS pretty good and has experience in a Patriots-style system once also felt the same way as Marsh did.
Speaking after Eagles OTA practice on Tuesday, Pro Bowl guard Brandon Brooks talked about how playing for Belichick protege Bill O’Brien — who was employed by the Patriots from 2007-11 — with the Houston Texans was ... well, not enjoyable.
“It’s crazy that people haven’t known this,” said Brooks. “It’s been this way for like a decade. You’ve seen— Reggie Wayne did it. He retired. He went there [to the Patriots] for a training camp and retired. Shit is not fun there. I was under the same regime in Houston [with O’Brien]. I almost retired. Shit was miserable, every day. Every day.”
“I came in [as a rookie] under [Gary] Kubiak, who was just an older version of Doug [Pederson], then I went to O’Brien, who was Belichick, and then I came back to Doug, who’s like Kubes, so for me, man, shit was great. Like, I cannot tell you how much better this is than it was down there. Like, it’s just night and day. What does [Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland] say? Happy workers make more productive workers. When you’re not having fun, man, those grinding, those hard-ass nosed days ...”
Brooks got cut off by fellow Pro Bowler and All-Pro right tackle Lane Johnson.
“All the media wants to talk about is rings,” Johnson started. “Rings. I’m going to get this ring and never wear it one day. I’m going to put it away in a box. The only thing you’re going to remember from your playing days, you’re not going to remember the scores. You’re going to remember the people you played with and how you felt. And that’s the truth.
“All these guys talking about ‘I’ll take the rings.’ OK. You can have your rings. You can also have f***ing 15 miserable years.”
A lot of people might question how miserable 15 years can be if they involve a number of world championships, such as the ones the Patriots have amassed. At the same time, they’re not the ones going through the daily grind of being absolutely miserable.
There’s a case to be made it doesn’t HAVE to be like that. Players can enjoy themselves AND win too. That’s clearly a message that Doug Pederson instilled in an Eagles team that just won the Super Bowl. And though he never got past the Divisional Round in Houston, Kubiak ultimately won a world championship with the Broncos using an approach that Brooks compared to Pederson’s style.
This isn’t to say one method lends to more success than the other. It’s quite possible both styles can be effective. But they do come with concerns. Right now, we’re seeing the grind of The Patriot Way taking a toll. That doesn’t suddenly mean New England is going to be a bad team. But one does wonder if/when the drop off is coming, and if it could be accelerated by the culture of some players being absolutely miserable.
“The New Norm” is a phrase that’s been used a lot by the Eagles this offseason. They even hung up a big poster with those three words inside their team facility at the NovaCare Complex. Perhaps part of the new norm is establishing a culture that leads to the kind of sustained success the Patriots had minus the baggage that we’re starting to see come out. That’s the hope, at least.
Included below is the entire conversation with Brooks and Johnson from Tuesday afternoon.
REPORTER: Cassius Marsh come out and said it’s no fun to play for the Patriots …
BROOKS: It’s crazy that people haven’t known this. It’s been this way for like a decade. You’ve seen— Reggie Wayne did it. He retired. He went there for a training camp and retired. Shit is not fun there. I was under the same regime in Houston. I almost retired. Shit was miserable, every day. Every day.
BROOKS: You see this in here, man? How we’re all hanging out? The game room in there? There’s none of that, man. It’s like you just come in and be a robot.
BLG: Where’s that coming from? Is someone telling you to be like that or is it just the atmosphere?
BROOKS: It’s just the atmosphere.
BLG: It’s just accepted? It’s just how it is?
BROOKS: I’ll put it this way. I was going into my third year in Houston. O’Brien had just come in. And, you know, players who’ve made Pro Bowls, All-Pro [teams], whatever, they had their pictures on the wall and stuff. It was down the hallway as you go to lunch, you get to see how the players handle their business. When he came in, man, all those pictures were taken down. TVs in the cafeteria were off. He would never tell you what to say to the media, but he would always be like, ‘I can’t tell you what to say to the media. But some things that you might want to mention is like: I’m here to do my job. Stuff like that. You know what I mean? So eventually you get the same answers from all of the guys, you start realizing what’s going on.
BLG: Kind of sucks, right?
BROOKS: It’s just tough to go to work everyday where, obviously everybody has a different personality, but you can’t be who you are.
BLG: So it’s like they’re not even treating you like adults?
JOHNSON (jumping in): Well, I feel like they have a recipe for success that’s worked for so long, so, keep it at that. They do what they do though.
REPORTER: Does it make you appreciate more being here and seeing how this organization is run and the fun they let you have?
BROOKS: I came in [as a rookie] under [Gary] Kubiak, who was just an older version of Doug [Pederson], then I went to O’Brien, who was Belichick, and then I came back to Doug, who’s like Kubes, so for me, man, shit was great. Like, I cannot tell you how much better this is than it was down there. Like, it’s just night and day. (Asking Lane) What does [Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland] say? Happy workers make more productive workers. When you’re not having fun, man, those grinding, those hard-ass nosed days …
JOHNSON (jumping in): All the media wants to talk about is rings. Rings. I’m going to get this ring and never wear it one day. I’m going to put it away in a box. The only thing you’re going to remember from your playing days, you’re not going to remember the scores. You’re going to remember the people you played with and how you felt. And that’s the truth.
BROOKS: All the funny shit that happens on the field in the games, man.
JOHNSON: All these guys talking about ‘I’ll take the rings.’ OK. You can have your rings. You can also have f***ing 15 miserable years.
BLG: So why do you think it is like that? Why isn’t it more like here elsewhere?
BROOKS: Because it’s won them rings, so people think that’s what it is. I mean, not to even talk about the Cowboys, because obviously we’re in Philly, but when the Cowboys were winning, they didn’t have, you know, poster boys. They had some dudes who were going out there having a lot of fun. And still winning games. But you know, that was their recipe. Obviously the Patriots have theirs. It’s just the Patriots is what’s in your face. They’ve been in your face for the last, what, eight years? 10 years? When they were winning, so.
REPORTER: Why is it different here?
JOHNSON: It’s the way we conduct business and the way they treat us as grownups, as professionals to where we’re old enough now to know that if we don’t take care of our jobs, we’re not going to be here. So that’s understood. I feel like that’s maybe more forced than anywhere else. So that’s cool to feel. It’s not like they perceive us: ‘Oh, [all] we [do is] have fun’. No, we take this shit really serious. We practice really hard. But I feel like with anything in life, you have to have balance or else you’re going to go nuts. That’s with anything. You have to balance. I feel like we have that here.
REPORTER: How does your culture get created?
JOHNSON: I feel like the coaches … what I like about Doug, and I was saying this before, is he says ‘Let your personality show.’ He shares that with us before every game. So he knows what kind of personalities we have in here. But ultimately I think, like, how Andy Reid did it, is he let the guys run the team. You have your guys, the veterans, who do a good job of setting the tone. And we know what to do. They’ve been in the business long enough to know what’s right and what’s wrong. And how to create the culture and bring up younger guys and develop them. I think with that freedom, it just puts a lot more trust in us.
REPORTER: How do you get other veterans to buy in to this pre-established culture?
JOHNSON: Really, I don’t say nothing. They just see how it’s done. They see what kind of team we have here. I think the first couple days in the building, you see the guys, reaching out, going to talk to them, the conversation to break the ice, walking around, trying to embrace them and bring them in as one of our own.