Super Bowl LII between the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles is fast approaching and scribes have but a few precious days to get all their preview pieces onto the printing press. The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Bob Brookover made sure he got his timely Aaron Hernandez column in under the wire and it is quite something. He suggests it may be no coincidence that Hernandez’s tragedy played out in New England. His evidence? The Patriots’ past shadiness and singular focus on winning.
The New England Patriots reside alone in the 21st-century dynasty region of the NFL. That is why they are here with the Eagles at Super Bowl LII mostly answering questions about how great they are and how incredible they have been.That’s fine and that’s fair. The applause is well deserved even if suspicions remain that their success has not always been on the up and up. In addition to being adept at winning games and championships, the Patriots are also great at avoiding the things they want swept out of sight.Spygate and Deflategate fall into those categories, but the one subject they want to skirt more than any other is the violent and tragic career of the late Aaron Hernandez. Perhaps that’s because Hernandez’s draft selection, despite bright red flags everywhere, is a reflection of how winning means everything to the Patriots and no cost is too high.
The shame of the matter is that the Patriots, and specifically Bill Belichick, acted as if they could not possibly know something so awful would ever happen despite the fact that Hernandez had a troubled past at the University of Florida and in his hometown of Bristol, Conn.
Hernandez’s spotty past was no secret to the Patriots when they drafted him. But no one sitting around on draft day could have possibly known that murder lay in his future. That’s obvious, right?
Just spitballing here, but I can’t imagine Belichick and the Patriots — or any team — would have selected Hernandez with the tacit understanding they’d be trading a few years of production for some homicide on the back end. The NFL is a cutthroat business but even that seems a bit extreme.
Brookover’s central argument to bolster his idea is that Hernandez’s misdeeds were overlooked in the interest of winning. And he’s not wrong there.
The Patriots or Urban Meyer, who was the coach at the University of Florida when Hernandez played there, should have done more when they saw the signs of trouble. What Hernandez did was horrible, but you get the feeling the only reason Meyer and the Patriots cared about him in the first place was because he could play football.
Once he no longer could help them, it became a sin to even speak the name Aaron Hernandez. Maybe it’s not a coincidence that the NFL team that has had the most success in this century also had to deal with the league’s greatest tragedy.
OK, maybe it isn’t. But maybe it is. There’s certainly no evidence to suggest Hernandez landing on a successful team has anything to do with what happened to him or that things could have gone differently if he were on a sub-.500 club.
Rae Carruth, convicted murderer, played three seasons in the NFL for the Carolina Panthers who posted a 19-29 record in that span. O.J. Simpson’s teams went 42-100-2 during his career. Maybe on-field wins and losses aren’t a determining factor.
Who could ever know?