Over the years, we’ve heard Bill Belichick occasionally reference the experience of coaching the Cleveland Browns in 1995.
When he does, it’s like seeing someone running his fingers over a scar left behind from a bad accident.
I’d never want to go through that again.
The 2020 Patriots aren’t going anywhere. Belichick isn’t about to get fired. The Patriots won’t go 5-11.
But the poopshow this season is turning into may give the future Hall of Fame coach a scar to match the faded one from 25 years ago.
With Wednesday morning’s report that Stephon Gilmore’s got COVID-19, the Patriots have now lost their best defensive player and their best offensive player – Cam Newton – for indeterminate lengths of time.
As luck would have it, a player who resides at the extreme opposite end of the spectrum in terms of Q-rating – practice squad defensive tackle Bill Murray – also has tested positive.
It’s an interesting twist of fate that Murray is in the mix as well. Practically a cosmic challenge to see whether or not we treat each positive test with the same level of gravity or whether it’s just the names we know that make us gasp and run indignantly to our phones to peck out an outraged tweet or story.
Murray matters too, of course.
And even if his absence won’t impact the AFC’s balance of power, it wouldn’t hurt to throw some concern his way along with the, “Jeez, I hope this guy I never heard of didn’t infect anybody that actually plays” sentiment that nobody’s going to admit to.
This challenge is – as you may have heard – UNPRECEDENTED! And it’s on many fronts.
The overwhelming statistical probability is that neither Newton, nor Gilmore nor Murray will be laid low by this, much less hospitalized. The probability is also that other Patriots players and personnel will test positive and they will be fine as well.
But what about the people they went home to prior to testing positive? What about the people they interacted with or shared air space with – in Gilmore’s case, on the bus to T.F. Green with the other “close-contact” Patriots, in the air flying to Kansas City with teammates and flight attendants, etc. etc.
Were they shedding? Was Gilmore aerosoling all over Patrick Mahomes in their postgame embrace? We can talk about the stats all we want – and I often have – but the NFL missed the human side of things this week in adhering to the schedule.
We can say, “Hey, what are the odds?” all we want. But when it’s active in your workplace or community, you diminish the odds by doing what every other business is being asked to do.
Read the room.
New England teachers, parents, administrators and kids are enduring the absolute nightmare that is remote and hybrid learning. Yet the NFL – even with information from Tennessee readily available that flying after someone tested positive is a bad idea – told the Patriots to get on a plane and spend about 24 hours in close quarters with each other to get the Chiefs game played?
And those Patriots employees are now back, testing daily, hoping they’re not the next ones to get it. And they’re probably damn scared they’re going to pass it to family members. And the family members are just as scared because the fallout of a positive test is felt well past the four walls of your house.
That’s the reality for almost all of us with this virus. We aren’t necessarily scared for ourselves as much as we are scared of who we might pass it on to and who they come in contact with.
Nobody wants to be That Guy. The NFL is right now being That Guy. The Patriots are being That Guy.
Even the morons among us knew getting on a plane this week was stupid.
Now? The smartest thing for the league to do would be to postpone the Patriots and Broncos, let the Patriots get their bye week to quarantine and recover and then see where things are after that. The stupid thing - the thing they did on Monday - would be allowing themselves to rigidly stick to the schedule. (Peter King's Football Morning in America column had great detail about why the NFL ramrodded Chiefs-Patriots through right near the top.)
How do they feel about it? Belichick is guaranteed to stiff-upper-lip it from behind his double mask when he speaks Thursday morning.
Just doing what the league tells us to do. Taking every precaution. Staying ahead of things as best we can.
I really wish he’d speak freely on it. Right or left, white or black, young or old, more people would welcome his perspective than would dismiss it with a “what does he know?” wave of the hand.
It sucks that a grumpy football coach dressed like he’s about to paint the garage could be one of our country’s most compelling voices of reason but, hey, 2020 gonna 2020!
Instead, he’s going to say he’s just trying to coach a football team. He doesn’t know if his team will play Sunday against Denver. Doesn’t know who his quarterback will be. Doesn’t know how many of his players may be sick nor how badly how many of his players' families may be feeling.
He’s going to look at a virtual room full of faces at some point this week. Eight faces he expected to be staring back at him won’t be. They opted out, fearing the exact scenario now unfolding.
One of the faces looking back belongs to a man who just lost his father in a car accident and whose mom is still recovering from her injuries. Another face belongs to a man who suffered the unimaginable loss of a child over the summer. Belichick himself suffered a huge personal loss recently.
There’s a limit to how much effectively one can separate work and home. All this is testing that limit.