We’re not sure what Lane Johnson classifies as “fun” when he insists that the New England Patriots never get to have any, but Bill Belichick didn’t exactly hold his players’ feet to the fire for their final set of voluntary OTAs this week.
For one thing, Belichick canceled the final two days, letting players start their final weeks before the start of training camp a little early; he was happy with what the team had accomplished to that point.
But even before cutting players loose, Belichick changed things up.
Leather helmets and old-school lunch
ESPN Patriots reporter Mike Reiss writes that when players reported to the team facility on Tuesday, parts of it looked as if it had been placed in a time machine.
Long known for a deep appreciation of the roots of the game, Belichick offered lessons on the history of football. Players wore leather helmets on the practice field, and modern advances like digital clocks were covered up in the meeting rooms.
Lunch wasn’t sushi and specialized smoothies, but the type of fare players in the 1930s and 40s would have eaten, like hot dogs and hamburgers.
And they watched film of plays and games from that era.
“It was cool for him to get a chance to teach us about the sport that we’re in, the National Football League and kind of how it started. We got to watch some old clips from football back then – the ’30s and ’40s – that I had never seen before,” an unnamed player told Reiss. “I didn’t know what type of offenses were run, so it was really neat to see. We even looked at high school football back then, all the way up to NFL.”
(This is Belichick we’re talking about, so apparently going on the record to discuss an enjoyable day is still a no-no.)
With a nearly 50-year age gap between the Patriots’ youngest player and the oldest coach, the discussions that day were wide-ranging.
“You think about it, if it was at a certain time back then, a lot of us wouldn’t be playing. We would have been drafted and fighting for our country [in World War II],” one player said. “When we do stuff like that, it’s special.”
Fenway Park earlier in the week
On Monday, Belichick had surprised the team with a different kind of history: a trip to revered Fenway Park, the 106-year-old home of the Boston Red Sox.
The Red Sox were on the road, so players had the place to themselves for their field trip.
Nearly one-third of the current 90-man roster was not with the team when the season ended in Super Bowl LII four months ago, so the time on the buses and at Fenway were meant for some bonding.
Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski missed out
After taking part in mandatory minicamp the week before, neither Tom Brady nor Rob Gronkowski were on hand for the Fenway Park trip and the trip back in time.
Brady was at Friar’s Head Golf Club on Long Island on Tuesday, playing a round of golf with Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler in advance of the U.S. Open at nearby Shinnecock Hills, which began on Thursday.
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