CANTON, Ohio – Ty Law would not be described as the “perfect Patriot.”
In the 19 years since Bill Belichick took over this franchise, some very good players rhapsodized propaganda about the so-called Patriot Way.
Fans and the media have dutifully gobbled it up and regurgitated the catch phrases. So what’s your perfect Patriot carrying out the Patriot Way?
A player who shows up, eats his humble pie, ignores the noise, does his job, takes no days off, tries to get better every day then retires.
In other words, a player with no agency and no individuality, just a widget in shoulder pads.
Ty Law was no widget.
He was audacious and loud, with an ego the size of Aliquippa and balls as big as Pittsburgh. He didn’t ignore the noise, he made the noise.
If anybody — teammates or coaches — told him, “Do your job…” they’d be apt to hear back, “Don’t worry about my job, I always do my job. You do your job. Shiiit.”
Saturday, Law will become the first in what should be a line of several Patriots from the Belichick Era that gets enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
There should be no effort at romanticizing him by reducing him to a vital cog in the Patriots machine, just ol’ employee No. 24 on the Patriots assembly line. He wasn’t selfless. He wasn’t all about the team all the time. He was primarily out for Ty.
I’m not saying he didn’t love his teammates. I’m not saying he’d be happy if he played well individually and the team lost. What I am saying is that he was a virtuoso and believed that — if everyone would get out of the damn way and let Ty be Ty — everything would be fine, everyone would profit. And he was right.
The Patriots benefited because his intelligence, instincts and — above everything else — his unshakeable self-confidence were what made him the player he was. A player who terrified opposing quarterbacks and receivers because it didn’t matter if he had to be a bully or a ballerina. He could be either.
He changed the game. Or, more accurately, the game changed because Law kept ripping the pants off the league’s anointed one, Peyton Manning, until the league’s competition committee banned his style.
As Belichick once said, “Changing the rules because of the way he plays then there’s probably something to be said for (his excellence). I mean they didn’t change them-change them, but we all know what happened.”
In a way, it’s appropriate that Law is the first Patriots of this era into Canton.
The way he authored his NFL career has similarities to the way the coach who drafted him — Bill Parcells — and the coach he flourished under — Bill Belichick — authored theirs.
All three men had unbelievable self-belief. All three met disloyalty and/or a loss of autonomy by searching for the ripcord and getting themselves somewhere they could do it their way.
Parcells did it when he went from the Patriots to the Jets. Belichick did it when he went from the Jets to the Patriots. And, ironically, Law did it when he went from the Patriots to the Jets almost a decade after Parcells started the “Border War.”
The so-called Patriot Way is one that even Belichick himself couldn’t embody. Thank God. It takes the brilliance and ego of an individual to bet on himself the way Belichick did when he leaped in early 2000 and quit the Jets with just a hope that he’d be hired by a Patriots team that was close to freefall.
It ended messily for Law in New England, released in 2004 a year after he blew a gasket after being asked to take a pay cut.
But who has it not been messy for? Richard Seymour? Adam Vinatieri? Randy Moss? Lawyer Milloy? Logan Mankins? Rob Gronkowski? Rodney Harrison? Mike Vrabel? Tom Brady? Wes Welker? Danny Amendola?
Law just wasn’t willing to paper over his agitation with the team for appearance sake. He was too proud for that. So he put Belichick on blast, took his release, signed with the Jets and personally stuck it to the Patriots with a 10-pick season in 2005.
This week, Law was asked on a conference call about his self-belief. And so much of his answer highlights the balancing act Patriots greats have had to do in order to keep their ego in check to see the bigger picture and help the team while still taking immense individual pride in their craft.
“Until you believe in yourself, that isn't going to do anything for you or anybody else,” Law said. “I had to believe in myself … and I know how I prepared, so that also helped with the confidence to go in and compete because I knew I worked hard. …
“I worked just as hard off the field as I did on the field in preparing to compete,” he said. “Being out there on that corner sometimes gets lonely, even though you have your teammates out there. But sometimes you're tasked with the responsibility of taking this guy out and you have to win a one-on-one battle, and the one-on-one battle happened a lot because of the way our scheme was. So, I had to take a certain edge and a confidence about it. I couldn't always depend on a safety or a linebacker or the pass rush for help. It was me and that other guy, so I had to feel that, “Hey, I'm better than you,” at all times with whoever I'm lined up against. This whole thing — a part of that is being competitive. It's saying, 'OK, I put so much work in, I'll be damned if I let you beat me today.' Even though you win some, I lost plenty. But, I went in there with the intent of winning. Every time I lined up across from somebody, I intended on winning the one-on-one battle because of the work I put in. I think that's where it came from. I worked too hard to lose.”
There are 16 “I’s” in that statement. Good. Law shouldn’t apologize for taking a bow for the work he did that nobody else could do as well as he could.
We will hear a lot about the “team” mentality during Law’s speech, I guarantee it. And there will be some premature lamenting about Patriots who haven’t been inducted into Canton because they were so selfless and team-oriented that they didn’t get the individual accolades.
I don’t agree that that’s entirely true and — by the time it’s all said and done the Patriots of 2001 to 20-whatever will be well-represented.
But the fact that the first one was the biggest solo act the team has — aside from the head coach — I think that’s appropriate.
“Ty was a bad dude,” Rodney Harrison said this week. “Ty was special and Ty did it his way. … You’re not going to dictate anything to Ty Law.”
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