If there's one thing that I can't be accused of, to the best of my recollection, it's of using the term "The Patriot Way.". I honestly can't recall ever mentioning it in the petabytes of writing I've done here over the last 16 or so years, except maybe ironically. Because it's not a thing. No one who ever actually made reference to it has ever adequately explained what it means. And may God have mercy on any poor, wretched soul misguided enough to use it in a question to Bill Belichick because he'll cut them off, remind them the words have never passed his lips and then reduce them to a smudge on the floor by shooting them with Force Lightning from his fingertips.
I've always felt like "The Patriot Way" has a weird connotation to it. Like it belongs on propaganda poster for some authoritarian regime above images of ethnically homogeneous supermen holding giant wrenches and pitchforks over their shoulders. And for the last 20 years, the team has been anything but homogeneous. Not just that it's looked like the "It's a Small World" ride, with guys from Germany to St. Vincent and the Grenadines to Samoa. The personnel that have come through the roster have included decent family men, troubled loners, respected leaders, malcontents, introverts, extroverts, Tim Tebow and a murderer. Along with lovers, muggers and thieves. The one common trait of all of them has been that, if you can help this franchise compete for a championship without getting into major trouble off the field, you can last here. If not, they'll find somebody who can to take your place. Pretty simple.
But nevertheless, ESPN asked whether Cam Newton can fit into this mythic, unspecific Patriot Way. And the answer from the guy who works as closely with Newton as anyone, his throwing coach George Whitfield, is just what you want to hear.
We're about to find out if Cam Newton can handle the Patriot Way, the vaunted and storied and universally glorified method of running a professional football team in the 21st century. But prepare yourself: In the months before it happens, there will be content to consume.
We'll breathlessly debate the pressures that await Newton: the steely gaze of Bill Belichick; the swirling fumes of the Tom Brady legend; the expectations brought upon by two decades of reliance on the entire spectrum of strategies and tactics -- the legal, the sorta legal and the definitely illegal.
Pardon me while I interject. Fucking ESPN.
Can Newton handle it? He has been NFL MVP more recently than Aaron Rodgers, and he has been to the Super Bowl more recently than Russell Wilson. …
"You almost wonder, Why would the league allow this?" says George Whitfield, a private quarterback coach who has worked extensively with Newton. "From a competitive standpoint, Cam and Belichick is a natural fit. It literally takes a shark to recognize another shark." …
"Suggesting that Cam can't adapt to Belichick is a lazy narrative," Whitfield says. "Cam recognizes this as a singular opportunity. I can imagine Belichick telling him, 'You have goals, and you have a chip on your shoulder. We have goals, and our shoulders look the same as yours -- just not as big.' …
"I cringe every time I hear people ask, 'Can he do it from the pocket?'" Whitfield says. "Cam's extremely bright. He's nuanced. There aren't going to be any coverages where he looks up and says, 'I've never seen this before.'
"He can play in the pocket -- it's what he's been doing -- but he also has the world's biggest and baddest parachute on his back, and when he's in trouble, he can just reach out and pull it."
I'm not sure it's literally true it takes a shark to recognize another shark. I might watch a lot of Shark Week, but that doesn't make me Matt Hooper. I'll just take Whitfield's word for it, because I love the tale he's telling here. Newton and Belichick as a natural fit. Two competitive Alphas with a common goal who'll adjust to each other's styles. A quarterback who can adapt to an offense, and coach who'll be able to tailor his system to maximize the skills of an experienced veteran who's seen it all over nine seasons. A guy with cutoff sleeves and a guy with the biggest and baddest parachute on his back.
If that's what the Patriot Way is, maybe I will start talking about it, because I love the sound of that.