Cassius Marsh temporarily came out of obscurity to go on a podcast earlier this week and remind everyone that he hated his brief time in New England because Bill Belichick runs the Patriots like a Dickensian workhouse:
I've got nothing more to say about that because I've already written two posts, and together they took more time to write than he spent on the field in a Pats uniform.
But someone on Twitter who'd apparently listened to the interview that Marsh called himself the ex-Patriot that Pats fans hate the most, or words to that effect. Which is entirely not true. In order to hate a guy, you have to care about him. He has to generate some sort of emotion, and he doesn't qualify. We don't hate Marsh because we don't rate him.
And believe me, we know a few things about not liking some of our own players. So the Twitter conversation led to me and some others listing the most unliked and unlikable Patriots players in franchise history. Now, it's not quite as simple as just ranking them in order. Like it is with world history, New England's past has a clear delineation. A period Before Dynasty (B.D.) and a period After Dynasty (A.D.), with 2001 serving as their "Common Era," as the secular historians like to refer to the birth of the Baby Jesus.
Obviously, it's a hell of a lot easier to fill the earlier list than it is the later one. You don't win six Super Bowls and nine conference titles and have double digit wins for 17 straight years while filling your roster with a lot of malcontents, villains, traitors and low effort losers. But for a lot of the years 1960-Belichick's arrival, it felt like those were prerequisites of the job. (Read all about it in hilarious and accurate, well-researched detail here. Cha-CHING.) So I will break up these lists into a tale of two eras:
The Years B.D.:
5. Fred Dryer. Children of the '80s will remember their dad watching a show called "Hunter," a safe-for-network-TV knockoff of the Dirty Harry movies, starring Fred Dryer as a tough, no-nonsense detective with a huge gun whose number of cases solved was exceeded only by the body count. A major reason that Dryer was able to transition from defensive end to TV star was that he refused to play for the Patriots. Which is something that Pats GM Upton Bell might have found out about before he shipped three picks, in the 1972 draft, including his 1st rounder, to get him. But Bell - who now spends his days shouting into the online void about how bad Bill Belichick is at the job he once held - was so inept that he once made is entire roster into free agents by not sending out their contracts on time. So it was par for the course with him. Dryer made it clear that he wanted to play on the West Coast and would only change his mind if Bell said, "Here. Take all the money you want." Finding himself with zero leverage and a player who had no problem saying things that made the franchise look ridiculous, Bell had no choice but to ship him to the Rams for a discount of a 1st rounder and Cash. Which is to say, backup defensive lineman Rick Cash. Los Angeles loved Dryer. Sport magazine hired him to cover the Super Bowl in character as an obnoxious sports reporter named Scoops Brannigan, and he started getting auditions. Including one for the role of a retired Red Sox pitcher who owns a bar named "Cheers." He didn't get that, but he did later have a recurring role as Sam Malone's former teammate-turned-sportscaster Dave Richards. And he owes all his show business success to the fact he thought the Patriots were a joke and would tell anyone who was listening. I'm not saying he was wrong. And no one should begrudge his success. It's just that he couldn't have been too popular among those Pats fans who grew up to watch his other shows.
4. Duane Thomas. Thomas was brilliant as a rookie running back with the Cowboys in 1970, averaging 5.3 yards a carry. It wasn't until he expected to get paid like a guy who picked up a 1st down every two carries that things went south for him in Dallas. So they shipped him to New England. The first person to realize the Pats might have made a mistake was the team doctor, who could barely recognize Thomas, who had lost enough weight to look like walking death, because he had become a vegetarian in the offseason. Then things got weird with his teammates. There's one story of a player passing Thomas in the hall and giving him the vague, friendly, generic, "How ya doing?" thing. A while later, Thomas sought the guy out and say, "Earlier when I saw you, why did you want to know how I'm doing?" Then came the contract talks he had with Bell, where Thomas decided he'd be more comfortable outside, so the two of them sat pretzel legs in the middle of the practice field while local TV crews tried to pick up the conversation with their long distance mics before Thomas chased them off. As it turned out, he was a lot more comfortable outside. Legend has it that a sudden thunderstorm sent every player and coach scrambling for shelter. Except for Thomas, who laid down on his back in the middle of the field, explaining he was "communing with nature." None of which made him a problem. Just the kind of guy who would've been a legend in the days of Twitter. The problems didn't actually start until the first snap of his first practice in New England, when he lined up behind the QB as he was supposed to. Except head coach John Mazur's offense called for the backs to be in a 3-point stance and Thomas refused to comply, explaining he was strictly a 2-Point Stance Man. Soon enough, the team went back to the Cowboys and begged them for a do-over on the trade, on the technicality that Dallas never said, "Triple stamp, no erasies, touch blue, make it true." Tex Schramm took pity on them, and took Thomas back. And he proceeded to carry them to a win in Super Bowl VI. No less a source than Hunter S. Thompson said of him, "All he did was take the ball and run every time they called his number - which came to be more and more often, and in the Super Bowl he was the whole show." But, like Dryer, he saved the good stuff for anyone other than the Patriots.
3. Kenneth Sims. So here's the first Patriots player on this list who actually, y'know, played for the Patriots. Sims was a 6-5, 270 pound defensive tackle out of Texas and the consensus overall No. 1 pick in the 1982 draft. And a reward for the Patriots losing the Stupor Bowl battle of 2-13 teams in the final week of the 1981 season. He was the right player in the exact right position of need on New England's "Red Sea Defense" that parted in the middle so badly that Israelites in sandals could've rushed for 200 yards against them. The first sign of trouble with Sims came in training camp when he was consistently getting pushed around and didn't appear to be too worked up about it. The second, more ominous sign came when he was asked why he didn't look particularly worth the top overall pick. "I'll be ready on Game Day," was his reply. And an instant nickname was born. Game Day also predicted he'd have more sacks as a rookie than the '81 team had, which was the anemic total of 20.0. He had 3.0. And none the next year in his two starts. As a matter of fact, he finished his eight year career with 17.0. In three of those seasons he appeared in five games or fewer, and only cracked double digits in games played in half his seasons. All things considered, he represents the biggest draft bust in team history. Footnote: Marcus Allen went to the Raiders nine picks later.
2. Tony Eason. I admit this is a weird one. Eason was the fourth quarterback off the board in the legendary QB class of 1983, the one that sent John Elway, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino to the Hall of Fame. And he was under center for the first NFL playoff win the franchise ever had. And the second. And the third. He led them to three road wins and a trip to the Super Bowl, to face the Bears legendary 46 Defense. And then proceeded to post the worst stat line of any starting QB in Super Bowl history:
0 for 6, 3 sacks, 1 fumble, 1 fumble lost
John Hannah, the greatest offensive lineman of all time, confirmed a while ago that the urban legend is true. That he did, in fact, tell coach Ray Berry that if Eason was sent back onto the field, he'd refuse to go. Explaining that the whole O-line would be fighting with everything they had, trying to Eason time, and any time someone would come within 10 feet of him, he'd turtle. Despite a 3-2 career postseason record and leading the team to the playoffs the following year, Eason never shook the reputation of being 10-ply soft. And it didn't help him at all that the quarterback he was competing against for the starting job was Steve Grogan, who QB'd with a neckroll and was tough enough to make Hunter look like Cliff Clavin.
1. Irving Fryar. Another overall No. 1 pick, from an age where the Patriots had a lot of them. Fryar was drafted after ending his college career at Nebraska by dropping a 2-point conversion catch that would've won the Cornhuskers the national title. And it's been suggested that drop was no accident. But in New England, it wasn't so much the drops on the field - though there were those - it was more about how many times his name was dropped in news stories and police reports. There's the time he crashed his car leaving the stadium. At halftime. The "kitchen accident" he had in the 1985 playoff run that turned out to be code for "fighting with my pregnant wife in a restaurant in front of witnesses when I told her I'm not taking her to Miami for the conference championship game." Then there's the time he pulled a gun in a Providence bar because his teammate Hart Lee Dykes was getting jumped by five assholes. Defending his teammate wasn't the problem so much as it was the fact he was strapped in a nightclub while his newborn baby was recovering from heart surgery. It's tough to win public support for your valor once they see the big picture on that one. And after every incident, Fryar would get a segment on one of the pregame shows, walking along with the female features reporter while tinkly piano music plays, telling her how he's going to turn his life around. And eventually, he did. Only after he'd been shipped to the Eagles and found God and became a minister. Eventually the Good Reverend Fryar turned his life back around, completing the 360 by going to jail for a mortgage fraud scam he ran with his mother. Another colossal waste.
The Years A.D.:
5. Chad Jackson. The long time record holder for the highest pick ever spent on a wideout in the Belichickian Epoch, Jackson seemed like a huge steal in the 2006 draft. I watched Day 1 with six mock drafts on my lap, and five of them had Jackson going 14th. The other had him dropping all the way to 17th. The Pats got him at 36. And there was every reason to be excited. First of all, at 6-1, 210 and absolutely jacked, he was a physical specimen this team had never had before. Troy Brown was aging. Deion Branch was gone. So it made sense. Until it didn't. The first sign of danger was a vague story that got around, something about Jackson getting up in front of all the veterans and doing some kind of a freestyle rap and them all looking at each other like "Who does this noob think he is" and alienating everyone. His rookie season was very much a wash, with only 13 catches in 12 games. But he did have three TDs so there was a tiny glimmer of hope. There shouldn't have been. He never caught another pass in New England and was out of the league after three partial seasons of doing nothing.
4. Albert Haynesworth. There's not much to say about his six game spin around the Foxboro dance floor in 2011. He came in with baggage too big to fit into the overhead compartment, and was being given a make-or-break final shot at redemption. All he had to do was stay out of legal entanglements off the field and play hard on it. He was able to do the former, but not the latter. He was the same Low-T, no effort slob that he'd been at all his previous career stops. Taking plays off, getting blocked and staying blocked, and playing to his own internal whistle, which blew way before the officials' did. And speaking of blowing:
3. Adalius Thomas. At one point perhaps the boldest free agent signing GM Bill had ever made, he was a stud on the 16-0 team in his first year in New England. By his third season, he'd become the most unlikeable guy on the least likeable Pats team of the era, the 2009 underachievers. When four players were sent home for showing up late to meetings due to a freak snow storm, Thomas was the only one who whined publicly about it, famously asking what he's supposed to do when there's traffic, fly over it? Because "this ain't the Jetsons." Forgetting that the entire rest of the roster and staff other than those four made it on time, including the GOAT quarterback whose supermodel wife had just given birth. It says everything that Thomas was a healthy scratch for two games. His team won the first 59-0, and the second, 20-10. Adalius Jetson was out of football after that season and the Pats were in the Super Bowl two years later. Addition by subtraction.
2. Terry Glenn. Commonly associated with the B.D. era, Glenn elevated his douchebaggery game in years 1 and 2, A.D. Even though Belichick had come to town in 2000 and wiped Glenn's slate clean like that disc the oily businessman offered Catwoman in "Dark Knight Rises," but Glenn would have none of it. He scribbled all over the slate like Pete Carroll was still running things. He began by claiming he was having hamstring problems. I remember going to camp that year and he spent the whole practice running the Tour de Sideline on the stationary bike. He came off the injured list long enough to catch 100 yards worth of Tom Brady passes in the first half of a game, before promptly going right back on it. Then went on local TV and, when asked if he wanted to play for the Patriots answered, "I did. D-I-D did." He didn't. Not ever again. And they won a Super Bowl without him. Whether he ever got his ring or not is a question I don't have an answer for. Sorry to speak ill of the recently dead, but his existence on the team that changed everything around here perfectly demonstrates how things were done B.D. versus how they're done A.D. He was the first superstar to be treated like he was not bigger than the team, T-E-A-M.
1. Aaron Hernandez. OK, you've got me on a technicality. Hernandez was universally loved as a player. Anyone who claims they were onto his bullshit all along is lying. Rewatch that press conference where they extended his contract and he handed over a check for the Myra Kraft Foundation and tell me again you were not taking in, just like the rest of us. And the fact is, when Mr. Kraft put up his own money to exchange Hernandez' No. 81 jerseys like a gun buy-back program, it cost him a quarter of a million dollars, there were so many of them on the street. Anyway, I'm sticking with this choice, because fuck this guy. This is one time I don't feel aback about speaking ill of the recently dead.
In closing, I forget: Who is Cassius Marsh again?