Bill Belichick, the dour coach of the New England Patriots who has long preached the importance of character in his players, acquired two of the NFL’s most notorious misfits on Thursday. Both Albert Haynesworth, a talented yet troubling defensive lineman who was suspended by the Washington Redskins last season for insubordination, and Chad Ochocinco, the loudmouth wide receiver from the Cincinnati Bengals who has openly criticized the direction of his team — for good reason — will be playing for the Patriots this season.
Psychology grad students should be dialed into New England this season, as the Belichick-Haynesworth and Belichick-Ochocinco pairings will provide a fascinating study in human relations. For New England, the model is 2007 Randy Moss. Moss was a notorious pain in the rear during his days with Minnesota and Oakland, but Belichick took a chance on him back in 2007. In New England’s team-first locker room, the receiver was a solid citizen and spectacular player. He finished the year with 98 catches, 23 of them for touchdowns, and the Patriots went 16-0 in the regular season, though they lost to the New York Giants in that year’s Super Bowl.
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And once the Randy Moss of 2010 showed up — he complained about his contract — Belichick shipped him out of town, trading him to Minnesota last October. (A month later the Vikings waived him; Tennessee Titans then signed Moss).
Haynesworth could use some motivation, and the Patriot Way might be the best medicine for him. Ochocinco is a whole other story. Moss, unlike Ochocinco, was never a gregarious loudmouth; he just came across as angry. So does Belichick try to suppress Ochocinco’s attention-loving personality? If so, will Ochocinco be effective, since he seems to thrive on trash-talk and media headlines? What does Belichick do with Ochocinco’s very active Twitter account, which has nearly 2.4 million followers. (Sample tweet: “One of the best traits u can have as a human being is the I don’t give a f— trait!!!Most are born with it,does this trait run in your fam?”). Would Belichick ever let Ochocinco be bigger than the team?
If you like social experiments, you’ll love to see how this unfolds. Surprisingly enough, it turns out that Belichick and Ochocinco have been carrying out a mini-bromance the last few years. They’ve exchanged playful banter, and in January, Ochocinco hinted on Twitter that he’d be interesting in playing for Belichick.
After a Bengals-Patriots pre-season game in 2009, Belichick said of Ochocinco: “He’s a fun-loving guy, very competitive. When he’s on the field, he loves to compete and he works very hard, practices hard. He challenges guys in every situation. I respect that, I think he’s a terrific player. I love his competitiveness. He’s a hard guy to compete against. He’s very good.”
With good reason, Belichick has long been accused of being dull. But thanks to yesterday’s surprising pickups, his team will be anything but boring.