Humility is a great thing. In the present-day atmosphere of "in your face" athletes and the games they play, someone who slices up a little humble pie stands out in the crowd.
That's a shame, really. We should all eat a little humble pie from time to time. It's good for the digestive tract.
Check out a selection of photos from Patriots mini-camp on Tuesday, June 17, 2014 on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium.
Sure, it's fun to hear trash talk and brash predictions – who doesn't love to hear some of the proclamations from, say, a New York J-E-T-S point of view – especially when you keep in mind that NFL games are ultra-competitive and emotions run high as a consequence. But a little humility should be viewed as a unique quality in an NFL player, whether he's a seasoned veteran or a relative know-nothing rookie. It's a good trait to have, and when a newcomer shows up in your locker room with his humility in full display, it shouldn't be seen necessarily as a sign of weakness, timidity or lack of self-confidence.
Rather, humility should be the sign of ultimate strength. Having humility shouldn't mean having a lack of hubris…but having the dignity, class and leadership qualities to deal with all forms of adversity around a football field. As examples, new arrival James Anderson, a linebacker who played in Chicago last season and in Carolina before that, had his humility in full force when he arrived in Foxboro a couple of weeks ago. So did defensive end Will Smith, who previously excelled on the field in New Orleans.
Anderson told reporters "you can see why these guys have won so much…the work they put in, just the detail, how they work overall." That's a great start from a guy you might not know much about…although Anderson did lead the Bears with 102 total tackles a year ago, and he's played more games (94 in his career) at LB than any other backer in Carolina history. If anyone deserves the "right" to be a bit vocal, and maybe show his new coaches and teammates he belongs…Anderson does.
And this: "I think the hardest thing is coming in as one of the older guys in the room and having to go and prove yourself to the guys that are here, because being on a new team, you have to earn their respect. So I'm just trying to go out every day and work and do that."
What about new arrival Smith, working his way back from an ACL injury last season and the victim of a significant salary dump in New Orleans? If any player had a "right" to be disgruntled over the fickle finger that fate has handed him, Smith might qualify. "I'm excited about being here. I just love going out and competing, love going out on Sunday," Smith told reporters at mini-camp last week. "My main goal is to go out and get in football shape, make sure I know the playbook, and compete. I think (the defensive line) can be awesome."
Even former Jet and New England nemesis Darrelle Revis, known for his boasting on and off of the field in the past, appears to have taken a different tact upon his arrival in Foxboro…telling 98.5 The Sports Hub "I wanted to be here and happy to be a part of the family now. My role is to do my job, and whatever my assignment is, go out there and cover a guy the best way I can.
"I'm more mature," Revis added, sounding a bit more humble after suffering an ACL tear of his own two years ago. "I just gotta keep on working hard."
Well played, fellas. Your hubris isn't showing. Your teammates seem to like you, and so far, you're winning in the court of public opinion. If your football talents on the field can follow suit, perhaps the Patriots will have something here.
Oh yes, make no mistake. Football ability still comes first over personality. But the Patriots have also made no mistake about recruiting leaders onto their roster. They have looked for, and cultivated, veteran players who may have a chip on their shoulders, still with something to prove. They actively seek players who have served as captains somewhere along the line of their football careers, and true leaders often display the kind of humility that can separate winners from losers. Have you noticed how successful business CEO's most often deflect the attention that comes their way by spreading praise, and recognizing the abilities of others?
Tom Brady does that. We heard rookie QB Jimmy Garoppolo begin to do that during mini-camp. Bill Belichick even does that…somewhat grudgingly, perhaps. Pass the humble pie around, and spread the credit where it is due. Sometimes, it doesn't make for a great sound bite or grab your attention like trash talk does…but it's a recipe for success that has worked well in New England.
It's hard to fake humility. It's also hard to imitate honor, character, perseverance and patience. But the Patriots seem to know what they're looking for, and rarely stray from that formula. And if you haven't noticed, that humble pie has been pretty tasty around here for a while.
*John Rooke is an author and award-winning broadcaster, and has been the Patriots' stadium voice for 22 years. Currently serving in several media capacities – which include hosting "Patriots Playbook" during the season on Patriots.com Radio for 13 years, and broadcasting college football and basketball for the past 26 years, Rooke is also a member of the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame. *
Follow him on Twitter - @JRbroadcaster