Curran: Football, business at cross-purposes for Patriots

Curran: Football, business at cross-purposes for Patriots
October 26, 2012, 8:26 pm
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LONDON - Weird sight in the U.K.

On Friday morning, the Patriots held an hour-long walkthrough in Hyde Park across the street from their hotel.

ESPNBoston's Mike Reiss caught a portion of the no-pads practice and said that "25-50" onlookers watched the Patriots go through the motions in advance of Sunday's game against the Rams.

I wonder if a subtle message was being sent.

The Rams have been in London since Tuesday morning, practicing at the soccer facilities of Arsenal, a team in which Rams owner Stan Kroenke owns a stake. They've been friendly and available, carrying the day for the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell.

The Patriots' have taken a different tack, as Friday's pickup walkthrough demonstrates.

Was the Hyde Park workout a quaint way to do some work in a historic location? A chance to make the team and the sport accessible to Londoners?

Or did it highlight the logistical absurdity of playing a game in Europe and give more evidence the football side of the Patriots operation has not fully embraced this trip.

My take? A little of both.

It's obvious, the football side of the Patriots just isn't that into this junket.

Wide receiver Deion Branch bluntly said at his locker on Wednesday that he'd prefer to not be playing in Europe.

When Tom Brady was told he was on the schedule for an NFL Experience event on Saturday at Trafalgar Square, Brady raised an eyebrow, smiled and said, in essence, "I ain't doing that."

I promise you, those are not the NFL's talking points.

So it wasn't surprising to find Brady's comments scrubbed from transcripts provided by the Patriots media relations staff. Or that Friday morning Brady took them back, saying he "misspoke."

Think the directive to clarify those comments came from on high? Think Brady was gently told he actually would be heading over to Trafalgar Square after all? No doubt.

Because this trip is all about M.O.N.E.Y.

There's one reason and one reason only that the NFL holds a game in London.

To sell product.

And if the most recognizable player on the excursion indicates he'll be taking a pass on the pep rally, that doesn't help the sales pitch, now does it?

"Look Mum, is that Michael Hoomanawanui? Let's get a photo!"

So there's your dynamic. The business side of the Patriots views playing in London as a terrific opportunity to "grow the brand", create revenue streams and curry favor abroad.

The football side knows the trip strips the team of valuable preparation time, makes staff have to spend time on travel and logistics and, quite plainly, is a pain in the ass.

With Belichick, you have to read tone to get an indication of where his heart is. Friday morning, he was not in the mood to play along when meeting the media. He was short. Terse. Humorless.

He's never going to be mistaken for Louis CK, but Belichick can tap into a measure of charm when he desires to. Last year's Super Bowl where he was engaging and insightful with the media is a ready example.

Maybe he was just tired after an overnight flight. Or maybe he was in the midst of processing that his 4-3 team was really, truly waking up on another continent while trying to avoid .500.

Seriously, look at it from Belichick's point of view. His defense backfield is screwed up and injuries are mounting.

Meanwhile, issues at the league level are affecting his ability to have his team at its best.

The start of the season was marred by the owners' inability to hammer out a deal with the league's officials. And while the replacement refs screwed everyone but New England got it bad against both Arizona and Baltimore. And this London trip comes just 11 days after the Patriots returned from Seattle. Oh, and this is New England's second trip to London in four seasons. (And don't forget, the China Bowl that got wiped out in 2008 was supposed to feature the Patriots, too).

Now, Belichick is supposed to put on a grin so that everyone in the NFL offices feels like they've done their jobs?

What's the upside for him or his team? The on-field bottom line is wins and losses. And that is in direct opposition to the bottom line that is the priority on a trip like this one - the financial bottom line.

Well, Belichick can take solace in the fact his Patriots will be back home on Monday and into their bye week with a chance to get right into their preparation for the second half of the season.

Unless, of course, Hurricane Sandy re-routes the team to Greenland where it will have to stay until Thursday.

That''ll go over big.