Last August, when the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots worked out together at Flowery Branch, the teams took turns running the PA music playlist. Bill Belichick's set consisted of The Who, Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi, with at least Georgia Force national anthem-belter Ovie Mughelli enjoying "Livin' On a Prayer" enough to air-guitar while running tires.
When the Falcons took over, the accompaniment veered from classic rock to Southern rap to rap for kids. During one stretching exercise, Sean Weatherspoon and three teammates dropped everything to dance along to "Teach Me How to Dougie." The Patriots continued stretching.
Thomas Dimitroff has coached American football on two continents and in three countries, four if you count Texas. A vegetarian rock climber who has yet to select a Big Ten player after 27 picks as Falcons general manager, he shouldn't strike anybody as conventional, but just look at that smiling roster and that stat-quoting uncle head coach and that thudding offense. This is a grassroots operation built to grind. Right?
We're told the New England Way is to harvest future draft picks from the ... uh, the rains of bad teams who are looking to give up their draft picks for win-now gambles. Metaphor collapsed. It's worked like a dream for almost a decade. But that's a tactic, not a strategy -- the thinking behind that draft behavior is straight Eli Whitney, chased with Henry Ford. Things break and must be quickly replaced for the good of the machine. Therefore, have replacements ready.
We're told Dimitroff, as a Belichick disciple, will follow the successful New England format to consistent postseason appearances. And so far, he's done that -- stocking up on picks, making no more than one free agent splurge per offseason -- except that he hasn't entirely. It's just that the Julio Jones trade makes it more apparent than ever.
Consider Arthur Blank's noted dictum that Falcons players be that know-it-when-I-see-it "character men" thing, and Dimitroff's preference for college team captains. Last year's selection of SEC All-Academic Corey Peters was roundly hooted, until it was discovered he's now one of the team's best defensive linemen. Belichick does not have such a requirement. Brandon Spikes, Randy Moss, Aaron Hernandez, Corey Dillon ... I'm not saying the Falcons locker room is perfect, nor am I saying those are bad people. But Belichick operates under the assumption that the strength and brand of his Super Bowl institution will assimilate or reject as it will, while the Falcons still sell tickets in the shadow of a quarterback with bloody hands.
And consider the level of access given to fans and media by both. The Patriots are walled-in. While Mike Smith is elusive about his treasured injury reports, the Falcons are throwing themselves at a region obsessed with SEC football and the Atlanta Braves. I can't imagine there's a NFL team doing more to communicate with its fans. SEC fan, here is a wide receiver who excelled in Nick Saban's plodding, game-managey, run-blocky offense. You've heard Smith and Dimitroff repeat the word process non-stop since arriving in Atlanta, haven't you?
I expected that question, especially from the Boston side of the building ... We knew that it was going to be an aggressive move and cost us. -- Dimitroff
To take the biggest risk of your professional career, in a way, is to admit weakness. Dimitroff laid his balls, word and entire legacy on the line in trading up for Julio Jones because he believes the team's offense needs specific help and very badly. Would Belichick, one of the greatest coaches in the game's history, ever acknowledge a shortcoming in such a way? I have no idea whether Dimitroff did the right thing, and have been terrified of this pick since it was first rumored earlier this week, but I do admire his courage both to publicly face a problem and to do a very big thing about it. Still gonna worry about it for at least 12 months, though.
The Patriots have five picks Friday night. The Falcons have one. Livin' on a prayer indeed.
During that joint practice last summer, former Falcons tight end Alge Crumpler was wearing white and blue. As a Falcon, he was known for his curb-stompin' crunk dance touchdown celebration. In 2010 he no longer danced. He did not Dougie. Bill Belichick has not issued Dougie instructions. Git Crump became Tight End No. 83. "I sleep where coach tells me to sleep," he said after practice.
Julio, welcome to Atlanta. Whether we win or not, we don't really ever stop dancing.
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