Commentary

Bare walls, clean slate at Gillette

With reminders of past teams gone, Patriots focus on earning their own shrine

Updated: July 30, 2010, 9:38 AM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- In the process of a little spring cleaning, the New England Patriots might have unintentionally stumbled upon a mantra for the 2010 season -- and it centers around not dwelling on past success.

During the offseason, the team began removing pictures and mementos from the squad's victories, including three Super Bowl seasons, that have accumulated since the Patriots moved into their new facilities at Gillette Stadium following the first of those titles in 2002. The now-bare walls, once adorned with celebratory shots of Tedy Bruschi, Troy Brown and Rodney Harrison, immediately resonated with players and staff.

Intentional or not, the bare walls sent a message that nothing short of taking a bulldozer to the Hall at Patriot Place could have provided.

Banta-Cain When a wall full of pictures is all white, you can't help but notice.

-- Patriots linebacker Tully Banta-Cain

For a team facing a six-year championship drought, a team that hasn't won a playoff game in two seasons, and a team that's no longer assumed to dominate its own division, it's time to rebuild New England's reputation as a championship franchise.

A new year, a clean slate.

"Whatever the organization wants to do to motivate, by all means, go ahead," said defensive tackle Ty Warren, a member of two of those championship teams. "[The pictures] really don't have anything to do with coming out here and defending the run, playing the pass, completing a pass, or anything like that. That's life. You gotta come out here and do that.

"The building could get set on fire and [the pictures will] be gone. Football will still be played, it really doesn't matter. It doesn't matter to me and I don't think it matters to a lot of these guys."

But Warren admitted there was a certain shock factor walking into the stadium Wednesday, the mandatory reporting date for veteran players, and not seeing the iconic championship images. Whispers quickly spread among players and the message was later hammered home by the coaching staff.

"When a wall full of pictures is all white, you can't help but notice," said linebacker Tully Banta-Cain, another two-time Super Bowl champ.

The company line following New England's first practice of the 2010-11 season Thursday morning was that the team is having a fresh start. Even though very few faces have changed since last season, players talked about forging a new identity with this group.

"We're a team that's never really relied on what we've done in the past anyway," said left tackle Matt Light, one of three remaining Patriots to be a part of all three Super Bowl victories (Tom Brady, Kevin Faulk and Stephen Neal are the others).

[+] EnlargeRandy Moss
AP Photo/Steven SenneRandy Moss winds up for a throw during Day 1 of training camp at Gillette Stadium on Thursday.

"If anything, [past seasons are] learning experiences about how not to do it," Light said. "There's never been a season when we've gone out there and played perfect football."

No need to remind anyone. The Patriots have been pedestrian at best since the New York Giants dashed dreams of a 19-0 season in Super Bowl XLII. Quarterback Tom Brady tore his ACL in the first game of the 2008-09 season and New England missed the playoffs despite an 11-5 season with backup Matt Cassel.

The Patriots went 10-6 in a roller-coaster regular season last year, only to be throttled by the Baltimore Ravens in the Wild Card round of the playoffs.

Take away New England's flirt with perfection in 2007 and there haven't been many positive memories to hang on the walls in Foxborough since the 2004 season ended. The Patriots lost to the Broncos in the divisional round in 2005, and then fell to the Colts (in heartbreaking fashion) in the AFC title game a year later.

The only iconic images of the past five years have been the likes of Junior Seau walking dejectedly through a blizzard of confetti in Glendale, Ariz., as the Giants celebrated their Super Bowl win in February of 2008, or Brady writhing in pain against the Chiefs six months later.

Like Webster's does each year with their dictionary, the Patriots updated their team lexicon. Words like "dynasty" and "tradition" got tossed in the same heap as those old photos.

"That's one thing we're trying to get away from, living in the past," said Vince Wilfork, who hasn't tasted a Super Bowl victory since his rookie season in 2004. He referenced the likes of Harrison, Brown and Willie McGinest while recalling the success at the start of this century, but said it's time to move on.

"Those guys were great Patriots, great players. They'll probably go down as the best Patriots that played around here. ... Don't get me wrong, what they've done is what they've done. Now it's time for us to move on. This is one way we can move on. Something fresh, something new. Everyone comes from the ground floor and everything you get you earn."

The first day of training camp is a fresh start for all 32 teams, but for the Patriots, Thursday offered a chance to hit the reset button on more than just an underwhelming 2009 campaign.

"We haven't done anything yet," Wilfork said. "All you can do is put one foot forward every day in training camp and see where you are at the end of the day."

The Patriots might have removed the clutter, but the bare walls remain off-putting. The team is hoping to alleviate that matter by creating new snapshots this season.

"After last year's disappointing loss, we're trying to start over," linebacker Jerod Mayo said. "We're starting from scratch. Hopefully we win some more games and get some new pictures up."

Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com who's checking in from Patriots training camp this week. Follow him on Twitter.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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