Cohesiveness in the locker room -- it's one of the most underrated components of a championship team.
Sure, each February, everybody sees a star player or coach hoist the Lombardi Trophy. But it takes a team, buoyed by strong chemistry, to reach the pinnacle of our sport.
Take a look at the last several Super Bowl champions. The Seattle Seahawks (who have played in back-to-back Super Bowls) certainly had that brotherhood, alongside their extreme talent. In recent years, the crowned teams in New England, Baltimore and New York -- the list could go on -- had this in common. That's not to say these teams were all totally drama-free, but when the chips were down, they stuck together.
So how does a team build a brotherhood? It's a combination of things, but it starts with the front office.
The owners have a lot to do with the type of players brought into the organization. I know that, during my days in New England, character meant a lot to our owners and coaches. The Patriots passed on some really great players because they had character issues. Owner Robert Kraft didn't want that type of person, regardless of the talent level, representing his family name and the Patriots with poor character. Even then, there are no 100 percent guarantees, as the Patriots have had players who made poor decisions.
Disrespectful players didn't last long with the Patriots when I played. We had a locker room full of leaders, a few at every position, but the captain of our ship was Bill Belichick. Our group was held accountable not only to the coaching staff but to each other. Often, issues that came up never even reached the coaching staff, because they were handled before they got out of hand.
Before and during some of our more successful years in the early 2000s, players coming in from other places had two choices: Do it the way we do it, or don't. We policed ourselves, and when it did go too far, the ill-mannered players wouldn't be around much longer, because Belichick and the coaching staff stood by us. We stood for what was right. We had so much success doing things a certain way for so long. Why wouldn't you believe in the process we helped build?
Locker rooms need leaders, but everybody needs to be held accountable and understand that they're role models to anyone paying the slightest bit of attention. It's a job that comes with a lot of pressure, and guys who can't deal with the pressure don't last long.
There are going to be high-profile players who have a past with character issues, and some owners accept and deal with those issues because of the player's talent level. When you see guys getting into it on and off the field on a consistent basis or who are in the headlines for the wrong reasons, you look at their production on the field. They get tolerated longer and get special treatment because of what they've accomplished.
What happened with Greg Hardy a couple of weeks ago -- the Cowboys' defensive end made headlines by having a heated exchange with special teams coach Rich Bisaccia during Dallas' Week 7 loss to the Giants -- is a recent prime example of a situation that should've been handled in a different manner. NFL teams are made up of alpha dogs, but being a superstar and professional is about knowing there is a time and a place for everything. It's about knowing how to get your point across respectfully.
We're all human and have all been guilty of not handling things the right way. There were times when I got into an argument in the locker room and handled it in the wrong way. After the fact, I did approach my teammates, because I lost control and used poor judgment. I felt like I owed them an apology. When I saw the apology offered by Packers safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix for his role in Sunday's sideline spat involving Julius Peppers and B.J. Raji, it rang true to me.
There were also times when I handled things the right way. I remember one time, when we were playing the Jets, I had a mental error and blew an assignment, and they scored a touchdown. I came off the field and got into it with defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, who I love to death. He's jawing at me and jawing at me, and as a player, when you make an error, you feel horrible and beat yourself down. After arguing back-and-forth, I walked away, and -- no lie -- smoke was coming out of my ears and the top of my head. I continued to play and had a few more sacks and a pick-six. I went over to the sideline and gave him the football and said, "Here's the seven points I owe you." We laughed about it and it was over. He expected a lot of me, and so did I. It was two people competing, and we left it on the field.
It helps to know your teammates on a personal level. We'd set aside one night a week to get to know each other, whether that meant having dinner or partaking in some other activity. That helped us immensely on the field, because it gave us a little more insight as to who our teammates were. We knew how to talk to one another and how to approach one another.
It's no wonder close-knit teams go on to win Super Bowls, or, at the very least, make a strong push.
Winners can handle episodes like Green Bay's recent dispute. The Packers are a well-coached team with veterans and leaders who know how to handle situations. They know how to bounce back, whereas other teams might let conflict spiral out of control and destroy morale.
Great teams separate themselves in the NFL -- on the field and in the locker room.