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The Key Ingredient Is Ruthlessness, With Seth Wickersham

Tom Brady, seen here yelling during the Bucs' Week 9 loss to Washington, with The Distraction logo at upper left.
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The New England Patriots have been the greatest and sourest team in the NFL for two decades now. Things have changed, stars have risen and been rage-cut, a bunch of Rutgers and Navy guys have cycled in and out, Bill Belichick’s clothing has continued to disintegrate hideously while Robert Kraft’s has somehow only become shinier and more expensive-looking, but the Patriots are still the Patriots. Whatever effects the (experimental!) Macpill proves to have in the long term, the team remains a singular institution both because of its success and because of how secretive and anti-human it has remained throughout.

This was also true 10 years ago, though, and the conversation wasn’t much fun to have even then. So while we were delighted to welcome ESPN’s Seth Wickersham to the podcast this week, we did not talk entirely about his book on the Patriots dynasty, It’s Better To Be Feared. Wickersham made this easy, because he is a good talker and because he knows a great deal about the sordid backroom ratfuckery and oafish rich-guy power plays that dictate so much of the NFL’s broader direction. At the risk of spoiling the episode, those hoping for the return of Drew’s Bob Kraft voice will not be disappointed.

There is a lot of Tom Brady in the monitors, too, but it’s mostly trying to suss out the specifics of his personal uncanniness and secret ruthlessness, and the more general mystification and unreality that settles over athletes once they achieve Brady-grade levels of notoriety. Given what the Patriots are like, focusing on the characters involved—Brady and Belichick, sure, but also hunky cameo players like Jimmy Garoppolo—is maybe the most revealing and surely the most entertaining way to talk about this particular dynasty. When the alternative is just contemplating an edifice with the words “Fuck Off” written on it, it’s more fun to wonder why Belichick valued Garoppolo so much more highly than just about anyone else in the sport.

Then it was time for the dumber stuff. Wickersham seemed delighted to be introduced to the Guy Of The Week concept, although I had to do much of the heavy lifting when it came to actually remembering Myron Guyton. From there, it got goofier. I described what I believed the Funbag would look like in real life, and everyone got mad. A reader proposed a one-off penalty veto for the NFL; I defended being a member of the Dan Campbell Defense Squad; Pete Metzelaars was treated very very unfairly. An extremely stoned reader question opened the floor for an appreciation of all the many cool-sounding shapes that exist. If a podcast can experience home-field advantage, we were absolutely enjoying it by this point.

This is where I mention the live recording of this podcast that will happen at Caveat in Manhattan, on Dec. 8. If you cannot get to that venue at that time, you can also watch it on a livestream; you can learn more about that here. We will not talk about Tom Brady unless you ask about him, or I guess unless we feel like it. It’s all kind of up in the air at this point, honestly. All we can do is stay hydrated, and stay ruthless.

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