FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots have enjoyed unparalleled success during Bill Belichick’s tenure, winning five Super Bowls and reaching two others since the head coach came aboard in 2000.
But, as Belichick reminded reporters before Tuesday’s training camp practice, his Patriots dynasty grew out of humble beginnings.
With former Patriots long snapper Lonie Paxton back at Gillette Stadium for the day, Belichick spent a few minutes reminiscing about his first Patriots training camp, way back in 2000. It’s safe to say a whole lot has changed since then.
“The biggest difference is, in 2000, a quarter of the team couldn’t pass the conditioning run,” Belichick said. “So that wasn’t a very good start. We don’t really deal with that now or haven’t dealt with that in a while.”
A quarter of the team showing up out of shape? Such a thing never would happen today in New England. But that was the reality when Belichick took over the Patriots, who had gone 8-8 the previous season under players’ coach Pete Carroll.
“I don’t think there was a lot of commitment with that group,” Belichick said. “We obviously made a lot of changes from 2000 to 2001, and a lot of the guys that we stuck with from that team became pillars of the program, the organization in later years. That was a pretty slow start. I mean, it wasn’t a very good football team on a lot of levels. So we’ve moved past that, hopefully.”
They sure have. New England went 5-11 in Belichick’s first season but won the Super Bowl just one year later and have missed the playoffs just twice since.
More from Tuesday:
— Paxton, who played for New England from 2000 to 2008, was back in Foxboro, Mass., to sign a one-day contract to retire as a Patriot. He won three Super Bowl rings during his time with the Patriots before finishing his career with the Denver Broncos.
Now 39, Paxton still is best known for the snow angels he performed following Adam Vinatieri’s game-winning kicks in the 2001 divisional round against the Oakland Raiders and Super Bowl XXXVI against the St. Louis Rams.
“The snapper’s got to do something to get noticed other than screwing up the play,” Paxton joked. “It’s all about the relationships you make, and for me, it’s been a really fun thing to continue to talk about.”
— Paxton spent his final three seasons as a Patriot snapping for Stephen Gostkowski, who is entering his 12th year as New England’s kicker.
“Lonie was a huge mentor and a guy I really looked up to,” Gostkowski said. “It was really intimidating coming in my rookie year when every guy on that team had won three Super Bowls. They let me know it, too. He was hard on me, toughened me up a little bit, and I thank him for that. He’s such a good friend and a good guy and a great player, obviously, and it’s good to see him back around.”
— Legendary boxer Marvin Hagler visited Patriots practice over the weekend, which Belichick called “a great experience” for the team.
“(Hagler is) a legend, a great champion in a different sport,” said Belichick, who showed the team Hagler’s iconic fight with Thomas Hearns before Sunday’s practice. “He talked about a lot of the things that we talk about — preparation, focus, mental toughness, just kind of what it takes and it’s interesting.
“Obviously, a different sport. You’re only working with one guy, we’re working with a lot of guys, but the level that they’re at and the skills that he developed and preparation that he went through is very enlightening.”
Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images
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