When left tackle Nate Solder was selected in the first round of the 2011 NFL draft by the New England Patriots, he thought it was the perfect fit for his “winning is everything” mentality.
The 30-year-old, who signed with the New York Giants in March, opened up about what it was like playing for the Patriots on the Player’s Tribune, and talked about the pressure that comes with playing for a franchise that has been the NFL’s most successful team over the last 17 years.
“It can be a tough environment. It’s very businesslike, and at times it can be cold. Everything in New England is predicated on performance. It’s a place where people sometimes treat you differently based on how you practiced that day or how you answered a question in a meeting. One day, you could walk around the facility feeling like a Pro Bowler — the next, like you’re about to get cut.”
Despite a strict environment, Solder doesn’t have complaints because New England is “an incredible place to play, and I’m grateful for the years I spent there. It’s just that it could be tough sometimes. The Patriots have set a standard, and the pressure is very real. That’s the culture they’ve built — a winning culture — and it’s why they’ve been so successful. (Offensive coordinator) Josh (McDaniels) is a big part of that culture and in setting that tone.”
But in 2015, Solder had more than just football on his mind. His son, Hudson, was diagnosed with cancer when he was just three months old, and Solder spoke about how supportive the coaching staff was — particularly McDaniels.
“I really appreciated the fact that he took the time to say, ‘Nate, what you’re going through with Hudson … that’s more important than football,’ Solder writes. “He told me that if I ever needed to dip out of a meeting because the stress got to be too much, nobody would ask any questions. Coach Belichick told me the same. He said that if I ever needed to miss practice or a meeting, it was totally fine. ‘Whatever Hudson needs,’ he said.”
Even in a cut-throat locker room, the Patriots recognize some things are bigger than football.
“I don’t think I can even put into words how much I appreciated that — both what Bill said and how Josh handled everything. They treated me like a human being instead of a football player or a left tackle.”
The kindness off the field extended to Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who put Solder, his wife Lexi and Hudson in a hotel during a snowstorm that was within close distance of Children’s Hospital so the family wouldn’t miss Hudson’s chemo appointment due to the conditions of the roads.
“It was a small gesture — a little detail that I think speaks volumes about Mr. Kraft and the Patriots organization. And it’s just another example of the kindness and compassion that they showed my family and me during some of our most difficult times. We never felt like we were alone in our fight. We knew we had an entire organization supporting us.”
Solder signed a four-year, $62 million contract with the Giants, said he will miss being a Patriot and learned not only a lot about life throughout his seven years in New England, but also a lot about winning — and that it’s not everything.
Thumbnail photo via Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports Imaages