FOXBORO, Mass. — NFL players often say friendships and relationships don’t end when a teammate is cut or traded.
Brandon Bolden’s phone is proof of that.
Bolden, a veteran running back and special teamer, has been with the New England Patriots since 2012, save for a one-year stint with the Miami Dolphins in 2018. At the start of each season, he and his position mates start up a group chat — a way for New England’s backs to talk, joke and keep things light when they’re not practicing or poring over game film. The next year, the Patriots’ new backfield opens a new chat, and so on, and so on.
But these text threads don’t go dormant once the season ends. In fact, some remain active nearly a decade later.
“It depends on which group chat you’re talking about, because each year, we have a different (one),” Bolden explained Wednesday. “Like, me, LG (LeGarrette Blount), Dion (Lewis) and James (White) still have our group chat (from 2016). Me, Shane (Vereen), Rid (Stevan Ridley) and Danny (Woodhead) still have our group chat (from 2012). And (one from) James’ rookie year with Shane (in 2014). So it depends on what year and which group chat you’re talking about. We’ve still got Sony (Michel) in our (2021) group chat. So we all stick together.
“I will say this: Out of every (position) room I’ve seen in here, the running backs have been the tightest. It doesn’t matter how long you’re here or how long you’re gone, you’re still a Patriots running back at the end of the day. We still talk to Mike Gillislee and everything — all those guys.”
As you can imagine, keeping track of all these various chats can be complicated and time-consuming. Especially for a player like Bolden, who’s also peppered with notifications from his fellow special teamers.
He loves it, though. To Bolden, the “best part” of playing on an NFL team is forging these types of lasting bonds with his teammates.
“You’ve got to think, I play offense and special teams, so I’m in a lot of group chats,” Bolden said. “A lot of different group chats, at that. It is hard to keep up with, because it’s me and James in some, and it’s me and Damien (Harris) in some, and it’s me and J.J. (Taylor) or Rhamondre (Stevenson) in some. Then it’s me and (Matthew) Slater in a few of them, and James might be in that one. So it’s a lot to keep track of, but it’s a great group of guys in every single one.
“It’s the funniest thing to walk away from your phone and come back, and they have been texting for all of 12 minutes but you’ve got 106 text messages. So you can imagine the jokes and how long it is. You’ve just got to catch up and try to get a joke in before everybody goes to bed or something like that. We have a great time, but it’s a lot. But it’s a way for all of us to try to keep each other up in good spirits.”
The running back group chat allowed Bolden to stay connected after he opted out of last season due to COVID-19 concerns. Now, it’ll have the same benefit for White, who will miss the rest of the season after suffering a hip subluxation in the Patriots’ Week 3 loss to the New Orleans Saints.
“James is James,” Bolden said. “For the most part, the worst part about his day is he can’t move as much as he would like. His wife is keeping him on bed rest, which is good for him. I’m not going to say he’s enjoying it, but we’re keeping him up with everything, if something funny happens in a meeting. He’s very active in the group chat, especially not being around, just like I was last year. So we have a great time.
“It’s almost like he’s there, but he’s not fully there. He’s missed. He’s doing good as far as I know. (We’re) waiting on whatever type of protocol thing they have going on so we can go see him, just to let him know we’re still thinking about him and everything else.”
White, a Patriot since 2014, is one of New England’s most important and respected players. Bolden views him “like (a) little brother.”
“That’s the most we can do right now,” Bolden said. “Because the last thing I want is to get cussed out by James White for calling him too late or not checking in on him.”