Many years ago, about the time that most of the old Foxboro Stadium had been turned into rubble, a quirky circumstance of crossed telephone wires allowed reporters to get a highly unusual glimpse of truth into the Patriots' inner workings.
The administration building was about all that was left standing as the 2001 NFL Draft unfolded, and some hurried re-wiring of the premises had the unintended side effect of patching the "war room" telephone lines into the lines serving the former luxury box that housed reporters covering the draft.
At one point, an enterprising soul (I won't say who, but his initials are M.F., and I don't mean Michael Felger) discovered that his laptop computer could not send a story to his office because voices could be heard over the phone line to which it was connected. It was Bill Belichick and his staff, watching the draft unfold on television in their private room and making unguarded remarks that were unknowingly being broadcast throughout the building.
Long story short, some of the comments made it into print in a metropolitan newspaper, Belichick was enraged, and the only thing that prevented an outright ban of the entire media corps and wholesale firings in the media relations department was the knowledge that when all was said it done, it wasn't anyone's fault other than the poor souls that had been told to rig up phone service any way they could.
Nothing that went over the crossed lines was earthshaking stuff, but it was a rare respite from the usual tack of obfuscation that Belichick took with the media (and still does).
Why am I strolling down this particular sidewalk on Memory Lane, you might ask? Because I would have done just about anything to have had that same phone line crackling in my ear when someone called Belichick last week to tell his that Brandon Spikes was claiming he had a deer in his headlights.
You all know by now that the former and formerly future Patriots' linebacker, who was intending to show everyone he was a changed man in this year's training camp, is being charged by state police as a result of the apparent hit-and-run accident he had on Interstate 495 last week.
Spikes, who left the Patriots for the Bills in free agency last year only to return on a one-year contract, left his very expensive Mercedes Maybach along the highway after allegedly slamming into an SUV, although he claimed he had hit a deer. The next morning, before any actual details of the accident came to light, Spikes was released.
Now, the natural temptation is to classify all this as just another football player being a nitwit, as so many of them are. But that's harsh. I still want to believe that there are more solid citizens among the rank-and-file of the NFL than there are nitwits, even on the bad weeks when there are several names in the news for engaging in drug abuse and domestic abuse as well as a variety of lesser offenses.
Still, Spikes does have a lot of nitwittery in him. Not long after he was drafted, a photograph of him and a University of Florida co-ed caught in the proverbial compromising position made it to the Internet. He had his share of missed practices as a Patriot and didn't always appear to be committed to chapter and verse of the Belichick Bible, and thus when he became a free agent last year, the Patriots didn't lift a finger to keep him.
I have to believe that right from the start of this prodigal son's return, Spikes was told in no uncertain terms that he would be on a short leash. Mess up, and he'd be gone - especially this year, with the Patriots sitting under the world's biggest electron microscope in the wake of the Deflategate scandal.
So what happened? Not long after reporters (including yours truly) were fooled into writing the "I'm a changed man" story, Spikes messed up and he was gone. It's taking a little longer for due process to kick in, but apparently Belichick felt he knew all he needed to know.
It's been a preseason of swift justice in Foxboro; Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler felt the sting of Belichick's ire by arriving late in Foxboro for the organized team activities. Weather-related flight delays grounded him in Atlanta and he duly informed the team of his plight, but Belichick wants no excuses. Butler sat out almost three weeks of field work in the OTAs, clearly being made an example for others to heed.
Belichick hates late arrivals, and even acts of God don't deserve dispensation. Years ago, linebacker Adailus Thomas was sent home from practice because he didn't get to the stadium in time due to miserable driving conditions in a blizzard, leading him to remark to reporters that he would have had to own the Jetsons' flying car to make it on time - a remark that forever endeared him to fans of George, Jane, Judy, Elroy and Astro, but didn't mean Spacely's Sprockets to Belichick.
If Butler's circumstance appeared to be a case of picking on a youngster because it was easy, don't forget that Belichick also sent Darrelle Revis home for a late practice arrival last year. One wonders if "home" eventually became New Jersey, but that's another issue.
It's a tough time to be a Patriot. The public beyond the Connecticut River view the Patriots as the team they love to hate. Even the most minor transgression seems to fuel the fires of national disdain that were ignited by Spygate and Deflategate, as well as the fact that the Patriots are usually just plain better than everyone else and their owner isn't bashful about telling everyone that they are.
The offseason following a Super Bowl victory should have been a lot happier than it has been, that's for sure. And I'm not even counting the former tight end that's doing a life sentence for murder.
So if Belichick is overreacting to minor offenses, he probably has good reason to - especially when others of supposedly higher profile apparently didn't heed his warnings to straighten out and fly right.
Meanwhile, there is no truth to the rumor that next to the definition of "nitwit" in Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, there's a photo of Brandon Spikes. But it wouldn't be a bad idea.