By: Russ Goldman
I recently had the opportunity to ask Michael Felger several questions that span his history of covering the New England Patriots. He currently can be heard on the “Felger and Massarotti Show” on 98.5 The Sports Hub, seen on Comcast SportsNet, and you can read his stories on CSNNE.COM.
Below is my “Sunday Morning Conversation With Michael Felger”.
In 1999 you started to cover the Patriots for the Boston Herald. What was your first impression of the Patriots organization under Pete Carroll and Bobby Grier?
Not good enough. Pete just didn’t command respect and Grier’s drafting record was already established. The wheels were on the way off when I started covering them and it didn’t take long for them to come completely unscrewed. Not that I realized it then, but the culture in the locker room was just so much different than what it would become under Belichick. Players under Pete clearly had more leash.
How difficult was it for you to do your job under Carroll?
Not difficult at all. Players were available. They talked. And a lot of them had gripes. I was so new that I didn’t have the relationships to cash in on that, but I remember [Nick] Cafardo, [Ron] Borges and [Kevin] Mannix having a field day.
What are your thoughts on Pete Carroll when he was the Head Coach of the Patriots?
You just sort of knew he didn’t have it. No command. He didn’t do personnel. He didn’t do contracts. Heck, he didn’t even control the offense (that was Ernie Zampese). And all that “pumped and jacked” crap was a legitimate weakness. The amazing part is he still doesn’t get it. He’s saying the same stuff in Seattle. Excitement level means very little in pro football. It’s a factor in high school and college. But in the NFL, if a coach calls the wrong play or puts a player in the wrong spot, it doesn’t matter how enthusiastic he is. He’ll get smoked. Pete lost the confidence of his players because they didn’t trust his football ability.
“Overall, I thought he was a heck of a nice guy. I think that perception of him was totally legit. A class act. Just not that great a quarterback.” Michael Felger on former Patriots QB Drew Bledsoe.
What kind of professional relationship did you experience covering Drew Bledsoe?
Don’t think he liked me much, not that I was much of a factor in his world one way or the other. But let’s face it, he was totally in the bag with the Globe guys. And it came through shamelessly in their coverage. Go back and read some of the stories from that season. We all could see that Bledsoe wasn’t playing very well, but in the Globe it was always something else. It was the line. Or Zampese. Or the lack of a running game. Or the decline of Ben Coates, etc. Mannix called the Globe guys (Borges, Cafardo and [Will] McDonough) the “Boo Hoo Drew Crew.” Brilliant.
But, overall, I thought he was a heck of a nice guy. I think that perception of him was totally legit. A class act. Just not that great a quarterback.
When Belichick took over in 2000, what were the changes you noticed between the two regimes?
The mood in the locker room was noticeably tighter. That’s the one that stands out the most. There are a million others and they have been well articulated elsewhere. But the culture just changed. Attendance shot up at the off-season conditioning program. The yapping stopped. The media had nowhere to go for stories other than Belichick and the podium — and we all know what comes from that. They were all changes very much for the better.
How difficult has it been for you to do your job since Belichick took over in 2000?
No problem whatsoever after I stopped being the beat guy (in 2005, I think). As just an opinion guy who isn’t responsible for information — he’s terrific. Just think of all the fodder he and his team have given us. The winning. The controversial personnel decisions (Bledsoe/Brady, [Lawyer]Milloy, [Corey] Dillion, [Ty] Law, [Asante] Samuel, [Richard] Seymour, [Randy] Moss). Spygate. The undefeated season and the Super Bowl loss. The years of great drafting followed by a series of clunkers. It goes on and on. For all his success, he’s given us plenty to criticize. Belichick, himself, can be very boring. But his team is far from it. I love covering his team as a talk show host.
What are your thoughts of Belichick as a head coach?
He’s pretty good.
(Don’t make me answer this in full. It’s too long an answer.) He’s the best coach of my lifetime – how’s that? And when he wins another Super Bowl, all the things that have nagged at his legacy the last few years – Spygate, his postseason record since [Romeo] Crennel and [Charlie] Weis left, his success-rate at the draft – will go by the wayside. But here’s a point a lot of people don’t want to get: that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t criticize him when we feel it’s warranted. And don’t you agree there’s been more to criticize the last few years?
What kind of professional relationship have you had covering Tom Brady?
Not much of one anymore. I’m never down there, and it’s not like I’m calling him up to chat on the phone. Prior to that he was good to me, as he is to most of the guys who have been covering the team for a long time. But unlike the Globe writers, I wasn’t a “Brady guy” because he was nice to me and gave me exclusive interviews (which he did), I was a Brady guy because I thought he was a good quarterback. Imagine that.
What player have you had the best relationship with?
I’m good with punters. Lee Johnson was a super guy. Josh Miller was tremendous. Like everyone else, I had fun with Rodney Harrison. Like a lot of others, I got abused (in a mostly fun way) by Mike Vrabel.
What players have you had a bad relationship with?
I wasn’t exactly warm and fuzzy with [Richard] Seymour. Corey Dillon almost shoved me in a locker. Willie McGinest questioned my sexuality. I could go on. There weren’t a lot of fans down there.
What story most stands out for you that you wrote while covering the Pats?
The things that stick with me are the things I got wrong. Ted Washington coming back (it hurt because it came from an outstanding source). Randy Moss going to Green Bay (it hurt because it was an atrocious source). I did manage to break a few stories when I was the beat guy, too, but I don’t remember them like the screw ups.
Was there a story you regret writing about the Pats?
The column after the Pats beat the Giants in Week 17 to go 16-0. I was mostly critical – which was kind of a silly thing to do considering they had just done something no one else had ever done. But regret is a big part of my job. I don’t think a day goes by where I don’t regret something I’ve said or the way I’ve said it.
Do you think it is unfair that you have been compared by many fans to Ron Borges with your coverage of the Pats?
My evil mentor? God no. He’s taught me everything I know.
Seriously, it’s not hard to see why I’ve alienated some hardcore fans (such as the people on your board). I’ve been pretty critical at times and my tonality is an issue. But I do think part of that is on the fans, too. There’s just something about the Patriots experience that isn’t as open to criticism and debate. Chris Gasper wrote a column about this, and he’s absolutely right. With the Red Sox, criticizing and second-guessing are an essential part of the experience. But Patriots fans seem far less open to it.
In way it makes sense when you consider how damn sensitive the team is and the brand of loyalty they demand from the people who cover it. It really comes through in some of the coverage. It’s led to a situation where those who criticize individual decisions suddenly get portrayed as anti-Patriot. Or they possess an “agenda.” Or they belong to a cartel. Or some such foolishness.
I can’t speak for Borges, but in my case it’s always been about the individual decisions, not the people involved. I don’t have a problem with the Krafts — I just think they should have paid Asante Samuel, for example. I think they’ve hurt themselves by forcing players to play to end of their team-friendly rookie contracts, for another example. I’m getting tired of their “value” system, but only because I think it’s led to some mistakes. But I never said they’re bad owners and (contrary to popular opinion) I’ve never said they’re cheap. I don’t have a problem with Bill Belichick — I just think his 2006 draft hurt the team. I don’t have a problem with Randy Moss (I swear), I just think he’s more trouble than he’s worth and he’s not as impactful in terms of wins and losses as everyone thinks. I don’t hate the team, I’ve just felt the need to defend those opinions. When I really think about it, I’ve had far more of an issue with the sensitivity of Patriots fans and Patriots media (for lack of a better term) than I have the team itself.
|“In way it makes sense when you consider how damn sensitive the team is and the brand of loyalty they demand from the people who cover it. It really comes through in some of the coverage. It’s led to a situation where those who criticize individual decisions suddenly get portrayed as anti-Patriot. Or they possess an “agenda.” Or they belong to a cartel. Or some such foolishness.”|
What would be something that would surprise Pats fans about you?
Can’t think of a single thing. What you see is pretty much what you get, unfortunately.
Do you consider yourself a fan of the Patriots?
Sure, although not in the sense that most of your readers would define it. From a professional standpoint, their success is very important to me. The 98.5 connection is obvious. But talking sports in this town would be a hell of a lot more boring if the team was no good. Being an elite team raises the stakes and makes any topic involving them more compelling.
I have found your interviews with Jonathan Kraft very informative and entertaining. How would you describe your interactions with Jonathan Kraft?
Spirited. The beauty of if is that we pretty much do the same thing off the air, only he swears a lot more.
Whatever happened to “Four Downs with Felger?”
Tweeter (the title sponsor) went out of business and the owners of the station at the time didn’t want to go forward with the show without another title sponsor, which we couldn’t procure.
You have mentioned that you visit Patsfans.com. What draws you to the website?
The message board. I don’t do twitter, so I find it the best place to go on the internet to find breaking news involving the team. If anything is reported anywhere regarding the Pats, it goes up there pretty quick. And it’s not just news, but hidden stories. Remember when some podunk paper wrote a story about Kliff Kingsbury telling some Elks Lodge about his faking a shoulder injury as a rookie so the team could stash him on IR? I/we never would have seen something like that unless it was linked to on the board. There’s also a fair amount of media commentary on there, so I’ll check in with that sometimes, too.
On the current Patriots, you have been outspoken on your feelings about Randy Moss. Why is he not your type of player?
He’s just a guy who is all about physical talent, and not much else. I don’t find him particularly tough, smart, clutch or resilient. He’s certainly not selfless, nor is he a great competitor. He’s just tall and fast and coordinated. I just described about 90 percent of the NBA, by the way, and I’m not a big fan of that league, either. If I liked those things I’d watch track and field. I like team sports because of the intangible nature of players working together to out-smart, out-tough, out-coach or out-whatever an opponent. Randy brings none of those intangibles.
More importantly, I don’t think he made the team any better when it truly counted. They got worse as the 2007 playoffs progressed — going from 31 points scored in the divisional round, to 24 in the AFC championship game to 14 in the Super Bowl. They got blown out in the first round in 2009.
For what it’s worth, you all used to agree with me before Randy got here. I just never changed my mind on the guy. You did.
You recently mentioned that you believe the Patriots are going to the AFC Championship game now that Randy Moss has been traded. How did you come to that conclusion?
It’s really not that outrageous of an opinion. Before the Moss trade I had them making the playoffs, probably even winning the division. That means a home playoff game on wild card weekend, and they most likely would have been favored in that game. So even before the Moss trade I wouldn’t have been surprised to see them in the division round. Now I have them winning one more game in the playoffs because I think with him gone, they’ll be better when it counts.
In the future can you see the Patriots winning more Super Bowls in the Brady era?
Yup. They’ll win one in the next three years.
I want to thank Michael Felger for taking the time with me to do this interview. I really appreciate it, and we look forward to hearing more throughout the season with both he and Tony Massarotti during the week on 98.5 The Sports Hub here in New England.