When you deal with nitroglycerine, there is one fundamental and inescapable rule of thumb: If you want to keep your thumbs, or, for that matter, retain any other single atom of your physical anatomy, handle with care.
On Sunday morning, the NFL's master chemist, Bill Belichick of New England, decided to add perhaps the most combustible element in the league to a Patriots' locker room where the chemistry is one of near-perfect balance. But lest explosive yet enigmatic wide receiver Randy Moss be misled into believing he will mess with the equilibrium created by Belichick, personnel chief Scott Pioli, owner Bob Kraft, and the band of veteran leaders they have assembled, the five-time Pro Bowl player should be forewarned.
Belichick doesn't put on the kid gloves for anyone. Not even a player who possesses the kind of impressive skills, and big-play component, Moss brings to the team.
No matter the résumé of the individual, toxicity is not tolerated by the Patriots, and Moss will find that out quickly, if he doesn't already know it. Team sources said Sunday that Moss is already on notice and on an even shorter leash.
Step out of line one day, you're out of the lineup the next, and soon sent packing.
If Moss doesn't believe it, well, he'd be wise not to seek empirical, first-hand evidence that Belichick indeed means business with his no-monkey-business decree.
When he was fired by Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell following the 1995 season, and after compiling a 37-45 record, Belichick did a lot of soul-searching about what had gone wrong in his first head coaching gig. One of the conclusions he reached after the lengthy self-examination: If he ever got a second chance to be a head coach, Belichick would treat everyone the same.
The same rules for everyone. No favorites. No exceptions.
The philosophy has worked pretty well, most observers would agree, during Belichick's tenure as a head coach. He inherited a franchise that was a halfway house for malcontents and incorrigibles and transformed it into a team where everyone is just naturally expected to go all the way and on every play. Belichick has claimed three Super Bowl titles and, at some point, will earn himself a niche in the Hall of Fame.
For the wayward Moss to get off the detour road he's been traversing the last several years, and get back on course for Canton, a Super Bowl ring would serve as a handy compass. That reality, apparently, has sunk in now with Moss, who believes his legacy will ultimately be measured by rings, not receptions. That is part of the reason he made some concessions to facilitate the Sunday trade.
But financial givebacks alone by Moss won't satisfy Belichick and the team leaders from whom he elicited support before consummating the trade. In the New England locker room, no one is going to care much how much money Moss is making. More important to the Pats' team is how much effort is he making and, thus, how many plays is he authoring. It is those elements on which Moss will be judged by his new teammates.
And if there is one team where the latest attempt to transform Moss into a selfless player will work, and where he will be compelled to work by the examples set around him, it is the Patriots. Belichick is the equivalent of a human haz-mat suit. And the New England locker room, the environment nurtured there, is like a sterile laboratory.