INDIANAPOLIS -- So about that Tiquan Underwood thing ...
It was nothing. And it was everything.
It was nothing to the game. Tiquan Underwood, the receiver the New England Patriots released on Saturday night -- roughly 24 hours before the Super Bowl -- might not have been active for the game anyway. He almost definitely wasn't going to be a major factor in what proved to be a 21-17 loss to the Giants. The final Patriots receiver to make the active roster for Super Bowl XLVI, Chad Ochocinco, played a handful of snaps and caught one pass. He was a non-entity in the game, and that's what Tiquan Underwood almost definitely would have been, had he played. A non-entity.
So this whole story is nothing, in a sports way.
And it's everything, in a real-life way. Because Tiquan Underwood is a real-life person, with real dreams and real, yes, feelings. Underwood was one of the hits of Media Day, a charming young man with crazy-tall hair who had a barber carve the Patriots' logo into the back of his hairdo.
You can't make this stuff up.
Underwood is a professional athlete, but he's also a person. He's a man with plans and pride -- and a guy who had all of it ripped from him on Saturday night, at about the time he was trying to decide how to spend his final few hours before going to bed and getting rest for the Super Bowl the next day. That's when Bill Belichick released him, waiting that long presumably to prevent the Giants from claiming Underwood on waivers and using his knowledge against New England. Belichick released Underwood at the best possible time for the Patriots, but the worst possible time for Underwood.
Officially, the Patriots wanted another defensive lineman for the active roster. So when they released Underwood, they also announced that they had signed defensive lineman Alex Silvestro from the practice squad.
But here's the thing:
Silvestro didn't play Sunday night. Only two New England defenders didn't get onto the field, and Alex Silvestro was one of them. In other words, Tiquan Underwood was released for nothing. He was released because Bill Belichick had to be the smartest guy in the room, even if that meant gutting a nice kid like Tiquan Underwood.
This has always been the Belichick way, and the Belichick way has been good for five Super Bowl appearances and three titles in a decade. Belichick's way works, no question. But it's a cold-blooded way that wins games, not hearts. When a player loses his value to Belichick, the player is gone. Even in the realm of professional football, where in theory that possibility is there for every player, nobody has proven to be as bottom-line cold as Belichick.
The Patriots say Underwood will be back with the team next season, and he'd be foolish not to take them up on that. New England is one of the best franchises in the NFL, and who is Tiquan Underwood to say no to the Patriots?
New England is everything. Tiquan Underwood is, relatively speaking, nothing.
As the Patriots made clear on Saturday night.