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dan shaughnessy

Patriots have lost their way

Aaron Hernandez has been with the Patriots since 2010.

Stephan Savoia/AP

Aaron Hernandez has been with the Patriots since 2010.

Traditionally, the Patriots take the field to the tune of “Crazy Train” by Ozzy Osbourne. It’s part of all-important game presentation.

Might be time to switch to Warren Zevon’s “Lawyers, Guns, and Money.’’

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The Patriots are a football team. They are all about winning football games. Nothing more. The deadly serious Aaron Hernandez situation is the latest reminder of this hard fact.

Bob and Jonathan Kraft need to stop trying to make us think the Patriots are different from all those bad boys in the NFL. You know, all those guys who only care about winning.

“If you’re going to be a part of this organization, there’s a responsibility and a sense of obligation that comes with it, because in my family’s mind, you’re carrying our last name as well,’’ Jonathan Kraft said after the Patriots signed Albert Haynesworth in 2011. “We just want [them] to understand what it means to be a Patriot and that there are certain things that are as important to us, and in some cases, more important to us, than winning.’’

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No. The Patriots are no different than any other team. They’ll take a chance on trouble, which apparently is what they did when they drafted Hernandez in the fourth round in 2010.

Hernandez slipped in the draft because of maturity issues and failed drug tests while at the University of Florida. A lot of teams passed on him, but the Patriots took a shot. And so he came here and he played well. In August of 2012, the Patriots broke from standard operating procedure and rewarded Hernandez with a $37 million contract extension, which included a $12.5 million signing bonus. When Hernandez immediately gave $50,000 to the Myra Kraft Giving Back Fund, Bob Kraft called it, “one of the touching moments since I’ve owned the team.’’

“Some people might see all the tattoos on him and think . . . ,’’ Kraft continued. “Maybe 10 years ago, I was in that class. [Now] I think, ‘wow, this guy’s a good guy.’ ’’

That same day, Hernandez recited the franchise party line. He said the Patriot Way changed his life. He pledged to “live life as a Patriot.’’

Now this. Hernandez is in a heap of trouble. Like every American, he is innocent until proven guilty, but at best he is surrounded by a cast of nefarious characters and trouble keeps finding him. At worst, he’s going to prison for his connection in a murder. In any case, he’s going to have to answer to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who does not need courtroom convictions to make rulings.

Thursday was one of the stranger days in local sports history. New England was sleepy-eyed after yet another Bruins Stanley Cup Final overtime game and we learned that NBA commissioner David Stern was not going to allow a Celtics deal that would have sent coach Doc Rivers and Kevin Garnett to the Clippers.

But the strangest of the strange was the O. J. Simpson-esque coverage of Hernandez’s trip from his North Attleborough home to Gillette Stadium. News cameras in helicopters followed Hernandez’s white SUV and when the tight end tried to refuel at a Gulf station, he was swarmed by folks with cameras and microphones. Rumors of his “impending” arrest swirled on the Internet as more stories of his checkered past spilled out for public consumption.

Why did the Patriots bring him to the stadium? This couldn’t have been handled on the phone? The “brand’’ is very important to Bob and Jonathan. And now a Patriot star leads the news with footage guaranteed to remind us of O.J. on the run in the Bronco.

To his credit, Bill Belichick has never positioned himself as a sculptor of souls or a pillar of the community. Belichick wants good players who can help him win games. And that’s why he has, through the years, taken a shot on players who might have found trouble elsewhere. The cast includes Corey Dillon, Randy Moss, Brandon Meriweather, Brandon Spikes, Haynesworth, Willie Andrews, Alfonzo Dennard, Nick Kaczur, and Aqib Talib. To name a few.

And now Hernandez joins the club.

What made the Krafts drop a bag of money on this young man while Wes Welker was virtually booted out of Foxborough because he doesn’t conform to the franchise’s standards of “value’’? Is this another instance of the Patriots thinking they are smarter than everyone or is the increasingly erratic Bob Kraft (the Ricki Lander video, reintroducing Putin’s ring theft, flashing the Roc sign with Jay-Z?) suddenly making bad judgments?

The Patriots have trouble in their house. They looked trouble in the eye and rewarded it with a huge contract. It could happen to any team. But it is not supposed to happen in Foxborough. The leadership that pushed “Patriot Way” looks like it has lost its way.

Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.
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