When the Patriots’ 2010 training camp dawned, Wes Welker and Randy Moss were locked in as Tom Brady’s go-to receivers. Julian Edelman was in his second season of converting from college quarterback to NFL pass-catcher. Rob Gronkowski was a rookie tight end coming off a serious collegiate back injury, while Aaron Hernandez was a rookie tight end who arrived with an entirely different set of skills and questions.
So much can change in a half-dozen years in the NFL. Players’ careers take on different shapes and expectations, and the seasons pass in a blip. The Patriots are deep into their second decade of sustained excellence — can this already be the 15th anniversary of the season that culminated with the Super Bowl XXXVI victory over the Rams? — and yet so much of it is a blur. Time seems to pass faster when you’re aware you are living in what will someday be remembered as the good old days.
It’s within a similar context that I realized, to some surprise, that Comcast SportsNet New England’s “Quick Slants” program is beginning its seventh season. The Tom Curran-hosted, Patriots-focused program began its new year Monday with a new cast member — former Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo has replaced Kay Adams, who left for a new program on the NFL Network.
But it still carries the vibe of being a new show (has it really been seven years?), in large part because it remains as original (in a good way) as anything I can recall seeing on New England sports television. Curran, disarmingly casual and quick-witted as a host, gives “Quick Slants” an irreverent, insightful vibe. It still feels new, even if it is not.
“It’s still new to me because we don’t do the same thing all the time,’’ said Curran. “Because it’s fresh, because I enjoy it, because I think it’s a fun show. It’s funny, at the beginning I’d try to parrot what [his CSN bosses] wanted, or what I thought they wanted.
“We’ve settled in to what we want it to be, I think. Be funny, be self-deprecating, but try to give as much information as you can. The guests have done that — it’s not just me. [Devin] McCourty [Patriots safety and regular guest] will have a good time, but during his period of time he’ll give meatier answers than what you normally would get.”
Part of the appeal of “Quick Slants” is that it manages to interact with fans — there’s a social media aspect of the show in which Curran answers Facebook questions — without trafficking in the cheap sports-media currency of our time: insincere, contrived hot-takes.
“What’s interesting is, with the timing of the show, in the evening on Monday, I’ve digested like everyone else has, the inch-deep analysis and reaction and overreaction to what happened that is inevitable on the day after,’’ said Curran. “I think we’d agree it’s often negative, because that’s what gets the phones ringing. So I’m often giving the pushback, like, ‘Let’s try and get our hand on the tiller and move it back to where it needs to be. Here’s what’s going on in my estimation.’
“But you’re still trying to keep it light and not be a lecturer. [Sportswriter and “Quick Slants’’ guest] Mike Silver once called me ‘The Great Debunker,’ as in, ‘It’s not that, it’s actually that.’ But you don’t want to wear the homer hat, either.”
Curran has little tolerance for false outrage, or the exaggeration of small details that only after the fact are magnified into a big deal because of some semi-related negative outcome.
“I cannot fathom the amount of time we spent in 2015 on that dropkick [by Patriots special teamer Nate Ebner in an eventual loss to the Eagles last season],’’ he said. “It was the snowflake that started the avalanche to them losing in Denver. But really, they got the ball at the 40. It was just a snowflake! That’s the kind of thing I try to rebut and refute and bring it back to the center a little bit.”
In the current media landscape, the reasonable voice is the outlier. But it’s also understandable, in a depressing sort of way. It’s easier to shriek that the sky is falling and await the fans’ visceral reaction than it is to provide common sense and thoughtful opinions in a truly interesting and engaging manner. Curran is happy to have an outlet that supplies the latter.
“I used to get madder about it — literally madder — in the past,’’ he said. “I mean with other people in the media, like I had some kind of ownership of what the talking points should be. That’s a little bit egocentric. I didn’t have the conch, the shell to be speaking, the outlet that other people had, whether it was one radio station or the other, I would spend time rolling my eyes or shouting down or punching my steering wheel about other peoples’ viewpoints. Because it felt like we were being saturated with overly simplistic or overly negative viewpoints. At this point, I’ve cooled it off a little bit.”
With Adams, who joined “Quick Slants” full time in 2014 after popular original co-host Mary Paoletti left the television business, having departed for a can’t-say-no opportunity at the NFL Network, the show’s dynamics will change to some degree. During his playing days, Mayo was a guest on the show for several years and had a strong rapport with Curran. But his sense of humor should be on display more now that he’s retired, and he brings a new level of expertise to the program.
“We were really lucky initially to have Mary Paoletti come in for the first four years and be amazing and engaging and help set the tone,’’ said Curran. “I’m going to miss Kay a tremendous amount, because I think she took the level of fun on the show to a different stratosphere.
“But after one show with Jerod, he completely understands the tone, and I think he’s going to be able to deliver a higher level of football X’s and O’s stuff in a very consumable way, more than I was able to bring. So I think the show is going to morph into something that brings even more football insight while still remaining true to what it has been for all these years now.”