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Eaton's pay-to-fight story isn't a new angle

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  November 4, 2011 11:02 AM

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The rabble-rousing website ProFootballTalk.com has a link to a Dayton Daily News feature on Chad Eaton.

In the piece, the former Patriots defensive lineman says Bill Belichick paid him to start fights in practice when he was a practice squad player with the Browns and Belichick was the head coach:

“If practice was going slow, he’d look at me and just say, ‘It’s time,’ ” Eaton said. “He wanted me to get on somebody’s (case) and start a little fight. I was known for that and it paid off on Fridays. There’d always be some extra money in my locker. Practice players don’t make much, so I really appreciated it.”

The Globe's Monique Walker asked Belichick about the story this afternoon. He replied, "I asked Belichick about the story and he said, "I don't remember that."

Whether PFT is trying to spin Eaton's anecdote into a bigger controversy or not, the suggestion that Belichick gave his practice squad players a little extra incentive to liven up slow practices is hardly a new one.

A quick search of the Globe archives couldn't find an example of Eaton addressing it previously, but it did unearth a story from Nov. 20, 2000, headlined "Pay For Play: Belichick Said To Prompt A Brawl During Practice'' and written by Nick Cafardo:

A midweek brawl might have been the emotional lift the Patriots needed in executing a 16-13 victory over the Bengals yesterday at Foxboro Stadium.

According to a source close to the situation, Patriots coach Bill Belichick paid practice squad offensive lineman Rob Gatrell $200 to go after Lawyer Milloy in practice Thursday.

Milloy was chosen because he's considered the most emotional, toughest, and meanest player on the defense. Milloy responded just as Belichick hoped, going after Gatrell and creating a massive brawl that involved up to 30 players - offensive vs. defensive. Smaller fights ensued throughout practice.

"It was one of the best practices we've had this season," said one Patriot. "It's exactly what we needed. I think we played with a lot of emotion and fire, no question."

When asked whether he had paid one of his practice squad players - who earn about $4,000 a week - to start a fight, Belichick said, "No. We had an intense week of practice. I thought the players really prepared hard and practiced hard because nobody was satisfied with the way we played against Cleveland, and we wanted to turn this thing around."

Patriots spokesman Stacey James confirmed there was a fight, but he did not know anything about a payoff to Gatrell. Practice squad players do not dress for the game, usually watching from the stands. Gatrell was not available for comment.

It seems like much ado about nothing, though it's uncertain how often coaches nowadays typically use such a motivational tactic.

The main question to take away from this might be: Who the heck was Rob Gatrell?

News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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