FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The rack of clothes on the far wall of the Patriots ProShop is a testament to Bill Belichick's famed passive-aggressive streak.
It may not be the equal of Belichick using a videotape scandal to make this NFL season about him and his ability to blitzkrieg the New England Patriots to a perfect season of run-up scores, but, then again, even that would seem more likely than BB becoming a fashion icon.
Here's the thing about Belichick, 55. He's a second-generation coaching lifer who through 33 seasons of all night training camp bull sessions and fourth-quarter pressure cookers pretty much knows everything there is to know about football.
Which is why he doesn't seem to take well – or more likely absolutely detests – when someone tells him what to do or what football is about.
This would include critics of the Patriots videotaping the defensive signals of the New York Jets and complaints about the team's recent full-throttle, 60-minute, go-for-50, offense.
But once it was about the NFL striking an apparel deal with Reebok that required head coaches to wear team paraphernalia during games. This included Belichick. This meant someone was telling him, a grown man, how to dress.
As the theory goes – and Belichick, as is his style, has said little either definitive or convincing on the subject – he decided that if they were going to make him wear team apparel then he'd sift through the options and put on the absolute ugliest thing he could find. He chose a grey sweatshirt, often with a hood.
Most people wouldn't wear it to a tobacco spitting fight; Belichick put it on national television.
This is Bill Belichick, the bristling contrarian. For all his success and all his power, he still can't help throwing a symbolic middle finger at management, at the marketing geek trying to tell him what to wear on the sidelines.
A grey hoodie with the sleeves cut off? Just following the rules. Just wearing what you said.
"It's comfortable," he said. "I carry my stuff in my pouch here."
Only the strangest thing happened. As Belichick emerged as the game's premier coach, people started showing up at the ProShop looking for the hoodie. This ridiculous sweatshirt became a hot seller, outpacing many of the colorful, classy designs also on display.
"We even have it in a woman's design," said a store clerk on Wednesday.
Indeed they do, the "Ladies Belichick Hoodie-Charcoal." Yes, the "Belichick Hoodie." He's on the label, like he is Sean John or something. He even personally rocks one with his initials, "BB," on its chest.
There are racks and racks of the hoodie here at the ProShop, perhaps the most stocked item on the floor. And they don't come cheap, $79.95 for most.
Bill Belichick, passive-aggressive fashion trend setter.
LOVE OR LOATH CHARACTER
Even during his three Super Bowls in four seasons run earlier this decade, Belichick was never as big of a story, as polarizing of a figure as he is now.
It's not just that his eighth Patriots team is probably his best – 8-0 and unchallenged on the season heading into Sunday's mega-clash with the Indianapolis Colts.
It's the way Belichick has turned into a love or loath character. It's the way this season, in so many ways, he has become about him.
There is no middle ground anymore. His personality – boorish to some, beloved to others – is as much a part of the discussion as his superior game plans, motivational ability and eye for building teams that make him as great as any coach, ever.
But after the opener he was called Belicheat. He was labeled Darth Vader. He was fined half a million dollars by the league.
It was a direct attack. From fans, players, the media, the "experts in the league office." So he reacted, it seems obvious, as he tends to react in such situations.
You want Bill Belichick to follow the rules? Fine. It's within the rules to hang half a hundred on Washington. It's within the rules to go for it on fourth and one, up 38, to blitz with four minutes left leading 52-0, to throw it deep, even in the fourth quarter.
"Just out there playing," Belichick said Sunday. "Just out there playing."
Just wearing what you said.
AGAINST THE GRAIN
Part of what makes Belichick great is the anger and attention he'll direct at things that other coaches will just shrug off as unimportant, that burning desire to show everyone that his way is the best way.
The list is lengthy, his reactions as humorous as they are obvious.
He hates the concept of the NFL's injury list policy, a relatively useless endeavor that requires the coach to predict health. Doubtful? Questionable?
So for 70 consecutive game weeks, Belichick has listed Tom Brady on the injury report as "probable" due to a "right shoulder" injury. Seventy consecutive weeks and Brady hasn't missed a single game. Seventy consecutive weeks of mocking the league.
He isn’t much for the league office, be it their rule clarifications or scheduling decisions or whatever. Mention any of those and he'll mutter in a monotone dripping with disdain to ask the league since they're the "football experts." That goes double for the opinions of players turned network media stars.
Then there is the semi-bizarre stuff. There are reports that Belichick is the only NFL head coach who doesn't appear in the Madden video games (it reads "NE Coach" instead) because he alone refuses to join "NFL Head Coaches Association" which markets their likenesses.
Why leave money on the table? Who knows with a guy who is as serious as a heart attack in public only to profess a love of "The Jerky Boys."
But the big scores and the unapologetic play calling and "who me?" act since the Jets game, while to some just as entertaining as his other flare-ups, is far more public and personal.
The Patriots are running up the score. It's obvious. The debate over whether that is right or wrong hardly matters. (Personally: this is the NFL, not Pop Warner, deal with it).
The consequence – intended or unintended – is a change in the entire dynamic of expectations; the focus, in so many ways, of the season.
The question now isn't whether Belichick can win a fourth Super Bowl, but whether he can even be slowed down. It isn't whether he is capable of hard-driving the Patriots into history as the greatest of all time – hurt feelings, be damned – but whether anyone, starting with the Colts, can keep them from going 19-0.
Belichick has gone all in on the season, made the stakes clear. You wear the hoodie and you don't need it to become a big seller to make your point. You call the plays the way you've called them, after what's went down in the Meadowlands, and anything less than a Super Bowl would be a crushing and embarrassing outcome for Belichick.
It's what he wanted: The chance to show them, to shut them all up with his team's historically powerful play. It's what he got.
Because passive aggressive is, at its heart, aggressive. Like throwing to Randy Moss when you're up five touchdowns.
- Bill Belichick