INDIANAPOLIS – Check out the rosters in the "Madden NFL Football '12" video game and you'll find 31 teams have their head coach listed by name; Tom Coughlin, Sean Payton, Mike McCarthy and so on.
Just one is missing: Bill Belichick. The New England Patriots have just the generic "NE Coach." Why?
"I don't know," Belichick said.
Oh, he knows. He also knows the best contrarians don't have to explain their plays against authority.
It's this little item, like so many other little items Belichick prefers to keep as pseudo mysteries that shed light on how his public persona has developed, why he's become the NFL's most anti-establishment figure and even his choice in sideline fashion – his signature hooded sweatshirt – as he prepares for Super Bowl XLVI against the New York Giants on Sunday.
EA Sports, which produces the game, says it has a licensing contract with the NFL Coaches Association. It pays the NFLCA for the use of the coaches' name and/or likeness, according to an EA Sports spokeswoman. The NFLCA then doles the money back to its members, according to the association.
There's one hitch with Belichick. He refuses to join the NFLCA, the only active head coach who isn't a member, according to the group. All he'd have to do is join and he'd get paid. There is absolutely zero work involved in having your name appear in a video game – not to mention myriad other deals from the NFLCA.
Hasn't Belichick been approached to make that simple move?
"I don't know," Belichick said.
You don't know?
"I don't know."
Belichick loves this kind of stuff, say his friends and associates, who never want to be quoted when speaking in depth about him.
He loves it because he hates so much of the nonsense that surrounds football, has a longstanding disdain for the league office and carries a rebel streak that finds greater joy in making a defiant stand than cashing a check.
Rather than give a ranting speech about the sideshow nature of the NFL, he'd prefer the passive-aggressive nature of a quiet protest and hope the world picks up on it.
So being in a video game? Forget it.
There's more, of course. Belichick isn't a fan of the NFL policy of having teams list their players' injuries based on the confusing, nebulous and basically pointless system of "probable," "questionable," "doubtful" and so on.
So week after week, season after season, he used to list quarterback Tom Brady as "probable" with a shoulder injury. Every week Brady played, showing no sign of injury, only to appear on the injury report the following week. Belichick maintained a straight face throughout.
When the Patriots were caught filming the coaching signals of the New York Jets in 2007, a story that, in Belichick's opinion, was blown into a far bigger scandal than it deserved, mostly thanks to the league office, the Patriots began scoring huge sums of points even as the game was out of reach. He continued to claim he wasn't running up the score.
Then there is the birth of his signature hoodie.
As the story goes – a story that's taken on legend around the franchise since a number of players retold it – Belichick wasn't pleased when the NFL signed a clothing deal with Reebok that required coaches to wear approved clothing during games. This was some executive in New York telling grown men how to dress. Since when did football coaches become clothing models?
[Shutdown Corner: Welker thinks he knows why Belichick is more relaxed]
There was no way to opt out of that deal so Belichick considered the fashion options laid out in front of him, and selected the most unstylish outfit, a grey hooded sweatshirt. He began wearing it each week. Only not before having the sleeves cut off to make it even less attractive.
"It's comfortable," Belichick said in explaining his fashion choice. "I carry my stuff in my pouch."
What about chopping off the sleeves?
"I have short arms," Belichick said.
The irony is the "BB hooded sweatshirt" became a hot seller. It was so bad, it was cool. It now comes in all sizes and colors, even women's versions. They sell for about $80.
"People ask me, 'Is he always wearing that?' " offensive lineman Donald Thomas joked.
"They ask me, 'Can you get me one of those Belichick hoodies,' " defensive tackle Kyle Love added. "They want the actual one he wore."
Belichick is one of sports' most fascinating figures because in an era of conformity, access and image, he refuses to play along. He both cares and doesn't care what people think about him, all at the same time. If you work a little to read between the lines, then a lot of it is obvious.
Players say when they meet someone new and tell them they play for the team, they're almost immediately asked, "What's Bill Belichick like?"
"They ask, 'Does he ever crack a smile?' " defensive back Malcolm Williams said.
Belichick is a highly intelligent, charismatic and engaging person. When he wants to be. He's famous for cutting up on players during film sessions. He can be a great storyteller. He counts, among other celebrities, Jon Bon Jovi as a friend. On certain topics, he's fascinating.
On the foolishness, he's not. Much has been made about his jovial (by his standards) mood this week in Indianapolis. He's even cracked jokes at his own expense.
Wes Welker credited Belichick's girlfriend. Other players, off the record, more wisely note that when he gives long answers to questions it's just a way to filibuster through the allotted time with the media.
The fewer questions the better.
Almost everyone believes the 59-year-old has softened a little through the years. He's closing in on 200 career victories and is 155-58 (playoffs included) with three Super Bowl titles in 12 seasons in New England. He's a shoo-in Hall of Famer.
"I think he likes where he's at," said friend and Ohio State coach Urban Meyer. "He's confident."
Yet they also agree this happy-go-lucky-Belichick story may be getting carried away.
"It's the same Bill Belichick to me," said offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien with a knowing laugh.
You seem to be enjoying yourself this week, Belichick was asked repeatedly.
"Look, it's great to be here but we're all here for one reason and that's Sunday night," he said. "How Sunday night goes will determine what kind of a week this is."
Belichick handles his responsibilities, including dealing with anything and everything thrown at him during the annual media day. It doesn't mean he has to revel in it.
As the perceived curmudgeon of the event, he's the chief target for various performers masquerading as media – many dressed in costumes. Still, even the goofs needed a deep breath of courage before trying to engage him in antics.
Which Tom Brady haircut do you prefer, one woman asked, long and flowing or the Justin Bieber?
"I'll leave that to the experts," he deadpanned.
No matter what they asked, he never flinched. Not even close. Not even to the guy posing as fake Red Grange or the other in the superhero outfit.
He just matter-of-factly said little to nothing. There was no need to react. No need to attack. No need to explain the disdain this pure football lifer has for the zoo that surrounded him.
Same as the injury reports or the clothing deals or the video games.
It's better to do the bare minimum, politely, and let the message come through loud and clear to anyone who is paying attention.
Bill Belichick, the NFL's great contrarian, its great antihero, hasn't changed a damn bit.
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- Bill Belichick