HOUSTON – Maybe it's the hooded, unabomber-esque sweatshirt. Or the way he is so dry, so guarded in front of the cameras. Or maybe it's just the fact he is a head football coach, a profession that doesn't exactly lend itself to free spirits.
But when we hear that New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick enjoys friendships with Charles Barkley and Jon Bon Jovi, or that he can really cut up a room with his wit, it comes as a bit of a surprise.
There is no doubting (anymore at least) Belichick's coaching ability. He and his game plans have become the bona fide stars of these Patriots. If his usually dead-on strategy works Sunday against Carolina, he enters an exclusive club of multiple Super Bowl champs, joining such one-name legends as Lombardi, Shula, Landry and Parcells to name a few.
But Belichick looks like the kind of guy who considers a cold shower fun, thinks breaking down film is a hobby and last cracked a good joke when New England still had Pat the Patriot on its helmet. Which is fine. He is a football coach after all.
"That's just how the media portrays him," Patriots defensive end Richard Seymour says. "He seems like an even-keeled guy, but he makes a lot of jokes. It's always fun to be around him; he has a lot of wisdom. He loves to laugh and have a good time."
Not that he is always the life of the party. It's just, he does have a light side.
"Say when he's describing part of the [offensive game plan] he'll throw in a certain little thing that makes you laugh," linebacker Tedy Bruschi says. "He'll say, 'With a hole that big [offensive coordinator] Charlie [Weis] could get yards.'"
This is part of how Belichick has made and kept some notably wild celebrity friends. The 51-year-old Annapolis, Md. native may not seem like someone who would count rocker Jon Bon Jovi as a confidant, but when Belichick was coaching with the Giants in Bon Jovi's native New Jersey, the two struck up a friendship.
"Jon is a big New York Giants fan," Belichick says. "I was with the Giants, and he was for the Giants. He likes football. I liked his music. That was great. Jon has been a great friend. He is a good guy. We have a real good friendship."
Then there is Barkley. When Belichick was head coach of the Cleveland Browns, he was friends with Cavalier coach Mike Fratello who was friends with Barkley. The two still talk every couple of weeks.
"I have always admired Barkley," Belichick says. "I think he's a guy that's tremendously competitive, a really good team player and a really smart player. And in talking to him he comes right at you with football: 'What about this coach and what about that and I don't really understand that move.' He makes a good point on some of that stuff."
What still surprises some about Belichick, especially people in Cleveland, is that he has reached this level of success. He won just about every coach of the year award this season and is considered perhaps the best in the game, even ahead of his mentor, Bill Parcells.
But from 1991-95 in Cleveland, he went just 36-44 and made only one playoff appearance. When he left, returning to an assistant position under Parcells, he was considered a great coordinator but not head coaching material. When the Patriots hired him four seasons ago there were plenty of doubts. If you predicted that Belichick would soon be discussed in the same sentence as Shula and Lombardi, you'd have been locked up
But here he is, 60 minutes from legendary status.
"Knowing Bill, he is a student of the game, and I think he learned from Cleveland," Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel says. "Any time you take a job for the first time, a new situation, maybe you are not prepared for it. I'd like to think every coach gets better every day though. I know he does."
"Bill is never away from football," Crennel says. "Football is always on his mind. It's just the way he is and the reason he's as successful as he is."
So maybe he isn't as fun as his new reputation says.
"Winning is always fun," Belichick says.