BOSTON – Draped prominently at a memorabilia cart parked on the bricks of Faneuil Hall is a New England Patriots-themed spoof of “The Last Supper,” dubbed “The Last Laugh.”
Sitting in the middle, at least partially where Jesus was depicted in the original, is Bill Belichick, who is taking a sip of a drink while wearing a ratty, blue-hooded sweatshirt. Gleeful players and coaches (Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Josh McDaniel) surround him, mostly to his right. To his left are defeated rivals, a frustrated John Harbaugh, a befuddled Jim Irsay and deflate-gate investigator Ted Wells holding an “I’m with stupid” sign that points to league commissioner Roger Goodell.
Five Lombardi Trophies are present, not to mention a bunch of side gags such as an air pump and Brady’s infamous courtroom sketch portrait. Designed by the folks at ILoveBostonSports.com, the picture is, not surprisingly, a hit, available on posters, coffee mugs and oversized wall prints.
“Our best seller,” says the man running the cart.
One day a bust of Belichick will reside inside the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. This is probably a more appropriate career memento, though, an in-your-face depiction of a dynasty he built and the foils and controversies he steamrolled in every conceivable way.
On Thursday, against the Kansas City Chiefs, Belichick will open his 18th season as head coach of the Patriots. It seems like just another opener, with New England either coming off a Super Bowl title, favored to win another, or, in this case, both.
At the center will be a coach who is now 65 years old, the classic age of retirement. Except, he is not expected to retire anytime soon. Not that anyone would really know. He won’t go on forever, which is why every fan of the NFL or one-of-a-kind personalities, ought to appreciate him while they can. You may hate Belichick, you may love him, but you won’t see another like him. You’ll tell your grandkids you saw this guy dominate the league, the way your grandfather may have droned on about Vince Lombardi.
You’ll regale them with stories about a genius, counter-culture curmudgeon who courted controversy. You’ll talk about performance art news conferences, terrifying stares from beneath a hoodie and defensive game plans.
You’ll marvel that he orchestrated the circus of “The Last Laugh,” a laugh that, if history is any indication, is not even close to the last of anything.
His team is favored to win all 16 of its regular-season games this season, not to mention its sixth Super Bowl, eighth AFC championship and 15th AFC East title under his tenure. These are predictions, he’d note with dour and delight, that are so meaningless they don’t merit discussion.
Fair enough. No one asked him Tuesday about perfection or potential championships. He was, however, queried about Barstool Sports providing fans with towels to hold up featuring Goodell wearing a clown nose.
“I’m not really too concerned with the exterior things,” Belichick said in a brilliantly skilled monotone.
It caps a week where, among other things, he made three trades to tinker with an already stacked talent base. That included sending third-string quarterback Jacoby Brissett to Indianapolis for Phillip Dorsett, a former first-round pick who will double as the team’s fifth wide receiver and, most likely, its punt and kick returner. It was dealing one luxury for another, a sign of years of deft roster management.
Why’d he make the trade?, Belichick was asked.
“To acquire Dorsett.”
You can’t argue with that.
Usually teams hype up trades. On Colts.com, for example, it was noted that Brissett had, in Week 4 of the preseason, delivered “one of the greatest preseason performances by a quarterback in NFL history.” Belichick meanwhile refused to say whether Dorsett would even fill the returner position and later dismissed the team’s abundance of fast wideouts.
“We’re not trying to build a track team here, we’re trying to build a football team,” he said.
On Tuesday he mentioned that time in 2014 when Kansas City blew out New England, which famously led to a bunch of people declaring the Foxborough dynasty dead. The Pats have won two titles since. And there was a clip from a recent documentary that showed him rewatching film of Julio Jones’ acrobatic fourth-quarter Super Bowl catch and nearly vomiting at the sight, even though he knew how the movie ended.
Then there was the time last week he revealed that he watched every single NFL preseason game, all 65 of them, in full. This is usually used as a torture device to spring secrets from military hostages. Belichick seemed to enjoy them. Soon, he was explaining why he doesn’t bother congratulating any player who makes it through final cuts because if their effort or production slips, he’s going to fire them.
“As much as you want to say, ‘Nice job, you made the team,’ they’re not a permanent fixture,” he said.
Yes, Bill Belichick is entering 2017 in fine form. The Patriots are so good this year, Julian Edelman was lost for the season and everyone mostly shrugged. Why wouldn’t they? Rob Gronkowski was lost to injury in Week 12 last year, a seemingly big deal, yet New England never lost again.
With Belichick, part of his power comes from intimidation. Players do whatever he says. There is no crossing him at this stage of his career, and even the greatest malcontent in other locations show up humble and ready to work. Meanwhile, opposing coaches tend to whither when standing across a sideline with him. They abandon gameplans on the fly. They take unnecessary risks. They run comically bad trick plays such as the time Indy’s Chuck Pagano (he’s in the Last Laugh too) tried a fake punt with just a center and a quarterback.
The Patriots have won their last two Super Bowls in part because the other sideline melted down. Seattle threw when it should have ran. Two years later, Atlanta did the same.
He leaves opponents and rivals in shambles and then just shrugs. It’s diabolical. It’s impossible to not become mesmerized by it. There’s nothing else like it in sports.
Thursday he jogs into Gillette Stadium again, with a custom-built team, with fans mocking Goodell for him, with all eyes on not just potential victory, but potential dominance.
He claims he’ll be nervous due to all the unknowns.
“Butterflies,” he said.
Maybe, but imagine what the other guy is feeling.