If you sit back and spend too much time feeling good about what you did in the past, you’re going to come up short next time.
Bill Belichick, New England Patriots head coach.
Bill Belichick has not been short of success in his career. Indeed, he is the most successful coach in American football history, but that hasn’t dampened the burning desire for more.
There is an argument that Belichick is the greatest sports coach on the planet, an argument that is certainly easier to make since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement, and his record speaks for itself. Nobody has won more playoff games than Belichick, nobody has won more Super Bowls. Nobody has won three in four years, a feat he achieved in 2005 and could do again if the New England Patriots emerge victorious in Minneapolis next month at Super Bowl LII.
And yet the problem with every great dynasty is that they must come to an end. Despite Belichick’s advancing years – the Nashville-born coach is 65 – it is not his coaching mortality that is necessarily on the horizon but that of his 40-year-old quarterback, Tom Brady, who for all his talents cannot play at an elite level forever.
One of sport’s impossible questions to answer is who benefits most from the other – Brady or Belichick – a marriage that will see both in the hall of fame and their success impossible to untangle from the other.
As a pairing they have achieved unparalleled glory and dominated a sport that is designed precisely to prevent these sorts of dynasties. The draft system and the salary cap are supposed to guarantee competitive parity – the good teams will see their wings clipped while the worst will be helped – but Belichick and Brady have combined to defy normality. To defy the sporting certainty of their eventual demise.
Father Time, however, is undefeated. And this means we will never know who benefited most from the other – head coach or quarterback – as they’re expected to ride off in the sun at the same time, albeit on different horses and in very different directions.
Brady is a health obsessive and it is his determination to keep in good shape via the TB12 diet (sample quote: “I don’t really drink tea, but I might drink a cup of bone broth”) which has caused its own issues as Belichick saw his power over the Patriots locker room challenged by the increasing influence of Brady’s trainer, Alex Guerrero, in the team’s facility.
A stinging, well-sourced exposé by ESPN’s Seth Wickersham exposed a rift between quarterback and coach over Guerrero’s role in treating other Pats players, with Guerrero banned from the sideline of games and the facility as Belichick wrested back control. Other unflattering anecdotes about Belichick trading away Brady’s heir apparent, Jimmy Garoppolo, painted a picture of the Patriots in trouble as they look for yet another Vince Lombardi trophy.
But life with the Patriots and Belichick is such that we know how this one ends already. Belichick’s reputation for mindgames and pushing the boundaries has people speculating that this whole story was a ruse to help him unite the team against outside influences. Heading into the playoffs, the familiar refrain of us against the world is mounting and his team is one that is talented enough to not need extra motivation.
Belichick can barely make a comment without an ulterior motive being inferred. He is the Ferguson or Jose Mourinho of the NFL; curt, gruff and calculated. He is always looking for an edge, even where there doesn’t appear to be one, and it has proven his trump card. A magic trick where nothing comments are inflated into stinging barbs.
Talk about the Patriots ahead of their playoff bow against Tennessee this weekend should be of a steamroller of a team looking good for back-to-back Super Bowl triumphs. Instead, the focus is on the coach, who can take it, a quarterback that is ice-cool under the microscope and a dynasty that has shown no signs of cracking before.
Whether there is truth in Wickersham’s exposé or it is as puffed up as another controversial publication that has had America fluttering this week, there is no doubt that Belichick has the focus of the world where he wants it and his team in perfect position to cement their, and his, greatness in the playoffs.
NFL Playoffs Divisional Round
Games to be played this weekend
Tennessee Titans @ New England Patriots
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Atlanta Falcons @ Philadelphia Eagles
Carolina Panthers @ New Orleans Saints