If there's a more apt metaphor for building a football team than Bill Parcells' famous "groceries" line from 22 years ago, I can't think of it.
A refresher – when Parcells quit the Patriots in January 1997 he alluded to personnel meddling as the main reason, saying, "If they want you to cook the dinner, at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries."
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Makes sense. Players and coaches are the ingredients. The head coach/GM spreads them on the counter and knows in a glance how well he shopped and what he's capable of presenting.
But who really does the cooking, the coach or his most important players?
And who is most responsible for a perfect dinner, the guy who did the shopping and came up with the recipe or the guy who actually stood over the flame and cooked it?
We close our Great Patriots Debate series with this Gordian Knot question: Who deserves more credit for the Patriots success, Bill Belichick or Tom Brady?
They are strands of DNA joined in 2000 now intertwined for 20 seasons. None of the great quarterback-head coach marriages – Montana-Walsh, Marino-Shula, Starr-Lombardi, Bradshaw-Noll, Staubach-Landry, Brees-Payton, Holmgren-Favre and Manning-Dungy – got to the same plane as Brady-Belichick.
When it comes to longevity, Lombardis and annual excellence – 13 times in the 17 seasons Brady has played more than one game, the Patriots have been in the NFL's Final Four – it will never be matched.
Chew on this: the Patriots have been so successful in an NFL rigged for parity that the league has intervened multiple times since 2004 in an effort to bring them back to the pack, changing rules, confiscating draft picks, suspending Brady, etc. And still? Same as it ever was.
This is a collaboration like Lennon-McCartney or, maybe even more accurately, like Auerbach and Russell. If Auerbach had Wilt Chamberlain instead of Russell would the Celtics have won eight titles in nine seasons? If Belichick had Peyton Manning would the Patriots have sustained this long?
I would say no in both cases because the vision of Auerbach and Belichick needed the ethos, ego and mental makeup of Russell and Brady to achieve what they have.
But for the sake of debate, let's try to split this atom.
The case for Belichick begins with the fact he drafted Brady. And, while he took him after 198 other players in the 1999 draft, Belichick, Charlie Weis and Scott Pioli were sharp enough to see what they had.
Despite having an established, favorite son franchise quarterback in Drew Bledsoe, Belichick did what was best for the football team in 2001 and pried the offense from Bledsoe's entitled hands and gave it to Brady. In doing so, Belichick had to stare down his Cleveland past and his decision to bench beloved Bernie Kosar and do the same thing again. He had to be prepared to be framed as a cold, out of touch, control freak bent on self-sabotage. And he was framed that way.
"Who benches a Pro Bowl quarterback with a $103-million contract who was forced from the field by a sheared artery in favor of a chubby checkdown expert? Someone who doesn't learn."
But the team-building brilliance of Belichick overwhelmed the inch-deep analysis that followed the Brady-Bledsoe decision.
The 2000 to 2004 seasons were master classes in economics, psychology, sociology and management, never mind the sublime, bottom-line, no-frills football Belichick and his staff embraced.
The first five years of this collaboration were all thanks to the architect and that was Belichick.
Those teams were carried by the New England defense. But that's because they didn't have the offensive firepower to put the game in Brady's hands on a week-to-week basis. And maybe he wasn't quite ready to hold it.
But when the defense sagged in the 2005 and 2006 seasons and Brady's surrounding personnel got even worse, the team dipped.
Then, in 2007, when Brady was given the toys necessary to excel, he showed he was ready to take ownership of the Patriots week-to-week fortunes by having a historic season.
That's when he became the straw that stirs the Patriots drink.
And he's remained that for the past 12 years. He's the one who takes the personnel equivalent of a poop sandwich with no bread – like last season – and figures it out. He's the one who can have a player like Randy Moss exiled, see Deion Branch inserted, and be named unanimous MVP as he was in 2010.
He's the one who can orchestrate 2014 – leading the offense to 14 points in the fourth quarter of a Super Bowl against a generationally great defense to cap a season that began with the stunning trade of Logan Mankins with a championship.
He's the one who threw for 505 against the Eagles in SB52, keeping the Patriots afloat while their defense got shredded. And he's the one who authored the SB51 comeback.
He does his job for less money than the other "elite" quarterbacks and he does it under circumstances that would leave the Rodgers, Roethlisbergers and Mannings in the fetal position weeping about a lack of support or protection.
Bill Belichick is the greatest coach there's ever been in any professional sport. But he's put five loaves and two fishes in front of Brady and asked him to perform a miracle several times. And Brady's the one that ultimately feeds the multitude.
Agree? Or Disagree?
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Great Patriots Debate: Who deserves more credit, Brady or Belichick? originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston