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INDIANAPOLIS – Halfway across the country in her new life, with a new husband and a new job, Pam Rehbein takes a call about the past. It's not a jarring thing, for she always welcomes these New England Patriots Super Bowls; they give her a chance to talk about her first husband.
"It's always nice to have people remember Dick," she says.
Dick Rehbein was her first great love, the quiet, young assistant coach with the Green Bay Packers she married young and followed from Wisconsin to the Minnesota Vikings to the New York Giants to the New England Patriots. He managed to love football and their two daughters the same. And he was certain in the winter of 2000 that he saw greatness in an unheralded quarterback named Tom Brady. He was sure about Brady even when the rest of the NFL wasn't. As the Patriots' quarterbacks coach, he urged team executives to draft him. He celebrated when they did.
For more than a year Dick coached Brady, watching the promise fulfill. But before Brady proved his instinct right, leading the Patriots to the Super Bowl in 2002, Dick was gone. His heart stopped as he stepped on a hospital treadmill. It was August 2001, less than two months before Brady started his first game. He didn't live to see the player he longed to coach perform as a Patriot, and he wasn't part of the Patriots' run to five Super Bowls in 10 years.
And in Orlando, Fla., where she now lives, Pam sighs.
"I'm sad, but it's not a sad, sad, you know?" she says. "How can I explain it? There's an enormous amount of pride. I get the opportunity to talk about him. How many people get the opportunity to do that? I think I'm sad more wondering, 'What if? What opportunity would have come up for him?' It's a mixed bag of emotions."
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Dick loved Brady. He loved the quarterback's potential, his awareness, his ability to find receivers all over the field. Dick was certain Brady could be an NFL star. One of his closest friends, Charlie Weis, the Patriots' offensive coordinator at the time, says Dick was never afraid to offer an opinion unlike many other assistant coaches. And Dick constantly pushed Brady in draft meetings.
"He was huge on Tom Brady," Pam says. "Just huge."
Dick wasn't the first to see great promise in Brady. Weis, now the head coach at Kansas, recalls that general manager Scott Pioli and head coach Bill Belichick made a list of six quarterback prospects and asked Dick to evaluate them. "Scott and Bill had to find [Brady] first," Weis says. But early in the process Dick realized there was something wonderful about Brady.
The first time Pam can remember her husband talking about Brady was when he was at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis early in 2000. "There's this great young quarterback who has all this potential," she says he told her. When she asked who it was, he told her it was Tom Brady from Michigan.
When Dick returned from the combine, he continued to talk about Brady. Over the years Pam had come to understand how her husband was with players. His first job after leaving small Ripon College in Wisconsin was with the Packers as a special teams coach for then coach Bart Starr. He learned from Starr sensitivity toward the men he coached. And he enjoyed talking about them even when he wasn't in the office.
He shared more with Pamela than most coaches might with their wives. He'd tell her about the players he liked, the ones he thought had great futures and he called her often when big things happened. And even though Pam wasn't obsessed with football, she listened because his passion and willingness to share made her feel part of what he was doing.
And so she knew something fantastic must have happened when he called her late on the second day of the 2000 draft and said: "We got him!"
This would be Brady, of course, who was taken in the sixth round.
Dick never coached quarterbacks before he went to the Patriots. His great skill as a player was as a long snapper and for many years he coached offensive linemen. But he loved working with Brady. New England's starting quarterback at the time was Drew Bledsoe, another player he enjoyed coaching. Rehbein and Bledsoe were close, and given that Brady was the fourth-string quarterback in 2000 there was no plan to replace Bledsoe with Brady.
Still, the fact that the Patriots kept Brady as a fourth-stringer said something about the way Dick felt about him. "Nobody keeps four quarterbacks," Weis says. Still the growth was slow at first. Years ago, in a "60 Minutes" interview, Brady told a story of how one day when Dick was out of his office he peeked at one of the coach's notebooks to see what had been written about him.
"Everything he does is slow," was the notation beside Brady's name.
But Brady developed fast. Early in the summer of 2001, he jumped to No. 2 on the depth chart and began to challenge Bledsoe for the starting job. And then Dick died.
Weis can still remember that early August day. Dick passed out while working at training camp the day before and was taken to the hospital. But word came that he was doing better. They talked at 9:45 that previous night and Dick said he had to pass one more stress test and would be back by noon the next day.
"Do you want me to come by?" Weis asked.
No, Dick told him. There was no need. They'd see each other the following afternoon.
And then as Weis sat at his desk at 11 a.m. the next day, an intern from the Patriots' media office appeared at his door.
"I came to tell you about Coach Rehbein," Weis remembers the intern saying.
"What about him?" Weis replied.
"He died," the intern said.
"What did you just say?"
"He died," the young man repeated.
And Weis slumped in his seat, stunned. Eventually he would be the one to tell Belichick that Dick was gone. Then there would be a painful address to the team and a visit to Dick's house. The Giants, where Dick had worked only two years earlier, were coming for an exhibition game and a few days of practice. A memorial service was attended by both organizations, so many tears, so many stories. The Giants presented Pam with two helmets signed by the team.
And being football, the Patriots moved on.
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But in those dreadful first weeks something else happened, something far bigger than any of them could have imagined. Weis and Belichick decided not to hire a new quarterbacks coach, instead splitting the job between them. This forced Belichick to spend time he otherwise wouldn't have with the brilliant young quarterback from Michigan who Dick found so appealing.
Never had the quarterbacks in the room been given such an intense dissection of defenses as they did when Belichick stepped through the door.
"Bill is a great student of personnel," Weis says. "He'd go through the difference between one corner[back] and the other corner[back]. He'd say, 'This guy is going to do this and that guy is going to do that.' "
Damon Huard, the team's third-string quarterback, remembers Belichick's quarterbacks meetings being one long film session that often stretched for three hours. As tedious as that sounds, Huard found the meetings fascinating. He hadn't watched film this way.
"Bill would say, 'Let's watch 30 plays of Champ Bailey,' and then we would see everything Champ Bailey did," Huard says. "Then he'd go onto the next guy. He had a book on every guy in the league."
Sept. 11, 2001 came barely a month after Dick's death, postponing games for a week. This gave Belichick an extra set of days with the quarterbacks, another series of lessons, another chance to bond. Then in the first game back, against the New York Jets, linebacker Mo Lewis hit Bledsoe, slicing a blood vessel in his chest. Brady, at the start of his second year, replaced him and a connection grew between Belichick and Brady.
Even after Bledsoe was released from the hospital and returned to the meetings, he couldn't play. This relegated him to the role of an observer as Belichick worked more and more with Bledsoe's replacement. And the more Brady grasped what Belichick was teaching and the more Brady kept winning, the tighter the two men grew.
"There is no doubt Brady and Belichick built a better relationship there than Bill would have built with another quarterback he coached anywhere in his career," Huard says.
Pam has long suspected her husband's death was a catalyst in building the best coach-quarterback combinations of the past decade. She's fine with knowing this. It has been 10 years, after all, and the Patriots are seeking their fourth Super Bowl title since the '01 season, and it's obvious Brady and Belichick operate on a different wavelength than other quarterbacks and their head coaches.
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But she does wonder what would have happened. Would the Patriots still have won that first Super Bowl had Dick lived? Would Brady have been as great as he became that season? She likes to think yes, yet how can she know? By becoming a quarterbacks coach Dick had climbed to a level just below offensive coordinator. Would he have become a head coach someday? Being that he was coming from the Patriots and Belichick and Brady, she believes someone would have hired him. If he had, would he have seen it as his dream job? Would it be fun?
In the end these questions can never be answered. In the year after Dick's death, the Patriots did so much for the family. Bledsoe set up a college fund for Dick and Pamela's daughters. Team owner Robert Kraft flew Pamela and the girls to New Orleans for the Super Bowl, which was a bittersweet experience for them: They were happy to see the Patriots in the game but devastated Dick couldn't be there to see Brady win a championship less than two years after he told the team to pick him.
A few years ago Pamela and her daughters moved to Orlando to start again. She got a job selling real estate. Four years ago she re-married. Her oldest daughter, Betsy, became a schoolteacher. Her youngest, Sarabeth, went to the University of Florida where she volunteered to work with recruits and where Weis showed up this past year as the offensive coordinator. He saw Sarabeth and his face filled with shock.
"It was like seeing a ghost," he says.
And in her home, packed deep in the boxes of a life now a decade in the past, Pamela knows she has one last important piece of her first husband's legacy. She hasn't looked at it in years. In fact she's not even sure exactly where it is. Only that it is there and if she ever needs to, she can dig it out, wipe off the dust, turn on the television and watch Tom Brady's workout tape from the 2000 scouting combine.
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