GLENDALE, Ariz. – Bill Belichick stood at his podium at Media Day, forcing a pseudo-smile and doing his best to be boring.
A reporter asked the New England coach a question about his philosophy for dealing with the press – specifically, what he tells the Patriots about how to handle interview sessions such as Tuesday's cluster-circus at University of Phoenix Stadium.
"Try to answer the questions in a forthright way," Belichick lied.
Belichick is the NFL's best coach, and he produces an incredible on-field product, as the Patriots' unprecedented 18-0 record leading into Sunday's Super Bowl XLII matchup with the New York Giants attests. But he is a football reporter's worst nightmare – and yours, if you like the athletes you follow to say things that are remotely interesting.
Most coaches are control freaks, but Belichick is on a completely different level. He demands that his players be as bland as he is in interview sessions, and anyone who steps out of line – even a player whose parent says something remotely controversial – can expect to be abused in front of his disapproving teammates.
Because of Belichick's obvious street cred, in the form of three Super Bowl victories over the previous six seasons, most Patriots have come to share or at least accept his dubious belief that keeping it tedious helps make a team victorious.
"It's the Belichick Way," halfback Lawrence Maroney said Tuesday. "The less you say, the better you are."
Well, isn't that special?
Of course, the Patriots are obligated by NFL policy to speak to reporters (it is free advertising, after all), so they can't completely clam up and earn their coach's praise. Instead, they keep their answers short and dull and do their best to repeat the mantras he preaches, as evidenced by some of the nuggets that poured out of their mouths on Tuesday:
- Linebacker Junior Seau: "We work one day at a time. We're working today so we can have a better tomorrow."
- Wide receiver Randy Moss: "For me, speaking on the inside being a player, the playoffs are a one-game season. You lose you go home."
- Quarterback Tom Brady: "What happened last week has no bearing on this week."
I could go on, and you would start to nod off and bang your head on the keyboard. You would sue me, and I would give a deposition that is only slightly less mind-numbing than the quotes the Patriots gave in an effort to please their coach.
And can you blame them? When a player says anything Belichick deems inappropriate, he is called out in the next team meeting, castigated as an example of how not to behave. "Don't be that guy," Belichick will say, and when the meeting ends, the Patriots' veterans will pile on.
"There's nobody who's been spared," one former Patriots player says. "The public chastising, the fear of getting called out in a meeting, is thick in that place. Everyone is very nervous about what (he) said last week and how it might be perceived. We would always joke, 'What diarrhea came out of your mouth when the (expletive) light came on?'
"It just makes you neurotic. They have that rock-solid belief that a quote could change the tide and impact a football game, which is stupid, but that's how they think. You came to believe a slip of the tongue could change the outcome of a game. It kept you on edge and made you very, very careful.
"Bill's way of intimidation is not yelling; it's more like that angry glare. He can look right through you or past you. We always said it would be so much better if Bill would call you an (expletive). It was worse when he was patronizing you, or giving you that glare."
Belichick's rebukes are not subtle. "You try to avoid being the guy that gets the 'That's not what we're looking for' speech, which happens weekly," special teams standout Larry Izzo said Tuesday. "In his own, unique way, Bill communicates to the team that he wishes you hadn't said something. Sometimes it's simply, 'Shut the (expletive) up.'"
Or, sometimes, it's even worse. "Once one of our offensive linemen got lit up because his father had a quote in the newspaper," the former player said. "Bill said, 'We don't really give a (expletive) what your dad says about your injury.'"
Zip it, Pops.
Comically, some players not only try to give vanilla answers to interview questions, but they also repeat favorite catchphrases of Belichick's in an effort to score points.
Asked if he'd ever incurred Belichick's ire, second-year wideout Chad Jackson replied, "Oh yeah, plenty of times. He calls you out in a meeting, and he'll get you. He will let you know. Then your teammates will let you know afterwards. It makes you just not want to say anything."
As for the idea that you can gain points for reciting quotes in Belichickese, Jackson nodded and said, "Oh yeah, you can. I try to repeat his little sayings whenever I can."
Such as? "Speak for yourself. Ignore the noise. Don't believe the hype. Be attentive."
Is Jackson the only one doing this? You make the call based on some of the evidence from Media Day:
- Tackle Matt Light, when asked whether he expects Brady to play regardless of the QB's high ankle sprain: "I don't expect anything, actually. His situation is his situation. I think we all do a great job of understanding that he's the only one who knows his situation, and I'm the only one who knows about mine. I don't speak about him, and he doesn't speak about me, and it makes things pretty simple that way." (Speak for yourself.)
- Cornerback Asante Samuel, on whether the Patriots' defense is overlooked because of the star power on its offense: "No, I wouldn't say that. We go out and play football. We don't worry about if the media is talking about us. We know we've got a job to do, and we just go out and do our job, whoever you decide to talk about." (Ignore the noise.)
- Izzo, on the possibility of making history by going 19-0: "We just try to focus on playing the game. Where that brings us after that as far as history is concerned is for other people to discuss. We're just focused on going out on Sunday and playing the best possible game that we can. We know we're going to need to execute and play our best game." (Don't believe the hype.)
- Brady, on the Patriots' approach: "Well, we have a great coach and great coaches who keep us focused on the things we need to be focused on. I think there are a lot of things that are out of your control – the expectations other people might have or the things people might say about you. The only thing you can control is the way you prepare each week and this team has done a great job doing that." (Be attentive.)
I'm not going to argue with Brady, the best player in football, a man on the verge of joining Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana as the only quarterbacks with four Super Bowl victories. I'd hate for him to say something that could get him called out in front of his teammates, and I really wouldn't want his dad to be subjected to intra-team ridicule.
There's no point in fighting it. The Belichick Way, at least for the past seven seasons, has been the championship way, so that's the way it's going to stay in New England.
I was reminded of this once again Tuesday, when a reporter from a Spanish-language TV station asked Belichick to say something to his audience.
"I don't know any Spanish," Belichick replied. "Not one word."