I’m a life long New England Patriots fan. I grew up in Boston. I have rooted for my home town Boston and New England teams for my whole life, even though I have not lived there for a long time. From the time I started watching the Patriots – when they played at rickety old Schaefer/Sullivan/Foxboro Stadium – they were a pillar of ineptitude. They were hopeless to the point where it was ingrained in the psyche of the New England fan base. The Patriots were always the fourth fiddle in Boston, after the Red Sox, the Celtics (often alternating at the top), and the Bruins. They were never very good, save a few seasons in the mid 1970s and a fluke run to the Super Bowl in 1986 when they got smoked by the Chicago Bears. They were the afterthought in the Boston area even when Mr. Kraft bought the team in 1994. The Patriots started to demonstrate progress when they made the 1996 Super Bowl, only to lose to the Brett Favre led Green Bay Packers. Back then, I optimistically thought that I would be lucky if I lived (at the time, I was in my 20’s) to see them win one Super Bowl.
Things started to really change in the year 2000 when they made the smart move on hiring Coach Belichick, and then got lucky by drafting Tom Brady in the 6th round of that year’s NFL Draft. And as they say, the rest is history. Between 2000 and 2019, that combination – along with all the other players and people who worked with the franchise – led the Patriots to 9 Super Bowl appearances, 6 Super Bowl Championships, and 17 AFC East titles. Those 6 Super Bowl could easily have been 8 (or they could easily have been only 2). I’d argue that had they beaten the Colts in the 2007 AFC Championship, they would have wiped the floor in the Super Bowl against the Rex Grossman led Chicago Bears. Belichick is at his best when going against an over matched quarterback (See: Jared Goff of the Rams in SB LIII).
And this brings me to an appreciation of Coach Belichick as he departs the New England Patriots after 24 years as their Head Coach. He is simply the best football coach we will ever see, and the fans of New England should be appreciative that they (we) were able to go along on this ride with him for almost a quarter century. Sure, Coach Belichick was gruff and ornery in press conferences, yet he did that to not give away any information to the competition. Brilliant. Duh. Sure, he had his controversies – some were legitimate, others were fabricated. Yet, throughout all those distractions, he was still able to prepare the team for the next challenge. The level of management needed to run a professional football program of this scale is pretty profound and he was able to sustain excellence for an extraordinary period of time. There has been much said about who was more impactful to the success of the Patriots – Tom Brady or Coach Belichick. The past few years seem to show it leans towards Brady, however I will take the middle lane and say that they needed each other. I don’t see Brady being anything near as good as he became without Coach Belichick, and conversely, I think Brady did things that took the franchise to places even Coach Belichick couldn’t have dreamed of.
My personal connection to Coach Belichick is that he lived in the same town as me when I finished high school in New Jersey, and he was the DC of the New York Giants. In fact, he lived next door to a high school friend of mine. I recall my friend saying “Look out for Bill Belichick. He will be an NFL Head Coach one day and he will be great.” And the story goes that, one day back then, my friend happened to run into Coach Belichick on their street, and my friend proceeded to share advice to (!!) Coach Belichick about how best to stop Eric Dickerson (the great RB of the 1980s LA Rams). As if Coach Belichick needed to hear any guidance from a kid in the local high school!! I saw my friend a few months ago and we still had a good laugh about that story!
So thank you Coach Belichick. And thank you Tom Brady. And thank you Mr. Kraft. And everyone else that was part of the Patriots’ success.
As I said earlier, I would have been happy with one Super Bowl championship. Coach Belichick led the team to 6. It should have been 8. Maybe 9. But I’ll gladly take the 6 (and hopefully more in the future). It is 5 more than I ever would have dreamed of.