Play the Game Like Bill Belichick

  • The New England Patriots are 9-4 and own the best record in the AFC.
  • After a 2-4 start, no one expected much from the Pats this year.
  • With rookie quarterback Mac Jones and perhaps the NFL’s best defense, Belichick may be building a second dynasty in the Northeast.

Happy Hump Day!

It’s awfully quiet here in Cebu.  With Andy texting from the business class lounge in Dubai, I now feel his absence.

It’ll only be a few hours before he sends me a pic of a pint from the pub.  (How’s that for good Anglo-Saxon alliteration?)

I don’t know about you, but it’s starting to feel like things are returning to normal, despite our overlords’ best efforts.

I’m talking to old friends.  They’re making plans to visit us once we land in Italy.  Communication lines are reopening.

Perhaps I’m just demob-happy, knowing there are only a few months left in my Asian journey.

My old college roommate, Marty, got in touch lately.  He loves traveling and is looking forward to getting to Europe.

But Marty has had something for 20 years that I still consider mine: the former New York Giants defensive coordinator, Bill Belichick as his beloved Patriots’ head coach.

Parcells, Taylor, and the ‘86 Giants

We knew Bill Belichick was a genius in the 80s.

That Giants defense was spectacular, led by the ferocious linebacker corps of Banks, Reasons, Carson, and Taylor.

(Yes, I subvocalized that sentence in the late, great Pat Summerall’s dulcet tones.)

Lawrence Taylor was a phenom who terrorized QBs all day long.  To me, he’s one of the greatest athletes of all time.  He’ll never get that kind of credit because he didn’t carry the ball.

This was before the days of politicized football when the Redskins(!) versus the Giants was my favorite game all year.

The contrasting maroon and blue uniforms added to the autumnal treat.

Bill Belichick was the architect of that defense, under the watchful eye of Bill Parcells.

After moving to New England, Cleveland, and the Jets, Belichick made his way back to New England as head coach on January 27, 2000.

Since then, he has led the Patriots to 17 AFC East division titles, 13 appearances in the AFC Championship Game, and nine Super Bowl appearances, with a record six wins.

Side note: When I left the States in 1999, the Patriots never won a Super Bowl, and the Bruins, Red Sox, and Celtics hadn’t won in ages.  How times have changed!

After Tom Brady left the Patriots, he won a Super Bowl with the Bucs in 2020, and Belichick looked like he finally made a mistake.

After starting 2-4 this season, most pundits were sure Belichick’s best days were behind him.

Then, to the horror of the rest of the NFL, the Patriots started winning again.

After a seven-game winning streak that includes perhaps Belichick’s piece de resistance in Buffalo, the Patriots are on track to secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Lemonade From Lemons

We want children to play team sports because team sports are a metaphor for life.

Short of the horror of facing war, there’s simply no better way to teach the crucial ideas of brotherhood, teamwork, strategy, tactics, psychology, motivation, and a whole host of others.

It’s a (relatively) safe way of simulating war, entrepreneurship, and creativity.  Yes, creativity in a fast-moving environment is a form of genius.

And it’s addictive.  Wizened old men fade off in conversation when thinking of the great plays they’ve made in the great games they’ve played.

But when we see a master at work, we immediately come together and admire his work in unison.

Whether it’s Shakespeare’s writing, Mozart’s music, or Michelangelo’s art, we sigh in appreciation.

We do the same for sports achievements.

Montana’s touch when throwing to Rice, Nolan Ryan’s perfect wind-up and delivery, Barry Bonds’ sweet swing, Gretzky’s goals, or Jordan’s zoning flow when decimating opponents are all examples of perfection in sporting environments.

And every once in a while, the Master appears and shows all how it’s done.

What Happened

Buffalo, NY.  Wind-chilled temperature: 22 degrees.  Wind gusts of up to 50 mph.

Patriots at the Bills in Highmark Stadium.

I won’t recount the whole game.  This isn’t meant to be a football column per se.

But what’s remarkable about the game was not its, in Belichick’s words, “somewhat challenging” environment.

It was that Belichick adjusted his team’s game plan before kickoff.

Rookie QB Mac Jones, who’s more relied upon not to lose games than win them, threw the football a total of 3 times.  All game.

After all, why would you ask your rookie star to throw the ball in that kind of environment?

But as Sherlock Holmes would say, omne ignotum pro magnifico est.  It’s translated as “everything unknown is taken as grand.”

Dr. Watson loosely translated it as “everything becomes commonplace by explanation” in the excellent Jeremy Brett television series episode of The Red Headed League.

My point is that only a master would completely buck the passing trend.  Only a master knows that he’s got to play the hand dealt to him.

Not since 1974 has the ball been thrown less in a game, and that’s when the passing game wasn’t a fraction of what it is now.

What Belichick did was the equivalent of Captain Foley’s move under Nelson at the Battle of the Nile.

Do watch that linked video if you have a second.  It perfectly illustrates how the British destroyed the French Mediterranean Fleet and left Napoleon stranded in Egypt.

Of course, the Pats won the game 14-10 in a battle for the ages.  The Bills’ defense simply couldn’t stop the Patriots’ running attack.

Wrap Up

If you’re not an NFL fan, that’s fine.

The moral of the story is about bucking trends and being creative.

Of course, Belichick has broken down game film since his father was an assistant coach at Navy.

So one can argue that you need to know all the rules before you start breaking them.

Maybe.

But this is an excellent example of “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

And it’s an important lesson to become reacquainted with.  

Until tomorrow.

All the best,

Sean

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