Friday September 16th, 2011

Bill Belichick projects a mostly rough exterior to the football world. (Doug Murray/Icon SMI)

Something I had never done while listening to Bill Belichick talk, before Part I of the NFL Network's documentary on the Patriots coach: laugh. Turns out Belichick can be a pretty funny guy.

A Football Life followed Belichick with total access during the Patriots' 2009 season, starting on his boat -- "V Rings" -- and carrying right through the playoff loss to the Ravens. But one of the best moments from Part I came during the Patriots' preseason opener against Philadelphia. Then-rookie Julian Edelman took a punt back for a touchdown, prompting Belichick to find Wes Welker, the Patriots' kick returner up to that point, who was sitting out against the Eagles, and hit him with this:

"You ever hear of Wally Pipp? He played first base before Lou Gehrig," referencing the famous moment in baseball history when Gehrig replaced Pipp in the Yankees lineup, then went on to play 2,130 games in a row.

Most of us only get to see one side of NFL coaches, which just happens to be whatever side they want to show. In Belichick's case it's often a gruff, cranky coach with no interest in unnecessary interaction.

The NFL Network documentary -- at least Part I -- painted a different picture, with Belichick spending time with his son, Brian, chatting up Jon Bon Jovi at training camp and engaging in some R-rated trash talk with Derrick Mason during a regular-season game.

A Football Life also sheds some light on why Belichick is one of the NFL's all-time great coaches. Before a Week 2 loss to the Jets, Belichick essentially lays out the exact game plan that could beat the Patriots. Then, before a Week 4 meeting with Baltimore, he spends one-on-one time with quarterback Tom Brady, trying to game plan around Ed Reed.

"It's just so obvious when he's reading a quarterback," Belichick says as tape of the Ravens' defense rolls for him and Brady. "Those receivers will run right past him and he never flinches."

The Patriots then dial up some passing plays in a 27-21 win over Baltimore to take advantage of Reed's aggressiveness.

Belichick agreeing to this all-access look at his life is interesting, given how hard he seemingly tries to maintain his on-field image -- cut-off hooded sweatshirt, intense look glued to his face. It's in stark contrast to the Belichick we see in A Football Life, especially just before New England's game at the Jets -- Belichick's final visit to the Meadowlands, where he spent a huge chunk of his coaching career and enjoyed two of his five Super Bowl wins.

"I probably wouldn't have thought it would turn out like this," a choked-up Belichick says after walking through the halls of the Meadowlands, ending in the Giants' locker room. "I was just trying to establish myself, be a good coach, win some games. ... It's hard not to get choked up about it, but damn, I spent a lot of hours in that room."

The one thing that A Football Life reiterates is, no matter how much you do or do not like Belichick, if you want to win a Super Bowl, there are few better coaching options. Belichick flat out knows his stuff and implements it better than most on the field. Getting a chance to see how he does it, like A Football Life gives us, is invaluable.

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