The longest-lasting and most intriguing coach-quarterback pairing in NFL history is all business—and that may be the key to its enduring success
BY GARY MYERS
The following is excerpted from Brady vs. Manning: The Untold Story of the Rivalry that Transformed the NFL, copyright © 2015 by Gary Myers. Published by Crown Archetype. Reprinted with permission.
Tom Brady meets Bill Belichick at least every Tuesday and Saturday during the season to prepare for the next game. They talk about plays he likes, go over the game plan, discuss corrections that need to be made from the previous game.
That’s around 40 meetings per year, multiplied by a lot of years to equal hundreds and hundreds of hours, just the two of them in Belichick’s office. They will sometimes meet five or six times in a week, adding even more hours to their weekly interaction. They are the most successful coach-quarterback combination in NFL history. They’ve won four Super Bowls together, tying Chuck Noll and Terry Bradshaw and one more than Bill Walsh and Joe Montana. They won 160 regular-season games together through the 2014 season, and that is number one in the NFL since the 1970 merger. Don Shula and Dan Marino are next, with 116. They’ve also been together longer than any other coach and quarterback in NFL history.
Nobody knows Brady better than Belichick. But nobody really knows Belichick, not even Brady.
“When it’s outside of football, he’s a totally different person,” Brady said. “As soon as he’s in football mode, it’s like hitting a switch.”
The non-football Belichick might be a lot of fun. He might be the life of the party. He might be different from the tortured football genius the public sees on the sidelines and in his press conferences. To experience that part of his personality, “it has to be in a non-football environment,” Brady said.
Surely in all their years together, Brady has been exposed to that side of his coach. “Me? Very rarely, very rarely,” he said.
Surely they must have gone out for pizza and beers after a long evening meeting before they went home. “I don’t think we ever have,” Brady said. “We’re around each other so much, whenever we have time, nothing ever comes of it.”
Belichick once showed up at a team Halloween costume party organized by Randy Moss. But he and Brady keep their distance away from the field.
The NFL has become a game of coaches and quarterbacks. Elite coaches paired with elite quarterbacks win Super Bowls. They need to think alike. Brady is as serious about football as Belichick. They are both heading to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and there’s a good chance one would not have been in position to make it without the other. Belichick coached the Browns into the playoffs just once in five years in Cleveland, with Bernie Kosar and then Vinny Testaverde as his quarterback. He was going nowhere in one year plus two games with Drew Bledsoe in New England. Brady came in and went 11–3 the rest of the 2001 regular season and then won two playoff games and the Super Bowl.
Tom Brady saved Bill Belichick’s job.
Bill Belichick saved Tom Brady’s career.
Belichick rescued Brady and threw him a lifeline in the sixth round of the 2000 draft. John Elway was going to be great regardless of where he played. It was the same with Peyton Manning. They were going to play and be given every opportunity to succeed.
If Brady had been picked by the Browns, a quarterback graveyard, he would not have been the same player. What if the Giants had taken the advice of their longtime scout Ray “Whitey” Walsh, who loved Brady? Maybe he would have beaten out Kerry Collins, and then the Giants never would have made the draft-day trade four years later to get Eli Manning. Or maybe he never would have gotten off the bench but just bounced from team to team.
Brady might have succeeded with his hometown 49ers, but they drafted quarterbacks Gio Carmazzi before him (third round, never played) and Tim Rattay (seventh round, lasted eight NFL seasons mostly as a backup) after him. Steve Young had been forced to retire after the 1999 season because of multiple concussions. Steve Mariucci was the 49ers coach; he had done an excellent job with Young and before that Brett Favre in Green Bay. Walsh was back with the 49ers, running the team from the front office. He was also the best quarterbacks coach in history. But the 49ers didn’t want Brady. Jeff Garcia, coming across the border from the Canadian Football League, took over the job in San Francisco that Brady craved.
He wound up in the perfect situation in New England. The owner loved Drew Bledsoe. The coach didn’t. Bledsoe was Bill Parcells’s draft pick. Brady was Belichick’s. Belichick learned from Parcells to “go by what I see”—production, not reputation, is the ultimate criterion. Belichick takes it a step further in minicamp: no jersey numbers. Offense in blue, defense in gray. That promotes team-building by forcing the players to learn each other by name and not just by number. And when coaches watch the tapes of the practices, they have to learn the players by their movements, not their number.
“I love coaching Tom,” Belichick said. “I’ve been fortunate to have him his whole career. We spend a considerable amount of time together. I think that’s important, to have that relationship between the head coach and the quarterback so at least we’re on the same page with what we’re trying to do. He has great feedback. Nobody works harder or prepares better than Tom does. He’s about as good as it gets in that category.”
“He knows me as well as anybody,” Brady said. “I know what he expects of me. He trusts me to do my job and lets me do my job.”
Brady cares so much and approaches each practice as if he has to persuade Belichick not to bench him. That has allowed Belichick to give Brady a little bit of the Bill Parcells-Phil Simms treatment. He knows he can yell at him and Brady can take it. The greater message is being delivered to the team: If the coach can yell at the four-time Super Bowl winner, you’d better watch your ass. You’re next.
“He knows me as well as anybody. I know what he expects of me,” Brady said. “We don’t probably talk as much as people may think. He trusts me to do my job and lets me do my job. There’s times where I get to express certain things to him, and I think he has a lot of trust in the things that I say and confidence in the things that I say.”
Belichick was asked at Super Bowl XLIX in Phoenix about his relationship with Brady. He guards anything regarding his personal life more closely than his game plans. “Tom and I have been together for 15 years, so I would say our relationship covers a lot of ground,” he said. “We played golf together for three days at Pebble Beach.”
During a break in the 2014 pro-am tournament at Pebble Beach, Brady told Jim Nantz and Nick Faldo of CBS that he enjoyed the opportunity to play golf with his coach. “He doesn’t yell at me out here like he does during the weeks of practice,” Brady said. “We haven’t had too many chances to do things like this, so this is a really special week for me to be with him.”
Peyton Manning was also at Pebble Beach in February 2014, a few days after the Broncos were crushed in the Super Bowl by the Seahawks and a little more than two weeks after he’d played so well in beating the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. Belichick calls Manning the best quarterback he ever faced, so spending time with Belichick and Brady was good for Manning’s state of mind after the Super Bowl loss. “I have great respect for the way they play, the way they approach the game,” Manning said. “They’re both very similar that way. They are football junkies, if you will. I think that’s a compliment. I consider myself that as well, and I think all football players should be, so yeah, I’ve enjoyed those times.”
Manning and Belichick would have been a great combination, too, and chances are, Manning would have more than one Super Bowl ring if he’d played for Belichick and the Patriots.
GALLERY: BELICHICK AND BRADY THROUGH THE YEARS
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Tom Brady Sr. waits in the family area outside the locker room or in the tunnel for his son after games. There have been times when Belichick emerges first, but never has Brady Sr. approached him to talk about the game or how his son played. “Are you nuts?” he said, laughing.
Brady Sr. hears a lot about his Tom’s relationship with Belichick. He agrees with Tom’s assessment. “Tommy has said to me different times, Belichick has a perfect soldier with me,” Brady Sr. said. “Tommy is the perfect foil for Belichick. When Randy Moss comes in and sees Tommy getting chewed out and not coming back at it and accepting it, the other 52 guys fall in line. That is absolutely the ideal military regimen he inherited from his father at Navy. That’s exactly what he wants. If you have somebody who doesn’t fall in line, like a Wes Welker, you are out the door. Tommy is absolutely the perfect quarterback for Bill Belichick because he understands what Belichick is doing and he has enough pride to know that no matter what Belichick might say to diminish his efforts, it’s not going to impact who he is and what he knows he can do.”
Brady Sr. is astounded at the lack of compliments Belichick has publicly thrown his son’s way. It’s not the Belichick way. It’s not the Patriots’ way. “They couldn’t care less. They are not trying to shine his star,” he said. “If Belichick had 53 guys named Joe, he would love it.”
Manning has been celebrated for his individual accomplishments. When he threw the pass that broke Favre’s all-time touchdown record in 2014 with the 509th of his career, it was all the Broncos could do to stop themselves from wheeling a podium out to the middle of the field and having Manning give a speech. They did celebrate with a video presentation on the scoreboard. When Brady surpassed 50,000 yards for his career, all his father could remember Belichick saying was, “We’re not into individual statistics, but I do have to recognize 50,000 yards.”
None of this bothers Brady, because all he wants to do is win. Never once, in a quiet moment, has Belichick initiated a conversation with Brady about all they have accomplished together. Not once has he reflected on winning all those Super Bowls and what a great combination they’ve been. “Never. Nope,” Brady said. ‘He’s not a look-forward or look-to-the-past kind of guy.”
Brady’s father knows why the relationship between Belichick and his son is “100 percent professional.” One day Belichick is going to have to cut him or trade him or convince him to retire, and as long as he doesn’t establish personal relationships, his feelings won’t get in the way of business decisions. “To my knowledge, he and Tommy have never been to dinner, never been to lunch,” he said. “That’s perfectly fine with Tommy, because he’s got a whole bunch of great friends. He doesn’t need to be personal friends with the coach. He’s got more personal friends than he needs. He just needs to have a coach have the organization going in the right direction.”
That direction has led to six Super Bowls and four championships. And they might not be done quite yet.
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Gary Myers has covered the NFL for the New York Daily News since 1989. His previous books include Coaching Confidential: Inside the Fraternity of NFL Coaches and The Catch: One Play, Two Dynasties and the Game that Changed the NFL. Follow him on Twitter @.