By Peter Richmond
The story of the week wasn't about the guy who was signed. It was about the guy who signed him. It always is. The coach everyone loves to hate? Including the Football Fates, who've denied him a ring ever since Spygate (how else to explain David Tyree? Or Wes Welker's drop?). I hate to love him. And damned if I also don't try to watch every game he coaches. And damned if I don't always want him to win.
Bill Belichick remains the most highly visible coach in all of sports, never un-talked-about, while, at the same time, publicly willing to talk about … nothing. A man who, perversely, provides a huge marketing tool to a league he's forever giving a metaphoric middle finger to. This week, of course, the NFL is bowing to The Hoodie, because Bill has resurrected the Evangelical Quarterback, which, to the blond commissioner and his minions, could not be a bad thing in a league increasingly know for its surfeit of Pacmen, perps and PEDs.
Not that Belichick could care about Tim Tebow's particular brand of Crystal-Palace proselytizing; for all Bill cares, Tebow could worship Bastet, the ancient Egyptian cat goddess. (Her acolytes' barges would stream up the Nile at night, topless women dancing in the torchlight. Now, that's a deity.)
No, this was a typical Belichick personnel move: part need, part the need to be the ultimate contrarian, and no doubt the Jets' inability to use him might have had an influence. Just when it seemed time for Tebow to retire and found The Church of Tim in some giant arena -- say, the Jaguars' sooner-or-later to-be-vacant stadium (60,000 worshipers at $10 a donation x 52 weeks: $30 mill…) -- Bill handed a $630,000 check to a large athlete whose most impressive talent, when he's not playing in a dysfunctional football family, is his ability to find ways to win.
This is what Belichick does, and as a knee-jerk '60s/'70srebel sportsfreak, how could I not want to follow the lead of a benevolent dictator (Plato's preferred political system, not that you asked) whose basic credo is, "Give me your rejected, whether they've been discarded, arrested or both, and I'll refit them into football players who are guaranteed to make the playoffs every year?"
A partial rundown: Corey Dillon, slogging through Cincy, gaining 1,600 yards and a ring in his first Foxborough year. Randy Moss the Disgraced: 83 receptions and 13 TDs in 2009. Walk-on Danny Woodhead the Hobbit discarded by … the Jets? Now the perfect utility man (now in San Diego). Wes Welker? The Dolphins were kicking him out the door. The Pats got him for a second-round pick. Deion Branch? Came home and flourished.
His moves are symbolized by the hoodie, of course. While other coaches line up in their underwear to be handed their mandatory NFL-sideline-coaching wardrobe, which, year-to-year, looks as if it's been designed by an intern for Kmart's "'70s Bowling wear" aisle, Bill flaunts decorum. He even shreds the sleeves. Is it for comfort? Yes … and for ego: Look at me, the disbeliever in your lockstep protocols. But hell, what great coach doesn't have an ego? You think Phil Jackson's out-of-the-box habits were all prompted by Zen/Christian/Native American ideals, preached totally devoid of ego? I have a bio of Jerry Buss the Celibate I'd like to sell you.
And now Bill's going to take another discard -- high-profile, good athlete, bad quarterback -- and try to shape-shift him into something else. I'll bet you my '77 Eldorado sedan (four ashtrays, four lighters, an eight-track) that some variation of tight end is in Tebow's future. A reported half-million incentive for 2014 if he plays 60 percent of the offensive plays doesn't sound as if Bill said to him, "I've signed you to back up this Brady guy."
The personality? I'm sure it's there, but not for us. After I had occasion to hang with Belichick for a few hours for GQ some years ago, at the height of the Patriot Game days, I left his office thinking, "Well, that sure as hell was the least fun I've ever had with a head coach. At least Bill Walsh had a Saint-Saens tape in his boom box, and Parcells told me he was convinced that God was playing in all of the games, and Don Shula, having ripped my head off for a stupid question, apologized five seconds later. I don't see Bill apologizing for a whole lot.
I did come away, having talked to Mike Vrabel and Brady, with an appreciation of the way he ran his organization. First, like Jackson and Madden, Belichick trusts his men to be men, and treats them as such, and they respond with loyalty in kind. Second, he's smart enough to appoint an elite sub-team within his bigger team who report the temperature of the locker room to him. Third, he strives to simplify, right down to the binary if need be -- as in, "Look at the other team's formation, wherein they're going to either do this, or they're going to do that." Even if you're only slightly smarter than a bag of hammers, you'll be right more than half the time.
But as a guy? That monosyllabic act is an insult. My guess is that he opens up with pals Bon Jovi and neighbors on the Vineyard. But he plays the scribes for fools. We're bit players in his weekly historical drama.
Then why, for the first time, would I, an atheist, suddenly want Tim Tebow, whose mouth I'd like to Ziploc shut for the remainder of his career, succeed? Because I want success for anything Belichick does against mainstream NFL convention, whether it's passing 20 times in a row, or turning a wide receiver into a defensive back, or going for it on fourth-and-two up by six against the Colts with two minutes to go … on your own 28.
OK, so that one didn't work. (But as a Ray Davies character sang in "Preservation Act 2," the Kinks' highly underappreciated rock opera, "Well, ain't I human, like everybody else?")
He has the most complete football library extant (or so he told me), but after absorbing wisdom, unlike so many tight-assed men across the field on the other sideline, he doesn't look back.
NFL players, by the way, tend to be highly spiritual men. It's we scribes who, when the religion thing becomes part of the label, pronounce public expression of "religion" to be so unseemly. Including me. That's our bad.
But I do know this: That there are no other NFL coaches out there I care a whit about. Not even Tom Coughlin, who brought me two of four great moments in my life. (Sorry, wife and kids; the Parcells Super Bowls were better than our many decades together, and, face it, all three of you know it. And Belichick was an assistant for both!)
But the day Belichick quits the sideline? I am going to be really, really pissed, as I metaphorically flip the bird to the best sports league ever. Because without Bill, the NFL won't have a Socratic gadfly poking the corporate culture in all the right places.
But he might want to reconsider the tired old hoodie. You've made your point. My son has an Occupy Wall Street tee shirt he'd loan you. But that'd probably cost a draft pick. Then, who needs new picks when you can wait until you grab everyone else's, and turn them back into football players?
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Peter Richmond has written for five newspapers, been featured in 14 anthologies and spent 13 years on staff at GQ. He has written about everything from sports to murder to movie stars to vasectomies, and has published six books, one a New York Times bestseller. His most recent, "Badasses," a history of the Oakland Raiders of the 1970s, has been released in paperback.