By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Ya gotta do what ya gotta do to sell a book these days, so it was no crime for Ian O’Connor’s publishing company to release some of the “juicier” nuggets in order to promote his new book about Bill Belichick. For proof, look no further than the extended excerpt about Belichick suffering a knee injury at practice for Wesleyan; that story ain’t selling too many books!
So on Wednesday, the football world got whacked over the head with more gossip and hearsay about the goings-on at 1 Patriot Place in Foxboro, Massachusetts. I hope you’re sitting down for this, but some of the salacious details revealed in the book include the fact that Belichick and Tom Brady don’t always hold hands, stare into each other’s eyes, and wonder how great their future together might be.
Shocking, I know.
Of course, had this book come out last November, the news about Brady wanting a “divorce” from Belichick would have qualified as a stunner. But now, after the Seth Wickersham story, after the reporting from Tom E. Curran, after the DeflateGate book, and after the Mark Leibovich book, it’s just sort of more of the same. (The Leibovich book got as close as any to getting a direct, on-the-record quote from Brady about the issues, when the QB emailed the author this past April, “They [the Patriots] can do whatever they want.”)
And, much like Wickersham’s article which cited numerous unnamed sources, some of the juiciest bits of the snippets from O’Connor’s book came from the infamous anonymous source. That included a number of comments, the most idiotic of which was this one:
One New England assistant said the general feeling among staff members around that time wasn’t that Belichick’s system could make Super Bowl quarterbacks out of all 32 NFL starters. “But if you gave us any of the top 15, we could do it,” the assistant said. “I don’t think the coaches view Tom as special as everyone else in football does. Mr. Kraft thinks Tom is the greatest gift ever, but the coaches don’t.”
This being Boston, the quote did receive quite a bit of attention. Even though this New England assistant might have been a random, disgruntled employee sharing his own personal opinions, even if this unnamed source might have been alone in believing this, and even if reality has shown that the head coach has valued his quarterback quite a bit over the years, the quote nevertheless “stirred the pot,” as they say.
And whenever a Brady/Belichick debate springs up, it always — A-L-W-A-Y-S! — leads to a foolhardy debate about which person is *more* responsible for the Patriots’ success over the past two decades. This argument pops up even though:
A) That’s a completely immeasurable matter.
B) “More” responsible? What are we even doing here?
C) One person plays football. The other person coaches football. Bill’s never thrown a back-breaking interception and Brady’s never benched Malcolm Butler.
D) Why can’t you just be happy?
Anyway, considering this debate/argument is nothing new, I’ve decided that it’s time to settle this discussion once and for all. Yes, here and now, in September of 2018, it’s time to finally and definitively end this conversation with the absolute and indisputable truth on the matter. (Aren’t you lucky, that on all the days in all the years, of all the Boston sports websites you could’ve browsed, you stumbled onto this one?)
So here it is. The question is: Who is more responsible for the Patriots winning five Super Bowls and appearing in three more and also going 210-64 in the regular season since 2001? Alternately worded, the question is: Would Belichick have won without Brady, and would Brady have won without Belichick?
This debate always plunges into sheer silliness. Belichick’s record with the Browns and in his first year in New England is always point No. 1. Brady’s shaky footing as a starter at Michigan comes into play. So does his doughy body at the combine and his sixth-round draft status. Oh, and don’t forget “THE PATRIOTS WENT 11-5 WHEN BRADY WAS INJURED!” (Even though that was a five-game drop-off from the season prior.) It goes on and on and on and the result is always pointless.
So here: The answer is that both Brady and Belichick would have won and led highly successful careers if they never worked together in the NFL.
It is impossible — I-M-P-O-S-S-I-B-L-E — to believe otherwise.
How could you look at the most consistent, reliable, ingenious, and at times downright diabolical football mind and say that his success is dependent on one player? For the past 15-plus years, the list of best and greatest coaches in the NFL has had Belichick at the top. Whoever’s been at No. 2 has changed, but it’s always been a very distant second place. To say that Belichick’s rise to greatness is dependent on anybody but Belichick is asinine.
Likewise, how could you look at the most driven, obsessed, and gifted quarterback in the history of the sport and say that he owes everything to anybody other than himself? These days, with Brady being at a mega-celebrity status where his every word and action gets analyzed like he’s a movie star, it often gets overlooked that his dedication to the sport of football and his efforts to improve his own play are second to none. Period. One does not transform what the 2000 version of Brady to the 2007 version of Brady to the 2017 version of Brady without having the most insatiable drive to be the greatest. That comes from within, not from a single coach.
Now, the trick here? The trick is that reasonable minds can easily come to this conclusion: While both Brady and Belichick would have been successful on their own, it is indisputable that the two benefited from each other. As a result, they were each able to reach heights and accomplish feats that they never would have been able to on their own.
If he had been drafted by another team, Tom Brady absolutely would have won two or three Super Bowls over 19 seasons in the NFL.
Had Belichick drafted Tim Rattay in 2000, then Belichick absolutely would have won two or three Super Bowls over the past 19 years.
Looking around the NFL, and seeing how much better these two men have been than their peers for two decades, how could you not reasonably deduce this?
At the same time, it should go without saying that it’s highly unlikely, if not a near certainty that the two men would not have five Lombardi Trophies to their name if they didn’t have each other. By pairing the best quarterback and coach of their respective generations, Brady and Belichick were able to reach heights that nobody before has ever sniffed and nobody will approach for decades to come.
At times when Belichick has misfired, Brady has been there to make up for it. At times when Brady was not at his best, Belichick made up the difference. And the times that both Brady and Belichick were humming along at full power? The rest of the NFL has suffered. Greatly.
(Plus, the Patriots have enjoyed the greatest QB-coach pairing the NFL has ever seen, and for a stretch that no NFL team could ever realistically expect. Even then, the Patriots have needed more than their share of good old-fashioned luck on their side in order to win as much as they have. From the Tuck Rule, to the Drew Bennett drop, to the John Kasay kick out of bounds, to the Seahawks’ and Falcons’ play-calling, the Patriots’ dynasty has certainly gotten a slight boost from good fortune. Winning in the NFL is far from scientific.)
It’s really not that complicated. And yet, for years, the fiery debate burns. It’s needless.
As for that unnamed Patriots assistant who said the Patriots could win a Super Bowl with a top-15 quarterback? Sure. Maybe once. If luck broke their way, maybe they could have won two. That explains how combos like these can win a Super Bowl: John Harbaugh-Joe Flacco, Nick Foles-Doug Pederson, Brad Johnson-Jon Gruden, Trent Dilfer-Brian Billick, and so on and so forth.
Peyton Manning, the most accomplished QB in history, only won two. His little brother, who’s much less talented and might be the definition of “a top-15 quarterback,” won just as many — coincidentally against the best coach-QB combination in history. Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers are considered contenders every year; they’ve won twice in 14 seasons. Russell Wilson won a Super Bowl in his second NFL season, and he and Pete Carroll came this close to making it back-to-back. That duo might never see another Super Bowl other than on television, for all we know.
So, if the Patriots had a “top-15 QB” instead of the greatest of all time, could they have won a Super Bowl or two? Absolutely. Especially with the defenses of the 2003 and 2004 teams. Sure thing. Could have happened.
But if it hadn’t been for the fateful April 2000 pairing of Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr. and William Stephen Belichick, there’s not a chance on God’s green earth that the Patriots would have five Lombardi Trophies on display in their team Hall of Fame — a building that didn’t exist in 2000, which sits next to a stadium that didn’t exist in 2000. There’s likewise not a chance that Tom would have five Super Bowls to his name if it hadn’t been for Bill. Ditto for Bill.
This debate has now been settled. Thank you for your time.