Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Giving The Devil His Due

Dallas Morning News - Bill Belichick does not articulate what is at stake here Sunday night in Super Bowl XLII. But he knows. He has to know.

If the New England Patriots complete their mission to achieve the first perfect record since the NFL went to the 16-game schedule, then Belichick's place in history is secure.

He moves ahead of Bill Walsh, ahead of Chuck Noll, ahead of Tom Landry, ahead of Joe Gibbs, ahead of Don Shula.

If the Patriots defeat the New York Giants as they are heavily favored to do, then the discussion of great NFL coaches begins with Vince Lombardi, continues with Belichick and then goes down from there.

There simply is no other fair way to look at it.

It is no knock on these Hall of Fame coaches – Noll with four Super Bowl titles in six years, Walsh with three in eight years and numerous offensive innovations, Landry and Shula with their incredible winning records sustained for nearly three decades and Gibbs, winner of three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks.

These are legendary figures in the coaching business.

But a win Sunday night and Belichick beats them all.

His colorlessness in news conferences does not obscure his greatness. Neither does the charge of cheating that was labeled against the Patriots after the season opener for filming opponents' coaching signals from a forbidden spot in the stadium.

Belichick, Tom Brady and this incredible collection of Patriots don't win because they have stolen signals. They win because they are the most incredibly prepared team of all time.

As Brady said earlier this season, "I've been playing for him for eight years and he's never wrong. We come in on Monday mornings and look at the evaluations and if we do the things that he really talked about, usually we come out ahead."

And if Belichick won't engage any discussion of what's at stake Sunday night, some of his players will.

"This is a special Super Bowl," linebacker Junior Seau said. "We could hide behind the fact that there's going to be another Super Bowl. But this is a special day because we can do something that will be here forever."

If the Patriots do the job, then Belichick will be 6-0 in Super Bowls – 2-0 as defensive coordinator with the New York Giants and 4-0 in seven years with New England.

His teams have won Super Bowls when they were the underdogs – Giants against Buffalo following the 1990 season and Patriots against St. Louis 11 years later.

Anyone remember the Rams and "The Greatest Show on Turf?" Belichick was the architect of the defense that slowed it down just enough for the Patriots to capture their first Super Bowl, 20-17.

In the wake of that game, I don't remember anyone talking about the beginnings of a dynasty. Most of us still viewed the Rams as the superior team and felt that the Patriots had simply enjoyed a perfect night.

Well, they have gotten more perfect through the years. If the Patriots go 19-0, then Belichick will always be the first to have done that.

He's already the only coach to win three Super Bowls in the NFL's free agency era, and he's the first coach to win three Super Bowls in four years in any era.

Lombardi with his five championships – three NFL titles before the merger and then the first two Super Bowls – will always be the man with his name on the trophy.

But he coached in a vastly different era. To win his first two championships, Lombardi had to win only one playoff game. The next two titles required two playoff wins, and the final one required three.

Belichick's postseason record of 15-3 is second in winning percentage only to Lombardi's 9-1.

But you didn't get to this special place by dwelling publicly on the level of your genius or the magnitude of your achievements. That's why all you got from Belichick on Monday and all you are going to get from him all week was stuff like this:

"Our objective is to move the ball and score points. If we can move the ball and score points and not turn the ball over, we feel we have a chance. That's how we do it.

"Right now we're just thinking about trying to win on Sunday. The Giants are undefeated in the playoffs, and we're undefeated in the playoffs.

"We've still got a lot of work to do. The Giants are a very hard team to prepare for."

No bulletin board material. Nothing to hint at he thinks his achievements have not been duly noted.

Bill Belichick is out here to coach a football game and no one ever has coached better in Super Bowls than he has.

If that doesn't change, then his status as one of the best coaches of the last 30 years does.

Like him or not, the facts will say that he is the best.