If the New England Patriots win Super Bowl XLVI, is Bill Belichick the greatest NFL coach in history? Is Tom Brady the greatest quarterback?
These are legitimate conversations in New England, where the local bar has an “In Bill we trust” bumper sticker behind the tequila.. If the Patriots win, it will mean they have been to five Super Bowls and won four in 11 years.
It has been an amazing 11 years in New England. In that time, Boston has had the lowest unemployment rate among championship parade planners in America. In New England, it seems there is a duck boat parade of Boston sports champions every other week, or at least seven times in 11 years. Three Lombardi Trophies, two World Series trophies (the Commissioner’s Trophy), one Larry O’Brien Trophy and one Stanley Cup. Is it time to start planning another parade ?
If the Patriots win a fourth Super Bowl, are these two guys — Brady and Belichick — the greatest ever? All the familiar names show up in both arguments. Paul Brown, Vince Lombardi, Chuck Noll, Don Shula, Bill Walsh and Joe Gibbs. Maybe a couple of others. It’s a short list. Same with quarterbacks. Otto Graham, Bart Starr, Johnny Unitas, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana and Troy Aikman. Maybe a couple of others. A close look reveals that five of the great quarterbacks are linked with great coaches.
Just like Brady and Belichick.
I never saw Otto Graham play. I barely remember Starr and Unitas. Since then, Tom Brady is the best quarterback I’ve ever seen. Yes, he’s vulnerable when he gets hit, but he is very good at not getting hit, or moving around in the pocket and getting rid of the ball before he gets hit. And when he does that, he is cold-blooded and deadly accurate.
And he’s got that Joe Montana thing. When Montana came in with the game on the line, there was a sense of certainty, sort of like watching Michael Jordan at his peak take game-winning shots. You knew before it happened that Montana would win the game if given a chance. Brady has that, and he has a better arm than Montana did.
Early in his career, Brady won three Super Bowls with various receiver groups that were called, “Troy Brown and the no name receivers.” He went to another Super Bowl with the Randy Moss/Wes Welker offense, and now he’s back with the tight end/Wes Welker offense.
Meanwhile Bill Belichick, the micro-managing mad scientist, continues to evolve his team around the luckiest 199th draft pick ever. We’ll never know if Bill Belichick would have been Bill Belichick without Tom Brady. I am pretty sure Brady would have succeeded, even if coached by Rex Ryan.
Still, Belichick has built his Patriots teams in different ways depending on his personnel. He’s always — except for the Matt Cassel year — had Tom Brady as his quarterback. While his offenses have varied by receiver group, Belichick’s defenses have more than once, including this year, been built with rubber bands and scotch tape and converted players as if the Patriots were leather-helmeted Harvard in 1934 where everyone plays every position. Against all odds, it’s worked when it mattered.
Belichick understands, as all the great coaches did, that a football team is more than the sum of its parts. He is able to get such buy-in that his team sometimes seems to operate as if it were part of his willpower and laptop. He truly is a great coach - even if his defense this year, up until the last two weeks, has been questionable at best. Yes, Belichick is a great coach, working his way toward the top of the mountain.
However, the greatest coach ever should have been Joe Gibbs, but he made a bad mistake by coming back from NASCAR to work for the death trap that is Daniel Snyder. It’s a bad memory. Gibbs’ legacy should be that he did what no other coach has done — win Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks. This Super Bowl won’t change that.
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