Bill Belichick, who has coached in five of the last 11 Super Bowls, is either the sharpest mind in the NFL or the luckiest man in America. He is the football version of Ryan Seacrest, who is either the savviest personality in Hollywood or the luckiest man in America.
Let us count the ways Belichick has been wildly fortunate in his NFL head-coaching career:
1. Most coaches would not even get a second chance, as Belichick did, after his four-losing-seasons-in-five stint with the Cleveland Browns from 1991-95.
2. He masterfully sidestepped the moribund New York Jets, who hired him in 2000, quitting one day after getting the job with his infamous, hand-scribbled note, “I resign as HC of the NYJ.”
3. During the second game of his second season as coach of the New England Patriots, Drew Bledsoe got hurt; otherwise, Tom Brady might still be on the sideline, texting Mark Sanchez about good-looking ladies in the stands.
4. The Tuck Rule Game in January 2002, in which Brady fumbled away the Patriots’ last chance against the Oakland Raiders, only to have referee Walt Coleman reverse the call via replay and reverse the course of NFL history for the next decade.
I realize that I am tuck rule-obsessed — I am no longer invited to dinner parties, for instance, largely because I inevitably bloviate about the tuck rule before appetizers are even served — so let me take a moment here to reflect in regard to No. 3 on Belichick’s lucky list.
On Sept. 23, 2001, when the Jets’ Mo Lewis put a hit on Bledsoe to sideline him, Belichick was a coach on the edge. He had gone 36-44 in five joyless seasons in Cleveland, was 5-11 in his first season in New England, and, at the moment Lewis leveled Bledsoe, Belichick was en route to a 0-2 start in his second season.
Brady came in, went 11-3 as a starter the rest of the way, and, aided by the unspeakable tuck ruling in the playoffs, led the Patriots to their first of three Super Bowl titles.
(Column Intermission: The Team of Destiny glass is half-full again. I missed spectacularly on the Saints and hit spectacularly on the Broncos. Thank you, Peyton Manning. He’s so good, he’s got me in line at Papa John’s. Now I need Peyton to conjure up some Eli magic and give Denver a destined postseason to remember.)
Belichick is now regarded as a football genius. But without Bledsoe’s misfortune and Brady’s magnificence, Belichick might’ve been Eric Mangini before Eric Mangini, glumly sitting in an ESPN studio dispensing gridiron bromides. Instead, Belichick — with 12 straight winning seasons in New England — has become the ninth-winningest coach in NFL history.
Belichick is a great example of what I call the “Frank Sinatra Principle.” The Sinatra principle states that two singers can be born on the same Hoboken, N.J., block in the same year with similar skills, but one becomes a treasured entertainment icon and the other works the Ramada Inn lounge in Fairborn, Ohio. And it is a result of luck or connections as much as talent and hard work.
As it were, Belichick and Brady last season surpassed Don Shula and Dan Marino as the winningest head coach/quarterback combo of the Super Bowl era. In fact, USA Today and Stats LLC rank Belichick-Brady as the 24th-best tandem in world history.
Here is their top 25:
1. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers; 2. Batman & Robin; 3. Romeo and Juliet; 4. Lewis and Clark; 5. Tarzan and Jane; 6. Yin and yang; 7. Abercrombie & Fitch; 8. Beauty and the Beast; 9. Laverne & Shirley; 10. Abbott and Costello; 11. Laurel and Hardy; 12. Jack and Jill; 13. Jack and Coke; 14. Harry & Tonto; 15. Trinidad and Tobago; 16. Ken and Barbie; 17. Hansel and Gretel; 18. Peanut butter and jelly; 19. Simon and Garfunkel; 20. Simon & Simon; 21. Simon & Schuster; 22. Calvin and Hobbes; 23. Beavis and Butt-Head; 24. Belichick and Brady; 25. Adam and Eve.
And as Belichick enters another postseason, I am reminded of one other piece of good luck for the now-revered coach:
His team plays outdoors most of the time, so he doesn’t look too ridiculous coming to work every day in a hoodie.
Q. Shouldn’t Cleveland Browns fans be filing a lawsuit against the NFL right about now? The league promised an NFL franchise for the 1999 season and yet it’s practically 2013 and they’re still waiting. (Paul Martin; Murphysboro, Ill.)
A. They’ve got Brandon Weeden — that’s a start.
Q. A la Lomas Brown, have you ever “whiffed on a block” journalistically to hurt a colleague? (Chris Thomson; Denver)
A. When I was working on the copy desk at The Washington Post, I once let a John Feinstein article go through unedited.
Q. What type of Kia does Blake Griffin usually drive when he goes clubbing in Los Angeles? (William Murray; Chicago)
A. I’d imagine it’s got to be a stretch Kia.
Q. Isn’t your scenario of an NFL team making the playoffs with a 0-10-6 record the basis behind World Cup soccer play? (Steven Seymour; Clarksburg, Md.)
A. Pay the man, Shirley.
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