Coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady have carved out four Super Bowl titles, six AFC crowns and 13 AFC East division titles since 2001. They are beloved in the New England area, of course, but are regarded as cheaters or devious by many fans and skeptics around the rest of the country. Spygate and Deflategate may have tainted some of the Patriots’ achievements, but Belichick and Brady seem unperturbed by the criticism and keep winning.
In Belichick and Brady: Two Men, the Patriots, and How They Revolutionized Football (Hachette Books; hardback; $27; 410 pages), Boston-based author Michael Holley goes behind the scenes and shows the development and blossoming trust of the coach-quarterback relationship. Holley is a former sportswriter for the Boston Globe and has written three books on the team: Patriot Reign (2005), Never Give Up (2007, with Tedy Bruschi) and War Room (2011).
It would be too simplistic to believe (or write) that Belichick and Brady are the sole reasons for the Patriots’ success. And Holley does not fall into that trap, calling them “bookends on a shelf, with innumerable personalities tucked between them.” The strength of this book is that while Holley concentrates on the bookends, he also lets the “innumerable personalities” have their voice. It is their perspective that makes this an interesting book.
Anyone who has watched Belichick’s monosyllabic replies at news conferences or Brady’s well-rehearsed answers will appreciate Holley’s diligence in finding multiple voices.
The Patriots’ rise to prominence is an interesting story. In 2001, Belichick had been dubbed a failure as head coach of the Cleveland Browns and Brady was a fourth-string quarterback on a roster that was topped by Drew Bledsoe. Brady kept moving up in the depth chart, but as Holley writes, “locally there wasn’t a complete grasping” of who the quarterback was. Brady had been overlooked in high school and college and was an afterthought on the Patriots’ roster — until Bledsoe was hurt during the 2001 season.
Bledsoe, popular and entrenched as the Patriots’ starter, instead became the NFL’s version of Wally Pipp. Brady took over, and except for an injury in the AFC championship game that returned Bledsoe as a starter, was Belichick’s choice. It followed the mindset of the team that year.
“The team loved its reputation of being a bunch of starless rejects,” Holley writes, “knowing full well that the label was inaccurate.
“They loved the concept of crashing the parties of the entitled and becoming uninvited dancers on the red carpet.”
The Patriots danced a lot on the red carpet after that year, especially after New England’s heart-stopping victory against Seattle in Super Bowl XLIX. There also were some disappointing losses, including an upset loss to the New York Giants that prevented New England from completing a perfect, 19-0 season. Off the field, the Patriots faced adversity, from Bruschi’s offseason stroke to the murder case involving tight end Aaron Hernandez.
Plus, there were the on-field incidents that showed the Patriots guilty of pushing the envelope. Deflategate further tarnished the Patriots’ reputation, but the team shed the stigma, not unlike Brady shrugging off a blitzing linebacker.
One anecdote demonstrates Belichick’s unorthodox coaching manner. When he was coaching the Browns, he interviewed former running back Lionel Vital for a scouting position. As they were watching film during the interview, Belichick asked Vital about a particular player — but the job candidate had no answers and admitted as much.
Figuring he botched the interview, Vital was surprised to get a job offer three days later. He also was confused — why was he hired?
“One of the most impressive things you said in that interview,” Belichick said, “was ‘I don’t know.’”
That is what sets Belichick apart as a coach. He never looked for “yes” men. He looked for people who would look for answers and even challenge him to stretch his boundaries as a coach. His attention to detail and ability to plan for all scenarios make him the top NFL coach of this generation.
Holley brings the reader into the locker room and into the heads of the Patriots, and while there are no great relevations coming from Belichick or Brady, their supporting crew supply ample information.
Students of the game will enjoy the book; Patriots haters will be, well, Patriots haters. Holley mostly plays the narrative straight, at times throwing in incidentals like the Red Sox winning the World Series in 2004. But football is the message in Belichick and Brady, and Holley has provided an interesting look at a franchise that always seems to be a threat to win the Super Bowl.