Let the teenyboppers drool over New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and his dimpled chin. At a certain point in life, you don’t dream about being his date. You look at a 24-year-old like Brady and think: What a great mom he must have.
Coach Bill Belichick is the thinking woman’s hero. And if sports is the metaphor for life that modern commentators keep insisting it is, the qualities he brings to the football field are worth talking about.
Never underestimate the sheer power and appeal of brawn plus brains, minus arrogance and ego. The sportswriters call Belichick a defensive genius. Mike Freeman of The New York Times describes the coach as a brawler “who doesn’t have only bulging muscles, he also has the IQ of a nuclear physicist.” Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy tells us Belichick prefers paper over plastic, the Beatles over the Stones, dogs over cats, and boxers over briefs.
This coach isn’t glib or glitzy. At press conferences, he sometimes seems a little goofy and is often way too grim. But he is a leader, without the swagger, selfishness, and pomposity that so many men in business, politics, and sports embrace as an entitlement of their gender and position.
In the aftermath of his team’s dramatic Super Bowl victory, Belichick showed something more important than Hollywood-hyped star power. He bearhugged his ecstatic young son and then deferred graciously to his players and assistant coaches.
Most miraculously, he got professional football players, who are normally burdened by ridiculously outsized vanity and bravado, to believe in the team, not just in themselves. He inspired them to do something unusual: The Patriots ran out onto the field as a group, turning down the opportunity to be introduced as individual stars. That is all the more amazing for a franchise that coddled the likes of Terry Glenn for far too long.
At yesterday morning’s press conference (2/04), Belichick was asked to define the key ingredient to the Patriots’ success. Imagine Bill Parcells answering the question and you just know he would let it be known that he was it. But Belichick said, “The best thing about the team is just that it’s a team.” The players “were unselfish; they tried to buy into the team concept.”
It seems like such a simple and obvious element of success. Yet in every walk of life, American culture worships the egocentric, spotlightcraving leader who equates power with the ability to dominate the scene and the conversation.
Bill Clinton comes to mind in politics. How much more effective he might have been if only he could have put his brainpower to work behind the scenes to build a truly effective government team. Instead, Clinton put his libido to work behind the scenes, and the rest is unpleasant history. You don’t have to agree with all of George W. Bush’s political philosophy to admire his willingness to put the team concept to work in his presidency.
Professional sports is usually about larger-than-life personalities accomplishing fantastic feats of athletic prowess that grant the most successful a lifetime of obscene material excess. Brady, the Pats’ young quarterback star, was quickly rewarded with a luxury car for his MVP role in Sunday’s victory. And that, of course, is just the start. Millions of dollars more are now ready to fall in his lap. He has the talent, the looks, and the raw star power that are all but guaranteed to ensure him great wealth and American-style celebrity.
We put so much emphasis on athletic success, we are willing to ignore the huge character flaws that seem to develop along with it. Brady is still in the cocky-but-modest phase, willing to share credit with his family and his coaches.
At yesterday’s press conference, he thanked Belichick for “teaching me the game of football.” If only he could stay confident, yet grateful.
No matter what the sports junkies say, the game of football should not be confused with the game of life. But there are things to be admired and emulated about this football team, including its perseverance and commitment to teamwork. And it’s nice to think that for once, a quiet, respectful leadership style is responsible for a Super Bowl level of success.
Bill Belichick for governor? For president? Nah, let him continue as long as he wants as coach of the New England Patriots. Who said the Pats can’t win the Super Bowl two years in a row?
[Copyright 2002 by Globe Newspaper Co. (MA). Reproduced with permission of Globe Newspaper Co. (MA) via Copyright Clearance Center.]