Bill Belichick looks on as his team improved to 10-2 Sunday in a win against the Rams. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)
FOXBORO — Bill Belichick didn’t need to go all David Ortiz – or Troy Brown – for that matter in recalling the 2001 Patriots after Sunday’s 26-10 win over the Rams at Gillette Stadium.
Still, Belichick’s G-rated version of praise for the team that started all the winning of the past two decades was heartfelt.
Belichick was asked about his special feelings of appreciation for the Saturday night banquet that owner Robert Kraft threw for the 40-some members of the 2001 team that beat the Rams, 20-17, in Super Bowl XXXVI.
“Very special, absolutely. That was a great night for a couple of hours just to be able to see those guys again,” Belichick said. “A lot of them looked good. A lot of them looked like they could still play a couple of downs anyway. It was a lot of fun. It was great to see them. It was just a great opportunity to enjoy each other and reflect back on a great year.
“I would say not only what they did for the Patriots and the program and this organization but it was kind of a springboard for Boston sports over that decade. Not that we had anything to do with the Red Sox or the Celtics or the Bruins or anything else, but it was just the first one of many with those three great organizations. You kind of feel proud that we were the first one and that they all followed. And the [Boston] Cannons – throw them in there, too.”
Naturally, Belichick would include a lacrosse team in his historical reference.
Before Adam Vinatieri’s 48-yarder split the uprights in New Orleans, the city of Boston hadn’t celebrated a major championship since the Celtics won their 16th NBA title in 1986. The Bruins hadn’t won since 1972. The Red Sox were still mired in the 1918 Curse of the Bambino. And the Patriots, well they of course had never won it all.
Can the ’01 team (5-5 at one point) possibly inspire his current 10-2 Patriots?
“Well, every team is its own team, so there will never be another team like that one. There will never be another team like this one. It will be unique, but there’s certainly a good message there. I talked to the team a little bit about what that team did and how special they were. When I think back to that team, what they did was hard. It was really hard. With the way the season started and just what we had to go through, I’d say the way that team was coached, relative to the way some other teams had been coached.
“We had a lot of work to do. We had lot of I’d say foundation to build, a lot of structure to implement. But they didn’t blink. They responded to it. They met every challenge. They didn’t always come out on the winning end but we battled. We took some tough, tough losses – Miami in particular. After we beat Indianapolis I kind of thought we were getting back on track a little bit at 2-1 or 1-2. We quickly went to 1-3 down there so that was a hammering. But like I said, that team battled through.
“They battled through a tough loss to the Rams on Sunday Night and then won the rest of them. Not necessarily with a lot of style points but with enough game points at the end to be champions. It was pretty special. But yeah, I’m sure our guys respect what they do, love to hear it. They’ve heard about a lot of those guys, not so much from the ’01 team, [but] the ’01 team that also won ’03 and ’04 teams, so [Tedy] Bruschi and [Willie] McGinest, guys like that; Troy Brown. But there were some guys that were eon the ’01 team that didn’t play on the ’02 or ’03 or ’04 teams. I said it kind of makes them part of that special group.”
Did you know that ’01 team was special when they were 5-5 through 10 games?
“I think at that point, no. Every year is kind of like this. I think at that point we were 5-5. We were just trying to get to 6-5. When we were 6-5 we were just trying to get to 7-5. We just try to have one good day, try to have two good days, try to have a good week, try to play good, and start all over again. That team kept just believing in itself. We kept playing. Again, every game was a tough game other than the Carolina game at the end. The Miami game, that was really for the division and as it turns out a first-round bye.
“Each of those games, the Miami game and then Oakland, to Pittsburgh, to St. Louis – I mean, we were just trying to find a way to win. We didn’t really think of ourselves as anything special. I don’t think that really happened until really kind of it was all over. We were just trying to find a way to compete and find a way to win.
“I still think it’s pretty interesting how the NFL schedule gave us a bye the last week of the season, like, ‘You guys will be out of it so you can go ahead and start your vacation early. Go ahead on home.’ I think that certainly surprised them, surprised the schedule makers. Of course we ended up having to play because of the 9/11 game that got postponed with Carolina in Week 2. When the schedule came out and we saw that our bye was the last week of the season – I’m sure we didn’t follow along to the script that they had written for us but that’s all right.”