I was at a party over the holidays where someone raised one of those deep, existential questions that only seem to come up late at night after polishing off a couple of plastic bottles of discount store-brand scotch and a cheese ball with the size (and destructive power) of the Death Star. And that question was:
If you had to change places with any other person in the world, who would you choose?
Bear in mind that for me, the key part of that sentence is “had to.” Because when you’re a Boston sports blogger, you wouldn’t voluntarily change places with anyone. The life of a blogger is about as good as it gets for anybody on this spinning blue marble we call Earth. When you write about sports on the Internet, your life is pretty much utopia. You’re eternally good-looking. Your bills practically pay themselves. Guys fight for the chance to pick up your bar tab and women come at you from all directions like ninjas. I digress, but the point is I don’t want to trade lives with anyone. But if I HAD to, for me the choice is obvious. Let the other guys I was at the party with be Justin Timberlake or Bill Gates or Derek Jeter. If I was going to climb into the hyperbaric chamber, strap the probes onto my head and Avatar my way into someone else’s body, there’s only one man I’d want to be.
OK, maybe he’s not the conventional choice. Particularly in light of that spirit-crushing suckfest that was the Patriots-Ravens debacle. And undoubtedly most people would prefer be the guy who works down the hall from him. The young, handsome, beloved, universally respected bazillionaire with the wife who makes $30 million a year getting her picture taken in her underwear. And believe me, I wouldn’t complain about that as a consolation prize. But for me, I’ll take being the gruff, churlish, middle-aged Croatian genius any day of the week and twice on Sunday. I want to lay down in that Pandoran sleep capsule, open my eyes and find myself under the gray hood.
Why? For millions of reasons. And for one reason. Because Bill Belichick is the absolute, indisputable best in the world at what he does. And how many people out of 6 billion truly can say that? A dozen maybe, if that? I’m someone with no discernible talent beyond turning movie titles into their adult film equivalents (this year’s Oscar front runners: “Ava-Tart” and “Hump in the Air”), which has no social value and is the reason I’m just a Boston sports blogger. But Belichick is the very embodiment of excellence. The ultimate achiever in his field. And I want to know what that’s like.
And of course I’m talking about more than just being a football coach. That he’s the best in the world at scheming and game-planning tackle football games is beyond dispute. Quibble about the game plan last Sunday all you want. That game is a mere rumble strip on the eight-lane superhighway of his career. And it will be long forgotten when the world looks back at the landmark accomplishments he’s built along the side of that road. In the early 1990s, he muzzled the Bills’ K-Gun offense. In the early 2000s, he put the Rams’ Greatest Show on Turf out of business. More recently, he tamed the Miami Wildcat. And if you want to see how, you can see his game plans for yourself. They’re at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
But I’m also talking about so much more. Bill Belichick is the hub of the wheel of the best organization in the best league playing the best sport in the world. He’s the one indispensable person in football’s last remaining dynasty, doing it in an era when all the rules are designed to prevent dynasties. I grew up loving the Patriots back when they were the laughingstocks of all sports. On the field, they were the hapless Detroit Lions of their day. Off the field, they made the Cincinnati Bengals look like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Hell, I’m just barely old enough to remember when the Pats didn’t even have a home stadium. But this year they played a game an ocean and a continent away, in London fercripessakes, where they don’t even speak English, and I saw that same team be an international sensation.
Belichick looks out his office window and he’s the master of all he surveys. (OK, his office probably is in the basement and has a view of some first-rounder's Humvee tires, but work with me here.) From the Chardonnay drinkers ordering Tuna Carpaccio at Davio's on one side to the rednecks buying Elk Jerky at the Bass Pro Shop, they’re all there because of Bill Belichick’s success. And with all due respect to Robert Kraft, none of this would’ve happened if he’d hired Chan Gailey like some of the Boston media wanted him to.
Which brings me to another reason why I’d want to be Belichick. Because everyone wants a piece of him. OK, not in the way they want Timberlake or Jeter. They’re desperate for some of Belichick’s football acumen, and football is just as important and gratifying as sex, right? I said “right?” He’s been friends with the late David Halberstam and Jon Bon Jovi. A man of letters and a man of leather.
As much as the rest of the pro and college football world claims not to like His Hoodedness, they are so desperate to graft some of his DNA off on their organizations that if he has a gallbladder removed sometime this offseason, within two days Randy Lerner will be at a podium with a glass jar in his hand saying, “The Cleveland Browns are proud to introduce you to our newest head coach ...”
But probably the main reason I’d change places with Bill Belichick is ... to put it bluntly ... he’s kind of a dink.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the guy, if you haven’t already figured that out. And I know that players, at least the ones to whom football is important, love to play for the man. But he’s got that kind of dinkiness about him that only the very talented can get away with. Being a guy with no real talents, I actually have to be semi-nice to people in order to get things in this world, which can be difficult and at times painful. Belichick doesn’t have to bother with that. He can be a jerk in the way that John Nash was a jerk in “A Beautiful Mind.” The truly brilliant can get away with it because we need them to do the calculus that makes the rest of our simple, primitive, caveman brains hurt.
Not that I think Belichick is really a bad guy. Quite the contrary. He’s just a bad guy to the media. And to us fans, there’s a big difference. The Boston press used to take pride in tearing down our heroes. From Ted Williams to Yaz, from Bledsoe to Pedro, from Mo to Nomar, they managed to sink their claws into virtually every non-Celtic sports legend in this town. And they’ve tried with Belichick, Lord, how they’ve tried. He’s spent a decade building a dynasty out of rubble, and they’ve fought him every step of the way from the moment he was hired, through all his roster moves to Spygate and beyond.
The wild card playoff postgame was Belichick at his cantankerous best, answering every question with that annoying lip-smacking noise he makes when he’s cheesed off and saying nothing more than, “We didn’t play well enough.” He was as emotionless as Terminator, and just as indestructible.
Pre-Belichick, those in the Boston press saw the sports landscape as an inverted pyramid with them at the top. But the Hooded One turned it right side up, and they haven’t put a scratch on him. He’s invulnerable, standing in the middle of the sports ecosystem, surrounded by predators. But he’s all antlers, horns, shell, scales, bony plates and a dangerous, swinging tail. All the jackals can do is wait until he gets diseased or they sense weakness, which won’t happen any time soon. To steal a line from Mel Brooks, “It’s good to be the king.”
And if you’re any kind of a sports fan, if success is important to you and especially if you love football, in this era, it’s got to be good to be Bill Belichick. I know I’d like to try it.
Jerry Thornton has been working the Boston comedy scene since back when Steve Phillips’ mistresses were very homely babies. He also has appeared on HBO and can be found daily on BarstoolSports.com