Bill Belichick's Old Man Was Pretty Amazing, too.(SPORTS)

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), August 29, 2002 | Go to article overview

Bill Belichick's Old Man Was Pretty Amazing, too.(SPORTS)


Byline: Dan Daly, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Everybody knows about the amazing feats Bill Belichick has performed with the New England Patriots, but how many know about his father Steve's unique place in NFL history? That's right, Steve Belichick, the longtime Navy assistant coach, had a brief but memorable pro career with the Detroit Lions in 1941. Why don't I tell you about it while you're idly counting down the minutes until the Redskins-Patriots preseason game? Why don't I tell you the story of the equipment manager who became a star?

That's how Steve Belichick began that '41 season, as the Lions' equipment man. He'd just graduated from Western Reserve University in Cleveland, but he couldn't get a high school coaching job because he'd already been classified 1-A by the draft board. (Translation: He might be here today, but he could be gone tomorrow.) So when Lions coach Bill Edwards, his old coach at Western Reserve, offered to let him tend to the Lions' socks and jocks, Belichick jumped at the chance. At least it would enable him to stay around the game.

"You know how they paid the equipment man in those days?" Belichick asks. "You're not going to believe this. Each player chipped in a dollar a week. And there were, what, 25 or 30 guys on the team?"

In the beginning of the season, maybe. But if things didn't go well for a club in those days, it often released players - that is, dumped salaries - and went with a skeleton crew. The previous year, after a particularly disappointing loss, the Lions up and fired six players. As then-coach Potsy Clark explained it, "We can lose just as easily with 25 men as with 31."

Actually, Edwards had more in mind for Belichick than just blowing up footballs. Detroit was running the same offense Western Reserve had used, an old-style single wing that revolved around the fullback - which happened to be Steve's position. So in addition to his other duties, he helped with the coaching, showing the Lions fullbacks the various steps.

One of those fullbacks, a Notre Dame grad named Milt Piepul, had trouble handling the snaps from center. His hands were decent enough, but he was "blind as a bat," Belichick says. "He was the first guy I was aware of who used contact lenses, and sometimes he had a hell of a time getting them in and keeping them in. That was a problem, because the fullback got the snap on every play except one in that offense."

(Contact lenses in 1941. What must they have been like? It would seem, on a football field, that they could do as much harm as good. This, remember, was the pre-face mask era, and punches in the puss were a weekly occurrence. In fact, that same season, the New York Herald-Tribune reported the following: "Frank Kristufek, [Brooklyn] Dodger tackle, who wears contact lenses, got a terrible black eye [against the Giants], but the lens was removed unbroken from his eye.")

But on with our story. As the months passed, Belichick became a more active participant in practice - to the point of actually running the plays. And when the Lions got off to a 1-2-1 start, Edwards said, "Heck, Steve can play fullback better than any of the fellas we've got" - and put him on the active roster.

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