Bill's Way; Belichick's Patriots Are Smart, Tough and Gunning for Greatness

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), September 9, 2004 | Go to article overview

Bill's Way; Belichick's Patriots Are Smart, Tough and Gunning for Greatness


Byline: David Elfin, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

FOXBORO, Mass. - In a league that makes obsession with detail almost a job requirement for coaches, Bill Belichick stands apart in his single-minded attention to the little things. That is why Belichick makes his New England Patriots practice handling hundreds of different situations, just in case. That is why receivers Troy Brown and David Givens spent time playing at cornerback in the preseason, just in case.

That is why the Patriots have won two Super Bowls in the past three seasons. And that is why Belichick's team is on the cusp of greatness despite a pronounced lack of stars on its roster.

All the little things have added up to something very big - not that Belichick can see every big thing that comes his way.

"Bill can walk right by you without saying hello," a close colleague said. "He's not being rude. He's just always so focused on what he needs to get done."

Belichick has gotten it done quite nicely.

The Patriots won the Super Bowl last season. If they hoist the Vince Lombardi trophy again in February, they will rank as one of only four teams in NFL history - the 1940-43 Chicago Bears, the 1965-67 Green Bay Packers and the 1992-95 Dallas Cowboys are the others - to capture three titles in four years.

But unlike those star-laden powerhouses - the Packers, for example, have more players in the Hall of Fame (nine) than New England had in the Pro Bowl (six) - the Patriots don't blow their opponents away.

They are a reflection of their grind-it-out, no-nonsense coach.

They don't have a fantastic offense like that of the 1999 champion St. Louis Rams. They don't have a suffocating defense like that of the Baltimore Ravens in 2000 or the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2002.

The Patriots win with brains because Belichick built them to win that way.

"We built the team the way we believed in doing it," Patriots vice president for player personnel Scott Pioli said in an office strewn with videotapes and scouting reports. "We were going to build a smart, tough and disciplined team that would consistently compete for a championship. It's not for us to judge exactly how different it is. We don't have a lot of sizzle, but we have substance."

That's not how champions are supposed to be built these days.

When the NFL implemented the salary cap in 1994, the prevailing wisdom held that teams would win Super Bowls by retaining a core of star players and filling in around them.

Not so with the Patriots, who have no stars other than Pro Bowl cornerback Ty Law and quarterback Tom Brady. If Belichick were a teacher, his classroom would be filled with B+ students.

Houston Texans general manager Charley Casserly knows a thing or two about how winners are formed. Casserly helped build the Washington Redskins' Super Bowl champions of 1982, 1987 and 1991.

Casserly credits the men with the headsets for making the Patriots special: Belichick, offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, special teams coach Brad Seely and offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia.

"Bill is an excellent coach. All three of his coordinators - Charlie Weis, Romeo Crennel and Brad Seely - are among the best in the game, and so is their offensive line coach," Casserly said. "They have a lot of veteran guys on defense, and obviously Brady is a lot better than people thought coming out of college. But the Patriots don't win because their players are better."

The Pittsburgh Steelers won four Super Bowls in the 1970s in part because they had better players than everyone else. Nine Steelers from those teams are in the Hall of Fame.

Steelers chairman Dan Rooney was on hand for the creation of a dynasty in Pittsburgh, and he likes what he sees in the Patriots.

"It's funny that the Patriots haven't become more of a model for other organizations," Rooney said. …

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