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A Man For These Diminished Times

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A Man For These Diminished Times

A Man For These Diminished Times

A Man For These Diminished Times

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/94932049/94973364" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Better Days: Bill Belichick (right) shakes Tom Brady's hand after a December 2007 victory. Jim McIsaac/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Better Days: Bill Belichick (right) shakes Tom Brady's hand after a December 2007 victory.

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The wonderful thing about sport is that it takes your mind off all the terrible things — and Lord knows, 2008 has been one heck of an annus horribilis, what with wars, oil, hurricanes, mortgages, Vladimir Putin, Robert Mugabe, Eliot Spitzer and Paris Hilton.

That's why it's great to get away from it all by turning to the sports pages and seeing that — O.J. Simpson is back on trial.

Oh no!

Yes, now we know: 2008 is utterly unredeemable.

That being the case, it's a good morning to discuss sport's reigning sourpuss: Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots.

Coach Belichick, our saint of the perpetual frown, even dresses for work in the athletic attire most closely resembling sackcloth and ashes — standing there on the sidelines in his colorless, tattered, hermit-chic pullover.

He perfectly represents the glum national mood, and all the more so now that Belichick's handsome quarterback, Tom Brady, has been lost for the year.

Brady was injured in the first game of the season and was replaced by an anonymous young man who — this is the truth now — had not started a game of football since high school.

But Belichick had no one else in reserve of the incandescent Brady. It has the taste of history repeating itself: Seven years ago this week, Brady himself materialized to succeed another famous quarterback who was injured.

Led by the young Lochinvar, the Patriots went on to win that season's Super Bowl (and two others) and transform Belichick, who had been a bust as a head coach, into a veritable 21st-century Vince Lombardi.

Nonetheless, it is the curse of winning coaches that those who have good teams, which after all is what it takes to win, are often dismissed as button-pushers. This is most prevalent in basketball, where one player can make the difference.

In baseball, critics would put down Joe Torre as a mere accountant, tending to a big-team payroll. But here Torre is leading a rather ordinary Dodger team into the playoffs, while his old Yankees have foundered under a new manager.

Belichick, however, may forever be stamped as just a lucky journeyman coach who hitched his wagon to Brady's star. Moreover, because of his dour personality and the fact that he was caught cheating last year, nobody is much apt to give him the benefit of the doubt.

The Patriots and their new, nobody quarterback got clobbered by woebegone Miami on Sunday.

And so the reality is that Bill Belichick remains nothing more than a Mr. Cellophane, with earphones, a hoodie — and the best meal ticket any coach ever could have dreamed up.

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