STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Say the name Bill Belichick to sports fans and likely is not before they get to all of his Super Bowl championships as head coach of the Patriots, many will mention scandals like Spygate or Deflategate. Commentator Frank Deford thinks of something else.
FRANK DEFORD, BYLINE: The defending champion Patriots are undefeated, on that rare road to repeat. But of course, except for the denizens of the northeast corner of our nation, the Pats are mostly unloved. Now it's not the sort of antipathy directed toward the Yankees. That's always been the anti-plutocrat sensation. Rather, there is about the Patriots the sense that they're rather untrustworthy, if not downright nasty, not America's team but more America's gang, or perhaps more accurately the Belichick gang. But would you dispute me that Bill Belichick is our U.S. coach of this century? Belichick is not only simply successful and obviously brilliant. He is sui generis, an original. He's mesmerizing, isn't he, just trotting the sidelines, bent a little now, and underneath that hood, looming is some sort of mad secular monk. Yes, I know I would get an argument that he's the greatest NFL coach ever. Why, it's sacrilege to even suggest that Vince Lombardi does not rule history supreme. But however unpopular Belichick may be, his ability to adapt and conceive and connive - yes, unavoidably that, too - makes him some sort of medley of Lombardi along with the ancients Paul Brown and George Halas, plus the right bits of Chuck Noll and Bill Walsh. Take two weeks ago. Against the Jets, Belichick had Tom Brady throw 54 passes, but his running backs only rushed five times. From whence does that sort of bold bizarre strategy come, yes, Brady. Where would the hooded one be without him? Coaches who win with a huge star are always speculated of being lucky jockeys, riding to glory by just sitting in the saddle. Of course, Belichick would not have succeeded so without Brady, but surely, so to the other way around. More fascinating is how Belichick surrounds his star. Incredibly, since 2007, when the Patriots won all their regular season games, everybody on that juggernaut of a squad but Brady and the placekicker have been replaced. Patriots seem to know they're fungible, but they play so hard, feeling privileged it seems to be on this curious man's team if for only a while. Dislike him, but always honor his mystery and his mastery alike.
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