A Man For These Diminished Times Sport can take fans' minds off their troubles, but not in 2008. This year, Patriots coach Bill Belichick, our saint of the perpetual frown, reflects the glum national mood — especially with quarterback Tom Brady out for the season.
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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

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Lance Armstrong is not commentator Frank Deford's pick for sportsperson of the year. His choice for 2008, this year of disasters both natural and manmade, is a hooded figure lurking on the sideline.

FRANK DEFORD: What is so wonderful about sport is that it takes your mind off of all the terrible things. And Lord knows, 2008 has been one wail of an annus horribilis, what with wars, oil, hurricanes, mortgages, Putin, Mugabe, Eliot Spitzer, and Paris Hilton. That's why it's so wonderful to get away from it all and turn to the sports pages and see that O.J. Simpson is back again on trial! Oh, no! Yes, now we know 2008 is utterly unredeemable.

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

Brady was injured in the first game of the season to be replaced by an anonymous young man who, this is the truth now, had not started a game of football since he was in high school. But yes, Belichick had no one else in reserve of the incandescent Brady. This had the taste of history repeating itself. For exactly seven years ago this week, Brady himself materialized to succeed another famous quarterback himself injured that day. Then led by the young Lochinvar, the Patriots went on to win that Super Bowl and two more, 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. More recently in baseball, critics would put down Joe Torre as a mere accountant tending to a big-team payroll. But here now is Torre 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 very 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 Belichick the benefit of the doubt. The Patriots and their new, nobody quarterback got clobbered by woebegone Miami Sunday, and so it remains hard to escape the impression that Bill Belichick remains as no more than a Mr. Cellophane with earphones, a hoodie, and the best meal ticket any coach could have ever dreamed up.

INSKEEP: Commentator Frank Deford joins us each Wednesday from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut. You hear him on Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

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