SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Later today, the New England Patriots host the Kansas City Chiefs in the NFL playoffs. The Chiefs are hot. They've won their last 11 games. But no team knows how to win like the Pats. Coach Bill Belichick and Tom Brady rightly receive a lot of praise. But what about Ernie Adams? His official title with the Patriots is football research director. He's a man who doesn't give interviews, but if you look at the career of Coach Belichick, Ernie Adams has nearly always been nearby. Who is this guy, Ernie Adams? What does he do? Dan Shaughnessy writes for The Boston Globe. Thanks very much for joining us, Dan.
DAN SHAUGHNESSY: My pleasure, Scott.
SIMON: Who is this guy?
SHAUGHNESSY: (Laughter) Well, we don't know a lot ourselves. You know, Ernie is the same age as Bill Belichick. And they go way back to their high school days
SIMON: Prep school days. I didn't know that, yeah.
SHAUGHNESSY: Yeah, Phillips Andover Academy. And David Halberstam actually unearthed this better than anybody when David was working on a book on Belichick, "Education Of A Coach." And Ernie Adams is such a historian that he wanted to meet the great David Halberstam. And I think they traded questions. Every time David would ask Ernie something, Ernie could ask a Vietnam question of the late, great David Halberstam.
SIMON: Yeah, so what does he do during a game? What does he do for the team?
SHAUGHNESSY: Well, there's no question. During the games he's up in the booth with a headset and there's an emergency line down to the field with an orange piece of tape that says Ernie. It's a dedicated line for him. And if you see a controversial play or a play where they might dispute or throw the red bag to get a replay, those are carefully selected challenges. And Ernie, I believe, makes all the calls on those, like, this is worth the risk 'cause you lose a time out if you make the challenge and it's upheld. So if you go back - and there's an excellent NFL Films video from the Super Bowl last year and Ernie does speak a little bit in that. And it's pretty clear that he sniffed out the play that Pete Carroll ran from the one-yard line at the end of the game, which Malcolm Butler intercepted to win the Super Bowl. The Patriots had worked on that repeatedly on Friday...
SIMON: Oh, my.
SHAUGHNESSY: ...And basically knew it was coming. He is what, again, Halberstam called Belichick's Belichick. He's really the man behind the curtain there.
SIMON: And yet I gather Tom Brady barely knows him.
SHAUGHNESSY: Well, you talk to guys - I mean, Brady certainly knows the value there. And they're a very secretive organization, so they're not going to give up a lot anyway. I was fascinated by going back into Ernie's history, people he's worked for and just trying to get them to tell stories. And it was amazing, you know, talking to Phil Simms. And Ernie was his quarterback's coach and just...
SIMON: Phil Simms was quarterback for the New York Giants.
SHAUGHNESSY: (Laughter) Yeah.
SIMON: This is NPR, Dan. We have to fill in the blanks sometimes.
SHAUGHNESSY: (Laughter) I understand. Well, Bill Parcell is one of the legendary coaches in NFL history. I called Bill and, you know, 'cause saw in the press guides that Ernie was his pro player personnel director for a couple of years in the 1980s. And Bill could not remember anything about him. He says, I don't know the guy. I said, Bill, it says on the press guide that he was your director of pro personnel for two seasons when you were head coach. And he says, well, I don't remember the guy. So they're all either being very careful about it or Ernie just does not leave a personal mark with them.
SIMON: So I don't have to tell you, Dan, there are people who say that history will judge the New England Patriots as the preeminent professional sports franchise during this time. And yet they often - I mean, they almost never mention Ernie Adams name.
SHAUGHNESSY: No, no.
SIMON: And yet he's - his name - and again, he sounds indispensible.
SHAUGHNESSY: Yeah, he's absolutely a behind-the-scenes guy. That's by choice on everyone's part. And they feel the less said and the less attention brought to it the better. But no one's really cracked the code on this guy. I mean, I've tried. David Halberstam did a good job, as good as anybody, but I think he's going to go into his old age holding onto all these secrets
SIMON: Dan Shaughnessy of The Boston Globe, thanks so much.
SHAUGHNESSY: My pleasure.
SIMON: This is NPR News.
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