Belichick's accomplishments will forever be tarnished
Posted: Wednesday September 19, 2007 9:50AM; Updated: Wednesday September 19, 2007 4:04PM
I am always touched when, after all the savagery of a football game, the opposing players and coaches mingle pleasantly in the middle of the gridiron. Why, it's even reminiscent, on a reduced athletic scale, of the famous Christmas Eve armistice between the trenches in the First World War.
So it is that my lasting image of Bill Belichick came at the conclusion of the AFC championship game this past January after his Patriots had been beaten in a close game by Indianapolis.
The Colts' magnificent quarterback, Peyton Manning, spotted Belichick and sought him out in the crowd on the field. But Belichick ducked away, brushing by Manning, refusing to pay homage to the man who had been most responsible for his team's defeat. The look on Manning's face: some embarrassment, but mostly, it seemed, disappointment mixed with surprise.
Somehow it struck me as all the sadder because Manning and Belichick were not just football ships passing in the night (although Belichick did shake Manning's hand for the cameras somewhat later). They are shared heirs of the game. And more sweetly: triumph, the children of devotion -- Manning, the son of the gallant Archie, who was himself a superior quarterback doomed to bad teams; Belichick, the son of a life-long coach, who toiled in the vineyards as an assistant, never approaching the glory his son would enjoy at the very top of the sport. Belichick's biographer, the late David Halberstam, gamely played up this angle, desperately trying to infuse some warm blood into his cold, cold veins.
Now, though, we see Belichick as not merely surly and ungracious -- a pigskin match for the diamond grouch who bares his duplicate initials: BB, Barry Bonds -- but, likewise, a defiler of his game. To me, in fact, Belichick, is most analogous to Richard Nixon. Both men were so smart, yet so uncomfortable.
Both could never accept the success they had carved out for themselves. Perhaps, even after winning three Super Bowls, Belichick never feels that he truly deserves to be in the best company, for he himself was no good as a player, never any better than ordinary down in Division III.
And it was so pointless. All else aside about Watergate, it simply wasn't necessary. Nixon was a lock to win the next election -- and he did, taking 49 states. What intelligence could he possibly steal from the Democrats that could be worth the risk? Belichick's Patriots are better than ever this season. What could possibly be gained by stealing signals from some hopelessly out manned opponent like the Jets?
Commissioner Roger Goodell could have punished Belichick even more harshly than he chose to, hitting him with a fine and his team with the loss of a first draft choice. For my money, he could have even given the game to the Jets.
But, then, why bother? The shame that Bill Belichick suffers is worse than any penalty. He cheated the game of football, tarnishing the one thing he seems to care for. His genius and his victories alike will forever be suspect.
At least Nixon always had China.