When the Patriots played the Bears on Nov. 10 in Champaign, Ill., New England coach Bill Belichick noticed that the field was named for Robert Zuppke, the Illini coach from 1913 to '41. That meant more to Belichick than to most. After all, he owns Coaching Football, the 1930 book by Zuppke, whose innovations include the screen pass, the flea-flicker and the huddle.
When Belichick got home, he headed to his library and grabbed Spalding's Official Foot Ball Guide from 1925. There he brushed up on the facts of the day the stadium was dedicated, Oct. 18, 1924: Illinois versus Michigan, when Red Grange scored four times in the first quarter.
Belichick is unusually well equipped for such research: He has a collection of more than 500 pre-1960 football books. That's not counting the Spalding guides, which go back more than 100 years. Or his several hundred college and pro media guides and programs. Or his scores of more recent books, which he doesn't consider part of his collection proper because they're too easily obtainable. "I like the finding and the collecting," he says. "But I really enjoy having a complete collection. Then if you hear some guy played for so-and-so in 1932, you can look it up."
Belichick's favorites are his technical books—like Amos Alonzo Stagg's A Scientific and Practical Treatise on American Football for Schools and Colleges (1893) or Leroy Mills's Kicking the American Football (1932), a study of punting. He doesn't follow such advice as limiting his players to one shower a week to save their strength, as one of his books recommends. But if he's tinkering with unbalanced formations, say, he'll leaf through Knute Rockne's Coaching (1925) for inspiration. His most prized volume, though, Football Scouting Methods (1962), was written by his father, Steve, a coach and scout at the Naval Academy for 34 years. Steve is a collector too, with more than 700 football titles.
The younger Belichick dabbles on eBay, but he prefers to stumble onto his finds and says he has never spent more than $30 on a book (that for Stagg's Treatise). His holy grail? Simply finding a bargain. "The best," he says, "is when you walk into a used bookstore and see a book for a buck."