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His practices reflected his personality. His players did not do a lot of hitting. His philosophy was that a great deal of the hitting in high school ball was wasted, that you only wore the kids down and detracted from their ability by having too many scrimmages. Why increase the possibility of injuries? He expected his players to be in good shape and to listen to their coaches--if they did, they would do it right. He never belittled a player and never, as far as many of his assistants and former players could remember, needed to discipline one. The rules were set, they were clear, and no one fooled around on Steve Sorota's time.
None of this escaped Bill Belichick, who was already intent on coaching. As one of his Andover teammates, Bruce Bruckmann says, "You could tell from the start that he lived and breathed football, nothing less than 24 hours a day, seven days a week."
INDEED, BELICHICK was determined to reach the pinnacle of his profession, and in that lifelong journey the victory against the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI on Feb. 3, 2002, was the high-water mark, the best job of coaching he had ever done, Belichick would later say. It is important to remember the context of that victory: The Rams were already the Rams, one of the NFL's golden teams. They had won Super Bowl XXXIV in 2000. They had a brilliant quarterback in Kurt Warner and a group of shockingly fast receivers-- Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Az Hakim and Ricky Proehl--who seemed wired to Warner by some kind of extrasensory perception. And they had Marshall Faulk, a great running back at the height of his game, with power and speed, balance and excellent hands, which made him a multiple threat in a dangerous and unpredictable offense.
The Patriots, by contrast, were not yet the Patriots, a dynasty in the making, and Belichick was not yet the genius that he was later accused of being. (The genius talk made everyone in the Belichick family a little nervous. When writers began to suggest in print that Bill might be a genius, Steve Belichick wisely demurred. "You are," he said, "talking about someone who walks up and down a football field.") Serious football fans simply did not think the Patriots belonged in the Super Bowl, that most sacrosanct of games--it was almost as if they were seen as intruders. For those betting on the game, the spread was two touchdowns.
When Belichick flew to New Orleans for the game, he was accompanied by his assistant Ernie Adams, an enigmatic, almost mysterious figure in football circles. He had been a close friend and adviser of Belichick's since 1970, when they were both seniors at Andover. Not even all the people who understood the Belichick operation knew exactly what Adams did, and that included some of the Patriots' players. Once during a team meeting, a giant photo of Adams had been punched up on the immense screen, and under it was written, WHAT DOES THIS MAN DO?
The answer, of course, was that Ernie Adams was Belichick's Belichick, the film master's master of film. He was supremely knowledgeable about the history of the game, no play ever forgotten, and his brain was like a football computer, always clicking away, remembering which defense had stopped which offense, and who the coaches and the players had been. He was in a class with his boss in breaking down film and finding little things that no one else saw, and just as good at understanding the conceptual process that drove another team. He shared Belichick's views and his passion.
He was one of the very few men against whom Bill Belichick liked to test his own view of a game, trusting completely Adams's original mind and his encyclopedic knowledge of the game; if they differed on a strategy--which happened rarely--then Belichick took Adams's dissent seriously. He might not ultimately adopt Adams's view, but he would always weigh it carefully. They had been through a great deal together, playing next to each other on an unbeaten Andover team (for which, as his senior project, Adams did a study breaking down Andover's tendencies on offense) and then coaching together with the Giants, Browns and Patriots.
Adams, the son of a career Navy officer, was in his fourth year at Andover when Belichick arrived. Adams was already as advanced a football junkie as Belichick; he had an exceptional collection of books on coaching, including Football Scouting Methods, the only book written by one Steve Belichick, assistant coach at the Naval Academy. It was a very dry description of how to scout an opponent, and, being chock-full of diagrams of complicated plays, it was probably bought only by other scouts and the 14-year-old Ernie Adams.
That year, just as the first football practice was about to start, Coach Sorota posted a list of the new players trying out for the varsity, among them Bill Belichick. Ernie Adams was thrilled. That first day Adams looked at the young man with a strip of tape on his helmet that said BELICHICK and asked if he was from Annapolis and if he was related to the famed writer-coach-scout Steve Belichick. Bill said yes, he was his son. Thus began a lifelong friendship on the playing fields of Andover.
Adams had already befriended another football-crazed classmate, Evan Bonds, with whom he talked football constantly and with whom he endlessly diagrammed football plays. Bonds had also read Steve Belichick's book and was thrilled that the scion of such a distinguished football family was about to become a teammate. "Because we were such football nerds, it was absolutely amazing that Bill had come to play at Andover, because [Ernie and I] were probably the only two people in the entire state of Massachusetts who had read his father's book," Bonds said years later. Bonds felt that although his own life revolved completely around football, Adams was even more advanced in his football obsessions: "Ernie already had an exceptional football film collection, 16-millimeter stuff, the great Packers-Cowboys games, Raiders-Jets, films like that, which he somehow found out about through sports magazines, and had sent away for and for which he had enough primitive equipment so that he could show the films," Bonds said. "It's hard to explain just how football-crazed we were."