What keeps Tom Brady-Bill Belichick bond strong for Patriots through 17 years?
HOUSTON — A crowd about 50 deep awaited. Cameras sat stationed, reporters jockeyed for position.
Finally, as Tom Brady approached the riser from which he would give his second press conference of Super Bowl week, he heard a familiar voice. Bill Belichick was just around the corner, holding court at his own media session.
Brady couldn’t resist. He poked his head around the room divider at the New England Patriots' hotel, saw his boss answering questions and chuckled. Even then, Brady was keeping tabs on the most important collaborator he has ever known.
For 17 years — easily several job cycles elsewhere in the NFL — the quarterback and coach have been tied together, lifting the Patriots into the most dominating force in the NFL.
Now, as the duo embarks on a seventh Super Bowl appearance together — with a fifth ring on the line if they beat the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday — their bond continues to be the driving force behind the Patriot Way, the team’s long-established culture.
“They have the utmost respect for each other,” former Patriots and current Indianapolis Colts place kicker Adam Vinatieri told USA TODAY Sports this week. “Bill is pretty good at throwing criticism in every direction and not saving anybody from it. Tom might go 19 of 20 for 400 yards and four touchdowns, but Bill might give him juice about the one he threw badly.
“In saying that, I think they’ve got a trust in the sense that even if things go the wrong way, they know each other, they trust each other. It’s almost like that brother relationship: You can give each other a hard time, and you can yell at each other, but there’s no love lost. Feelings don’t get hurt.”
The partnership thrives because both men are wired so similarly. They each hold an obsessive compulsion to win. They detest inefficiency and lack of effort. They devote hours to preparation. They go through strategy and meet — just the two of them, in Belichick’s office — before each game.
On rare occasions, they’ll socialize. Two years ago, Belichick and Brady played a round of golf at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
“He gave me a pretty good licking there,” Belichick later told David Letterman.
The foundation of their relationship, however, is spent inside the walls of the Patriots facility inside Gillette Stadium.
“Those two guys are the constants,” former Patriots linebacker and ESPN analyst Tedy Bruschi said. “No matter what players are there, no matter who leaves, it doesn’t matter if somebody gets hurt or something changes — those two guys are the constants that make sure the game plan is good. And when you’ve got them on the field, you have a great chance of winning a lot of games.”
That trust was formed back in 2001, Brady’s first season as New England's starter. A sixth-round draft pick in 2000, he played in one game during his rookie year but stepped into the breach the next season when starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe took a vicious hit in Week 2 against the New York Jets.
Brady never relinquished the job, even when Bledsoe fully healed, because he continued to lead the Patriots to victories, going 11-3 in 2001 before guiding New England to its first championship in Super Bowl XXXVI.
“Tom was a hard-working grinder,” former Patriots linebacker and NFL Network analyst Willie McGinnest said. “I don’t think you hand the keys over to him if he finishes .500 in the games he played in. I think throughout the course of the year, he built — not only Bill’s trust — but all of our trust. By the time Drew was healthy, I think there were two weeks left in the season and, by then, we knew that we could win with Tom.”
Even after he had established himself as the franchise quarterback, Brady approached the job with unwavering relentlessness, as if constantly needing to prove himself.
“All Tom wants to do is win,” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels told USA TODAY Sports. “All Bill wants to do is win. And however we need to do that, we don’t really much care. We’re going to do our part to get that done.”
That competitive drive always appealed to Belichick, a person known to celebrate the toil of grunt work.
“He’s able to put it all together better than any player that I’ve ever coached,” Belichick said this week in a press conference. “Putting all that together at once in just a couple of seconds of time, he has to process it once he gets the calls and gets to the line of scrimmage. I think his preparation allows him to, in part, do that. He has the football instincts as well. He’s a great role model for all of us — any player and any coach. All of us.”
Brady’s numbers are staggering. He has started 235 regular-season games and won 183 of them. He's passed for 61,582 yards (4th all time), and 456 touchdowns (also 4th).
In the postseason, it’s even more impressive.
Brady holds playoff records for touchdown passes (61), passing yards (8,628), completions (788), and victories (24 in 33 starts). No other player has appeared in seven Super Bowls.
Belichick will coach in his seventh Super Bowl as a head coach, which will also be most in NFL history. If the Patriots win, his fifth championship will break the record for a head coach, surpassing Hall of Famer Chuck Noll.
But it’s impossible to separate Belichick and Brady when attempting to determine who has been more important to New England’s success.
“We have always got along so well, and I think that the focus has always been on the team,” Brady said earlier this week. “He commits his life to coaching football and to coaching this team. I commit my life to playing football for this team and playing quarterback.
“I know Coach loves to coach, and I love to play, and I love playing for him. And I want to go out and win this game for not only him, but all my coaches, teammates and all our fans. We worked hard to get to this point, and we just have to go finish the job.”
Follow Lorenzo Reyes on Twitter @LorenzoGReyes
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