I posted this video in the Knee Jerk Reactions to Sunday's win over the Jets. Not just because marks the dual milestones of Matthew Slater moving past Bruce Armstrong into No. 2 all time most games played in Patriots history, and Bill Belichick passing George Halas into No. 2 on the all time wins list. But also because it is a demonstration yet again of this coach's relationship with his players. One that now spans generations, as they're measured in pro football terms. The players who have come through here and hated the experience like Cassius Marsh, or the ones who left embittered by contract disputes like this guy:
... are given way too much oxygen. And I'm as guilty as anyone of giving it to them. An Asante Samuel Sr. claps at Belichick, and I can't help remind him that if he'd clapped his hands around that Eli Manning pass, we'd have all been wearing 19-0 shirts for the last 15 years. When the shitty attitudes of few malcontents aren't the real story of this franchise. That video reflects how virtually all of Belichick's players feel about the man.
Leave it to Devin McCourty, one of the truly great leaders of the Dynasty era, to explain it. This is where his mind was at after a two-interception game in which his playmaking led the turnaround in a have-to-have it win that kept the Patriots playoff hopes alive:
Q: It took a lot of guts to do something like that, right?
McCourty: That's all I keep hearing. But what? Am I going to get in trouble?
"I look at it this way. Obviously, I would say, over my time here, Bill has accomplished a lot of great things, and I would say most of the time it’s not a big deal. But 2 all time, you know? I don’t know, let’s say worst case scenario is he gets angry and he cuts me, I still think that moment would have been well worth me saying, "Hey man, we doused Bill with water to show our appreciation for his consistency, what he brings and his accomplishment, was a big deal.
And I thought about it as Slate was talking. Even during the game. Being able to appreciate that greatness and not taking it for granted. I was like, "Man! I'm glad we poured water on that man!" Gatorade is for championships; I get it. But 20-ounce water bottles? That's a nice little celebration. Good times in the locker room.
Q: Were you worried about any repercussions?
DM: No, no Bill can’t catch me anyway if anything would have happened. I liked my chances.
Please give me a moment while I wipe away a single, manly tear.
To go right to the cliche, find someone who loves you the way McCourty - and by extension, the team he captains - loves their coach. From the outside looking in, it gets described like he's running a forced labor camp, filled with prison laborers who are forced to do his cruel bidding lest they spend a night in some Cool Hand Luke-style Hot Box or are "shot while escaping." When nothing could be further from the truth.
Belichick's training camp practices are run efficiently, with precious little time wasted. Outsiders who don't know better mistake that for a grind. Players hold themselves accountable, running laps at practice when they make mental errors. That's considered demeaning. Practices are held outdoors in the elements. That's supposed to be unnecessarily harsh. They're coached to watch what they say at the podium, in the locker room and on social media. That portrayed like it's taking away their individuality.
But the truth is, it's all designed for one purpose: And that's to put them in the best possible position to succeed. There are days off and lighter practices as the team needs it over a long season. And there is plenty of room for characters (see Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, Matthew Judon, Kendrick Bourne) to have a good time being themselves. But for the most part, Belichick's program is designed for serious people who are serious about football. Who understand they won't be in the NFL forever and want to achieve great things in the short time they are. A situation like that attracts a certain type of individual. Belichick's Empire has been built upon such men. And will continue to succeed as long as there are Slaters and McCourtys driven by their desire to win. And who appreciate that they have the best coach in the history of the game there to maximize their chances.
I love these moments. Lord help me, how I do love them so. I can't wait to see what they do when he passes Don Shula and they win him his next Super Bowl.