NFL Network Makes Inscrutable Belichick More Accessible

In the fall of 2009, New England Patriots wide receiver Randy Moss wanted to have a Halloween party and he pitched the idea to his head coach Bill Belichick. The wide receiver's excitement rivaled a 10-year-old who'd planned his costume for months.

Fans who had followed the free-spirited, frequently non-conformist Moss during his stellar career might only wonder what kind of bacchanal he had in mind.

Instead, his idea seemed more like a church social. Rent out a roller rink with his teammates, get a DJ and hand out a prize for a superlative costume.

A somewhat bemused Belichick suggested Moss invite the assistant coaches, though he said: "If you don't want (to) ... then that's fine."

Moss was fine with that, but he wanted Belichick to come, too.

"Come dressed as the devil?" Belichick said tongue-in-cheek.

The exchange showing Belichick and Moss in a different light is just one of the revealing scenes that makes the NFL Network's behind-the-scenes documentary "Bill Belichick: A Football Life" so remarkable. The two-part event debuted this month, but set your DVR to capture the repeats.

The NFL Network has been derided for lacking appealing programming, save for eight nights a year when it has NFL games, but the Belichick film -- part of a new documentary series -- gives it more credibility as a venue for standout original content.

Cable networks for some time have realized that tack is crucial. So, they often turn to reality TV in pursuit.

The Belichick two-parter is certainly that, but what makes it such an achievement is it features not a publicity hungry Kardashian or Hilton, but a coach thought to be cranky, angry, cocky, demeaning, standoffish and secretive.

For some reason, the Super Bowl-winning Belichick broke his shell and allowed the NFL Network to follow him during the 2009 season. Cameras were no doubt thrown out of rooms when the coach was dressing down a player or handling another uncomfortable, highly personal situation.

Yet, finally there's a peek behind the veil that is Belichick. Since he's so cryptic, puzzling and seems to enjoy being furtive, you take what you can get. And there's a lot to chew on.

(Now, it's up to ESPN to persuade the close-to-the-vest Coach K and David Stern to offer similar access.)

One of the documentary's strengths is despite countless hours of footage collected, it only runs for two. It does not get bogged down in the minutiae of particular games, which might break its focus on the coach, and carries a delightfully swift pace. The voiceover seems almost non-existent. Belichick is the unchallenged voice.

To many long-time Belichick watchers, there are several profound and surprising insights that emerge during his year in the life. He's funny, maybe without meaning to be. He's emotional. He can be deferential. He's hokey. He has a boss, but the boss seems to answer to him.

There are multiple scenes where Belichick gets in hilarious exchanges with opposing players. In one, he tells wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, then on Cincinnati and now on his team: "We're double-covering you, so you can have the night off."

"Oh, c'mon," a frustrated Ochocinco says.

"Hell, yea," says Belichick.

Then, there's a back-and-forth that shows the NFL has trash talking not just between players, but between players and opposing coaches.

When a Baltimore player tosses a jibe his way, Belichick responds with seeming good nature: "Why don't we talk after the game, all right. Just shut the f*ck up. Can you look at the scoreboard?"

(New England is winning.)

Some of Belichick's funniest banter is with the referees, where he shows a certain deference. At one point as one of his players scampers down the sidelines towards the end zone, the coach almost gets run over by a ref trying to catch up. The coaching giant humbly apologizes, saying he got a bit excited.

Also evident is the ostensibly granite Belichick has a heart. At one point, he goes back to Giants Stadium, where he spent years as an assistant coach. He chokes up as he relives his time there, while marveling at how far he's come.

Later, he visits his father's grave and by offering banal thoughts about him betrays his respect and love.

At times, Belichick shows he's mortal and doesn't appear to have motivational tactics for his players that another great -- or any -- coach would have cooked up, though the hyperbole and embellishments are entertaining.

At one point, as his team tries to recover from a loss, he uses a famous boxing match -- where one fighter carried on with a broken hand and his opponent with a bad cut -- as a metaphor for what true battling is.

Before a playoff game, he tries to inspire his team to prepare with vigor not with Lombardi wisdom, but the words of "a guy named" Sun Tzu. His players learn the ancient Chinese author of "The Art of War" said: "Every battle is won before it is fought." In the process, Belichick attempts a history lesson about Chinese provincial and tribal warfare 2,500 years ago (some players can't help laughing, neither can the coach).

Throughout the film, it becomes clear that while Patriots owner Bob Kraft signs his checks, Belichick is the de facto boss. Kraft venerates him and worries about his emotional state. If the coach told him to jump, Kraft would say "how high" and can I give you a raise first. (The two do seem to have a partnership that any employee would envy with a higher-up.)

The show ends with Belichick earnestly commenting on his coaching future. Even though it's hard to to envision him without the game, he says he enjoys what he does, but it won't go on forever.

For now, though, it "beats working."

The conclusion captures the man we think we know a little better -- one complicated on the public stage, but surprisingly human off it. Certainly, the NFL Network has made it a lot more interesting to follow Belichick going forward.

Tags: television, tv
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