There are two schools of thought on Bill Belichick. One is that he's a humorless football Jawa devoid of empathy or any animating purpose save destruction or creeping MILFs. The other is that he's probably all those things, and that rules, because "he wins games for us!" That latter opinion is proffered by New England sports fans, so 99 percent of people rightfully ignore it.
For the sake of pre-Super Bowl sanity, let us ignore them both—along with all the predictable statistics and hype. Instead, let's consider the possibility that Bill Belichick is quietly kind of awesome.
He's dropped little hints for years: the NFL Films moments of him on the sideline with Ochocinco, busting his chops, smiling and fraternizing with the enemy; letting Doug Flutie dropkick an extra point because why the fuck not; going for it on 4th and 2 in Indianapolis because his defense wasn't providing a viable alternative and abstracted sportswriter clichés like "You have to show your defense you have confidence in them!" weren't going to win the game either. He even joked about that last decision—a decision that had failed—during this Super Bowl Q&A, sending a ripple of shock through Twitter.
To be surprised by that moment of funny self-deprecation would require misreading, or missing, a lot of other moments in Belichick's history. His robotic press-conference answers lack the punchiness, the anger or bluster, of other coaches' performances, but he seems to display a kind of impish delight in their uselessness. To reply seriously to unserious questions would only reward stupidity, and there's a kind of Belichick twinkle at the insipid moments, where he looks amazed to still be asked questions that either can't be answered without betraying game strategy or shouldn't be answered because, seriously, goddamn.
Behind Belichick's demeanor is the belief that everything you need to know is something you can glean from watching a game. The actual outcome of play is enough to settle almost any debate, and those that can't—arguments about clutchness, leadership, or poise—are hopelessly subjective.
Perhaps this accounts for his sunniness this week, which is basically the football argument week. Every topic can be spun into endless comparisons and appeals to subjectivity. Even results can be meaningless in the right hands: Anyone can win on any given Sunday, so sometimes that can mean that the best team doesn't. (Ask the 18-1 Patriots, or the Tuck Rule Raiders.)
But getting to a fifth Super Bowl as a head coach puts a lot of debates to bed. Belichick can unwind a bit, because tautly delivered reply speaks as well as results. If the Super Bowl is the one thing we all agree on, as football fans—that one ultimate argument that dispels the chaff—then everything about Belichick starts to explain itself.
If you want to set the historical record as the best person to have a head coaching job, then the whole point is to get here. It's a liberating realization, both for fans and the coach himself. There's no need to manage anyone's subjective impressions. When tradition and hoary NFL superstition are subordinate to this outcome, then the fear of going for it on fourth down is a meaningless barrier to be trampled. And it's fun. Converting a slot receiver to defensive back makes sense if it makes even a small positive difference. And that's fun too. Trading down for two above-average dudes has less risk than taking a high draft pick who might get injured or suck. And, if you really care about drafts, maybe that's even fun as well.
Yet if anything, Belichick's flouting of every other football convention seems to feed disgust with his tight-lipped interviews. Why won't he extend his iconoclasm to the press and say something erratic or silly?
But even colorful coaches are, to a certain extent, inauthentic. The press corps rallied to Rex Ryan and his first season with the Jets because of his refreshing candor, aggressiveness and seemingly unguarded sarcasm. Then Ryan admitted that he played Belichick in reverse, deliberately going "big" to minimize anything said by his players, making a disciplined attempt not to silence anyone but to draw the most heat and give them cover.
Memorable authentic moments are usually negative. Jim Mora and Dennis Green stick in the consciousness because they melted down. Mike Tice's in-YOUR-face schtick worked because he seemed confused and violent. Jerry Glanville's obnoxious redneck dumbass persona netted him a TV gig because he was basically that guy already.
Belichick and Ryan both know that even the most authentic coach is going to get forced into an inauthentic narrative. Tom Coughlin's portrayal as an officious, over-scheduled prig has saddled him with the reputation of being so obsessed with measuring tree diameters that he's missed annual forest fires. Bill Walsh was so fully defined as a gentle academician that NFL Films scenes of him viciously cursing or stories of his being resentful and manipulative in his (chosen) retirement still seem like somebody else entirely.
If you're already damned to being part of the silly game, irrespective of the actual intent of your input, why play? This is why it's puzzling that Belichick is such an irritant to savvy sports fans. Belichick's schtick is really no schtick. He keeps trying to win the contests that matter, because those are the only things we ultimately care about. The rest is window dressing. We deplore forced narratives in journalism. Wanting one from a coach is just weird.