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Bob Ryan

Winning smile? Almost

Email|Print| Text size + By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / November 6, 2007

FOXBOROUGH - I'm going to guess they didn't put my recommended headline above this column: BELICHICK A TECHNOPHOBE.

Coach Bill is a football coach. I think you all know that. He's a football coach, and he doesn't pretend to be anything else. So when the Day After conversation yesterday got around to the difference between coach-press box communication and coach-quarterback communication, and he was asked just how the coach-QB gizmo works, he said, "You're asking the wrong person. I can't even tape a TV show."

Ah, the humanity.

Coach Bill is, like virtually all geniuses, spectacularly and wonderfully flawed. You want a phone repairman? Call Verizon. You want a preacher? Turn on the TV ads, and, sooner or later, Joel Osteen will turn up. Don't be looking for Coach Bill. To borrow a phrase from a witty ongoing ESPN promo, "Be happy he chose football."

He comes with a price: Everyone hates us. Yesterday morning's New York Post headline was "ONE FOR THE BAD GUYS," with a sub-head "Hated Pats 9-0 after rallying past Colts." We asked how the good people of San Francisco could cheer Barry Bonds, and now it's our turn. People in the rest of the country have positioned Coach Bill as the Great Satan and all Patriots fans as devil worshippers.

So what it comes down to is this: He may be a (naughty word), but he's our (naughty word).

You got a problem with that?

I'm afraid it all comes down to a simple truth. He is what he is. Or, if you prefer, it's always a matter of Coach Bill Being Coach Bill.

Take Sunday's postgame press conference, for example. Just about anyone else, and I might even include The Tuna himself, would have made some tacit acknowledgment that the game he had just participated in had more than normal Week 9 significance. But we Belichick Scholars knew better.

Coach Bill is guaranteed to be at his absolute worst in the postgame press conference. Win by 50, win by 1. Lose by 50, lose by 1. Doesn't matter. He's going to be terse. He will elaborate on an answer only if pushed. He will not admit to there being a Big Picture. He simply will not dish.

He was at his stonewall best. You could pretty much sum up his attitude thusly: "We won; what else do you need to know?"

My favorite moment came somewhat near the end, when, apparently annoyed by the line of questioning, he said, "I've been saying here for the last 10 minutes I think the Colts are a good defensive football team."

If you didn't know better, you'd have thought he had no idea that both his team and the Colts had come into the game with undefeated records, or that this was one of the handful of most eagerly anticipated regular-season games in the 87-year history of the National Football League. "I don't care about all that," he said. "Really. It's a football game against the Colts. It's a game. It was a good, competitive football game. Our guys made a few more plays and that's why we won. That's the significance of the game to me."

Now, is it possible he honestly doesn't know or believe that the ultimate significance of the game was the simple fact that, if all goes according to unassailable logic, the winner of that game was going to be hosting the AFC Championship Jan. 20? No, it's not possible. He knows, all right. But Coach Bill Being Coach Bill means he cannot say this out loud, not even to his team. And Coach Bill Being Coach Bill, it means he must be adamant about the game having no additional meaning.

As Coach Bill Being Coach Bill postgame stonewall press conferences go, I'd say it was about a 9.8. The only reason it wasn't a 10 was that there was a brief sliver of a moment with a wisp of a Mona Lisa half-smile at one point. But Coach Bill, God bless 'im, caught himself before he was caught with a full-fledged grin. He was morose and dour in glorious victory, as only Coach Bill can be.

I told the people with whom I was watching all this on TV that he would be better on Monday. He always is. That's his M.O.

And he was.

I'm not saying he was yukking it up, or even admitting that he had sewn up the home field for the playoffs or had taken a giant step toward winning the Super Bowl itself, or that there now was an honest chance of going 19-0. But he did admit that his team had been pretty good in that fourth quarter.

"I thought we did a lot of things well at the end of the game," he said. "We put ourselves in a position where there was very little room for error, and we were able to make just about all of the plays that we needed to make within that time frame.

"It's not where you want to be, but I thought the team responded as a total team in terms of execution, situational football, making right decisions, playing well, being physical, all of those things, hustling. It was probably eight minutes or so of as good football as we've played all year, against a good team, on the road, who definitely had us on the ropes. I was very happy with that. There's no doubt about it - I was elated."

Really? Jonathan Papelbon feels elated, he breaks out in Riverdance. Coach Bill gets elated, he thinks - thinks - about grinning. Different strokes for different folks, for sure.

That's our Coach Bill. Be happy he chose football.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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