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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Author, author: Belichick receives raves

HOUSTON -- Two years ago, he was the winning coach in the Super Bowl. Sunday he'll be back on the sideline going for a second ring.

And last year? Bill Belichick wasn't coaching. He was a member of the loathsome media. Belichick wrote a Super Bowl Sunday column that appeared on the op-ed page of the New York Times.

Belichick's column was headlined, "O.K. Champ, Now Comes the Hard Part." The dateline was FOXBORO, Mass., and columnist Bill set up the piece with this snazzy lead: "Thirty-seven thoughts for the victorious coach on today's national holiday."

It was a darn good column. A little depressing for those of us in the business. As sportswriters, we concede that the coaches and players know more about sports than us. They make more money, drive better cars, and own bigger houses. When it turns out that a professional football coach also does what we do better than us, that hurts.

He was pretty humble (very un-sportswriter-like) about his writing talents when I asked him about it the other day.

"I got a request from somebody asking if I would do it," said Belichick. "It took me a while. Several days. You know how it is in this business. You write something and then they edit for you and tell you how it's going to come out. They made a few grammatical corrections to say the least."

Au contraire, said Bill's editor at the Times, David Shipley.

"We called him and asked him if he wanted to do something and he came back with this perfect document," said Shipley, editor of the newspaper's op-ed page. "It needed hardly any editing. It was one of those rare moments when he hit it out of the park. He wrote a terrific piece and it was all his idea."

A Wesleyan grad, Belichick isn't one for glib quotes, especially when he's talking about an upcoming game. He comes across as almost intentionally boring. When he met with the media Monday, he actually said, "I truly believe that the team who plays better on Sunday is gonna win."

Even worse, I saw people writing down the quote. I wrote it down. Just to have proof that he really said it without grinning.

The Patriots' coach is a deep thinker and a virtual renaissance man compared with some of his self-important contemporaries. Belichick knows that this is an election year. He knows the price of higher education and health care. He's got a variety of interests and uncommon intellectual curiosity. But he chooses to be careful with his words. He's a skull-imploding bore at the podium and his players are encouraged to follow the leader. There'll be no cocky Patriot quotes taped to the walls of the Panther locker room Sunday night. The Patriots speak in the image of their leader.

That's why it was so revealing to read Bill's column a few hours before last year's Super Bowl. We get a sense of what's going on in his mind this week.

After congratulating the winner (who turned out to be Tampa's Jon Gruden), Belichick wrote, ". . . You'll hug your family. But this time, 800 million people will be watching you. Try to remember to fix your hair."We didn't think he cared. ". . . You might think back 30 years, when your gofer job entailed picking up Raiders or Oilers game film at the airport at 1 a.m., then smile because you're at work and there's confetti stuck to your face."Great emotion and imagery there, Bill. ". . . You'll get your shot on radio, doing half an inning for the A's or Devil Rays. Mine came at Fenway."Good thing Bill wasn't at Joe Castiglione's side when Manny failed to run out that grounder. "I hope the president will remember your name."Guess Bush hurt Bill's feelings a little. "Maybe you're even better than everyone thinks right now and you'll do it again. In Fantasyland II, they'll put you up there with Lombardi, maybe even Einstein."Ohhh, this is a good one. It tells us something about how much a win on Sunday would mean to Belichick. ". . . You'll think about that reporter, the one who covered your team, when you sit in the sixth row at his funeral. You'll realize how fleeting Fantasyland can be."Nice touch, Coach. We all miss Will McDonough. Bill was a little sheepish about his literary effort when asked about it this week.

"It was what it was," said the coach/columnist. "I made some of the points that I thought were relevant to us. Some of that was in the spirit of the article. I'm not trying to tell anyone what to do. You know that."

Belichick was paid the standard Times op-ed fee of $450. Wish he'd talked to me about that. He deserved more for this column. I could have at least showed him how to increase his earnings by hitting the Times with some creative writing on his expense account.

With a little more newspaper experience and exposure, he might be able to pick up some side money working for sports radio and "7 Sports Xtra." Maybe he could even get a gig on "Around the Horn."

"I'm not out there trying to be a writer," he confessed. "I've got a lot of ambitions in life, but I don't think being a daily writer would be one of them. I'm not looking for your job."

If he changes his mind, he won't have to change his wardrobe. The favored hooded sweatshirt will work as nicely in the press at it does on the sideline.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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