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BRIAN MCGRORY

Candid camera

Way to go, Bill.

Your Patriots win another playoff game Sunday and what do you do? Here's what: You violently slam a camera right into the face of longtime Globe photographer Jim Davis, who was only doing his job.

And with that very public, very flagrant foul, you proved what so many right-thinking people all across New England already knew: Bill Belichick might be a genius on the gridiron; he might be the world's most proficient interpreter of game film; he might be an expert motivator. But, he's also a boor of the highest order.

For those who didn't see it, here's the scene. The Patriots beat the Jets in a deceptively close 37-16 game. The football-loving world wanted to witness the post game handshake between Belichick and New York coach Eric Mangini, Belichick's former understudy turned archrival.

Davis, camera to his eye, got caught in the media scrum that separated Belichick and Mangini as they walked toward each other, and never saw Belichick coming. As they got close, Belichick could have done a lot of things. He could have let his security detail clear a path. He could have paused and said something uncharacteristic like, "Excuse me." He could have jostled through the photographers.

He did none of the above. No, he swept his right arm across his body in roundhouse fashion, gripped the bottom of Davis' s camera, and gratuitously slammed it into Davis' s face. Davis staggered back. Belichick kept walking. The footage is available on Youtube.com.

This was the same coach who complained a week earlier about the hit that one of the Tennessee Titans had delivered upon Patriots defensive back Rodney Harrison. Perfect: One cheap - shot artist standing in judgment of another.

Belichick apologized to Davis yesterday, and Davis, the consummate professional, refuses to make a big deal of the incident. He's already thinking about the next game, the next shot, and doesn't want anything like this to get in the way. He's widely hailed as the best sports photographer in New England, and even after the encounter recovered quickly enough to get an unimpeded shot.

It's great that Belichick said he was sorry, but like Tom Finneran's apology in federal court, this is another one of those cases in which actions speak so much louder than words.

Belichick, in that brief instant in Foxborough, went after a guy's livelihood. He shoved a piece of metal equipment perilously close to Davis's eye. There's not a single member of the Globe's star-studded stable of photographers who hasn't been jostled while doing the job, but usually it's by some self-important minion, not by the big man himself.

Here's Belichick's problem, and it has nothing to do with the fact that he dresses like he's from Appalachia and has the personality of a wet mop: He thinks he's above everybody else. He treats every Sunday with more secrecy than the US generals handle our strategy in Iraq. He believes three Super Bowl championships give him immunity against moronity. They don't.

Believe me, I understand he's brilliant. I wouldn't miss a moment of next Sunday's game. I know that if they win, it's disproportionately due to painstaking work of the coach.

But why does it have to be an either/or? Why can't a model sports franchise like the New England Patriots have a coach who is both excellent and at least somewhat of a decent guy? Why can't Bob or Jonathan Kraft call him aside and teach him a modicum of class?

Belichick likes to say, with his typical terseness, "It is what it is." He's got that right.

When the footage shows the winning coach gratuitously slamming a camera into the face of a photographer who's covered the team all season, what it reveals is another pampered prince who doesn't give a damn about anyone or anything but himself. That is not the Patriots way.

You won, Bill. Be happy. Your millions of adoring fans were.

It all makes you wonder: What would the guy have done if they lost?

Brian McGrory is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at mcgrory@globe.com.

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