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Scenes from 'A Football Life'

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  September 9, 2011 10:33 AM

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First, a couple of housekeeping details: No chat today. Got a couple of things I need to get a head start on for next week. Aww, I'll miss you guys too.

Today's media column, which kicks off with some thoughts from a few national analysts on the Patriots, can be found here.

And if you missed it in our NFL preview section Thursday, my review of the first episode of NFL Films's "Bill Belichick: A Football Life'' is over here.

Speaking of which . . .

*** SPOILER ALERT ***

*** SPOILER ALERT ***

*** SPOILER ALERT ***

Was that obnoxious enough for you? Sorry. I've always wanted to pull off the rare triple spoiler alert. Feels good. It's also probably necessary based on what's to follow here. Quick explanation: I loved the first episode of "Bill Belichick: A Football Life.'' Loved it. It's NFL Films at its engrossing (if glorifying) best on a personality New Englanders care about and still probably don't know as well as they'd like. I can't say enough about it, and I mean that a couple of different ways. It's superb, and it was a joy to write about, yet there were so many revealing vignettes that I didn't get to touch on in the column.

So . . .

*** SPOILER ALERT ***

. . . I'll share a few here. If you want to be surprised when the first episode airs next Thursday at 9 p.m. on the NFL Network, well, this is probably the only time I'll actually suggest you stop reading. But if an extended written preview of just some of the most fascinating scenes you'll be seeing works for you, dig in.

* * *

welkerwesfinn926.jpgBefore the preseason opener against the Eagles, Belichick is informed [I believe by Berj Najarian, passing along the words of the trainers, but I'm not certain] that Wes Welker is a no-go.

It's obviously no big deal, a precautionary measure in a meaningless game. But when the opportunity comes to needle Welker -- and send a message that is neither subtle nor entirely serious -- he can't resist.

The coach sidles up to a smiling, healthy-looking Welker on the sideline:

Belichick: "E-R-W today?"

Welker: "Yeah, what's that mean?"

Belichick: "Eat, ride, and warm up."

A few moments later, a smirk creases Belichick's face as he speaks into his headset microphone:

Belichick: "Hey Ernie. [It's the mysterious Ernie Adams!] What’s that guy’s name who played before Gehrig? [Pause.] Wally. Yeah."

[Of course Ernie Adams knows Wally Pipp. You thought he'd say Don Mattingly?]

On the field, rookie seventh-round pick Julian Edelman fields a punt and jitters and jukes his way to the Philadelphia end zone. The voice over the highlight belongs to Gil Santos: "This is Wes Welker in progress. He looks just like him on the field."

And like that, Belichick has his opening bigger than the one Edelman had on his return. He approaches Welker, whose smiling but looks like he suspects his coach is up to something:

Belichick: "Ever heard of Wally Pipp?"

Welker: "Wally what?"

Belichick: "Wally Pipp?"

Welker: "Uh-uh."

Belichick: "Well, he played first base before Lou Gehrig."

Welker: "Oh, OK."

Belichick: "Well, he played first base before Lou Gehrig. Then Lou Gehrig started whatever it was, 23,000 straight games.

Welker: "Right. [Laughs.] The little man. The little man. No doubt. He can have [the punt return job], man."

Belichick, deadpan: "Way to compete."

* * *

bradythinkfinn.jpgMaybe you and I, the sometimes-perceptive Sunday afternoon citizens of the couch that we are, noticed what he was doing. Maybe we did not. Maybe Tom Brady didn't know himself, at least on any level above his subconscious.

But after two errant-for-Brady throws during Week 1 against the Bills, Bill Belichick noticed. He detected that his quarterback was not certain that the repairs to the devastated knee, an injury that cost him 15 7/8 games during the previous season, could be trusted to survive the violence that constitutes an NFL pass rush.

The voice precluding the lowlights -- presuming two slightly inaccurate throws to Laurence Maroney and Kevin Faulk qualify as lowlights -- belongs to ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski: "It's going to take time to mentally overcome the injury."

Belichick: "Tom. Settle down now, buddy. Step into the throw."

Brady, incredulous: "I hit him right in the hands."

Belichick: "The throw to Kevin out here?"

Brady: "I got drilled. When I threw it."

Belichick: "Did you get hit on that?"

Brady: "Yeah, he was blitzing. I had to flop it over [the defender]. He was standing right in his face."

Belichick: "The one to Maroney?"

Brady: "It was right in his hands."

[This is where it should be footnoted that hitting Maroney in the hands is equivalent to an errant pass.]

Belichick: "It was over his head."

Brady: "Oh, that one."

Belichick: "Just step into it, OK?"

Something occurred to me while watching this scene that I'd prefer to never have considered.

Belichick is going to recognize when Brady's skills begin to slip before the quarterback does. Hopefully no earlier than 2020. Make it 2025.

* * *

belichickparcelllls.jpgAs mentioned in the newspaper column, the most candid stuff comes when Belichick makes his final visit to Giants Stadium in Week 2.

The anecdotes flow as he recalls those championship days with the Giants, and he becomes downright wistful at the scene of some of his best and most reassuring times. .

Belichick, who almost looked the part of a Bon Jovi fan then, was building his reputation as a defensive mastermind, Lawrence Taylor was reckless and unstoppable on the field and off, and the proud son of a coach's grandest football dreams began coming true.

Of course he's wistful. But not when it comes to his boss, whose accomplishments as a coach were enhanced by his uncanny gift for sharp verbal manipulation.

The voice in the classic film clip belongs to Bill Parcells. He gyrates and wobbles on the sideline, barking into his headset, and the apparently unacceptable response he's getting from his defensive coordinator soon escalates his mood from agitated to threatening:

"Don’t you start giving me that. Your ass will be out in a [unintelligible] minute."

Belichick knew better. Parcells was his superior in the hierarchy. But in terms of defensive coaching acumen, well . . .

‘‘You know, look," Belichick says, still standing in the old familiar hallway. "There was a good mutual respect there. And look, he was the boss. I’d tell him, Bill, this is what I think we should do, and sometimes he would be OK with it, like, 'yeah, that’s great.' And there were other times he’d be, well ...

‘I’d say, 'OK, you don’t want to do that, what’s the alternative?'

'Well, I’ll just tell you what you’re doing is screwed up. This is screwed up.'

'How do you want to change it?'

'I don’t know. But it’s screwed up, and you need to get it fixed.' "

Belichick shrugs, the body language version of It Is What It Is.

The half-smile on his face makes you wonder exactly when the the student realized his knowledge surpassed the mentor's.

* * *

belichickbrady2009.jpgIt's obvious to Brady and Belichick before the snow-globe scene against the Titans that they're going to be able to throw the ball. "A quarterback's best friend," Brady says of the snow. Fifty-nine points and a couple of NFL records later, the adage is confirmed and then some.

In the winners' camaraderie of the postgame locker room, Randy Moss hoots across the room to Robert Kraft, "You ain't never seen 59 points!"

Even Belichick is impressed, though he quickly recognizes that he's lost a familiar talking-point:

‘‘Can't say anything more about [us having made] no big plays,'' he says. "That shut me the [expletive] up."

* * *

masonderrickfinn.jpgBelichick has always seemed to respect Derrick Mason. Spent many words of praise on the veteran receiver when he played for those tough Tennessee teams a decade ago. Once tried to sign him as a free agent. He instead chose Baltimore.

After a catch along the sideline, Mason chirps something at him during an October game against Baltimore. It seems fairly innocent by NFL trash talk standards, but it quickly becomes clear that Belichick has little interest in renewing acquaintances at that particular moment.

"Aw. [expletive] you Mason, just [expletive] you, will ya? Why don’t we talk after the game. Just shut the [expletive] up."

And then, as if his point needs punctuation, he whacks Mason with the eternal comeback of the winning team:

"Can you look at the scoreboard?"

Derrick Mason is a Jet this year.

C'mon, NFL Films. We need a 2011 sequel to this. One more episode isn't going to do it.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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