It’s not completely fair to judge exuberance for anything more than the spontaneous release of emotion, no matter how ferociously one has tended to shield those sensations.
So, what can we really take from Bill Belichick’s exceedingly animated celebration Sunday night after the New England Patriots clinched yet another AFC crown?
Patriots radio guy Scott Zolak remarked in the postgame show how Belichick was soaking in the moment, clearly a development of his team’s comeback win over the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC Championship game, yet with a hint of liberty and abandonment of his normally dour persona.
The cameras caught Belichick in a tight embrace with his offensive and defensive coordinators after New England’s 24-20 win, a moment with Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia, respectively, that hinted of the last time he had such a moment with his closest sideline co-workers, when Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis, like McDaniels and Patricia, were headed elsewhere for head coaching jobs at postseason’s end.
It’s easy to wonder if Belichick might join them.
The proprietor of VII Rings (name subject to change) won’t be tagging along with Patricia to Detroit to try and fix the Lions, and he won’t be leading McDaniels down the proper paths of what’s an acceptable banner material season in Indianapolis. Despite Gary Myers’s “insider” claims that he might be available to coach the New York Giants, that’s Pat Shurmur’s task until the ship implodes again in the Meadowlands. He’s not teaming back up with Jimmy Garoppolo in San Francisco, nor are the Patriots going to place him on the market, starting the conversation with a first-round pick for his services.
But there are a handful of parallels involved in the Patriots’ latest chase for the Super Bowl crown that propose Belichick leaning toward retirement is a valid possibility.
A win over the Philadelphia Eagles next Sunday would give Belichick six rings as a head coach, eight in total. That would put him alone with the most titles in NFL history, breaking his current tie with Neal Dahlen, who won five with San Francisco and two with Denver as a part of the front offices.
Stats may be for losers, but Belichick would take that one.
There’s also the potential for a certain synergy in completing the circle of New England’s dynasty within a dynasty.
In Round One, the Patriots beat a team from the NFC West (Rams), took a year off from the Super Bowl, then beat a team from the NFC South (Panthers), and then the Eagles the following year.
In Round Two, the Patriots beat a team from the NFC West (Seahawks), took a year off from the Super Bowl, then beat a team from the NFC South (Falcons) before meeting the Eagles the following year. Again.
If we want to stick with that timeline as a football flat circle (no Deflategate jokes, please), Belichick won’t get another shot at beating a team from the NFC West (Jimmy G. and the 49ers?) in the Super Bowl until 2031. And that only might be after another pair of heartbreakers to the New York Giants. Who needs that?
He’ll also be 78 years old.
Belichick will turn 66 in April, the age of Marv Levy when the former coach took the Buffalo Bills to the second of four-straight Super Bowl losses. He’s used Levy as a sort of barometer when asked how long he plans to coach, citing that he couldn’t see himself standing on the sidelines until a similar age. Levy last coached at 72 years old (He’s 92 now).
Belichick is the second-oldest coach in the NFL today, trailing only Pete Carroll by eight months. He’ll have earned rings in 15 percent of all Super Bowls ever played. He’s gotten to coach with his kids, and has a very legitimate argument over the NFL replacing that Lombardi slacker’s name on the Super Bowl trophy with his own.
It’s as complete a resume as anyone could have ever hoped for, with plenty of time to still float away off the shore of Nantucket, coach lacrosse, or follow his lifelong dream of spending the summer as a Bon Jovi groupie.
The alternative, of course, is to go for another trophy in 2018, albeit with new offensive and defensive coordinators at his side, a 41-year-old quarterback, and Tom Brady’s personal trainer, a guy who might be too much of a combination of Tony Robbins and Victor Conte to have Belichick feel comfortable roaming the field.
Doesn’t it make sense to walk away while on top? One last time?
If retirement is in the plans next month, then it certainly makes more sense why Belichick managed to send Garoppolo out west for a pittance in return. The Kraft family has made it clear that Brady is still the quarterback of their team for the foreseeable future, whether we’re looking at two, three, or five more seasons. Belichick’s sense might just be to make an exit when things are still at their apex.
Because if next year’s Brady shows signs of wear and tear at 41, and isn’t the same guy as the reigning MVP of the league, who’s he going to turn to? Does he really want to start grooming another kid who’ll be ready to take over when he’s approaching 70?
“There’s a lot of strong-minded people, but when you have something good going, everybody’s got to get their egos checked in and try to hold it together,” team owner Bob Kraft said during an interview on NFL Network last weekend, a statement that sounded somewhere in between a goodbye and a mandate for either Belichick or Brady.
It’s never going to be Brady.
When Belichick was asked a few weeks ago if he plans on coaching the Patriots next season, he replied, “Absolutely.” He also sounded about as convincing as Tommy Flanagan after a long pause preceded his answer.
He’ll never let such development become a story ahead of his team, a la his mentor Bill Parcells before the Patriots faced off against the Packers in Super Bowl XXXI. But can you imagine the speech he’d deliver Patriots players next Saturday night if Super Bowl LII is going to be his final game?
Perhaps this is indeed it. Maybe Belichick is the first of the Brady-Bill-Kraft troika of success to walk away.
Keep a look out for VIII Rings on the high seas, possibly into the fall.