We already knew that if you want to get Bill Belichick talking, ask him about quarterback mechanics, timeout strategy, or Dont’a Hightower’s defensive instincts. Now we can add another topic to that list: Belichick’s appreciation for football history.
At a press conference Wednesday, ahead of Super Bowl LIII, a reporter asked the Patriots head coach where he developed his love of both football history and U.S. history, adding that Belichick seemed to know just about everything that had happened in the sport over the past 50 years.
“Do I take that as a compliment?” Belichick asked with a smile. “Guess I’ve been around a long time.”
The 66-year-old has been around the sport a long time, and he tracked his development as a football historian over the course of a 953-word answer that lasted six minutes, 10 seconds.
Here’s the entire response, per NESN:
“Obviously, it starts with my parents. They were both educators, so we had a lot of books and always read a lot about history and visited historical places. Certainly, Annapolis was one, but going to Gettysburg and all the Washington things, those were always field trips and so forth. But from a football standpoint, my dad collected football books from the time I can remember — just as a little kid — and then I sort of got into that, too. I’d find books for him or he’d have doubles and so forth, so we ended up with, I think it was like 4,000 books or something like that. There was a lot of them.
“Anyway, from a football historical basis, the books there, and then that led to a lot of conversations about the books that were written, who they were written about or what the subject was and so forth. And the books he collected were really old books. I’d say he didn’t want anything really after 1960 and there’s surprisingly quite a few football books that were written in that era.
“So talking about the people that were featured in those books — people like Amos Alonzo Stagg, who coached Coach [Wayne] Hardin, who was the head coach at Navy. We talked about him yesterday. [Robert] Zuppke, [Fielding] Yost, [Walter] Camp. I mean, you can go all the way back to the 1900s and the teens. And then the pro coaches — [George] Halas and [Curly] Lambeau and so forth — all those people were prominent in the development of the game.
“My parents were from Ohio, from outside of Cleveland, so we regularly went to the Hall of Fame in Canton. My dad knew a couple of the people there that he had known from his Ohio connections. We would go down to the basement of the Hall of Fame and they would show us their collection of books, which was — other than the Library of Congress — I think it’s the largest collection of football books that there is. At least we got a chance to see some books. We recognized a lot of them, but there were certainly a lot of them that we didn’t have and back in those days, it was a little harder to find them without some of the resources we have now. So we did that.
“We’d spend hours down in the basement of the Hall of Fame just going through their books and their library. Again, the Hall of Fame was an annual trip for us. We went to Hiram, where the Cleveland Browns practiced and my mom taught and my dad coached football and basketball and track there. That’s where they met.
“So the Browns were there, the Hall of Fame, Paul Brown, the Cleveland Browns. All that was just — that’s how I grew up. I’ve always enjoyed it. I’ve always been interested in it. It’s always been fascinating to me to talk to people that predate me — which I guess there aren’t that many anymore, but there’s a couple.
“And especially the coaching part of it — learn about the evolution of certain defenses or certain techniques or how the game evolved before I was really introduced to it. One of the best experiences I had was in the eighth grade. My eighth grade coach played at Clemson, and we ran the single wing. That’s the only time I’ve had any exposure to the single wing, but obviously, that was a key part of the game going back all the way into the teens and ’20s with [Knute] Rockne’s box and so forth.
“Then Lambeau took that to Green Bay, and then it evolved into the T-formation. But everybody grew up playing T-formation when I was a kid, so to have the opportunity to run the single wing for a year and just understand it, and that’s obviously what my dad ran and what he played, so we talked a lot about that.
“But that was a great experience for me, one that I really, really appreciate. Coach Mann ran it. None of us knew what it was. There were only a couple of college teams that (ran it); I think UCLA and Clemson were a couple of the last teams to run it. And then, actually, when I was at Andover, we played against it at Lawrenceville under Coach [Kenneth] Keuffel. Now, he ran it. That was in the early ‘70s, but he continued to run it at Lawrenceville Academy after that. I didn’t, obviously, play there, but we did play against it one year when I was in prep school. So that was a great experience for me, too, that I got an opportunity to do that.
“Again, just while I’m on this subject, I’d say we’ve had so many conversations about great players and so forth, but one of the real challenges when you talk about great players in the National Football League is the two-way players versus the one-way players. In our game today, everybody’s essentially a one-way player, including the specialists.
“If you go back to a certain point in time — let’s call it the ‘40s, and certainly the ‘30s — they were mostly all two-way players, and that was a different type of a player. Maybe they didn’t excel as much in some skills as some of the current players do, but our current players don’t have to play both ways, or they do in rare situations. I mean, [Julian] Edelman’s done it for us, Troy Brown did it for us, [Mike] Vrabel did it for us, but that’s a pretty short list.
“That’s a long answer to short question. Thank you for getting me going on that. Class will start tomorrow at 9 o’clock.”