Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Bill Belichick: The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived, by David Halberstam

A friend of mine gave me David Halberstam's book on Bill Belichick a few months ago and I finally had a chance to read it. The book is called "The Education of a Coach" and it is a very enlightening account of the Little Man's rise to greatness. Before I read this book, I thought that Bill Belichick was a nasty, misanthropic, deceitful egomaniac who also happened to be one of the best football coaches of his era. After I read it, I came to the realization that he is all those things, but also a generally diabolical little creep with a Clintonesque obsession about his "legacy."

This 275 page ode to an out of control ego was penned by the once great David Halberstam. If the amount of mindless repetition contained in the book is any indication, Mr. Halberstam appears to be suffering from senile dementia, so perhaps I'm being unkind when I say that in the annals of propaganda, this book deserves to be spoken of in the same breath as Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will.

Unkind, but not inaccurate, for no page of this book would be complete without a reference to how doggone smart Bill is or what a precocious knowledge of football he had or just how, well, truly exceptional he is. Whether he's an unpaid piss boy for the Baltimore Colts coaching staff during the 1970s, the REAL brains behind those 1980s Giants or the victim of a very unfortunate situation for which he bears no responsibility in Cleveland, Bill's always the smartest guy in the room... hardest working too... what a guy!

Now, I shouldn't be too hard on the great man, because he had to overcome so many disadvantages to achieve greatness. As the son of one of the most well respected (and well connected) assistant coaches in college football, Bill had to pay lots of dues before landing his first NFL job. In fact, he wasn't hired as an assistant coach for an NFL football team until he was old enough to vote! Why, Bill had to wait until he graduated from Andover and Wesleyan before using Daddy's connections to hook up with the Baltimore Colts.

Bill appears to have grown quite a bit in the decade since he left Cleveland. He scowls less, and his grunts to the media are more frequently accompanied by intelligible comments. He's certainly added some impressive hardware to New England's trophy case and Vladimir Putin's finger, and his collaboration with Halberstam indicates that he's taken an interest in polishing his public image. But the Bill we Clevelanders remember so fondly is still to be found between the pages of Halberstam's book (by the way, I understand the working title of the German language version is "Mein Kampf II").

In fact, Halberstam's discussion of Bill's tenure in our fair city and, in particular, the way he spins the Bernie Kosar situation, makes it clear that Bill's still the same shifty little dirt bag that we knew way back when. To hear Halberstam tell it, everything that happened to Bill in Cleveland was just a result of a series of unfortunate events. Why, Bill was right to cut Bernie--his skills had diminished! Even other teams players said so! Besides, Art Modell undermined him!

Without getting into the merits of this argument, there's a two word response to it: Todd Philcox. Nowhere in the pages of Halberstam's hagiography does this guy's name surface, but Vinny Intercepteverde had injured his shoulder a week earlier, so that's who became Bill's starter when he decided to turn Kosar loose. He also doesn't mention that the Browns were 5-3 at the time of Bernie's departure, and that under Philcox's able guidance, they went 0-4 before Intercepteverde returned to salvage a couple of wins.

The bottom line is that by cutting Kosar when he did, the Little Man decided to tank the Cleveland Browns' 1993 season. Since we know that Bill was the smartest guy in the room, it's probably safe to assume that he knew he was doing that when he did it. But that gets glossed over, while the Cleveland fans' anger at Bill gets treated with the kind of condescending psychobabble that only an upper class twit like David Halberstam could possibly think is insightful:

It was almost like a football lynching, and it became uncommonly personal; in the media fans criticized his looks, his dress, his overall manner. It was so toxic that it seemed he had tapped into something deep and dark and angry in this city..., little of it probably in the long run about football. Rather, it was the product of myriad other disappointments, personal and economic and social, but somehow, the continued failure of a not very good football team, a group of strangers who were not viewed as strangers, became the focal point for so much rage; the alternative, one assistant coach privately noted, was probably to beat your wife.

Yes, Browns' fans, David Halberstam and his unnamed assistant coach think we're all a bunch of repressed wife beaters.

Now the little creep has three Super Bowl rings, and a fawning biography from a Pulitzer Prize winner. You? Well, you had your football team taken from you, and replaced by a half-billion dollar bag-o-shit stuffed into orange helmets that you had to shell out $500+ in PSLs to get the privilege of watching. Serves you right, you lousy bunch of wife beaters.

Keep your chins up, gang. After all, the new Browns have come a long way baby. Remember, they started out the 1999 season with a 43-0 shellacking by the Pittsburgh Steelers, and have managed to improve over the past seven seasons to the point where the Steelers were only able to squeek by them 41-0 last weekend.

So, Little Man, polish your Super Bowl trophies. You're a hell of a coach, and you deserve them--just don't try to polish your image by glossing over your tenure here. We know exactly what kind of guy you are and the role you played in creating the mess we're still living with.

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