The New England Patriots have been the best team in the NFL through the 2010s. They were also the best team in the NFL through the 2000s, and they even made a Super Bowl in the ’90s. Even as Tom Brady moves off to Tampa Bay, he’s leaving behind a legacy of excellence in New England.
The other half of that equation is Bill Belichick, a tough coach with a legacy of doing anything to win. The deadline for opting-out of the NFL season recently passed, with some teams losing a huge number of players to health concerns. How is one of the most hard-nosed, businesslike coaches in the league dealing with his players who are declining to play?
The Patrick Chung call
CBS Sports recently published an account from Patriots’ safety Patrick Chung about his conversation with Bill Belichick when he informed the six-time Super Bowl champion coach that he’d be sitting the season out.
In addition to Chung, Dont’a Hightower, Marcus Cannon, Brandon Bolden, Danny Vitale, and Najee Toran declared that they’d be opting-out of the season. With six of his players out, did Belichick blow his top?
“He understands it’s a serious pandemic going on,” Chung said in late July on CBS This Morning, “He totally got it. You guys think Bill is like this drill sergeant, but he’s actually a very caring person. He totally understood and that was it. It was a short phone call.”
It’s a little heartwarming to think that behind the ruthless exterior of the AFC East’s evil emperor, there beats a heart of compassion. Belichick has certainly gone to certain lengths to win in the past, but he’s clearly drawn the line at putting his players in potential danger.
What about the rest of the players?
COVID-19 has hit America far, far worse than any other country. Approaching five months of (various states of) lockdown, we don’t appear to have improved anything at all. The MLB has been ravaged by the virus and the NBA pulled out every stop and quarantined every player in a bubble.
NFL teams are significantly bigger than these other sports, with even more traveling than the shortened MLB season. With 53 players a team, huddled together in buses and planes, an outbreak of some sort is likely inevitable.
Chung opted out of the season due to a baby on the way, a case of asthma for his son, and an aging father. Luckily, he’s secured his place in New England and made plenty of money.
For the other players, it’s a more difficult decision.
Bill Belichick is always setting the Patriots up to win
Part of Belichick’s incredible history in the NFL has been adapting to change. The season that Brady was injured, he still put together a pretty decent record. He’s dealt with rising threats in the AFC East and easily dispatched them again and again.
His legacy wasn’t going to end when Brady left to play in Tampa Bay, and it’s not going to end if half a dozen Patriots sit out the season. Luckily for the team, Belichick understands this.
He’s not putting any pressure on them to play. Hopefully, the NFL has sufficient safety protocols in place and can bring football back into American life. When it’s back, Patriots will remember Belichick’s willingness to sacrifice a few wins to keep his team healthy.