Bill Belichick has been living rent-free inside the head of opposing players and coaches for years. His reputation as an NFL genius and a lingering suspicion of underhanded behavior combine to cause normally level-headed people like Peyton Manning to freak out.
The result of the paranoia is that opponents distract themselves from the business at hand: beating the New England Patriots on Sunday afternoons.
The Patriots have done nothing but win under Bill Belichick
Bill Belichick took over as coach of the New England Patriots in 2000 and has built a dynasty. Everyone can recite the Patriots’ six Super Bowl victories, but the franchise has also posted double-digit victory totals in 17 consecutive seasons. Further, the Patriots have won at least a dozen games in nine of the last 10 years.
Belichick’s regular-season record in New England is 237-83, and he has also won 30 of 41 playoff contests.
The 2020 season figures to be different. Aside from the fact that legendary quarterback Tom Brady has left to play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, COVID-19 has done a number on the roster. The Patriots lead the NFL with eight players opting out of playing over concerns related to the pandemic.
The losses on defense include six-year starting strong safety Patrick Chung and eight-year starting linebacker Dont’a Hightower, a development serious enough to take the Patriots out of contention vs. the on-the-rise Buffalo Bills in the AFC East all by itself.
Peyton Manning used to hold meetings in hallways
There is no getting around the fact that a lot of people don’t trust Bill Belichick any farther than they can throw him. The New England Patriots have been under the microscope for years, which puts a target on the back of their head coach and de facto general manager.
Everyone knows the big three New England Patriots scandals:
- Spygate in 2007, for which the NFL fined the Patriots as a team and Belichick individually for focusing cameras on New York Jets coaches sending in signals from the sideline. That episode caused observers to start digging again into debunked reports that the Patriots spied on a St. Louis Rams walk-through before Super Bowl 36.
- Deflategate in the 2014 AFC championship game vs. the Indianapolis Colts, which resulted in the league suspending Tom Brady for four games. The NFL also docked the Patriots two draft picks and $1 million.
- Last season’s episode during which a Patriots online media crew working from the press box of a Cincinnati-Cleveland game focused on the sideline of the Bengals, who had an upcoming game vs. New England.
Spygate all by itself was enough to freak out the competition. Former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy recalled quarterback Peyton Manning being so suspicious that the Patriots were bugging the visiting locker room that he held meetings in the hallway as far back as 2010.
“Peyton talked to guys who played for the Patriots, some of the guys who came over; whether it’s true or not he treated it as true,” Dungy said. “We didn’t have a lot of strategy discussions inside the locker room there.”
Peyton Manning took teammates on a hike – just in case
Quarterback Peyton Manning joined the Denver Broncos in 2012 and played his last four seasons there. One of his linemen was Orlando Franklin, who now co-hosts a show about the Broncos alongside all-time Denver defensive great Steve Atwater.
During a recent discussion, Franklin said that Manning went to great lengths to keep Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots in the dark, even taking it to the extreme for walk-throughs. On one trip to play the Patriots, Manning through a curve into the traditional Saturday practice.
“We went and got on the buses and pulled up to like the forest. It was like a forest — pine trees all over the place. Got out of the buses and started walking, walked for about five minutes. I wondered, ‘Are we going on a hike right now?’ And then we get in the middle of this forest, and this opens up — there’s no trees — and that’s where we did the walk-through.”Orlando Franklin
If Franklin’s memory of the details is accurate, the game took place on Nov. 24, 2013. The Broncos broke to a 24-0 lead that day only to see the Patriots rally to a 34-31 victory.
Perhaps the Broncos would have still had their legs down the stretch in the fourth quarter had they not gone hiking the day before.