Each week, two journalists from the sports section compete in a rhetorical game that is sometimes serious, often less so. This week, Miguel Bujold and Frédérick Duchesneau are debating who (Tom Brady or Bill Belichick) was most important to the success of the New England Patriots dynasty.
In our previous debate two weeks ago you opened the door to this one, Fred: Bill Belichick or Tom Brady? This is the eternal question. Which of these two sympathetic individuals has been more important to the Patriots’ success? I know you’re going to tell me they’re two cheaters, Fred, and you’re not wrong. And I know very well that on this Monday morning in February, the easy choice is Brady. He will play a 10e Super Bowl Sunday, in his very first season with the Buccaneers. But when we say “pack a team,” there’s no better example than the 2020 Bucs. Do you really think Brady would be in the Super Bowl if he had an average team around him? That’s what he had in his last season at Foxborough, 2019, an average team. And it ended with a “pick six” against the Titans in the playoffs. I remind you that Brady threw three interceptions last week, too. You know your football, Fred, and you know very well that everything starts with the coach in this sport.
I agree that the coach has his role and his importance. You cannot conceive of a team without a coach… But to what extent does it count in the success of a club or an athlete? I do not have the answer and I do not doubt that it is considerable, I am only asking the question. Long turn of the merry-go-round to achieve this: the coaches are the first to say that they cannot play for their athletes. As good as the coach, as good as the strategy – including the legendary “strategies” of the Pats – who is the only person to choose the target no 3 rather than no 2? To decide, in a fraction of a second, to take the breach on the left rather than the one on the right? (A thought here for my idol Barry Sanders) There is a limit to coaching and game plans, which also often take the edge when things go wrong. It hurts my heart. You know I was in Brees camp two weeks ago. But this time I’m with Tom. I can’t believe I wrote this. I’ll go get some fresh air while you answer me.
People seem to have forgotten it over the years, but the Pats won their first three Super Bowls thanks, above all, to their defense. This was the great strength of their club with among others Ty Law, Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel and Rodney Harrison. These three championships (2001, 2003 and 2004) were won before the famous “spygate”, too. So Brady often knew what the defenses were going to do before the games. It’s going well, throwing a touchdown pass when we know in advance that the safety half is coming on a blitz, Fred… A story that ended up in the US Congress, but we are still scattered. In short, defense has always been a VERY big chunk at Foxborough, and the last Pats final two years ago is there to remind us: 13-3 against the Rams, the lowest score in the history of the Super Bowl. And the defense is Belichick. It was even he who allowed the Giants to win the Super Bowl in 1986 and 1990 as defensive coordinator. Every time the best offensive players on the other team have it down against the Pats, it’s because of Belichick. When Brady threw the ball to receivers who didn’t have an opponent within 10 yards, that was coaching too.
OK, go for all of that. But let’s go back to a previous point. You were wondering if Brady would be in the Super Bowl with an average team. Of course not. But we should not exaggerate in the other direction and let believe that he was a simple passenger in the boat of the Buccaneers. Ninth this season among the starting quarterbacks for the famous ratio (pass rating). Second ex aequo for touchdown passes. You will still answer me that these are individual stats and that he is well surrounded, but it is still he who is in charge! And let’s do the opposite exercise. What did Belichick do this year with an ordinary team? An ordinary season: 7-9. Brady may be in a good club, be lucky, even, as you said totally outraged in a meeting last Monday morning! He – beware, cliché alert, but I’ll take it – finds ways to win. Sometimes I almost believe in fate – but no – when I see certain athletes who, like him, seem to turn everything into victories and championships. As if there was something beyond mere athletic performance. An aura, let’s say.
Yeah, Brady got lucky against the Packers, and I even wrote that in my text. Belichick didn’t just have an ordinary team this year, Fred, he had one of the league’s five worst on paper. It was the price to pay for having had such great teams for so long. The Pats mortgaged part of their future by ending up getting stuck under the salary cap. Brady and Bruce Arians would they have done better with this club? I doubt. But I think Belichick would not have had too much trouble winning with the Pro Bowlers team in Tampa …
Tom Brady is the best quarterback in history, no doubt. The same goes for Bill Belichick, by far the best coach in history.
Anyway, they probably didn’t realize it, but all the while, Boston-area fans would have been lucky enough to have both the best quarterback and the best coach in history? I wonder if we could find such combos in other sports. Should think about it, it could be the subject of another debate (note to bosses). I understand that Belichick is quite a coach. I’m too emotional, Mig. In fact, I think I just leaned into the camp of whoever is less disagreeable to me. Either way, I deeply wish a Chiefs victory. Which would allow them, as you wrote last Monday, to become the first team to retain their title since… the Brady Pats in 2004. That would be a nice wink. And, for my part, a nice snub too.