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‘They’re blown away’: The backstory behind Bill Belichick’s history lessons on ‘NFL 100 All-Time Team’ specials

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Bill Belichick has built himself quite the reputation when it comes to talking at a podium, whether it’s in the days leading up to the Patriots’ next game, or after the final whistle blows on a Thursday, Sunday or Monday.

He’ll talk your ear off about special teams, underrated Patriots players putting up big-time performances, or upcoming opponents that he respects after in-depth film sessions.

Then, he’ll meticulously maneuver around questions surrounding any injuries, new additions to the team, or any incidents that players are dealing with off the field.

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Naturally, with all of this in mind, one would assume the future Hall of Fame coach wouldn’t be open to any media-related positions after his time on the sidelines ends, considering his multitude of one-word answers or the lack of information that comes with some questions that get sent his way.

But, put the future NFL Hall of Famer in a studio in New Jersey alongside Rich Eisen and Cris Collinsworth with the responsibility of analyzing the NFL 100 All-Time Team, and you have yourself a real treat for any football fan to enjoy.

In the new setting, the soft-spoken head coach turns into a whole new person: A teacher and analyst with more expertise in his field than any collegiate professor could ever offer. A child in a candy store, if chocolate bars or Reese’s Cups were traded in for game film from the 1950s or conversations with NFL legends that forever changed the way the sport is played.

The seven-time Super Bowl champion has a special affinity for football’s history, dating back to his time spent as a child following the Baltimore Colts during his upbringing in Annapolis, Maryland.

Belichick’s father, Steve Belichick, was an equipment manager for the Detroit Lions before eventually being signed as a player on the team, and later served in the United States Navy from 1942 to 1946. After some time as a coach for numerous collegiate schools, Steve accepted a job at the United States Naval Academy in 1956, where he’d stick around for more than 30 years with a specialty in scouting.

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Steve’s time with the Naval Academy served as the catalyst for an incredible football career for his son, with Bill learning the ropes as it relates to breaking down game film by watching his father and the team’s other coaches.

However, while his father played a major role in his football upbringing, Bill revealed during his time on the “NFL 100 All-Time Team” show that a lot of his historical knowledge of the sport came from football cards he’d collect as a kid.

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“I have most of the cards from the late 50s; ’58 to the mid 60s,” Belichick said during the special’s second episode. “If they were on a football card, I knew them and I knew them well.”

When asked by Eisen if he still had them, Belichick assured the NFL Network host that his mother didn’t throw out those collector’s items.

“They sure are, several boxes,” Belichick said when asked if the cards were still in a box somewhere in the Belichick abode. “We used to line them up, the 49ers would play the Colts, and the Colts would play the Bears, and the Bears would play the Lions.”

As a young college graduate, Belichick landed a job with the Baltimore Colts he followed as a child, serving as an assistant to head coach Ted Marchibroda in 1975 before following in his father’s footsteps by taking an assistant coaching job with the Lions in 1976.

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After a year with the Denver Broncos in 1978, he went back out east to work as a defensive and special teams coach for the New York Giants in 1979. By the time 1985 rolled around, the 33-year-old Belichick was named the Giants’ defensive coordinator under head coach Bill Parcells, helping to jump-start Belichick’s NFL coaching career with some stellar talent under his wing.

One player in particular that stood out? Lawrence Taylor, the best linebacker the NFL has ever seen.

“I think I had the honor of coaching the greatest defensive football player in the history of the game. He helped make me a great coach,” Belichick said after Taylor was announced as part of the NFL 100 All-Time Team. “This guy could do it all. Offense, defense, special teams. Wherever you wanted him to play, he could have been a great two-way player.”

The idea of two-way players is something that has fascinated Belichick through each of the NFL 100 All-Time Team episodes so far, with the Patriots head coach raving about the sport’s best running backs, linebackers and defensive linemen.

At the same time, Belichick said that knowledge makes it tougher to evaluate the talent pool when trying to narrow the history books down to a specific team of players.

“It’s kind of apples and oranges,” Belichick told WEEI as he discussed his time on the show. “The great players in the earlier years probably weren’t as skilled as the players that have played in let’s call it the modern era, the one-way players. There’s a lot of one-way players that could not have played both ways.”

To this day, Belichick has turned a lot of his own players into two-way players, whether it’s a wide receiver playing as a cornerback, or a linebacker playing as a fullback or tight end. That creativity led him to his position as a head coach for the Cleveland Browns, then his work on the defensive side of the ball with the New York Jets, and finally, his eventual legendary career as head coach of the New England Patriots.

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From 2000 to 2019, Belichick delivered six Lombardi trophies to Foxborough, Massachusetts, solidifying himself as one of, if not the greatest coach the NFL has ever seen. He’s turned Tom Brady into the greatest quarterback of all time, and has led some of the best offenses and unbeatable defenses in league history.

When you’ve placed your name in so many different parts of the record books and brought home as much hardware as Belichick has, you earn the respect of all of your peers in the business. For that reason, it was a no-brainer for Belichick to be a part of the process when it came time for the selection of the NFL 100 All-Time Team.

While that element was an obvious necessity, the real question lied elsewhere: would Belichick be good at, or even interested in, an analyst position on the special episodes for the unveiling of the team’s 100 members?

Would the often monotone, sometimes unenthusiastic Belichick work well on a discussion-based television show? Would the dynamic work with the likes of TV professionals like Eisen and Collinsworth?

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In a word, yes.

“The number of players that would look across the table and not believe that Bill Belichick was sitting there as an analyst, as somebody who was praising their careers, and was somebody who wasn’t the person that you see behind the podium moving on to Cincinnati and being all business,” Eisen said during his radio show when the NFL Films special was first announced. “Being that guy, they’re blown away. I was blown away sometimes as a host.”

“Belichick is so into it,” Eisen continued. “The ‘it’ being celebrating the sport, celebrating the game, celebrating the men, celebrating the achievement. And he is so into the history of this game.”

Belichick has a great respect for the NFL Films team, working with them for numerous “Do Your Job” documentaries after the Patriots’ last three Super Bowl wins, an upcoming documentary entitled “Belichick & Saban: The Art of Coaching,” and “A Football Life” feature on Belichick, himself, as well.

With that in mind, it made total sense for the Patriots head coach to step into the studio for this role, including some film work using the “Belistrator.”

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“It was a tremendous process,” Belichick said back in July of 2019 when it was announced he would be participating in the show. “Very difficult in terms of the selection but it was, again, a great honor to be a part of it, and to go down and be at NFL Films and see that operation was extremely impressive. They do a great job of preserving the history of the game. It’s extremely well run, professional. They have great resources, and I think they’ve done a tremendous job in their presentation of the game.”

The trio of Belichick, Collinsworth, and Eisen works well, with each providing similar energy and entertainment value as guests get added to the show’s panel in each episode.

“Just being on set with Cris and Rich was a great honor, a great thrill, and many of the other legends that were there with us, so that was something I’ve never been a part of,” Belichick said. “Was very insightful and certainly gave me a greater appreciation for this great game and what the National Football League has accomplished and the individuals that have written the stories over the last 100 years. It was a great experience for me.”

The scariest part about it all? Working on the show apparently made arguably the greatest coach of all time even better, according to the man himself.

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“I learned a lot,” Belichick said during a press conference in November of 2019. “It was a great experience. I watched a lot of film of players in the ‘30s, the ‘40s, the ‘50s and the ‘60s. I watched quite a bit of that over the summer and last spring, and it was very enlightening in studying the great players in different eras and how the game was played.”

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“The whole process was great, and I think in a way it’s definitely made me a better coach from the things that I’ve learned.”

Belichick may not be interested in diving into any commentary jobs when his coaching days are done, and who knows what his future holds when he decides to hang up the whistle in New England.

But, could football fans see Belichick on their televisions on other projects in the future? If NFL Films is at the helm like they were for the “NFL 100 All-Time Team” special and asked Belichick to head back to the set for some work as an analyst, it may be hard for the future Hall of Famer to say no.

“It’s hard to make me look good, but if anybody can, NFL Films can do it.”

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