The Super Bowl is about entertainment, which makes “opening night” a circus inside a circus. Media day used to be a logistical solution to giving thousands of reporters a chance to ask questions of the participants. Then the NFL saw a missed chance to squeeze a few more dollars from the week, so the league moved it to nighttime, sold tickets and put it on television.
Bill Belichick is not about entertainment. The curmudgeonly coach of the Patriots is about football. Belichick goes along with these pageants because it’s mandated, yes, but he also must know that such ridiculous spectacles promote the league that puts a lot of money in his pocket. He plays along, in his own way.
The event began with a WWE-style introduction of the coaches and select players. Belichick, in a suit, stood awkwardly with his trademark half-smile. Rams coach Sean McVay wore a slick warmup suit and appeared half Belichick’s age, which he is (33 vs. 66).
Soon, Belichick took his position at a podium for questions. Among the first : Was this whole thing getting old for Belichick, who will coach in his ninth Super Bowl?
“It’s a special opportunity,” Belichick said. “It’s a privilege to be part of this game. I’m thrilled and honored to be here facing a great team. It’s a great challenge. I embrace all of that.”
Belichick said it with his familiar monotone, but there’s no reason to believe he’s not sincere. If coaching football is what he’s about, then there is no greater prize than the Super Bowl. Belichick has won this game five times, and this is a chance to add another while quarterback Tom Brady still is great.
To get there, Belichick must navigate this week of hype. It started on opening night, which has become an annual tradition of pranksters trying to get Belichick to laugh (one did), reporters trying to get him to say something interesting (a few did) and everyone trying to get him to reveal some genuine human emotion (mixed results).
I shouldn’t like Belichick’s public persona. I think the NFL is too self-serious. There aren’t enough colorful characters. The culture of the league and its teams is conformity, and Belichick is the model.
Yet I’ve always had a grudging admiration for Belichick’s aloof approach to these kind of things. I see his detachment as an acknowledgment that the whole media routine can be kind of dumb. Plus, media types sometimes need to be cut down to size.
Anyway, it’s not as if Belichick won’t talk football. That’s in his wheelhouse. This is a coach who will give a long and detailed analysis of the Rams’ special-teams units.
“No one does it as good as the Rams,” Belichick said.
Ask Belichick about football and you might get a good answer. But it must be the right question about football.
Someone asked Belichick about fullbacks, which seemed like a good angle. The coach once delivered an extended monologue about the history of the position.
But on this day (night) Belichick was not interested in elaborating on his process for evaluating fullbacks.
“The same as with any position,” Belichick said. “How well they do their job and how they fulfill their role.”
The questioner pressed on, mentioning that “pad level” must be important for fullbacks. Surely, throwing in that bit of football jargon would prompt an eloquent answer.
“It’s important for all positions,” Belichick responded.
And so it went.
Belichick on Alabama coach Nick Saban, who was his defensive coordinator with the Browns in the 1990s: “Saban is a great football coach. I learned a lot from him.”
Belichick on his approach to the Super Bowl: “I try to coach it the way I do any other game.
Belichick on if he’s nervous about the game: “We have a lot of preparation in front of us. We’re going to focus on that.”
Belichick on the chances he would create an Instagram account: “Less than zero.”
That last line was delivered with a wry smile. Inside the curmudgeonly coach is a dry humor that sometimes comes to the surface.
Belichick flashed a full, genuine smile when Guillermo from “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” presented him with a shawl featuring the comic’s likeness on one side and the coach’s on the other.
“I’m going to wear it someday,” Belichick said. “I promise. I’ll send you a picture on ‘SnapFace.’”
This was Belichick, as he sometimes does, playing the role of the old person who mixes up the names of those newfangled social-media apps, in this case “Snapchat” and “Facebook.”
The Super Bowl is about entertainment and Belichick isn’t, but that doesn’t mean he can’t have a little fun.
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