By Ryan O’Toole
Photo: Boston Globe - Source
Last weekend saw two old teammates face off in a battle that was far more than just a regular week 4 NFL game. Tom Brady led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to victory over his old team led by legendary coach Bill Belichick. This victory and Brady’s post-Patriots success at large may have larger implications for the legacy of both Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.
The two decades that Tom Brady played under Bill Belichick on the Patriots is the greatest dynasty football has ever seen. With the salary cap and the way draft picks are organized, the NFL is designed to stop teams from becoming perennial powerhouses, and yet, Bill Belichick found for the Patriots to be dominant for an unprecedented amount of time. From 2001-2019, the Patriots have won more games(262), played in more Super Bowls(9), and won more titles (6) than any other team. They never had a losing season and won more than 75% of their games. And this success rests on the backs of two men: the greatest quarterback of all time, Tom Brady and the greatest coach of all time, Bill Belichick.
Obviously, when you have the greatest quarterback the league has ever seen, it makes your job as a coach pretty easy. Except other teams with great quarterbacks have not seen even close to as much success as the Patriots. Aaron Rodgers’ Packers or Russell Wilson’s Seahawks never reached the heights of the Patriots and were not consistently a Super Bowl threat in the same way Brady and Belichick were. A great quarterback isn’t everything, it’s a lot, but not everything. In order to stay dominant for two decades, you need a mastermind behind it all.
Bill Belichick, while being a great drafter of quarterbacks, is also perhaps the greatest defensive mind in football. Since 2003, the Patriots defense has been ranked outside the top 10 in fewest points allowed just twice, and has been ranked in the bottom half of the league only once, in 2005. Belichick’s greatest superpower is taking away the best offensive weapon from the other team, making them play with one hand tied behind their back. For a case study in this, look at their Super Bowl victory against the Rams, where the Patriots completely dismantled Sean McVay’s explosive offense and cake walked to victory.
So with the greatest offense in the league, led by Tom Brady, and an always great defense led by Bill Belichick, the Patriots were unstoppable. That is, until Tom Brady left for Tampa Bay in free agency in 2020, ending the most fruitful quarterback-coach partnership. And there’s nothing that could happen that would question both of their legacies, right?
Photo: The Athletic - Source
Brady quickly found success in Tampa, immediately winning a Super Bowl the first year he was on the team, turning what could have been a footnote in both of their careers into a whole new chapter. And if Brady continues to find success on the Buccaneers, it changes how we perceive the Brady Belichick partnership.
It’s like Simon & Garfunkel, one of the greatest songwriting duos of all time. There’s nothing that could change that. Together they were responsible for great songs and will go down in history. And yet, it was Paul Simon who had the huge solo career after they split up, making his masterpiece in Graceland. Simon’s solo success doesn’t take away from Art Garfunkel’s legacy within their partnership, but it does color how we view their careers.
Last weekend’s game between Brady and Belichick was more than a football game, it was a fight for legacy, and Belichick threw everything he could at Brady. It was a mental chess game against the quarterback Belichick knew the most. He tried to take away his best weapon, throws in the middle of the field. And yet, even with one arm tied behind his back, Brady found a way to topple his own team, even if it meant the 44 year old quarterback running for the first down himself.
Belichick gave it everything he had, and effectively shut down the middle of the field. He essentially pitched a perfect game, but Brady still was able to come out on top. Maybe this is more of an indictment over the sport of football, that a quarterback is always more important than a coach, saying nothing about the role of either specific person. Either way, when Bill Belichick and Tom Brady retire from football and enter the history books as the greatest of their respective roles, it will be impossible to not include Brady’s Buccaneer success. It is always going to loom large over Belichick.
Although, who knows? Maybe Belichick can bring the Patriots back to their former glory under Mac Jones and he can rewrite his own legacy. In football, history is always changing and legacies are always evolving.