The video is as perfect an encapsulation of the Tao of Bill Belichick as you’ll find: Entering Ford Field for a Sunday night matchup against the Lions in 2018, the New England Patriots coach struts boldly out of the tunnel, pointedly ignoring a kid on the sidelines asking for a handshake. An enterprising YouTuber replaces the NBC soundtrack with something pulled from Monday Night Raw. It’s all on display: not just Belichick’s infamously frosty, win-at-all-costs personality, but also the untraditional approach to coaching attire perfected by the professionalism-obsessed coach. The irony was always unavoidable: a guy who read Sun Tzu and would rather tell reporters about the 1986 Giants and their excellent run blocking than give too much credit to Tom Brady was also a fan of…wearing hoodies with the sleeves cut off? Somehow, a man as monosyllabic as Belichick was also responsible for one of the most iconic coaching outfits in NFL history. Tom Landry’s hat could never.
Belichick, who announced on Thursday that after 24 seasons he and the Patriots had mutually agreed to part ways, was a leader of a dominant dynasty—a figure held in near-religious fervor by Boston fans, and regarded as more or less the antichrist by his detractors. The numbers are commanding: he won six Super Bowl titles and seventeen division titles. If Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback of the modern era, then Belichick is the number-one coach. Whether he is going to make it to the Hall of fFame is a matter of timing and logistics, not opinion.
Belichick helped turn the Patriots from perennial losers to an elite franchise, doing so with a stout defense, elite quarterback play, and sometimes questionable tactics. A man of few words, he often feuded with the press. He was purposefully ordinary, tight-lipped, unwilling to expound on anything besides special-teams play. Questions were barely answered, if at all. “We’re onto Cincinnati” was one Belichick phrase among many that became a t-shirt. Was it a performance? Maybe. But the effect was banality in pursuit of excellence.
All that made his hoodies reluctantly iconic—and, in their own way, less a deviation from his straight-laced ways than a doubling down on them. Belichick’s calling card was commitment and consistency, and the hoodie was exactly that—a garment that stayed in our lives as long as he did. It felt almost uncanny: here is the grittiest and deepest team, beating up on flashier opponents while their coach wears a gnarly fit. It looked heavy but not restricting; dirty but cool; blue collar but majestic. In a league where a workmanlike identity reigns supreme, Belichick’s hoodie was the epitome of working class chic: a core outfit that stands out, but you wouldn’t mind getting dirty in. It was presumably designed to deflect attention—but wound up as loud a tool of personal expression as we ever got from Belichick.
About that video: Belichick actually lost that night. The Lions beat up on the Patriots 26-10, an early example of the decline that would eventually lead the Patriots to part ways with Belichick. But I don’t remember the details of the game. Instead, I remember that fit. The hoodie tells you everything you need to know.
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