FOXBOROUGH, Mass. --Steve Belichick was a football man - specifically, a college football man - and Saturday he did what college football men do. He went to see his beloved Navy Midshipmen - a team he helped coach for 33 years - defeat Temple in the afternoon and then he settled in front of his television set to watch another football game Saturday night. It was, his son said, "what he normally does Saturday night."
But this Saturday night was different. "His heart just stopped beating," said son, Bill Belichick, head coach of the New England Patriots. "So I'm sure that's the way he would have wanted it to end."
Steve Belichick, whose funeral is scheduled for 11 a.m. today at the chapel of the Naval Academy, was 86. As much as any man could, he had lived the life he wished to live.
His son is also a football man - specifically a professional football man - and Sunday afternoon he did what professional football men do. He directed his team to a 24-17 victory over the New Orleans Saints. His players were not aware that their coach had done his duty with what he would later describe as "a heavy heart."
"None of us had a clue," said player Adam Vinatieri. "He kept it inside. He didn't let it distract him."
Coaching a football game is the best possible way for Belichick to honor his father. Anyone who knows even the slightest thing about them is aware that a love of football was their great bond.
"Obviously," Belichick said, "he had a tremendous influence on my life personally and, particularly in the football aspect, it was great to be able to share the tremendous memories with him and some of the recent successes, as I did when he was successful as a coach of the Naval Academy and that program."
Steve Belichick was a familiar figure in the Patriots locker room the past few years.
"He was always here, kind of funny," said player Willie McGinest. "I used to joke with him and stuff."
"I always had a great relationship with him," said quarterback Tom Brady. "He had great perspective. He had coached football for a lot of years. He always had words of wisdom."
The players had grown so comfortable with him that he was treated to the ultimate insiders' tribute at the past Super Bowl. "I dumped ice water on him at the Super Bowl," recalled linebacker Tedy Bruschi. "I was coming up with the bucket and I saw he and Bill embracing and I said, `Ah, I'll get them both.'"
Steve Belichick was no general household name, but in the world of football, he was a guru and he was Steve Belichick a lot longer than he was Bill's Dad. He was a fine all-around coach, but his great reputation was for scouting. It was said that no one could break down film to spot flaws in opponents better than Steve Belichick - at least until his son came along. It is a well-established part of the Belichick family lore that young Bill was first taken into the film room at age 9. Simply put, it took.
But Bill Belichick got a lot more from his father than an ability to dissect football film. He is an unfrilly guy, and that is hardly surprising given that long ago his father chose stability and family over glory. Though the elder Belichick's football acumen was undeniable, he made a decision that he did not need the headaches that come with authority, nor did he wish to subject his family to any more of the nomadic existence that is the lot of the typical coach. And so, at age 36, he settled down at the Naval Academy as an assistant coach for the next 33 years. Steve Belichick made eight Navy head coaches look pretty good.
Steve Belichick could have been a coaching star, if that's what he truly wanted. He could have continued on a path that already had taken him from Hiram College to Vanderbilt University to North Carolina, but when he landed in Annapolis, he saw the light. "He was one of the rare Americans who, though ambitious and exceptionally hardworking, knew when he had a deal that suited him and had no urge for greener pastures, which, in his shrewd estimate might in fact not be greener," wrote David Halberstam in The Education of a Coach.
Steve Belichick grew up in Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio. He was the youngest of five children born to Ivan (known as John) and Mary Barkovic Bilicic. The Croatian name was Anglicized, not at Ellis Island as so many others were, but by a first-grade teacher in Monessen, Pa., where all the Belichick children were born.
When Steve was 5, the family moved to Struthers, Ohio, near Youngstown. When he came of age, he was immersed in a football culture. Football would do for him and his brother John what could not be done for his elder siblings. Football would get him to college - in his case, Case Western Reserve University.