Full speed ahead for Belichick, just a chip off the Navy block

January 21, 2007|By RICK MAESE

If you start on the visiting team's sideline at tonight's AFC championship game, and trace the roots far enough - from the stadium in Foxborough, Mass., past his house in Nantucket, through old jobs in Cleveland and New York - you'll eventually end up at a handsome two-bedroom house in a quiet, secluded corner of Annapolis.

For a half century, this was a multilingual home. The lady of the house spoke four languages, even taught Spanish at Hiram College in Ohio a lifetime ago. And the two men spoke a language all their own, a hybrid of X's and O's and coachspeak that usually only the two Belichick men understood completely.

"Bill was only 9 or 10 years old and he'd be breaking down film," Jeannette Belichick, 85, said last week. "Steve would go over it and tell him this could've been better or that could've been better. But usually there was very little room for criticism. He understood football at a very young age, even his father was surprised."

A half century ago, the Patriots' Bill Belichick, who might be just two weeks away from a fourth Super Bowl title as a head coach, was just a pudgy little kid attached to his father's hip and soaking up everything Annapolis and the Naval Academy had to offer - about life and about football.

"He was raised in a world of a football and world of men who loved what they did and really enjoyed a sense of camaraderie," said author David Halberstam, who penned the Belichick biography The Education of a Coach in 2005. "I think he really loved the fact that his father was so happy and had these wonderful friends. I think his father came from a world that he liked and wanted to be a part of."

Steve Belichick was perhaps the best football mind that no one knew. Raised by American immigrants during the Depression, Steve played a season with the Detroit Lions and started in coaching immediately. He eventually found his way to Annapolis, where he was a scout and assistant coach for Navy from 1956 until his retirement in 1989.

Bill Belichick was only 3 when his family moved to Annapolis. The values and discipline ingrained in academy culture is all Belichick knew growing up.

"They were respectful, courteous, very team-oriented," Belichick told The Boston Globe last year. "There was no swearing at the coach, no dancing in the end zone. There was no pouting because someone didn't throw you the ball. That didn't exist. Not in my world."

Father and son

A young Belichick would tag along with his father to Navy football practice and later make occasional road trips to help scout opponents. Though Belichick fondly recalls tossing a ball around with Roger Staubach, his real football education came from the likes of Lee Corso, Navy's offensive coordinator, and Wayne Hardin, the former head coach, who took time to explain the Midshipmen's complicated attack.

But more than any other teacher, it was Steve Belichick who'd watch his eager son grow into his star pupil. Life was football and family and the two usually blurred together. Belichick learned to subscribe to the no-nonsense, toe-the-line manner his father preached.

At Steve Belichick's funeral in November 2005, former Mids captain Tom Lynch - who later served as school superintendent - told the gathered crowd of a day when players were glued to TV reports of the Cuban missile crisis. For Navy men, it looked like "World War III," Lynch said, as Navy ships appeared headed for a showdown with the Soviets.

Somewhere in the background was Steve Belichick, fuming and about to have a crisis of his own. "Smoke was coming out of his ears," Lynch said that day. "And he said, `Don't these people know we have Pitt this weekend?' "

Bill Belichick attended high school at a fragile time in the city's history, just as the black high school was integrated with the white school.

"The schools were only a few blocks apart, but they fit the neighborhoods," Belichick once told The Globe. "When integration began, it was rough. ... There would be three fire alarms a day, cherry bombs going off in the toilets. Things would calm down for a while, and then some incident would occur to stir people up."

Before his junior year, Belichick moved from Bates High to Annapolis High and played football for Al Laramore. Big Al was the kind of coach players would run through a wall for - especially if he ordered them to.

Still on the chubby side, Belichick lined up at center in a simple offense that was faithful to the 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust era. The plays were much simpler than what Belichick saw at Navy practices. Still, he was much better at envisioning the plays than executing them.

"Bill was not a wonderful athlete," said his mother, Jeannette. "He was a great help to the coach, telling the others what to do. But he was slow, like his mother. ... He knew where he was supposed to be, but it was hard for him to get there."

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