INDIANAPOLIS -- Bill Belichick's extreme state of anal retentiveness was on full display one day this week when he had the idea to simulate the halftime delay due to the extremely long Super Bowl halftime show.
In the history of coaching uber-obsession, there might have never been anything like what Belichick did. This week Belichick stopped practice for 31 minutes, which is the approximate length of time Madonna will shake the stage in a cone bra. Patriots players describe an incredible scene where practice was stopped and Belichick gave a simulated halftime speech. One player said privately he just shook his head and thought: typical Belichick. It was an incredible example of a coach notorious for not overlooking even the most minor of details -- going 10 steps further.
"We were trying to simulate the best we can," Belichick said Thursday. "It's not perfect but it's the best we could do. Practice, take a break, come back out and restart."
The examples don't stop there. Before New England's playoff game against Denver, on Friday night during a team meeting, Patriots players say Belichick gave one of the more amazing speeches they've ever heard. Belichick went to every player and explained why that player was critical to the team's success. Belichick was making the point that every player had contributed something significant.
"It was a powerful speech," defensive end Mark Anderson said. "Everybody really took it to heart and you could tell by how we played that [day]."
The Patriots atomized the Broncos 45-10.
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Belichick's defensive prowess was the main reason the Giants upset the Buffalo Bills in the Super Bowl. Same for the Patriots upsetting the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI. He has morphed from a defensive mind into an offensive one. He has done everything, been everything, seen everything.
"I don't think there's ever been a time that I've shown up at the stadium and he's not there," quarterback Tom Brady said.
"He's going to let you know if you're ready and let you know if you're not ready," guard Logan Mankins said. "In those morning meetings, when he's showing you a bunch of mistakes, you know you're not ready."
Belichick has assimilated a legion of new players and talent into the Patriots' system this season and utilized two tight ends as his main offensive weapons. In many ways, this might be Belichick's best coaching job ever and that's saying something.
Yet there remains this nagging little thing that has attached itself to the rudder of Belichick's legacy, acting like a massive, unwanted weight. It's still talked about in the halls and corridors of the NFL offices. Still whispered by Rams players as the main source of the Patriots' upset in Super Bowl XXXVI. There remain memories of destroyed tapes and cameras and clandestine wrapped inside intrigue surrounded by subterfuge. Nixon-like. Still presented as some sort of Belichick kryptonite. It's one word...
This is the greatest criticism of perhaps the best coach in NFL history: He hasn't won a Super Bowl since Spygate was uncovered in 2007, losing to the Giants in the Super Bowl in 2008 and failing to earn a playoff win from 2009 until this season.
To Belichick's critics, the lack of a Super Bowl title since Spygate is proof the Patriots' dynasty benefitted from the illegal taping. Many inside the NFL -- though not all -- believe this is a ridiculous notion.
"No coach scares you more than Belichick," said one AFC head coach, "and he scares you because he's so prepared not because he's taping things."
Nonetheless, Spygate has attached itself to Belichick's legacy and in a sport -- actually in a moment in human history -- where conspiracy theories run unchecked and propagate like rabbits, Spygate is perfect fodder.
Belichick won't discuss Spygate. When asked at a press conference if it tarnished his legacy, Belichick said, "Yeah, we've moved on from that."
Belichick was fined $500,000 by the NFL for videotaping the signals of Jets coaches in Week 1 of the 2007 season. The Patriots were fined $250,000 and docked a first-round draft choice.
The Anti-Belichickian Nation, population one trillion it sometimes seems, reasons this: Since Belichick wouldn't dare again risk videotaping, he hasn't done it since being caught, and that coincides with his lack of Super Bowl victories.
Truth is irrelevant. Perception is what matters to some.
If he wins, the Spygate believers who think he only won championships because he cheated may finally acknowledge something different (though some will likely always believe he has a camera stashed on a sideline somewhere). If he loses, the anti-Belichick forces will say, "See, he still hasn't won since his cameras were confiscated."
It's not unfair to say the person with the most to lose or gain from this Super Bowl isn't named Coughlin or Brady or Eli. It's Belichick.
Because of his brilliance. Because of Spygate.