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What “Deflate-Gate” means for Belichick’s legacy.

By Bryan Pol

With the New England Patriots’ upcoming appearance in Super Bowl XXXVI, Bill Belichick joins Don Shula as the only NFL head coach to lead his team to the title game six separate times.  Unlike Shula, who took the Baltimore Colts and the Miami Dolphins to the Super Bowl, Belichick did so with only one team.  Should his Pats defeat the Seahawks on February 1, Belichick will join Chuck Noll as the only coaches in NFL history to win four Super Bowls.  A win on February 1 will do just as much for his legacy as the strife from “Deflate-Gate” is now calling that same legacy into question.

As reported by ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, eleven of the twelve balls used by the Patriots against the Colts in Sunday’s 45-7 win and later weighed by NFL personnel came in under the two pounds per square inch required by the league.  As the NFL continues to investigate the matter and decide upon what punishment to apportion to the Patriots, their coaching staff, and any and all parties responsible for perpetuating the use of deflated game balls, Bill Belichick’s legacy very much hangs in the balance.  And rightfully so.

Belichick is 21-9 all-time in the playoffs, good for a .700 winning percentage; and at 20-8 in the playoffs with the Patriots, Belichick has won with New England in the postseason at a .714 clip.  For coaches who have managed to appear, at minimum, in 14 games in the postseason in the Super Bowl era, only Bill Walsh (10-4 and a .714 winning percentage with San Francisco) has equaled Belichick in his success (based on winning percentage) with one team, while Joe Gibbs (17-7 and a .708 winning percentage with the Redskins) is the only coach to best Belichick all-time.  From Shula to Gibbs, each aforementioned skipper is in the National Football League’s Hall of Fame.  Even without a Super Bowl win against the Seahawks, Belichick is fated to join them all in Canton, but such a decision comes amid great controversy, due largely to Belichick’s noted connections to past NFL rules violations.

As noted in a previous Elite Sports NY story, Belichick’s tenure with the Patriots has been mired with scandal. From Spygate to “Deflate-Gate,” and beyond, Bill Belichick has earned the moniker of “Belicheat,” a nickname propagated by the legendary Don Shula himself. Unquestionably, Belichick has lost reputable standing amongst the very coaches he is contending against for the title of “greatest of all-time.”  Furthermore, when talk of Belichick’s legacy sprouts up amongst legends, analysts, and Monday morning quarterbacks alike, it begins and ends with talk of disputation and debate befitting of O. J. Simpson and Lawrence Taylor’s places in the history of this great game.  Generations removed from their heydays, today’s fans no longer see Simpson on the short list of the game’s greatest rushers; they see O. J. Simpson, the murderer, a man guilty of unspeakable atrocity in the court of public opinion.  Similarly, none too many deem the original L. T. a revelation in the way defense is played in the NFL of today; rather, they see Taylor, the cocaine addict and statutory rapist.

O. J. and L. T.’s falls from grace, magnified by their respective hubris, are truly the substance of Shakespearean tragedy.  And the longer Belichick remains in the game, the more precipitous his personal fall from grace becomes, for if illegally filming opposing coaches’ signals and deflating balls is what he has most recently been implicated for, what else has the Machiavellian figure in the tattered, sleeveless hoodie gotten away with?  Punishment stemming from “Deflate-Gate” in any form, be it another fine, more relinquished draft picks, or, worse yet, a lengthy suspension akin to the one Sean Payton received in 2012 post-Bountygate, will mar Belichick’s NFL coaching career and forever leave his name aligned with unshakable question and debate.

Clearly, cheating by “bending” or breaking the rules to gain an advantage is not on the level of homicide, drug abuse, or immoral sexual hijinks, but in the eyes of droves of critical fans and a higher power, “sin is sin.”  And it is that degree of cheating, even suspicion of cheating, that has barred Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa, legends who defined their generation, from entering the halls of Cooperstown in a game they dominated much the way Belichick has dominated the NFL since joining New England as head coach in 2000.  Moreover, despite the many records and accolades to his name, Belichick maintains one distinction no other coach in league history shares:  his involvement in Spygate amounted to a $500,000 fine, a figure equaled only by the New Orleans Saints for their connection to Bountygate in the 2009, 2010, and 2011 NFL seasons.  And for that reason, whether or not Belichick hoists another Lombardi Trophy on February 1, the unscrupulous New England coach can never be likened to the man who shares the award’s namesake.

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