There are a few storylines that will be flogged mercilessly over Super Bowl week. It’s how we like to do things in our modern football community. Two weeks between games, a convention center stuffed with sports media, perpetual on-air debates looped into infinity. We’ve already heard the “Goodell-Brady trophy presentation,” Matt Ryan-as-elite-quarterback, and my personal favorite, Brady vs. Belichick.
Mind you, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are not competing against one another in any way except the inevitable debate topic: Did Bill make Tom, or vice versa? The correct answer is they needed each other to do this. This being 11 AFC championship games. Seven Super Bowls. Four Lombardi trophies. And (sing with me) a cartilage in Gronk’s knee.
Brady’s obviously one of the greatest of all-time, and to collect this many championships doesn’t happen without spectacular quarterbacking in important spots. His fourth-quarter assault on the Seahawks defense in Super Bowl 49, his second-half against the Panthers in Super Bowl 38. These are moments where a Hall of Famer pushes his team into history.
But if you are asking who has done more for the other, who deserves the majority of credit for this unthinkable run of success, it’s inarguably Belichick. This is hard for many to grasp since Darth Hoodie is not the charming, handsome, gracious Ugg boot pitchman married to a super model. The Brady Clan strategically posts pictures of their adorable kids rollicking on horses and donning daddy’s jersey. Belichick falls asleep mouth-open like our grandfathers. We buy #12 jerseys, not sweatshirts with their sleeves cut off.
Even without Brady the Patriots would be a model of consistency. Belichick would win division titles, claim playoff victories, and be playing in championship games. His roster has turned over 99.9% from his first Super Bowl champion 15 years ago. He’s right back in the big game. Belichick had one of the league’s best defenses 30 years ago, when Brady was still in his plastic Riddell Niners helmet. Belichick could take any roster in the league and turn them into a winner. As ol’ Bum Phillips once said about Don Shula, “He can take his’n and beat your’n and take your’n and beat his’n.”
When Brady won his first title the Patriots were not an offensive team. They scored one offensive touchdown in the Super Bowl. The MVP should’ve been Ty Law, who’s 47-yard interception for a score stunned the Rams and set the tone for one of history’s greatest upsets. The Greatest Show on Turf was held to three points until there were only nine minutes left in the game. While a green Brady calmly dinked-and-dunked to the game-winning field goal, the story of that game was the Patriots incredible defensive performance.
This is similar to Belichick’s Super Bowl 25 gameplan in slowing down and defeating the explosive Bills. He held a team (with four offensive skill players now in Canton) that had scored almost 100 points in two playoff games to just 19. He slowed the two-time-defending World Champion Niners to just 13 points the previous week. In ’03 and ’04 when the Patriots won their next two championships, Brady’s legend swelled. But people seem to ignore New England arguably had the league’s best defense both years. In ’03, the Patriots were #1 in scoring defense, the next year they were #2.
While that era of the Pats defense was immensely talented (how would you like Rodney Harrison, Tedy Bruschi, Ted Johnson, Mike Vrabel, Richard Seymour, Law, Willie McGinest and Vince Wilfork on your roster?), Belichick’s defense is still one of the best more than a decade later. The Patriots this season are the best scoring defense and tops against the run. And they do not have that list of perennial Pro Bowlers. This year it’s a group of guys who are largely anonymous outside of New England.
Was it Brady who uncovered Malcolm Butler and took him from undrafted free agent to All-Pro? Did Brady keep losing coordinators on his staff and never miss a beat (while all those assistants flamed out away from Foxboro)? Has Brady traded away Seymour and Randy Moss (and kept on winning)? Was it Brady who let Adam Vinatieri, Law and Wes Welker sign elsewhere (and kept on winning)?
And the most damning of evidence: Matt Cassel went 11-5 when Brady went down in ’08. That season Cassel threw for over 300 yards a mere three times. Yet somehow Belichick coaxed eleven wins out of that season. This year without Brady? The Pats went 3-1, including a win on the road against a preseason Super Bowl favorite, and a blowout victory over a division winner with his third-string quarterback, Jacoby Brissett, who at times looked like he was throwing a milk carton into the wind.
The narrative of Brady throwing to nobodies every year is also a misnomer. In the last decade he’s had two future Hall of Famers in his huddle, two of the greatest of all-time (Moss and Rob Gronkowski). Joe Montana is often docked for teaming with Jerry Rice, but he won half his championships before Rice was drafted. Outside of Montana, San Francisco had just one Pro Bowler each of those years at the skill positions (Dwight Clark ’81, Wendell Tyler ’84). Undoubtedly, Brady helps make Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, David Patten, and David Givens successful. But all great quarterbacks do that. Montana did it with Freddie Solomon, Troy Aikman with Alvin Harper, John Elway with Ed McCaffrey, Aaron Rodgers with James Jones.
As I’ve stated before, give Belichick any roster in the NFL (yes, even the Browns and Niners) and he’ll get them to the playoffs within 2-3 years. He can turn over any locker room, coach up any player, scheme circles around the rest of his peers. This will be on full display when Brady finally retires, and the Patriots are still going 12-4 and to the AFC title game. The difference will be once they get there, they’ll miss Brady’s talent and poise to put them over the top. This is why the Pats have needed both Bill and Tom to achieve this gluttony of greatness.
But if we are decoding who’s more valuable, do an easy exercise. Take the Super Bowl matchup, or last week’s AFC Championship Game, and switch the coaches. If Belichick was on the sidelines of the Steelers or the Falcons, how much different would those games be? How much more confidence would you have in those teams? Now do the same, but switch the quarterbacks. It’s far less dramatic. Bill always wins in the hypothetical world, and also the real one.
D.A. hosts 6-10 p.m. ET on the CBS Sports Radio Network. He has hosted The D.A. Show (aka “The Mothership”) in Boston, Miami, Kansas City and Ft. Myers, FL. You can often catch him on the NFL Network’s series “Top 10.” D.A. graduated from Syracuse University in ’01, and began looking for ways to make a sports radio show into a quirky 1970’s sci-fi television series. Follow D.A. on Twitter and check out the show’s Facebook page. D.A. lives in NYC, and is a native of Warwick, NY.