|"Get off my lawn!" - Patriots Coach Bill Belichick's happiest pose|
If you're wondering why some folks are a bit nauseous and cranky as they motor around typically sunny, happy San Diego this week, I've got the answer: New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick is in town. Belichick brought his Patriots team here a week early to prepare for the much-anticipated Sunday Night Football match-up against the San Diego Chargers.
And he's about as welcome here as the Grinch was in Whoville.
If only the Patriots' practices this week, which were reportedly moved from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) to the University of San Diego (USD), were open to the public. It'd be worth every Charger fan's while to stand out in this uncommon rain storm and heckle the heck out of Belichick. Why? Because he's a jerk. He's Darth Vader, without the charm.
I don't like the guy. Sue me. Yes, he has three Super Bowl rings with the Patriots. He knows how to coach football teams. So what! He's mean. He's angry. He cheats. He pushes photographers. He accosts referees. He treats professional journalists like they're children. He's one of the more unpleasant and unsavory people in professional sports.
And, much worse, he's beaten the Chargers in two playoff games that San Diego could and should have won. Now are you beginning to get my drift? I mean, how many reasons does one guy need to dislike another guy?
Belichick, who makes Bobby Knight look like Jimmy Fallon, is a perpetually surly man who's evidently brought his gloomy Boston weather with him this week. It's supposed to rain for much of the week in typically sunny San Diego, America's Finest City. But I'm hoping the clouds symbolically part on Sunday afternoon and the Chargers, who'll be wearing their legendary powder blue uniforms, see the light and send Bill and Co. home unhappy.
An unapologetic Charger fan, I desperately want San Diego to win this football game. More than any football game I can remember. The Patriots are a damn good team. Tom Brady is still a great quarterback. Rob Gronkowski is a beast. Darrelle Revis is the best cornerback in the NFL. And Belichick will obviously have some tricks up his sleeve.
But this Charger roster is undaunted. This team, largely because of its never-say-die quarterback Philip Rivers, who has miraculously led his squad to eight wins while playing with five different centers this season, is loaded with confidence after a thrilling comeback road win against the Baltimore Ravens.
The Chargers have a rare opportunity here to erase some painful memories for Charger fans. A win would be sweet revenge for those two Charger playoff losses. Only a couple players remain from the team that played in the AFC Championship against the Patriots after the 2007 season (January 2008). But the fans remember it all too well.
That was probably the best Charger team of all time. And it was arguably better that year than the allegedly unbeatable Patriots. But San Diego's three best offensive players - LaDainian Tomlinson, Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates -- were each injured that day. Rivers bravely tried to play on one one leg. Literally. But LT couldn't go, and Gates was hobbled. The Bolts lost. It's still heartbreaking to think what might have been that season.
Even more than that AFC Championship, though, it is the Divisional Playoff between the Chargers and the Patriots two years before that -- after the 2006 season (January 2007) -- that sticks in so many Bolt believers' craw. Yes, another Patriots game San Diego coulda-shoulda-woulda won, until Charger safety Marlon McCree disastrously fumbled after making what would have probably been the game-winning interception. Ugh. Somehow, Belichick is to blame for that fumble, right?
But here's where it got ugly. Here is where it went from football to personal. San Diego players were ready to accept that crushing home loss with class and shake hands. But what transpired on the field after the clock ticked to zero demonstrated just how classless a Belichick-coached team can be.
If you're a Charger fan I don’t have to remind you what happened. For the rest of you, a recap: After the Patriots narrowly won, several New England players strutted to midfield and started dancing and stomping on the Charger logo. They had every right to be excited over the victory over a very good Charger team, but they were rubbing it in the Charger players and coaches' faces by mocking the manic celebration dance of then-Charger linebacker Shawne Merriman.
It was weak. It was bush. It was disrespectful. And some Charger players had seen enough.
When he saw Patriots cornerback Ellis Hobbs and other Patriot players acting like total buffoons, Tomlinson, the Chargers' star running back who ran for 123 yards and two touchdowns in the game, went ballistic. He refused to shake hands with the opponent, and called out the team and its coach.
"They showed no class," Tomlinson said. "Maybe it comes from the head coach."
LT nailed it. He apologized later because he's a class guy. But that post-game dance did reflect the coach. It always starts at the top. Belichick is a sore loser and a sore winner. He may be nice to his wife. He may be nice to his dog, if one will have him. But I just can't imagine him being too nice. To anyone. Just doesn't seem to be in his DNA. Even when he's happy, he seems pissed.
And he's an admitted cheater. In September 2007, less than a year after his players’ moronic incident in San Diego, Belichick was fined $500,000 and the Patriots were ordered to pay $250,000 for videotaping an opponent's defensive signals.
Patriots video assistant Matt Estrella reportedly got caught videotaping the New York Jets during New England's 38-14 win at Giants Stadium. Belichick's Patriots had reportedly gotten caught the previous November doing the same thing during their 35-0 victory in Green Bay.
The NFL never got to the bottom of that so-called Spygate scandal. The league never investigated it thoroughly. Belichick's team reportedly had more tapes that mysteriously disappeared. Toothless NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who should have suspended Belichick for a year or longer, didn't suspend him at all. But he said at the time, "This episode represents a calculated and deliberate attempt to avoid long-standing rules designed to encourage fair play and promote honest competition on the playing field."
Former Patriots lineman Ross Tucker said Belichick also used players on injured reserve in practices, which goes against NFL rules. Tucker said Belichick would "do anything" to gain an advantage, including violating NFL rules.
Tucker wrote in Sports Illustrated, "I had heard the Patriots did this before I signed with them in 2005 and I saw it firsthand during my time there. I asked veteran receiver Troy Brown about it one time and he responded, 'Every team in the league does that.' I quickly let him know none of the three teams I played for previously had done so.
Tucker added, "Basically, the Patriots would put a player on IR, knowing it meant he couldn't play in a game or practice with the team for the remainder of the season. By skirting the rules and practicing him anyway, it allowed them to develop his skills during the year. A side benefit is that they were also able to give some of the older players less repetitions and, therefore, additional rest."
Belichick also pushed photographer Damian Strohmeyer following the 26-16 loss to the Denver Broncos in the 2013 AFC Championship. And in 2012 he angrily accosted a replacement official on the field after his team lost a close game to the Baltimore Ravens.
Even one of Belichick's best players said Belichick is not a great guy. When he played with the Jets in 2012, Revis told ESPN's Sportscenter that he thought Belichick was a jerk because of "some of the comments he says about the Jets."
According to the New York Post, After a 37-16 Patriots win over the Jets in 2011, Belichick said, "Thirty-seven points on the best defense in the league, suck my d***!"
Real classy, Bill. Said Revis at the time, "Maybe some people think he's a good, collected guy off the field, but then why say such things? It's degrading. Suck my what? Say it to my face. That's not great character."
Maybe Belichick just needs a hug. Regardless, because he's won Super Bowls, he is evidently beyond reproach. In the end, I guess winning really is all that matters. Being a decent human being isn't even a close second.
That's why Sunday's game is so huge. It represents an epic opportunity for the current Charger lineup to humble the insufferable coach and give long-suffering Charger fans like me something to really smile about.
Not many current Chargers even know about the bitter Pats-Bolts rivalry. But there's one guy who does. There's one guy who played in both of those playoff games against New England and is undoubtedly hungry as all get-out to lead his team to victory on Sunday.
You can probably guess who it is. Here's a clue: he is the team's undisputed leader, he wears #17, and, unlike Belichick, he never cusses and has lots of class.
Bolt up, Charger fans!