CHANDLER, Ariz. – Bill Belichick looked like he would have rather been changing a dirty diaper.
Questions about the Patriots’ use of underinflated footballs in the AFC Championship Game had followed him here to the desert, and the coach didn’t seem particularly happy. Then again, he never seems particularly happy. Someone needs to put a carnation in his gun barrel of a face. Someone needs to tell him to lighten up, to enjoy himself, to give peace a chance. But that’s not him.
Neither is the buildup to the Super Bowl. Belichick within 30 miles of the NFL’s garish, weeklong red-carpet romp is all wrong. It’s as if he has stumbled into a convention of sea otters.
And now this. Having to deflect questions about Deflate-gate at a news conference Monday evening when he would have preferred to deflect questions about his team’s plans for the Seahawks … well, life isn’t easy.
The latest news was that the NFL is looking at a Patriots’ locker-room attendant as a “person of interest’’ in the controversy, according to Fox Sports. Of course. Blame the lowest rung of the ladder. I don’t happen to believe underinflating footballs is a big deal, but I also don’t believe an attendant would let out air on his or her own. Still, the idea that a locker-room attendant is being called “a person of interest’’ is just about the greatest thing ever. True crime!
And now here was Belichick on Monday with a look that said, “Can we talk about football, not footballs?’’ And words to match it.
“I appreciate the question, but I have covered everything that I can cover in the previous week, and my attention is focused on the Seattle Seahawks,’’ he said.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft had gone to the lectern before Belichick, saying that his team had done nothing wrong in regards to football air pressure. So there. If his head coach appreciated the support, it was not for public consumption.
Belichick would prefer to be a football recluse, but his job requires him to talk with the media on a regular basis. It’s not surprising that his best coaching buds are Bob Knight, Tony La Russa and Bill Parcells, men’s men who share a disdain for intrusive questions.
This is Belichick’s sixth Super Bowl as the Patriots head coach. He is one of the best coaches in NFL history. His coldness and sneakiness take a backseat to all the winning. Those attributes will be in his obituary but not in the first paragraph.
Do they help him win? I’d argue that they don’t, and that he’s wasting his time and hurting his reputation by lowering himself into the slime. The Patriots win because of his extraordinary eye for talent, for his ability to get players to perform at a very high level and for his tactical brilliance.
“He’s very consistent,’’ Pats quarterback Tom Brady gushed Monday.
No one is going to crack Belichick’s shell. That’s the essence of every one of his interviews and news conferences. The best you can hope for is a twinkle in his eye that says he knows what you’re trying to do, even if you’re only trying to find out what his favorite color is or when practice starts.
It adds to the perception that everything involved with the Patriots is open to suspicion. Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman insists it was a conflict of interest when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell attended a party at Kraft’s home the night before the AFC Championship Game. Goodell has a conflict of interest with every owner in the league. He works for all of them. He’s their very expensive employee.
But these are the Patriots, which means this is Belichick, who thinks of rules more as dares. The sports world knows that the league fined him $500,000 for his role in a spying scandal in 2007. Underinflating footballs, of which he denies knowledge, only feeds the fire that he’s underhanded. His look says: whatever.
Here’s one of Belichick’s lasting victories: His social awkwardness, whether real or feigned, has rippled throughout the league. More and more coaches have come to believe that it pays to say as little as possible in front of reporters.
But he can surprise you. On Monday, a TV reporter asked a fawning question about all the success, saying he wanted to “celebrate you as a head coach.’’
“If we have an opening our staff,’’ Belichick said, “you’re getting out in front there.’’
The room roared at the wonder of a joke infiltrating a municipal tax code commission meeting.