If you’re a New England fan and you are still reading this, kudos. I probably wouldn’t have clicked it, and would have rolled my eyes and kept on scrolling. That was before Super Bowl LII.
Hear me out.
The first time you hold a football in your hands is the beginning of your football life. There are several final outcomes that can occur after that. Maybe you don’t end up caring about football. Maybe you play a little in high school or college and just become a fan. Maybe you end up as a fan without playing. Maybe you make it to the NFL. But without a doubt, the absolute ceiling – the pinnacle if you will – of any football life is winning a Super Bowl. For one moment in time, you are a world champion. You are frozen in time as part of the best team on the planet.
That’s the goal.
Nobody opens a business in hopes of living a middle class life. Nobody orders a pizza and hopes it’s just ok. Nobody joins a band without the hope of becoming famous. Nobody picks up a football without dreaming of winning a Super Bowl.
Bill Belichick owns seven Super Bowl Rings – two as an assistant coach with the Giants and five as the head coach of the New England Patriots. He’s been to the top of the mountain several times and he’s done everything in his power to get there.
From what we gather, minutes before kickoff of Super Bowl LII, Bill Belichick decided that he would no longer do whatever it took to win a Super Bowl.
I am the biggest Patriots fan you’ll ever meet. It’s been that way for over 25 years. I’ll stab you in an argument about Tom Brady. My kids can only name one NFL team. They think Brady is some sort of God.
I’m also an eternal Belichick apologist. As a military guy, I love the OPSEC he employs and the precision with which the Patriots operate. I love how he handles press conferences. I love how he has all the answers. I love how he’ll push the boundaries with the rules in the name of winning, sometimes arguably breaking them, and then just presses on like a racehorse with blinders. The finish line for Belichick is always winning the Super Bowl – until it wasn’t.
Malcolm Butler is the best defensive player on the New England Patriots. He’s an elite cornerback. Other receivers around the league sing his praises. He’s a difference maker when he plays and he is a budding superstar in the league.
On Sunday night, before the kickoff of Super Bowl LII, Malcolm Butler was not in jail. Malcolm Butler had not been arrested. Nobody was hurt, injured or killed as a result of anything Malcolm Butler did. But because Bill Belichick decided to make a decision based on SOMETHING Butler did, Malcolm Butler was benched and never played a single defensive down in the Super Bowl.
You can read the tea leaves and figure it out. Broken curfew. Parties. A fight. Marijuana. None of that is official, but all of those rumors are out there. And not a single one of those rumors, even if true, merit Malcolm Butler being benched. Not one.
This is the Super Bowl. This is the culmination of your football life. This is the culmination of the football life of every player, coach, equipment guy, medical staff member, bus driver, pilot, kitchen worker, son, daughter, wife and fan of everyone who works for and cheers for the New England Patriots. This is EVERYTHING. And in one coaching move, one football decision, Bill Belichick decided to put EVERYTHING in jeopardy.
There were other ways to handle whatever it was that Butler did. Benching your best defensive player, regardless of whatever rule was broken, should not be on that list.
Forget the ridiculous play call that led to a dropped pass by Brady. Forget the bonehead attempt at a reverse on a kickoff return at the end of the game. The Patriots scored 33 points and Tom Brady broke his own Super Bowl passing yardage record, throwing for 505 yards. At the end of the day, the New England defense could not stop the Philadelphia offense. At the end of the day, the Patriots could not stop Nick Foles.
At the end of the day, the Patriots lost the game by one score.
There are two examples of leadership I think about when I try to comprehend what went down last Sunday night. One of those is a quote from Thomas Jefferson: “There is nothing more unequal than the equal treatment of unequal people.”
The other example comes from a friend of mine who has run some of the biggest and most well-known radio stations in America. He’s been over guys like Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh. He has always told me that you must cater to the talent you have as long as the behavior of that talent is not jeopardizing the success of the rest of your own organization.
They can be bigger than the organization, so long as they aren’t hurting the organization.
Those examples go against the Patriot Way. They go against the Belichick way. Everything we’ve come to know and admire Belichick for goes back to the idea that no individual is bigger than the team.
Minutes before the kickoff of Super Bowl LII, Bill Belichick made an individual decision that was bigger than the team.
This decision has been years in the making. Belichick’s success has created an ego so large, it eclipsed the organization’s end goal. What we are now looking at is a situation like we see at many college campuses, where the football coach is not only the most powerful man on campus, but in the cities and states he works in. He is perceived to be more powerful than even his bosses.
That never ends well.
As a fan, this hurts. I’m spoiled. Belichick has spoiled me. The Patriots have been to eight Supers Bowl during Belichick’s tenure. They’ve won five. They’ve lost more than most teams have been to. And as a fan, I’ve loved every minute of it. Even the Super Bowl losses, they hurt, but I was happy my team got there.
I know this dynasty cannot go on forever. I know the best days of this dynasty are behind all of us. It’s only a matter of time before the Patriots fall back to the back, Brady retires, new coordinators change the look of the team and Belichick leaves.
On Sunday night, Bill Belichick stopped spoiling us.
Instead, he punished Malcolm Butler – at the expense of the fans. All of the fans. Even the fan up in the private box who signs his paycheck.
I wonder how Robert Kraft feels about someone who puts themselves over the organization.