Not too long ago, I hated Bill Belichick. With a passion.
Starting when Tom Brady burst onto the NFL scene in 2001, I was indifferent towards Belichick. Yes, the Patriots were setting the world on fire winning three Super Bowls in four years and being anointed the next dynasty following the Packers of the '60s, the Steelers of the '70s, the 49ers of the '80s, and the Cowboys of the '90s.
While I watched all three Super Bowls that they won, I just had more of a "good for them" type attitude towards them while shrugging my shoulders.
Then "Spygate" happened at the beginning of the 2007 season, in which the Patriots completed a perfect regular season only to fall just short in Super Bowl XLII against the underdog New York Giants.
Every time Belichick's image would appear on TV during the course of that season, I would always yell out "CHEATER!" at the television and hope for Brady to get absolutely buried into the ground. When the Giants won that Super Bowl, I danced around like I was part of the team.
I was so happy to see "The Evil Emperor," as I had begun to call Belichick, fall just short of a perfect season.
Little did I know how short that hatred would last.
Flash forward to week one of the 2008 season. Brady goes down with a knee injury and is out for the entire campaign. Like most people, I figured the Patriots would struggle without their field general. And like those same people, I was wrong.
Despite having to start a quarterback that had not started a game since high school, Belichick arguably turned in his finest coaching performance to date, and I now respect the hell out of him because of it.
I used to think Belichick's 'team first' approach was just a ruse and that the team was putting all its stock in Brady being under center. Once again, I was wrong. If it had been any other season, the Patriots likely would have made the playoffs in 2008, despite losing a quarterback who threw 50 touchdown passes the season prior.
Brady went down, and instead of feeling sorry for himself and the rest of the team, Belichick went forward. Brady was OK with that, knowing he is not above the rest of the team, a lesson a certain former Packers quarterback needs to learn.
Belichick could have gone after a veteran to start the remainder of the season, instead of the untested Cassel. Yet Belichick showed a tremendous trust in his team, knowing that if everyone on the team just "did their job" they would be fine. It worked.
The other thing that used to drive me nuts about Belichick was how secretive he was regarding injuries, something he has apparently passed down to former protege Josh McDaniels.
I thought he was arrogant and sarcastic in his press conferences, thinking he was "holier than thou" and that he had a contempt for anyone in the media. I also began to wonder if he even had a soul.
That all changed this preseason. Now that I have a much more form grasp on the NFL's policies regarding injury reports, I think what Belichick is doing is a stroke of genius. It's a master strategy that has gotten him three Super Bowl rings and will likely net him a couple more.
As far as his personality, I still thought he was a bit arrogant and dull as far back as only a couple weeks ago.
Then linebacker Tedi Bruschi retired.
Bruschi had always been a favorite of mine. His heart and passion were unmatched in the NFL, and his comeback from his stroke to return to form is one of the most inspirational stories in NFL history. Yet, Bruschi created one more unbelievable moment on the day he retired: he made Coach Belichick tear up.
I couldn't believe what I was watching. Here was this apparent "souless" man practically weeping about losing one of his favorite players. Bill Belichick actually cared a lot of his players, especially the ones who did whatever it took for the good of the team like Bruschi. Belichick's stock soared with me after that press conference.
So, NFL fans, lay off Belichick a little bit. Yes, "Spygate" left a bitter taste in many a fan's mouths, mine included. Since then, Belichick learned his lesson from that and has shown why he is the best coach in the NFL today. What I am asking fans is put aside their negative connotations of Belichick and just sit back and enjoy watching him.
After all, it is fun to watch the "(No longer) Evil Emperor" at work.