A decade full of close calls and falling just short preceded New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick achieving his fourth championship ring Sunday. The Patriots took down the Seattle Seahawks 28-24, leaving the perpetually bland Belichick in tears after the game.
SportsCenter captured an image of the touching moment:
This just goes to show the significance of New England's long-awaited return to the top of the NFL. No team has won more consistently or been positioned as often to win it all than the Patriots since Belichick arrived in 2000.
ESPN Stats & Info noted the history Belichick made—and it's incredible to think he could have well more than four Super Bowl victories:
The previous two times the Pats were one win away from the Lombardi Trophy, the New York Giants were there to deny them. Two amazing late-game passes from Eli Manning contributed. David Tyree pinned one of them against his helmet, setting up New York's winning score and ruining New England's undefeated season in Super Bowl XLII.
Mario Manningham then tightroped the sideline to make an incredible catch off a deep ball, sparking the Giants to drive for the winning Super Bowl XLVI touchdown.
What was already a phenomenal matchup with Seattle in Super Bowl XLIX was compounded by the fact that New England returned to Glendale. It was the site of the team's first loss in the title game under Belichick—the infamous 18-1 campaign.
Heartbreak loomed again when Jermaine Kearse made a seemingly impossible catch to set up the Seahawks deep in New England territory with seconds left on the clock. Then rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler jumped a slant pattern and sealed the deal with a shocking interception.
Not only had the Patriots not won another championship since their Spygate scandal surfaced, but they also had to deal with the Deflategate controversy. Even the lopsided 45-7 result in the AFC Championship Game triumph over Indianapolis didn't extinguish doubts about New England bending the rules.
Even after knocking off the reigning Super Bowl champions, questions persisted Monday, via NFL Network's Albert Breer:
With Spygate already on his record, Belichick did his best to defend himself in front of the media. However, that's never really been his forte, as any casual fan knows. Belichick lets the results on the field do the talking.
The emotional reaction from Belichick indicates that maybe the negative noise surrounding his players did bother him a bit. It also did more justice to express the magnitude of his latest on-field exploits than any words in front of the press could.
There was incalculable pressure to deliver another ring after missing two prior opportunities. Given that Tom Brady turns 38 before Week 1 of 2015, it's hard to say when New England's glory days will begin to fade.
Under all that scrutiny, Belichick didn't wilt. Once the game had been decided and the weight was lifted, though, it showed in his celebration.
The famous declaration Belichick made earlier this season was, "We're on to Cincinnati." He echoed that after the AFC title game blowout, saying, "We're on to Seattle." His detail-oriented approach and focus on the immediate task at hand are what has helped make Belichick such a legendary coach.
Pete Damilatis explained the tactics Belichick generally deploys on both sides of the ball, ones that helped drive New England to victory over the Seahawks:
After three Super Bowls came relatively fast, the wait for this one was long. And worth it. This is one that Belichick should cherish.
ESPN's Kevin Negandhi alluded to another factor that makes Belichick's accomplishments even more special:
Belichick appeared to truly savor the moment after the game in light of the tears he shed. It just probably won't last, because that ability to move on and focus on what's next is what allows the Patriots to sustain their tradition of excellence on an annual basis.
New England's outlook for the foreseeable future is rather promising. AFC East adversaries in Buffalo and the New York Jets are undergoing coaching changes, and Miami's Joe Philbin is in a playoffs-or-bust year.
Meanwhile, Foxborough will welcome back Belichick for a 16th straight season. The coach is at the core of the Patriots' rare modern NFL convergence of stability, continuity and relentlessly replicated excellence.
Discipline in the Patriot Way and razor-sharp focus and genius make Belichick the best at doing his job. It was nice to see the living legend let his guard down following a career-defining, legacy-changing triumph.