It was 2004, and the Patriots had just pounded the Colts in the postseason. Physically, thoroughly pounded them. Intercepted Peyton Manning four times. It was so pulverizing, it was almost a transformative moment in football. No, not almost. It was.
Bill Polian, then the general manager of the Colts, was furious over the physical style of play by New England's defensive backs in the game. So he did something about it. He became one of the executives pushing for what was widely seen then as an anti-Patriots rule: making the illegal-contact penalty a point of emphasis.
The following year in the playoffs, the Patriots again beat the Colts. The new rule didn't change a damn thing. Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi, in an interview after the game, let everyone know the rule change didn't go unnoticed by the team.
"You want to change the rules?" he said. "Change them. We still play. And we win. That's what we do."
The way the whole thing played out was the start. The start of what would become the NFL's Belichick Derangement Syndrome. BDS. The start of it becoming obvious to all how much the league hated and, even more so, feared Bill Belichick. The start of something that continues to this day.
It is easy to hate and fear Belichick.
Why hate him? Because he's not friendly. He's not a people dude. He's narrow in his vision. He sees his job as winning games, not having a beer with Bill Polian. Not giving the media masturbatory praise. I've always liked this about Belichick. I never cared that he wasn't vivacious or loquacious with the press. It's not his job to be chummy with the commissioner.
Yes, Belichick is easy to dislike, but that's not his concern. In this era of phony coaches and athletes, I like that.
The hate is also fueled by the fact many in football—and I mean, almost everyone—believe the Patriots skirt the rules. Make no mistake: The league office believes this as well. They think he cheats all the time. They would deny this publicly, but it's true. This is why, within the league, Deflategate gained so much steam, so fast.
Why fear him? Because he beats everyone. He outsmarts people. He outworks them. Fear is the core of BDS. I will never forget a head coach—who was a former big-time college player and had a successful NFL career as a player—telling me the only coach he ever feared was Belichick. When he went against Belichick, he studied extra long and hard. He watched more film. He worked his players harder that week. That's what Belichick does to coaches. To all coaches.
There are other examples of rule changes done to directly stop Belichick, but none greater than the one previously mentioned—and what just happened at the owners meetings. Making the trick play Belichick used against Baltimore this past postseason illegal is just plain gutless. (The Ravens' tweet announcing the rule change practically dripped with giddiness.)
Belichick outsmarted the Ravens with a legitimate play. Why get rid of it?
Because of BDS.
Next up for the NFL: The league will require Belichick to tell opponents what play he's calling.
I'm a Belichick fan. I believe he's the best coach the NFL has ever seen. This doesn't mean he's above criticism. He isn't. I also believe that there's something to Deflategate and that Belichick doesn't deserve the benefit of the doubt on that.
All of these things can be true. Belichick can be the best of all time. He can be a tad shady. A genius. A brilliant mind. And he can also have the system rigged against him by a petty, scared NFL.
If the Ravens had used the trick play against New England, instead of what happened, I'm convinced the rule would have stayed. The Ravens would have been afforded the Congressional Medal of Honor. But because Belichick used it, well, it's got to go.
What you heard, and hear, is the rule was changed because it would have caused too many issues and coaches would have abused it. There were, and still are, all kinds of excuses. None of them are true. Changing the rule goes against everything I've ever known about the sport. Head coaches are paid exorbitant amounts of (guaranteed) money to outsmart their counterparts.
The irony of that initial rule change, back in 2004, was that it didn't really hurt Belichick at all, because no one in history is better at adapting than he is. How could a rule making it easier to pass hurt Belichick, when he had the most accurate thrower ever? Tom Brady doesn't throw for 50 touchdowns without that rule change.
What the NFL did in that instance, and in this most recent one, was change the rule so coaches opposing Belichick can think less. Because Belichick outthinks them all. The rules were intended to create a coaching curve.
That's not the NFL I know, and it's all because of Belichick Derangement Syndrome.
And there's no cure in sight.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.