In 1970 Ed Sabol convinced Kansas City Chiefs coach Hank Stram to wear a microphone during Super Bowl IV, and the result was an NFL Films documentary that gave fans an unprecedented look inside the mind of a coach. It took four decades, but NFL Films may have finally topped itself.
Bill Belichick: A Football Life, an NFL Films documentary that premieres on NFL Network at 9 p.m. Eastern Thursday, is structurally different from the Super Bowl IV video but similar in the level of insight it provides: Unless you’ve been on an NFL coaching staff, you haven’t seen an NFL coach like this before. During the 2009 season Belichick gave NFL Films access to everything — the locker room, the sideline, team meetings, discussions with Patriots owner Robert Kraft, quiet moments with Belichick’s son, everything — and the resulting documentary is quite extraordinary.
Among the most interesting moments are the ones when Belichick talks to or talks about opposing players. At one point during a Patriots-Ravens game, Baltimore receiver Derrick Mason approaches the New England sideline and says something to Belichick, to which Belichick replies, “Why don’t we talk after the game, alright? Just shut the f–k up.” But with footage from game-planning sessions, viewers can see how much Belichick respects certain opposing players, notably Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis and Ravens safety Ed Reed.
When Belichick gets angry on the sideline, it’s usually because something he addressed in those game-planning sessions doesn’t get executed properly on Sunday. Footage of Belichick telling his staff in a meeting that the defense has to be ready for passes to the Jets’ Jerricho Cotchery and Dustin Keller in the seam are interspersed with the Jets successfully passing to Cotchery and Keller in the seam.
“That’s two down the seam,” Belichick barks after the Jets’ big plays. “That’s what we were talking about all week.”
But Belichick is also surprisingly funny on the sidelines, ribbing Wes Welker about Julian Edelman becoming the Wally Pipp to Edelman’s Lou Gehrig (a reference Welker didn’t get), and telling officials who were wearing orange-striped AFL throwback uniforms, “You should have seen the s–t they tried to put me in.”
In a moment from 2009 that feels particularly compelling in light of the Patriots’ surprising decision in 2010 to trade Randy Moss, Belichick can be heard complaining to his coaching staff that the team’s wide receivers don’t have a strong enough work ethic. Belichick said he wished his receivers would have taken it upon themselves to stay after practice to do extra work with Tom Brady.
“Wednesday practice is over and where do the receivers go? Straight in,” Belichick said. “‘We’ve got it all down. We don’t need extra work.’ That sums it up for me.”
Not everything about Belichick is hard-nosed, however. Belichick is shown fighting back tears when he reminisces about his years as an assistant with the Giants, saying, “It’s hard not to get choked up about it.”
It’s hard not to love access like that. NFL Films delivered in a big way with Bill Belichick: A Football Life.