Of course I watched the Super Bowl. I’m an admirer of Bill Belichick. I enjoy watching him coach and assume he loved watching me guide the 49ers for ten seasons. Honestly, I don’t feel any competitive fire when I think about him. Oh, there is some tension, I suppose. I’m tired of all these young analysts and fans calling him the greatest football coach of all time. What about Vince Lombardi and several others? What about me?
I know Bill Belichick’s suffering but I better call and clarify matters.
“Hello, Bill. This is Bill Walsh.”
“Pretty busy, Bill.”
“I just wanted to offer my condolences. I know it must be extremely difficult to blow three Super Bowls.”
“I beg your pardon,” says Belichick. “You know I’ve won five. Last I counted, you had three.”
“If I’d stayed one more season, in 1989, I would’ve had another ring, guaranteed. My team – and it was still mine – destroyed the league that year. And if I’d continued several more seasons, I’d probably have six Super Bowl rings or so.”
“And why didn’t you continue, Coach Walsh?”
“I was thoroughly exhausted.”
“That’s right. You were physically spent, and, more pertinently, you were an emotional basket case. I often feared you were going to faint or cry or both.”
“I must concede you’re rather more sturdy than I.”
“Damn right. You struggled to last a decade. I’ve been an NFL head coach for twenty-three seasons, eighteen straight for the unequalled New England Patriots. You’re too delicate and high strung to have coached nearly that long. I grant that Montana, unlike you, was Joe Cool, but he wasn’t nearly as durable as Tom Brady.”
“You two are like Eastern European oxen, forever pulling the plow over hard fields in all weather. I commend you, but I can’t fathom teams coached by Bill Walsh three times squandering leads late in the fourth quarters of Super Bowls. The only time we trailed late, against Cincinnati after the 1988 season, we staged a miracle comeback.”
“A one-touchdown comeback. Weren’t you watching last year when we trailed Atlanta twenty-eight to three in the second half? Your comeback, by comparison, was merely excellent but not a Belichickian miracle.”
“I’d call it a Brady miracle. Besides, I would’ve never trailed by so much in a Super Bowl. My players performed liked precision commandos in the biggest games.”
“Like when the New York Giants, whom I coordinated defensively, annihilated you forty-nine to three in the 1986 playoffs?”
To an empty room I present an upturned palm. “A difficult day, I confess. But we never went more than three seasons without a title. You had a dry decade.”
“During which we made the playoffs every year but one and lost those two great games to the Giants that you gloat over. Also keep in mind, I’ve won seventy-five percent of my games spanning this century with the Patriots. You only won sixty-one percent with the 49ers.”
I wish I could cut him with my grimace as I say, “That figure, as you surely know, is skewed by the two and fourteen record my first year with the 49ers. You took over a team that Pete Carroll had coached to an eight and eight record, and you promptly tanked to five and eleven. That gave you five losing seasons in your first six, counting your failures in Cleveland.”
“I’m glad I’m not a Stanford alum, Coach Walsh, or I’d still be wincing over those two seven-loss seasons that forced you out of coaching in 1994.”
“I wasn’t forced out. I quit.”
“You quit because some of your players revolted.”
“I quit because in those days Stanford couldn’t get the players I needed to excel.”
“David Shaw now gets those players every year,” says Belichick.
“I’m confident no team coached by David would ever surrender more than five hundred yards in a Super Bowl as yours did to Philadelphia the other day.”
“Then maybe David Shaw should be a head coach in the NFL.”
“He’d be a good one,” I say, “but probably not as good as you or me.”
“I guess it’s you, me, and Lombardi, with me first since I’m blessed with superior stamina,” says Bill Belichick.