Two names made big news on Sunday—one receiving raves for finally living up to her potential, the other being ripped nationally for a move that was either bold or foolish, depending on your point of view.
Let’s start with Bill Belichick. His fourth-and-two gamble on his own 28 with a 34-28 lead in Indianapolis and a little more than two minutes to go was a mistake. You want to know why? Because it didn’t work. If Tom Brady throws the ball to Wes Welker—who on the replay looked to me to have some space at the 33 yard line or if Kevin Faulk is given forward progress to just outside the 30, which is where his feet were when he was hit, then Belichick made a gutsy, smart move by keeping the ball out of Peyton Manning’s hands in the last two minutes.
That didn’t happen though and the Colts easily drove 29 yards to win the game 35-34. There are some criticizing Belichick for the simple reason that the play didn’t work. I think that’s fair. There are some defending him on the grounds that he and his former mentor Bill Parcells have historically gone for fourth downs that other coaches wouldn’t think about going for. Also fair. There are certainly some people out there who are going to defend Belichick because he’s Belichick and has won three Super Bowls and is probably a couple plays from winning five.
There are also a LOT of people out there reveling in what happened because they don’t like Belichick, don’t like his persona, his secretive nature or, in some cases, can’t stand his success.
As luck would have it—good or bad I’m not sure—I had several meeting in New York yesterday morning and got in the car shortly after 2 o’clock to head home to Washington. As is my habit when in that area, I flipped on WFAN and there was Mike Francesa just about frothing at the mouth. I’ve said this about Francesa before, I will say it again: He hosts a good radio show—though he misses his partner Chris Russo because Russo gave the show much needed levity—and he’s smart. He’s also amazingly arrogant (I’ve never quite figured out who died and made him Edward R. Murrow) an absolute no-it-all who is NEVER wrong and won’t even admit to most of his biases. Even when he conceded that, yes, he’s a lifelong Yankee fan he says it doesn’t color his analysis of baseball at all. Of course it does—biases color all of us who try to analyze anything.
Francesa can’t stand Belichick. For one thing, his best pal in life (at least according to him) is Parcells. Everyone knows Parcells and Belichick had an ugly split after years together when Belichick left the Jets to take over the Patriots. There’s no doubt that Francesa has taken Belichick’s success a lot harder than Parcells has. He can’t stand it. Monday he asked one caller who had the temerity to defend Belichick, “how many Super Bowls has Belichick won without Tom Brady at quarterback?” Here’s a question for you Mikey: how many Super Bowls did your boy Parcells win without Belichick as his defensive coordinator?
It’s a dumb question on any level. How many Super Bowls did Lombardi win without Bart Starr? Who was he supposed to try to win with Zeke Bratkowski? In fact, Belichick won his first AFC championship game with Drew Bledsoe taking over for an injured Brady in Pittsburgh. A year ago The Patriots were 11-5 after Brady went down in the opening game and Matt Cassel came in about as cold off the bench as you possibly can to play quarterback for the entire season.
So, let’s agree on this: you can question what Belichick did on Sunday night but to call into question his coaching resume is either stupid or reeks of jealousy. Since Francesa isn’t stupid, I’ll go with the latter. He was also asked at one point to list the AFC teams he thought might reach the conference championship game. His answer: Colts, Chargers, maybe the Bengals. No mention of the Patriots. So a team he does not consider a serious contender comes one play from beating the best team in the conference on the road and the guy in charge isn’t a pretty good coach?
Francesa even said at one point that, “the result didn’t matter, it was a horrible call no matter what.”
Huh? Now results don’t matter in competition. Wow, that sure takes a lot of pressure off people doesn’t it? John Calipari will be thrilled to know that his failure to call time out to make sure his Memphis players knew they had to foul with a three point lead against Kansas in the national championship game two years ago DIDN’T MATTER even though it cost his team the game. Imagine Grady Little’s delight to learn that even though leaving Pedro Martinez in against the Yankees six years ago cost him his job it also did not matter because the result—Aaron Bleepin’ Boone—really wasn’t the issue.
Let me throw in MY bias here because unlike Francesa I admit to having them: I like Belichick. We share an affection for the Naval Academy—his dad, Steve coached there for 34 years and Belichick still follows Navy’s fortunes closely—and was someone I liked and admired. I think Belichick is not only smart but has a sneaky sense of humor and does genuinely care about his players, even if he rarely shows it. Do I think he’s perfect? No. (who among us is). Video-gate was clearly wrong and there’s no doubt there are times when he goes out of his way to make the media’s life more difficult. I’ll take him over a lot of coaches any day. He doesn’t blame his players for losses and he’s damn good at what he does—period.
Now, more reasonable men than Francesa—like my pal Mike Wilbon—also ripped Belichick, which is fine because it wasn’t personal. Wilbon said none of the great coaches from Lombardi to Shula ever would have gone for the first down in that situation. He could be right, but I’m not so sure. Was Belichick showing a lack of faith in his defense or was he showing a LOT of respect—perhaps even too much—for Peyton Manning? I think it was more about Manning than the defense and people saying that the defense had done a good job most of the night against Manning was irrelevant.
Wilbon said it was arrogant to think the Patriots could pick up the first down. Let’s go down the list of successful people in sports—in life for that matter—who aren’t arrogant about their ability to succeed.
Bottom line: I think Belichick should have punted and thought it at the time. I remember cringing when the offense came back on the field. But you know what? Belichick has won a LOT more football games than I have or ever will.
Okay, I ranted on Belichick and Francesa for so long there’s really no time to give Michelle Wie her proper due for her first win on The LPGA Tour on Sunday. It has been seven years since she first emerged as a 13-year-old phenom so even though she’s only 20 the tendency is to say she “finally,” won a tournament—which is a bit unfair.
On the other hand, her parents and handlers made SO many mistakes with her as a teen-ager it is almost surprising that she’s come out on the other end with a chance to still be the star she was supposed to be when she first showed up hitting the golf ball prodigious distances. Her parents pushed her too hard, chased the money—did a lot of things to her that Jennifer Capriati’s parents did to her 20 years ago in tennis—and Wie behaved very badly on a number of occasions.
Now, she’s acted like a grown woman all year on the LPGA Tour and we can only hope there are more good things to come for her because she has the ability to really make an impact on a sport that desperately needs some help. My only concern is that she and her parents and agents now think she’s Annika Sorenstam and start throwing her into men’s tournaments again next year for marketing and PR purposes. Let her dominate the women’s game and THEN after she wins, say, 50 tournaments, think about competing with the men again.