NEW ORLEANS - The interview requests came every 45 seconds. People stood outside Bill Belichick’s temporary office in the Superdome last night, asking if the most successful coach in Patriots history could come outside.
His wife and children were there. His parents were there. Players and reporters stopped by, too, just to say hello to the head coach of the Super Bowl champions.
There is no way you can repeat the last sentence without smiling. You see the Patriots win Super Bowl XXXVI, 20-17, over the Rams. You see Belichick lead them there with, at times, an updated version of the ‘’46’’ defense. You begin to understand that God is a fan of irony.
The Patriots won the Super Bowl? On a 48-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri as time expired?
These were the same Patriots who walked around Smithfield, R.I., during training camp wearing T-shirts that read, ‘’Wanted: Winners.’’ The shirts were made because the team needed to be convinced that it could win, at least, eight games.
A Bill - not Parcells - coached the Patriots to a Super Bowl win? By completely ripping up his St. Louis game plan from Nov. 18 and adding something else?
This is the same coach who once stood inside old Cleveland Stadium listening to fans pound on his door yelling, ‘’Bill must go.’’ His team wasn’t very good at the time, and the fans swore he would never be a successful head coach.
And don’t forget November. Belichick was questioned again, asked why he wanted to go with 24-year-old Tom Brady over 29-year-old Drew Bledsoe. He made the decision, stood by it, and watched Brady lead the Patriots to a Super Bowl win.
Really, who is writing this? Is this New Orleans or New Line Cinema?
But there they were last night, dozens of admirers by Belichick’s door. They weren’t pounding this time. They were tapping and speaking softly. A few of them had tears in their eyes. A few of them were able to sneak in and have a few words with the coach who was more than worth a first-round draft pick.
’’Team defense, team defense, team defense,’’ he said as he sat in the office. He was trying to explain how the Patriots were able to hold the Rams to 3 points through three quarters.
Belichick was understating. It was team defense in the sense that he used nearly his entire roster to shut down Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk. In the first meeting, Belichick and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel placed a linebacker on Faulk.
’’That didn’t work out for us,’’ Crennel said with a laugh last night.
In the Super Bowl, they decided to shadow Faulk with a defensive back in pass coverage. If teams say that Faulk is as good a receiver as a back, why not treat him like one and put a corner or safety on him?
Belichick asked Crennel and the rest of his assistants to stay in Foxborough an extra day last week so they could tweak that plan. Crennel continued to work on it as he flew here from New England. He had an entire row to himself on the flight, so he spread out his papers and imagined situations in which five, six, and sometimes seven defensive backs would dance around and confuse Warner.
There were times when the Patriots made the Rams guess which player was acting as the middle linebacker. There were times when they took funky blocking angles, making it appear that there was no nose tackle. There were times when they simply lined up and played their game.
As you watched it all, you understood why Bob and Jonathan Kraft sent the most important fax of their ownership careers at the end of the 1999 season. A few minutes after the Patriots defeated Baltimore that season, a fax was sent to New York requesting - once again - an interview with Belichick. The Jets told them he wasn’t available. The rivals fought. The Jets wound up with a first-round pick. The Patriots wound up with a Super Bowl.
Belichick didn’t think about any of that as he sat in his office last night. He just said how proud he was of his team, a team that brings out the schmaltz in all of us. They have a little 1980 US Olympic hockey team in them, because no one outside of I-495 thought they had a chance against the mighty Rams. They have some State U. in them, too, because they have the imaginations of freshman and sophomore dreamers.
They are fun to watch, especially when you know that they have to scrape for every positive thing they get. They had the Rams, 17-3, at the end of the third, 17-10 with 91/2 minutes left, and 17-17 with a minute and a half remaining.
’’I called a timeout one time when we had a third and 20,’’ Belichick said. ‘’It was our last timeout. I had to call it because we were dead. I mean, we were so tired. I called it because we needed a break.’’
The coach is called a genius so often that he often strips opponents of common sense. New England lured the Rams into the pace it wanted. The Rams, curiously, never quickened the pace by going to a no-huddle offense.
’’I’m glad they didn’t,’’ Belichick said. ‘’I’m not sure we could have handled it.’’
For a man who is called a defensive genius so often, the coach is refreshingly humble. He knows he could have handled whatever the Rams showed him. The game plan Mike Martz had for him may have kept him up all night, but it didn’t tax him.
During the 20-minute drive to the Superdome yesterday afternoon, Belichick dozed off on the team bus. If he had a dream in those few minutes, it couldn’t have ended as beautifully as this.