In private moments, when no one is around, Bill Belichick must light up the occasional victory cigar.
Belichick is the son Red Auerbach never had.
This is not the first time I’ve compared these Boston coaching legends, but it was hard not to think of Bill-as-Red in the aftermath of last Saturday’s epic victory over the Baltimore Ravens. It was decidedly Auerbachian.
After the game, Baltimore coach John Harbaugh complained about New England’s inventive offensive formation, making reference to “a trick type of thing,’’ and “the deception part of it.’’ Harbaugh also said, “It’s not something that anybody’s ever done before.’’
Not something that anybody’s ever done before. Like when Red would run his team into shape before the start of every season so the Celtics would start fast while other teams were running themselves into game shape during the regular season; like when Red played fast-break basketball while other teams were standing still; like when Red hired a black head coach before anybody else would do it; like when Red drafted Larry Bird a year early because Bird was a junior eligible.
Playing chess while the others are playing checkers. That always was the way with Red Auerbach. And that’s Bill Belichick. If you are the other team, Bill gets in your head. Like Red.
Celtics rival Pat Riley spent many hours fretting about Red turning up the heat in the Old Boston Garden. Riley also was convinced Red had somebody pulling fire alarms at the Lakers’ hotel headquarters when they stayed in Boston.
“I thought [Auerbach] was the man behind everything,’’ Riley said. “When you’re in that situation, it becomes more and more of a hate.’’
Red loved it. Told that his opponents were convinced he was playing dirty, Red would fold his arms across his chest, sit back in his chair, and take a puff of a Hoyo de Monterrey. The mere inference that he was screwing with rivals took his opponents’ eyes off the job at hand. Wonder how much time Chuck Pagano and the Colts wasted on running backs as ineligible receivers this past week? It’s something we’ll never see again . . . until Belichick needs it . . . until the other guys aren’t ready for it.
Evidently, in the eyes of some, Belichick “stretched the limits of sportsmanship’’ with his innovative formation last weekend. Wow. What does that make a fake punt, or a play-action pass?
Our Billy is the master of deception. Who will ever forget that night in Denver in 2003, when the Patriots appeared beaten until Belichick ordered Lonie Paxton to snap the ball out of the end zone on fourth and 10 from their 1-yard line while trailing, 24-23, with three minutes left? The intentional safety put the Patriots in position to win. And they did, 30-26.
“I really don’t know what to say,’’ Denver coach Mike Shanahan stuttered after the game.
Something nobody has ever done before.
It was very Red-like. That’s how things went at the Old Garden, when the Celtics would conquer the Knicks or the 76ers or the Lakers yet again. The frustrated coach of the losing team would shake his fist at the sky and accuse Red of bending the rules, or maybe changing the weather.
Bill Belichick and Red Auerbach. They are brothers of the whistle and clipboard. And it’s more than just being smarter than everybody else and winning the mind games.
Like Bill, Red was ever-angry at the league office. He thought the league bosses had it in for the Celtics. Also, Red hated the Knicks the way Bill hates the Jets.
Red and Bill were/are socially awkward and totally ungracious in defeat. Think Belichick has had some frosty postgame handshakes over the years? Red once punched the owner of the St. Louis Hawks before a playoff game. Wonder what Red would have done to Eric Mangini?
Both coaches had a distaste for small talk and certain sportswriters. When Red read something he didn’t like, he’d have the reporter’s seat moved to someplace above the Gallery Gods in the Garden. As for Bill, well . . . do the math yourself.
Both practiced the “you’re dead to me’’ theory when betrayed. Red traded Gerald Henderson minutes after signing Henderson to a contract Red considered too big. Cedric Maxwell had it even tougher. Red traded Max because he believed Max didn’t rehab his knee hard enough. Then Red had all positive Max references deleted from his upcoming book. Ask Bill how he feels about Charley Casserly, Tom Jackson, or Wes Welker.
Like Red, Bill would trade a family member if it would help him win. Red demanded compensation when Bob Cousy wanted to come out of retirement to play a few games with the Royals. He did the same thing when Dave Cowens tried a comeback with the Bucks. Auerbach also traded fan favorite Danny Ainge. Bill? Say goodbye to Lawyer Milloy, Richard Seymour, and Logan Mankins.
The common denominator is winning. Red won nine NBA championships as a coach and another seven as a GM. He held all the coaching records when he retired from the bench in 1966. The NBA’s coach of the year award is a replicate of the Red Auerbach statue that lives in the Faneuil Hall Marketplace.
If Belichick’s Patriots beat the Colts on Sunday, Belichick will pass Tom Landry as the coach with the most NFL playoff victories. He will advance to his sixth Super Bowl, a record held by Don Shula. In Super Bowl XLIX, Belichick will have a chance to match Chuck Noll as the only coaches with four Lombardi trophies.
When it comes to the Genius of Bill, we have passed greatness and moved into immortality. Bill Belichick is so good he has even mastered the coin toss. The Patriots this season have won the coin flip in 13 of 17 games. That’s 76 percent, in a category that is, by definition, a 50 percent proposition. The odds of having a coin flip go your way 13 out of 17 times is less than 2 percent.
If the Colts win the coin toss Sunday, no doubt Bill will say, “We’ve got to play better, got to coach better, got to manage the coin flip better.’’ If the Colts call tails and it comes up heads, as usual, Bill can say, “We worked on that on Friday.’’
Red would have loved this guy.