We’re Bostonians. We’ve been here before.
We have long been a committed sports town, and it’s a simple fact that we claim ownership of the 21st century, in which we have won 11 titles in the four major team sports and are the only city to claim titles in each of the four.
At the top of the list are the New England Patriots, competitors in eight Super Bowls since 2002 and winners of five. The Patriots are currently engaged in preparation for a ninth trip to football’s championship game. Nine trips to the Big Game in 18 years . . . pretty good, huh?
OK, but how about 11 championships in 13 years? That was the Boston Celtics from 1957 to 1969.
You might think there would be somewhat of a bond between these two great franchises, and you would be right.
Bob Cousy, a.k.a. Mr. Basketball, is a nonagenarian who splits his time between Worcester and South Florida. No matter the locale, he watches every game, and he roots, roots, roots for the home team. Most of all, he thinks very highly of the coach.
“I am one of his biggest admirers,” says The Cooz of The Coach, Bill Belichick.
Right now Mr. Cousy is pumped about a certain rendezvous in Florida when the football season is over. Things began percolating with a phone call from Tony La Russa, a Belichick buddy who happened to read Cousy’s latest penetrating book, “The Last Pass,” which deals with Cousy’s incomplete (in his mind) relationship with teammate Bill Russell.
La Russa is in the Red Sox’ employ, and he is brokering a March gathering featuring himself, Cousy, Belichick, and Cousy’s Florida neighbor John Havlicek on the subject of winning, and how you keep doing it.
“La Russa went on and on about how great a guy Belichick is,” relates Cousy. “I look forward to him coming down in March.”
An obvious topic in this Celtics/Patriots discussion with Cousy is the M.O. of two iconic coaches in their dealings with the media (or press, as it was called in Cooz’s day).
“I love the way [Belichick] handles the press,” Cousy chuckles. “[Red] Auerbach used to hold you guys with some disdain. He definitely looked down on the media. He didn’t think they knew anything.”
What Cousy likes most about Belichick is more on the positive side.
“Belichick has to deal with 50-some [expletive] egos, as opposed to 15 in basketball, 25 in baseball, or however many in hockey,” he said. “I can’t imagine.”
In addition, The Cooz is enchanted with the way Belichick’s roster keeps turning over and yet the hits just keep on coming.
“He puts in all these different bodies, year after year, and they keep functioning. That’s a system. That is coaching,” insists The Cooz. “That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.”
The Cooz has a surprising take on the subject of discipline.
“Belichick establishes his own level of discipline,” Cousy points out. “But, of course, they all do. Arnold (The Cooz famously and invariably refers to his old coach by his birth certificate name) had a big bark, but there was another side. Arnold always thought he had complete control, but we could play practical jokes on him. He’d wind up saying enough was enough, but we’d keep on doing it.”
There is no known record of any Patriots player, past or present, playing a practical joke on Bill Belichick.
There is one more “Those Were The Days” story that must be told.
“Things are very different today,” laughs Cooz. “Got married on a Saturday morning and we had a game that night. We lost. For the next five years, he blamed me for the loss.”
While Cousy was present at the creation, if you will, being the captain and floor leader of the 1957, 1959, 1960, 1961, and 1962 championship teams, John Havlicek jumped on a moving championship train as a rookie out of Ohio State. He stayed in Boston long enough to pick up eight rings of his own, the first six during the Auerbach/Russell/Cousy/Heinsohn era and the last two in 1974 and 1976 when he was the unquestioned team leader.
Havlicek was hardly unfamiliar with football. He had been an acclaimed high school quarterback, and was such a great athlete that the Cleveland Browns drafted him as a wide receiver. He actually played in some 1962 exhibitions, and in the end coach Paul Brown made him the last cut in favor of future All-Pro wideout Gary Collins. Havlicek immediately drove from the Cleveland training camp to Marshfield, where Auerbach’s rookie camp was underway.
Ever disciplined and ever aware, he fit in seamlessly with the then-five-time champs.
“The organization was static,” Havlicek explains. “They didn’t trade many people.”
As a rookie, he knew enough to keep his mouth shut and just do his job — does that phrase sound familiar? — which was to play defense and run the lanes, awaiting a pass from the maestro Cousy.
It was all business.
“Cousy didn’t socialize much,” Havlicek recalls. “He just knew that if he passed me the ball I’d catch it. After a while he accepted that.”
The trust came early. Havlicek’s first basket ever was a dunk after receiving a break pass from Cousy. It was the first of many.
There was more than a little pass-the-torch symbolism in that collaboration, for it was Celtics Mount Rushmore occupant Cousy’s last year and Celtics Mount Rushmore occupant Havlicek’s first.
Bill Russell was just this side of aloof. But one day he surprised the rookie by taking him around to make sure he got the best buy on a sound system.
Havlicek did, in fact, interact with some Boston Patriots, citing Larry Eisenhauer, Gino Cappelletti, John Hannah, and Tim Fox (a fellow Buckeye) among his Patriots acquaintances.
Havlicek is another paid-up member of the Bill Belichick Fan Club.
“I love the whole ‘next man up’ idea,” he says.
And he, too, is amused by Belichick’s standoffishness with the media.
“His press conferences are pretty boring,” he says. “[Bill] Parcells always gave them a little something.”
Havlicek admits it took him a little while to warm up to the quarterback.
“It’s a remarkable story,” he says. “Sixth-round draft choice and all. But I didn’t like him at first.”
The reason was obvious.
“He came from Michigan.”
Well, of course.
Havlicek admires Tom Brady’s toughness.
“He’s great in the pocket,” he says. “I love his accuracy, and he can take a hit.”
The dynamics of the sports are different, as we all know. The Celtics engaged in playoff series, whereas every Patriots playoff game is a win-or-go-home scenario. But the Celtics had their win-or-go-home scenarios, too, winning celebrated seventh games en route to five of those 11 titles.
They had Game 7 Finals overtimes in 1957 (St. Louis, double OT) and 1962 (LA, the famed “Frank Selvy Game” in which Russell had 30 points and 40 rebounds). And who could forget the “Havlicek Stole the Ball” moment against Philadelphia in the 1965 Eastern Division finals?
The Patriots, as we know, are 3-0 in overtimes during this current run.
Perhaps the most obvious comparison between those Celtics and these Patriots is that in the middle of it all stand a pair of serious GOAT candidates. Russell was the only player to be there for those 11 Celtics championships (plus the near-miss in 1958, when he was injured and the Hawks won in six). Brady is, well, Brady. Nuff said.
OK, guys, who are you picking?
“I always expect to win,” declares Havlicek, speaking, I presume, for his old teammate, as well.
Moral of the story: When it comes to winning, it takes one to know one.