June 30-- One day.
That's all it took to see both sides of Bill Belichick's incredibly successful, highly controversial coaching career.
One amazing Sunday.
We saw the genius side of Belichick when his New England Patriots signed free agent quarterback Cam Newton. At virtually the same time, we saw the cheating side of Belichick when the NFL punished the Patriots for yet another illegal filming scandal.
Just like that, Belichick's very complicated career came into perfect focus.
Signing Newton to a cheap, incentives-filled, one-year contract is just a little more proof that Belichick is the greatest coach in NFL history, maybe the greatest coach of all time in any sport. Belichick hasn't won 273 regular season games and six Super Bowls by accident. Newton was injured most of the past two seasons and needed a second shoulder surgery and foot surgery. But if he's healthy, which he appears to be? Look out. He's just 31. He has plenty of good football left.
Making the Newton signing even better for Belichick is that it gives him a real chance to get the last laugh on Tom Brady. There is nothing Belichick wants more than to win without Brady, who moved on to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after 20 seasons in New England. That would have been difficult with unproven Jarrett Stidham as his quarterback. But a healthy Newton makes the Patriots at least the co-favorites with the Buffalo Bills in the AFC East. He is a better quarterback than Brady at this stage of their careers-a much better quarterback, actually. He certainly figures to be every bit as motivated to win as Brady after the Carolina Panthers "gave up on me" after last season.
But there can't be a Belichick story without mention of his cheating. The NFL fined the Patriots $1.1 million and docked them their third-round draft choice next spring because the team's television crew filmed the field and sideline during a game between the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns in December against league rules. The punishment seems light even if the Patriots said it all was one big misunderstanding. Of course they said that. But that doesn't change history, the fact that Belichick and the Patriots are repeat offenders. You remember Spygate, right? The Steelers certainly remember it. They are convinced the Patriots cheated them out of at least one Super Bowl trip because of illegally taping their coaches' signals from the sideline. Belichick was fined $500,000 for his role, the Patriots $250,000. The team also lost a No. 1 draft choice.
Belichick, 68, appears far from finished as a coach. He just might get the 56 regular-season wins he needs to pass the late, great Don Shula and become the NFL's all-time winningest coach. He also might win another Super Bowl. Even if he doesn't, no one will match his six championships.
But no matter how much Belichick wins, he won't be able to outrun his cheating past. His accomplishments always will carry the proverbial asterisk.
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