Friends and countrymen, I have spoken with The Master.
I can't fully explain the circumstances, but suffice to say I was on a business trip, there was a special celebrity guest speaker for a conference keynote address…and it was none other than Mr. Bill Belichick, head coach of your three-time World Champion New England Patriots, football genius, and Guy Who Has Personally Touched Tom Brady.
When he came out onstage, he was wearing a suit, and he probably smiled more in the course of a forty-five minute presentation followed by Q & A more times than I have seen him smile in five years' worth of stalking the sidelines, appearing on DVDs, and conducting press conferences. It still, however, looked as if it was physically painful for him to make his face bend that way. Also, the suit, while un-hooded as suits tend to be, was still the charcoal grey he swears by in his sweatshirt wardrobe.
He gave a talk about general business and management philosophy, as exemplified by his leadership of the football team. It was tangentially related to the conference at best, but I was in heaven as he broke out film footage, showing how certain plays had been run in practice and how they had turned out in actual game situations—for example the 60-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Branch in the 2004 AFC Championship against Pittsburgh. The footage of the play in practice, in which Brady hit Givens for 20 yards as scripted, preceded footage of the game.
Belichick also told the story of when Matt Light asked for the night off in training camp after a particularly blistering day of practice, and Belichick made him a deal—catch a punt and you get the night off; fail to field it cleanly and the whole team runs double the wind sprints at the end of practice.
As the story goes, and as Belichick relayed it, Light suddenly had more coaching than he knew what to do with, from Troy Brown to Tom Brady, everyone around him babbling urgent instructions. Light eventually did field the punt.
I'd heard that story before. But I hadn't seen the video. Until Wednesday night, where it was shown, to the delight of even the non-football inclined in the audience, on a pair of ten-foot high screens onstage in the main conference center auditorium.
It's safe to say I pretty much love my job.
I also knew I would never forgive myself (to say nothing of my father) if I didn't at least make an honest attempt to get an autograph and / or picture with Belichick. Starting with a toady working crowd control, moving up to his supervisor and then his supervisor's supervisor and then finally his supervisor's supervisor's supervisor (along the way spouting trivia to prove the depth of my knowledge and dedication to Mr. Belichick's franchise), I worked my way up the chain of command till I was standing before a high-ranking man with a headset who told me very nicely that no, Belichick had been "very specific" about his refusal to meet with any and all rabid Patriots fans who might be in attendance after his talk.
So it was a good thing, prior to all this, that I screwed my courage to the sticking point, and raised my hand during the Q & A.
As about 99% of the people at these conferences tend to be male, and he couldn't see me in the lights, Belichick pointed to me and said :"yes, sir." Then immediately he looked a little harder and said, "I'm sorry, ma'm, go ahead."
An ignominious beginning to our conversation, but I persevered.
Others had asked questions about specific famous instances in Patriots history, such as the introduction as a team in Super Bowl XXXVI, as they related to management techniques, etc., etc., yawn.
"What was the rationale," I said to Bill freakin' Belichick, who was standing right there 20 feet away from me and holy crap I don't believe it, "behind not re-signing McGinest and Vinatieri? Was it to make the team younger, or…?"
The point isn't whether or not he gave me a real answer (he didn't). The point isn't what question I answered at all. The point is that the same girl who couldn't even wave "hi" to Curt Schilling about a year ago got over the star-struck hump and can now say she has had a conversation, if brief, with Coach Belichick.
My dad has a saying. "No balls, no blue chips." I still would've liked a picture, but he's damn right. Oh, and speaking of my Dad, he got John Henry's autograph in the Fenway bleachers at almost the very moment I was asking my question of Belichick.