Oldtimers will consider it nothing less than sacrilege, but the inevitable can be evaded no longer: If New England coach Bill Belichick wins his fourth Super Bowl in just seven seasons Sunday, his visage must be carved into the NFL's Mount Rushmore alongside that of Vince Lombardi.
If New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick wins his fourth Super Bowl in seven seasons, he will have earned himself a place alongside coaching great Vince Lombardi.
Yep, Bill Belichick, greatest pro football coach of all time. Move over, Lombardi, Halas, Shula, Noll, Landry, Paul Brown. Sounds strange, doesn't it? Yet, if records of ultimate success are the yardsticks of sports history -- and what else is there to go on? -- then there is no denying that the grim man in the ugly clothes deserves such a title.
Lombardi, of course, was promoted to sainthood long ago. His Green Bay Packers of the 1960s won five NFL championships, including the first two Super Bowls, and his inspirational speeches and slogans have placed him just one notch below Ben Franklin and Confucius. The only opponent Lombardi couldn't whip was intestinal cancer, and his death at the young age of 57 in 1970 rocked the entire nation.
There was no subterfuge in Lombardi's way. He hit the Packers' foes over the head again and again with the same plays, and if a player didn't appreciate his style, it was don't let the door hit you in the backside.
"Some people try to find things in this game that don't exist," Lombardi once told reporters. "But football is only two things -- blocking and tackling."
Tales of his iron discipline were legend, and tight end Marv Fleming once recalled how he made the team practice in Green Bay's driving snow until some offensive players actually had their eyes frozen shut.
But the man could captivate an audience like no other. At the second Super Bowl, for instance, Lombardi made a gesture at a press conference that ensured he would never, ever have another critical column written about him as long as he lived.
With a jammed tent full of scribes, Lombardi gazed out from a raised podium and spied an old friend, Red Smith, the greatest sportswriter of them all, making his way through the crowd. Lombardi flashed the famous smile that uncovered what Tex Maule of Sports Illustrated once described as "teeth like tank traps." He climbed down from his pedestal, threw his arm around the much-loved Smith and said, "Walter, how are you?" Then he escorted him to a front row seat.
Belichick may be just as hard-nosed and even more successful, but it's pretty hard to imagine him hugging a sportswriter, no matter how many Super Bowls the Patriots win.
One To Watch
Baltimore's Tom Meyerhoff, who lived every horse owner's dream in 1978 when he and his father Harry Meyerhoff fielded the great Spectacular Bid, hints he has another promising runner.
His name is Caves Valley, and he won a couple of stakes races at Delaware as a 2-year-old. "If all goes well, we're shooting for the Gotham in March and the Wood Memorial in April, both at Aqueduct," Meyerhoff said.
For those who weren't around back then, the fabled Spectacular Bid won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in 1979 and was Horse of the Year in 1980. In 30 career starts, Bid won 26 times, finished second twice and third once. He earned almost $3 million and trainer Bud Delp called him "the greatest horse ever to look through a bridle." Bid died in 2003 at the ripe old age of 27.
Man Of Mercy
Sartorially resplendent Jay Wright, who would win the best-dressed basketball coach award every year, may not have a powerhouse at Villanova this season, but he doubtless would get a vote from heated rival Syracuse as "Sportsman of the Year."
In a recent Big East game, Orange star Jonny Flynn drove for the basket, went down. Hard. Stayed down. No foul. Play continued, legally. Villanova moved the ball into the front court, 5-on-4, whereupon Wright stepped out and called one of his own timeouts so that Syracuse trainers could treat the still-fallen Flynn. Classy, classy move. Fittingly, Wright's young Wildcats won that game.
Spooky numerologists, who surely are first cousins to all sports statistics freaks and fantasy players, will have a grand time with this one. The Washington Redskins made the NFL playoffs when they beat the Dallas Cowboys by 21 points. They then lost by 21 points to Seattle in the first round. Redskins Chris Cooley and Chris Samuels will both wear No. 21 on their jerseys in the Pro Bowl. When the draft rolls around in April, Washington has the 21st pick. Of course All-Pro safety Sean Taylor, slain last fall in his Florida home and an inspiration to the team's late surge, wore No. 21.
Sharp-eyed reader John N. Fox Jr. was right when he nailed a “Front Row” item that counted fancy-passing Brad Davis among the 1973-74 Maryland Terrapins' all-star lineup. Davis arrived at College Park a season after Len Elmore and Tom McMillen departed. He did share playing time with John Lucas and Mo Howard. The other Terps in that fabled 103-100 overtime loss to N.C. State in "the greatest college game ever played" were Tom Roy, Owen Brown and Billy Hahn.
Long Distance Love
Louisville coach Rick Pitino was dumbfounded after Seton Hall’s three-point shooting (13 of 28) shocked his Cardinals in a recent upset. "Out of the 13 threes, I'd probably kill my guys if they took eight of them," Pitino said. "They made shots from ranges that we can't even reach the basket."
Speaking of three-pointers, it slipped past a lot of fans recently when George Mason junior Dre Smith set an NCAA record by making 10 from long range without a miss in a victory over James Madison. Smith must have just been evening things up because he missed 13 of the first 14 bombs he tried this season.
Terps On Tube
The popular basketball reality show "Under the Shell" featuring Brenda Frese's Maryland women's team is back on TV again for the fourth season, airing on Comcast SportsNet Saturdays at 10 a.m. Gary Williams follows with his men's show at 11 a.m.
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Wonderings and Ponderings
• Ah, the height of college basketball season -- soaring, gravity-defying leaps that would shame Nijinsky, shooting accuracy that would embarrass Annie Oakley and the ugliest shorts ever designed in the history of mankind.
• Isn't it so typical for Redskins owner Dan Snyder to do it all backward? "New head coach Joe Ragman, meet your offensive coordinator, and this is your defensive coordinator, and this is your linebackers coach, and this is … " Who knows, maybe his unorthodox approach will work.
• Then there was the wag in Atlanta who wanted new coach Mike Smith to hire his brother-in-law and former Ravens boss Brian Billick as offensive coordinator, because "he's had experience with bad quarterbacks." And another who said the Falcons "have managed to restore the popularity of the Sunday afternoon nap."
Issue 3.5: January 31, 2008