FOXBOROUGH, MASS. The white door swung open, and the man who was late had finally arrived.
He wore blue jeans, white Nike sneakers, a loose- fitting navy blue polyester shirt that extended to his elbows and a sweatshirt that was once the same color but had faded so much that it fell somewhere between gray and purple. The sleeves, you might have guessed, were cut off at the shoulders.
He took seven quick steps on top of a platform and arrived at the podium. He looked at no one as he strode in. A quick glance at the ground, he rubbed his face and with both hands pushed down a pair of microphones. He scanned the room from left to right.
“How we doing this morning?” Bill Belichick asked the 50 or so reporters and camera operators packing the New England Patriots’ media room Thursday morning, the first official Super Bowl news conference for the Patriots.
The question was met mostly with silence.
Maybe two people offered a polite, “Good morning.” The slightest grin cracked across his face. His response: a “good” that was so brief and so muted that it registered like a mumble.
“Sorry we’re running a little bit late here,” he said, the 9: 15 a. m. scheduled news conference starting at 10: 01.
And then, with his raspy monotone that some insomniacs might consider soothing to lull them to sleep, Belichick dove into the Atlanta Falcons, his team’s opponent in Super Bowl LI, lauding them for being “a very good football team.”
Belichick’s news conferences have become more notable for what’s not said during them than for what is. They are at times tense, funny, uncomfortable, quiet, informative, boring, and fascinating. Sometimes, one session might weave several of those qualities together.
But more so than any other coach in the NFL, Belichick measures and calculates his words precisely.
When you ask a question, he waits for you to finish before answering. His retinas flutter up and down as if computing not only the query, but the person asking it. He pauses. He collects his thoughts. And his responses are remarkable for the manner in which they fill time and news copy, but don’t really say much.
This was actually a good news conference. Insightful, even.
Belichick expanded. He offered the occasional nugget. He brought reporters along for a 275- word aside on identifying tendencies that could tip off gadget plays. He also went 293 words on the differences between crafting a game plan in one week vs. doing it in two.
It was a different story before the AFC Championship Game vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers when Belichick held a news conference.
A table off to his right displayed helmets from both teams and the Lamar Hunt Trophy given to the winner of the game.
“Obviously,” a reporter began, “this is a game that comes with a little more pomp and circumstance; the backdrop, these helmets, there’s a trophy there — ”
“I know,” Belichick deadpanned. “It’s so exciting.” Chuckles filled the room. That is when Belichick is at his best. Sarcastic, witty, biting and delivering dry- humored zingers that make you think he’s doing mental fist pumps.
Any question, however, about Deflategate, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Spygate, why a player was traded or released, injuries, legacy, anything with a whiff of controversy will get the, “I’m focused on ( insert name of the next opponent).”
“I actually enjoy the press conferences,” Belichick told ESPN last week in a video interview. “Because it’s the con- nection to the fans, and that’s really who I’m talking to — it’s the fans.”
On this Thursday, Belichick spoke for 26 minutes and 38 seconds. At times, his knowledge of football flowed so easily that it was easy to see why he’s considered by many as the greatest football mind in recent history.
When there were no more questions, he looked around, a rare occasion when he was looking to field more. “OK. Yep, all right. Thank you.” With that, he walked off and disappeared behind that door, back into the maze of offices inside Gillette Stadium.