FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The coach and the quarterback have been together for 14 years. Their narrative is so rich, sometimes we forget where they came from.
Before Bill Belichick was the innovative hoodie icon, he was an ex-coach in Cleveland looking for work after a lackluster 36-44 record with the Browns.
Belichick plucked the earnest Brady out of NFL oblivion to assist in navigating their storybook ascension atop the pro football heap. It was a risky maneuver; incumbent quarterback Drew Bledsoe was a talented, affable Pro Bowler stripped of his job due to injury. Owner Robert Kraft, who considered Bledsoe part of his family, warned his coach, "I expect you to be accountable for this decision.''
It was a decision that changed everything. The coach and the quarterback had no choice but to make it work: Their careers depended on it. They invested in their partnership with a searing intensity and discovered they were kindred spirits when it came to work ethic, attention to details and football acumen. "Tom was everything Bill wanted in a player,'' said former Green Bay coach Mike Holmgren. "Bill is a relentless student of the game, a relentless grinder. And Tom is that way, too.''
Their partnership bore fruit almost immediately: a six-game winning streak to close out the 2001 regular season, which led to the tuck rule, which led to snow angels and Adam Vinatieri splitting the uprights to win it all (twice), to a Rodney Harrison clinching interception for the third title.
The coach and the quarterback kissed the same trophy and rode the same duck boats down Boylston Street.
Their fortunes became undeniably, irrevocably intertwined.
The Belichick-Brady tandem, which won three Super Bowls in four seasons, became the new gold standard by which all franchises were measured.
Each remained mindful of his roots, of the bitter disappointment of being told, "You're not good enough to do this job.'' It became not only their mantra, but the rallying cry of a franchise built with blue-chip talent, yet augmented by castoffs and late draft picks eager to prove their doubters wrong. Belichick and Brady have played more games together than any other coach-quarterback combination in the Super Bowl era (191 games). Furthermore, according to ESPN Stats & Information, they have the highest winning percentage of that era (.775).
Holmgren, who coached alongside Brett Favre for six seasons and won Super Bowl XXXI with him, believes a long-term, sustainable relationship between coach and quarterback is one of the most critical components in the game, if not the most critical.
"It means a lot," Holmgren said. "The truth about the NFL is when it comes to the quarterback, it's his football team. You are talking to the players, but they are looking at him to see how he reacts. He has to communicate your message to the players. And the longer you are together, the more it all blends.