HOUSTON – Stephen Belichick attended his first Super Bowl in 1987 when his father’s New York Giants beat the Broncos.
The younger Belichick had an extremely obstructed view. He wasn’t born until late March, two months after the game.
From that first Super Bowl experience through this Sunday, Stephen will have been to 10 Super Bowls – the 1986 and ’90 seasons when Bill Belichick was the Giants defensive coordinator, 1996 when Bill was Patriots secondary coach for Bill Parcells and the seven for which Bill has been Patriots head coach.
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The stakes this time are raised for Stephen. As the Patriots safeties coach, the players under his supervision will be trying to shut down one of the most prolific offenses of the past several years, the 540 points Atlanta scored tie them for eighth all-time in a single season.
In the run-up to this game, assistant coaches are available to the media and Stephen’s been polite but guarded. Anticipated questions related to working on his father’s staff have come and Stephen’s responses are short enough to make it clear nobody’s getting a monologue on what it’s like.
There’s a weariness for the “show” that Stephen has at 29, which has been informed by a lifetime being around the NFL.
The Stephen Belichick that’s seen on the field running routes and throwing passes with his brother, Brian, before pregame warmups is a world away from the Stephen Belichick that warily eyes reporters as we circle.
Coverage of his dad has left dents, as Stephen indicated when he spoke to Kevin Clark of The Ringer earlier this week.
“I don’t know if anyone will understand what those headlines in newspapers really do to families,” Stephen told Clark. “It’s hard, obviously, everyone in the NFL signs up for these jobs and understands the pressures. But some things are more necessary than others...One thing I’ve learned from my dad is we don’t do it for the media, we do it because we love it. We don’t it for the press conferences, which is maybe why other coaches do it...We’ve been labeled every word in the book our whole lives; what’s another [insult] on the list?”
Earlier this season, Stephen and his girlfriend, Jen (who, like Stephen, attended Rutgers and played lacrosse), had a daughter, Blakely Rose Belichick. Speaking with Stephen on Friday he made it clear that, knowing what he knows of the NFL, he’s weighing whether he wants to stay in the family business.
Asked if he wrestled with the decision to get into coaching, Stephen answered, “All the time. Still do. I love what I do. I would never want to do anything different. But things change, situations change, you see the way or hear about how other teams are run, you see some of the stuff that happens and you wonder, ‘Is this the best thing for my family?’ My family has been through a lot.”
Stephen Belichick was eight when Bill was fired by the Cleveland Browns. A police presence was stationed near the Belichick’s house in the days after Belichick’s firing as fans outraged over the Browns move to Baltimore lashed out at anything or anyone that was part of the Art Modell regime. Bill, having taken a job with the Patriots as secondary in February, was in New England while his then-wife Debbie had their kids, Amanda, Stephen and Brian, in Cleveland finishing out the school year. The whole experience left a scar. The idle vilification of Bill Belichick’s personality and integrity over the years has made a mark as well. Sure, there’s been great praise for him as a head coach, but the personal stuff has not gone unrecorded by the people closest to him.
Meanwhile, the stability of the Patriots franchise is unique. For most in the coaching life, uncertainty is constant, long-range planning impossible.
Now that he’s a father himself, those factors have Stephen measuring his steps.
“I know what I want to do,” said Stephen. “This [coaching] is what I want to do. But it’s not all about me. I have a daughter now which has changed my life. I can’t be selfish and just worry about myself.”
This is the first Super Bowl for Stephen Belichick as a position coach. But he is – as much as just about any coach on the staff – a veteran of the coaching profession. And he’s very clear that, if it’s decided that a life coaching in the NFL isn’t what’s best, he’s gone.
“I’m confident in my skills as a person,” he said. “If I needed to do something that would take me away from this type of spot, I’m more than willing to do that for my family.”