It’s impossible for me to not see ESPN’s “30 for 30” documentary “The Two Bills” as a cautionary tale.
All the elements that led to the messy Bill Parcells-Bill Belichick divorce and the Belichick-Patriots marriage back in 1999 and early 2000 are present now in 2018.
Driven individuals. Great success. Shifting motivations. Emerging opportunities. The passage of time. The friction and resentment that that can grow like weeds in a cracked driveway if that crack’s not repaired.
The players have changed. So have the stakes. But the game’s the same. How’s it going to end this time?
Weeds pulled and cracks filled?
Or with everyone bitching about whose job it is to pull the weeds. Then, years later, lamenting after the house is sold and everybody’s moved on that if only the crack in the driveway were dealt with, it might have been different. Maybe then reflecting back wouldn’t be so bittersweet.
I won’t pretend to know the exact disposition of Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, Robert Kraft, Jonathan Kraft, Rob Gronkowski, Josh McDaniels and every other one of the legion of Patriots players, coaches and executives in the mosaic down there.
But my perception is that the friction and fatigue were at a record high in 2017. Left unchecked, it will end them as we know them.
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The Patriots of Brady-Belichick-Kraft are an outlier dynasty because the principals have remained the same for nearly two decades.
Robert Kraft’s gold standard in the 1990s was the San Francisco 49ers. In the 17 years of the Niners dynasty from 1981 to 1998, they cycled through three head coaches (Bill Walsh, George Seifert and Steve Mariucci) and two Hall of Fame quarterbacks.
To achieve what they have, all the Patriots’ principals have checked egos while tamping down personal gain and credit grabs for the greater good. Over and over, world without end, amen. Imagine the catalog of slights and irritations that pile up over almost two decades.
How many million inner monologues have begun with the words, “You believe this asshole...?” since 2000? For all of them?
But all the gratification delayed has been paid. In spades. All three men will be in the Hall of Fame. Their records may never be matched. Material wants? None. The ability to do some good for society? Check.
Near the beginning of “The Two Bills”, a clip of Parcells’ Hall of Fame induction speech was deftly used to set the tone for the piece.
“The locker room is a great laboratory for human behavior,” Parcells said. “We got all kinds in this place. Players. Coaches. And we got a wide range of emotions. Happiness. Success. But, on the other side of that locker room, there’s darkness. Villains. There’s pain.
“And then we’ve got that time of exhilaration where you hoist that championship trophy over your head and I don’t know what happens. But some mystical blood kinship is formed. I wish all of American society could have experienced what I experienced in this place. Because ladies and gentlemen, that kinship lasts for the rest of your life.”
The blood kinship is established by now.
The exhilaration has been felt five times. The soul-crushing pain that emerges when someone else has your trophy over their head has been felt more than that.
Is there enough motivation to clear the air, bury the hatchet and pull the weeds so the chase can start again clean?
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Or do they just pick up in April and resume a joyless, cynical, suspicious slog laced with passive aggressiveness and pocketed resentments?
Wins, wins, wins. That’s what the Brady-Belichick-Kraft triumvirate has kept as its focal point through every crisis, change and recalibration. If the biggest adjustment now is a shift in approach and a reach across the table, will that seemingly simple action happen?
One person close to the situation said to me succinctly, “Nobody wins when the family feuds. – Jay Z.”