COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Bill Belichick’s respect for our armed forces has been well-documented over the years. The son of a Navy coach and scout, Belichick grew up around those Midshipmen teams during the 1960s. He’s carried the lessons learned from that time with him some 50 years later.
So when given the opportunity to speak to this year’s Navy football team prior to its game this past weekend against SMU, the Patriots head coach jumped at the chance.
“It’s really an honor,” said Belichick. “[Navy coach] Ken [Niumatalo] has asked me to do a couple of times in different situations, but to speak to the actual team and not recruits is really an honor. For Ken and the Navy team and the Navy program and the Instituton -- to be able to stand in front of that group -- is a special feeling.
So special, in fact, that Belichick relayed it wasn’t the easiest this speech he’s ever given. Quite the opposite, actually.
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“That’s probably as nervous as i’ve been talking to a group in quite a while,” he said. “It was definitely special and there’s just something about looking at that group of kids that a little bit different than looking at another team -- not to take anything away from another team -- but that’s just a little bit different. It’s special. I really appreciate Ken giving me that opportunity and I’m glad they won last week, not that I had anything to do with it. I’m just glad it worked out for them too.”
Belichick told the assembled media this from the end zone at the Air Force Academy’s Falcon Stadium. The Patriots made the short trip to Colorado Springs after their win over the Broncos Sunday night and have set up operations at the Academy for the week leading up to this weekend’s game in Mexico City versus the Raiders.
This isn’t the first time Belichick has been in this stadium, though his last trip was a long time ago: 1978, as an assistant with the Broncos.
“I sat in this stadium a couple times over here on the visitor’s side,” he said, gesturing to that sideline. “This is a great, great institution. The discipline, the leadership they have here . . . hope some of it rubs off on me this week. That’d be a plus.”
Belichick had the current coach of Air Force’s football team, Troy Calhoun, speak to his squad earlier in the week.
“It’s kind of good to have an understanding of where you are and what happens at an institution like the Air Force Academy. We only have one guy that can relate to that, but other than [Joe] Cardona (who graduated from the Naval Academy), going to a civilian school is a lot different than what goes on here. Not bad, just different.”
That difference is stark. The amount of responsibility put on the students at the Academy here at Air Force, or the Naval Academy, or at Army is unlike anything that goes on at Alabama, Arkansas, Michigan or certainly a school like West Alabama, which produced Malcolm Butler.
How different? Belichick explains it well.
“Tremendous respect for them, what they do and how hard it is, number 1 to get into a service academy and number 2 meet the demands that the service academy puts on you physically, mentally, learning. I mean look, the kids that come out of here operate the highest technological and most sophisticated equipment in the world at a high level and a high price, too. There’s a lot at stake, too. What they do and how they do it and how they’re trained to do it is . . . very proud to be here and very proud of what they do.”
Belichick also expounded on the bond the academies have for each other. Even after battling one another in sport, “You go out and compete on the field then when it’s over, you’re fighting with each other not against each other but in the real fight -- the military fight.”
Belichick won’t ever lose sight on that, and part of his goal this week is to make sure his players understand that as well. This is a game. It’s important. But there are bigger things than football, and if he can translate even a little bit of that feeling to his team, than Belichick no doubt feels like he’s done that part of the job and done it well.