ATLANTA — Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman tells this story about running into Bill Belichick when the two left the Gillette Stadium practice complex late one night during Edelman's rookie season.
“It was like 11 o’clock at night and by the grace of God, we were walking out at the same time,” Edelman said Monday, hours after winning MVP honors in the Patriots’ 13-3 win over the Rams in Super Bowl LIII. “I probably had said three words to him before that. I was on the team for like six months. I just looked at him, because I saw him on the treadmill, watching film at 10 o’clock at night. I go, ‘Coach, you sure like football, huh?’ He goes, ‘It beats being a plumber. See you tomorrow.’
“When you’re seeing that — at the time, he was a three-time Super Bowl-winning head coach and two-time winning assistant coach — I mean, it’s going to rub off,” Edelman said. “If it doesn’t, you’re probably not going to be there.”
Edelman was paying the ultimate compliment to Belichick, whose coaching genius has extended more than three decades through eight Super Bowl titles as the Patriots' coach and the Giants' former defensive coordinator. Belichick loves what he does and understands that not everyone gets to do this kind of thing for a living.
With all due respect to plumbers . . .
“Julian misquoted me,” Belichick cracked. “I mean, I have a ton of respect for plumbers. I can’t really turn the water on myself. Those people do a great job. I think I said it beats working.”
It seems safe to say that plumbers everywhere, especially in New England — and people from so many other walks of life, for that matter — will cut Belichick some slack on this one. After all, what he has done with this job called coaching football has been extraordinary.
Belichick is reluctant to draw attention to his accomplishments — it’s always “on to the next game” for the 66-year-old coach. But the morning after winning his sixth Super Bowl title with the Patriots, he pulled back the curtain for just a moment, allowing himself to bask in the glow of the greatness he has achieved over the years.
At a Monday morning news conference around the block from Mercedes-Benz Stadium, someone asked him what it felt like to be mentioned in the same breath as NFL coaching icons such as Bears great George Halas and the Packers' Curly Lambeau and Vince Lombardi.
“It’s incredibly flattering,” said Belichick, who is tied with Halas and Lambeau with six NFL championships. “I grew up watching Coach Halas. He and my dad were friends. Coach [Don] Shula, Coach [Tom] Landry, right on down the line, Coach [Bill] Walsh. I competed against several of those guys, some of them I didn’t compete against, but I was aware of guys. It’s incredibly flattering.”
Then Belichick stepped back in character, reverting to the team-first mantra that has been at the very core of his coaching philosophy — the philosophy that is at the heart of what makes this Patriots dynasty so incredibly successful and durable.
“Really, for me, it’s about what the team accomplished. The most important thing was the team [being able] to hold the Lombardi Trophy up and say that we were champions. It took everybody. It took the entire team and organization to put together superior and supreme effort to achieve that. That’s what it’s all about, about how all this came together so the team could achieve its goals.”
The personal accolades are great, and surely Belichick can appreciate in his private moments just what he has meant to the history of the NFL. But there is nothing that makes him happier than knowing he’s had so much to do with fostering the kind of environment that produces the most meaningful goal any team can achieve.
“It’s what we were able to accomplish as a team that makes me most proud,” he said.
For Belichick, it is always about team. His mantra — “Just do your job” — courses through every nook and cranny of the Patriots’ organization, and it shows up on game day, especially when the stakes are the highest. He has presided over nine Super Bowl appearances and six championships, by far the most prolific production in the modern era. His 31 playoff victories are the most in NFL history, with Landry next (20) and Shula third (19). It is difficult to imagine another coach being able to produce those numbers.
How much longer will Belichick compete for Super Bowls? He’s not saying.
He talked all week about not looking beyond Sunday’s game against the Rams and coach Sean McVay, who is half Belichick’s age. But after schooling the 33-year-old McVay and limiting the Rams’ high-powered offense to a field goal, he’s still unwilling to speculate about what lies ahead.
After his news conference, I asked Belichick how many more years he plans to coach.
“Honestly, it’s like a few hours after the game,” he said. “I’m still just barely getting with the game.”
Would he consider coaching as long as Tom Brady plays — which could be three or four more years?
Another shrug from the coach.
“I haven’t even thought about it,” he said as he departed on an escalator at the Georgia World Congress Center before getting into a waiting limousine and heading back to the team hotel.
He has given no indication that he’s ready to walk away, and his mind is as sharp as ever. With Belichick coming off one of his best coaching jobs ever, there’s no reason to believe he can’t — or won’t — continue coaching for years to come.
Belichick remains at the height of his career — after first scaling the heights of a Super Bowl championship in the 2001 season.
An astonishing run for a historic coach.