ESPN Pardon the Interruption’s Mike Wilbon thinks that New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick is “ruthless” and “will crush you”, as if it were a personal thing. His remarks came in the wake of the Patriots’ 43-0 drubbing of the Miami Dolphins last Sunday in week two of the NFL season.
But the Patriot Way of “playing 60 minutes” and “doing your job” have been the hallmarks of Belichick coached teams for nearly two decades now. And it is those mantras that explain why when his teams get to the Super Bowl – as they have nine times with six wins – they’re already so steeped in the culture of playing 60 minutes and doing their job irrespective of the situation, that the Super Bowl becomes just another situation in which the Patriot players say, “I’ve been here all year. I’m more prepared.”
This is the backdrop for last Sunday’s shutout of the Miami Dolphins in which the Patriots blitzed on the final play of the game to preserve the 43-0 snooker. Pundits like Michael Wilbon were convinced it was further evidence of Belichick’s cold-cold heart – to borrow from Ken Burns’ excellent series Country Music currently airing on PBS – while I would see it more as Belichick’s relentless preparation and mindset.
This has always been the backbone of distance running training, the daily attention to detail. ‘What I do today has no value outside the context of what I did yesterday and what I must do again tomorrow’. It’s that continuum that breeds success, not the single killer workout or waiting for the Big Game to knuckle down.
For Belichick, it’s not about the current opponent, or what the score is in any particular game. The current opponent is a straw-man, someone to organize yourself against, someone whose gears you attempt to tie up as you lubricate your own. I guess that’s the genius of Belichick. Relentless, yes. But ruthless by extension only, not intent.
Team USA only got seventh place in the recent FIBA World Cup basketball tournament in France. It was the worst outcome ever in international play by an American team of professionals coached by a top professional (Greg Popovich).
But all this indicates is that the world has caught up with the U. S. in basketball, too – as in just about everything else. When I was a kid, the NBA would send out goodwill tours in the off-season to develop the game in other countries. Now we are seeing the results.
This past June we were in Rwanda to cover the Kigali International Peace Marathon where, among other things, we found the NBA has partnered in developing a 9-nation, 12-team professional African Basketball League. So the world has now caught up with USA to the point where in order to win the gold medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics we can’t just send professional players, we have to send our best professional players. And even then it’s not a guaranteed gold. And that seems like a good thing for the game itself.
And finally, it happened to Dathan Ritzenhein just as it had years before to his fellow Big Three mates of the Class of 2000, Alan Webb and Ryan Hall. This past week Dathan pulled out of October’s BofA Chicago Marathon with yet another foot ailment, the bete noir of his long and storied career. And though he declared himself going forward toward February’s U. S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Atlanta, Ritz’s time at the top has seemingly run its course. But what a run it was.
Ritz was the inspiration for an entire generation of internet-connected kids since his days at Rockford High School in Michigan and then the University of Colorado and beyond. With two Foot Locker Cross Country wins, medals in world competition at junior world cross and senior half-marathon, American records and three Olympic berths, Ritz more than fulfilled his promise, all while providing an exemplary personal model for those he inspired.
With his “everything I’ve got” displays of lay it on the line racing, exemplified by his exhausted collapses at finish lines he, along with Hall and Webb, gave American kids hope that they could be competitive with the best out of East Africa. It is a legacy they will carry proudly for the rest of their lives and one we rightly salute.
And thus it goes.