The column idea was a common one: Listen to Patriots coach Bill Belichick talk via teleconference before Sunday's game against the Miami Dolphins and glean it for any football pearls or (ha-ha!) crusty minimalism.
As Belichick stayed in character, saying nothing in that voice of dry leaves for 13 minutes and 37 seconds Tuesday morning, an odd feeling of conversational deja vu came with his non-answers.
I did some math. For the past 20 years, twice a year, Belichick has given these league-mandated interviews with South Florida media before Dolphins games. I've listened to most of them in the hopes of detecting some prism into his excellence. We have, in some form, become chat buddies, Bill and I.
Could we really have talked more than nine hours with Belichick saying nothing?
And so I called up past Belichick interviews after he swatted away questions about playing protege and new Dolphins coach Brian Flores with lines like, "He did a great job for us. Whatever we accomplished was a team effort."
In 2005, asked about his careerlong friendship with then-Dolphins coach Nick Saban, Belichick said their typical conversations through the years involved, "How you play cover two, how you play this coverage, how you play ball, what about this blitz, how you take this pattern away."
That's something, if only a glance into their "Rain Men" relationship, right?
And in the 2008 offseason, after asking for a one-on-one interview regarding his former boss and then-Dolphins czar, Bill Parcells, Belichick phoned a month later at 11 p.m. as I wrote in Doak Campbell Stadium at the end of a Miami-Florida State game. I took the call, deadline be damned.
"The biggest thing I'd say about Bill is he never lost sight of the big picture,'' Belichick said. "He's not a real detail guy. I'm probably little bit more the other way around. I'm a detail guy, and he's a big-picture guy."
That's something interesting, too, right? We talked five minutes. I made deadline.
And so our chatty relationship has gone for two decades. He talks on the phone like water moving through a gutter. I look for any crack of insight.
Typically, when you link the years, one league-mandated interview after another, Belichick gives a canned and unintentionally comical narrative of the Dolphins' walk through the wilderness these past two decades.
It wasn't just Tuesday when he delivered unintentional comedy gold by saying a Dolphins team that lost the opener to Baltimore 59-10 has so many "great players," that they "can't get them all in the game at the same time." Ba-da-bing!
In 2004, Belichick praised Dave Wannstedt's chaotic Dolphins of being a "very obviously well-coached team." He said Cam Cameron's 1-15 Dolphins in 2007 were, "very talented across the board," and that Joe Philbin's 2014 team, soon lost in Bullygate, was a "talented and disciplined team."
In 2012, before another Dolphins regime left, he said, "These division games are always big." In 2018, before yet another Dolphins regime left, he said, "It's always tough to play in the division."
Maybe all this swept together really is the insight into his excellence. Maybe it's small and simple thoughts like doing your job well, no matter the opponent, that allow him to win the AFC East 16 times in 17 years and collect Super Bowls like silverware.
Amid the coachspeak, Belichick has dropped an occasional nugget of insight. Before beating the Dolphins in 2011, he was asked about the importance of making adjustments in a game. A little thing. But this seemed to catch his attention.
"When you're an assistant coach or coordinator, you go in with a game plan based on what an opponent's done or likely to do,'' he said. "As the game starts to unfold, first series, second series certainly by the end of the first quarter, there are certain parts - often, certain personnel groupings - that are doing better or worse than planned.
"You, as a coach, have to see that. You're trying to adjust to those things. None of us are re-inventing plays or changing the history of the game. Sometimes, as you've seen, you run a play and it isn't good, but the second, third, fourth time, it's better. That's a credit to the players, really. Adjustments are a little bit overrated, because people like to talk about them, but they're an element of the game."
That, right there, is the Tao of Bill. It's as good as it gets. It's also as rare as, say, Belichick once entering the Dolphins' postgame locker room long after beating Saban in Foxborough. Most players had gone. He just wanted to say hi to his friend.
Mostly, though, listening to Belichick for nine hours over 20 years is like listening to sand drop through an hourglass. On Tuesday, for instance, he was asked to define, "The Patriot Way."
"Yeah, I don't know that I've ever used that term,'' he said. "I'm not sure what it means, either. I appreciate you asking about it, though."
As always, we appreciate the answer, too.
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