Why are sports fans never satisfied with accepting success? People see the most successful athletes and constantly look for ways to lessen their achievements. Jordan was great, but he had Pippen. Lebron is great, but he has been on super teams. Montana was great, but he had Jerry Rice and Bill Walsh. But does any of this matter? To become great, a player needs to be individually exceptional. An athlete also needs team success though. If Jim Kelly had won the four Super Bowls he went to with the Bills, he would be touted as maybe the greatest quarterback ever (of course he didn’t so…). People are concerned with discounting what great players do if they play with great teammates or have great coaches. This is a terrible practice though because it is impossible to have team success if the team only has one great player. The best players always have had other greats around them. It is not that a player is worse because of it, but that they realized their limitations: Sports are team games, and a team with only one great player cannot have major success.
Currently, this situation has befallen Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. Some fans ascribe Tom Brady’s success as a quarterback in the NFL to Bill Belichick. While Belichick has obviously helped develop and improve Brady, it is unreasonable to place all of Brady’s success on the coach. While Belichick is now seen as maybe the greatest coach of all time, for many years he was unwanted on the market. Robert Kraft, owner of the Patriots, recently confessed that before he hired Belichick, many owners in the league, especially Art Modell of the Browns, were telling him not to hire Belichick and Modell even told Kraft it would be “the biggest mistake of his life”. No one thought Belichick was any more than a great defensive assistant. In his first five years as a head coach in Cleveland he had one winning season where he won a playoff game. He did not have the most talented team, but he certainly has never had the best players (other than Brady) in New England. In his first year in New England, with one of the best quarterback in the league at the time, Drew Bledsoe, and a fairly talented team, Belichick sputtered, going 5-11. It wasn’t until Brady was inserted into a starting role that the team took off. Belichick has always sustained a great defense with subpar players, but on the offensive side of the ball, he needed Brady to ignite his success.
In sports, it is a fruitless task to try to separate success. It is impossible to ascribe success to half of a great duo. Just as Montana and Walsh worked to each other’s strengths, Brady and Belichick have helped each other ascend the mountain of greatness, where they now stand on top. Why take credit away from one when success would have been impossible without the other? Brady and Belichick were a pair of underdogs that united and became the most dominant force in the NFL.
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