FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – At a flag-waving stadium celebrating the nation’s resilience and mourning the loss of thousands, coach Bill Belichick was in a sullen mood.
His New England Patriots were 0-1, preparing for the New York Jets he left when he awkwardly resigned as “HC of the NYJ” at a January 4, 2000 press conference.
He was 5-12 as a patriot coach and the fan base was restless. It was September 23, 2001, the first game after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Foxboro Stadium was filled with a host of emotions. The fans cried and cheered.
Patriotism was bigger than football.
But for Belichick it was red, white, and gloomy.
During foreplay he spoke to Jets trainer Herman Edwards. Next to them was Jets trainer Mike Westhoff, who remembered the conversation in the following ways:
“I’m going into the field and Belichick goes out with Herman and they talk. He’s right next to me and Herman said, ‘How are you?’ Bill said, “We’re awful, we stink.”
“He said, ‘The quarterback [Drew Bledsoe], I dont know [about him]. ‘You lost your opener to Cincinnati and I’ll tell you his exact quote. Belichick said, “I won’t make it through the year. He’ll fire me before the year is over. ‘That’s what I heard. “
Everyone knows what happened a few hours later and for the next 19 years. Bledsoe was injured, Tom Brady was the anonymous pitcher of relief turned goat, and the Patriots built a dynasty that spanned six Super Bowl championships.
That part of the story is well documented. The forgotten part led to September 23, 2001, when Belichick – now considered the greatest coach in NFL history – had such poor prospects that he was convinced he would be fired by Patriot owner Robert Kraft.
While Belichick prepares his current patriots (2-5) to face the jets (0-8) at 8:15 p.m. ET on ESPN’s Monday Night Football, this is the story of his losing season in 2000 when the Patriots played lost football but managed to change the direction of the franchise under their persistent coach.
How it started
Details of the Patriots who bought Belichick in a business from the Jets, his background as a defense assistant in New England in 1996, and his previous tenure as Browns’ coach from 1991-1995 were elaborated. He came up with a plan that sent shock waves through the locker room and coaching offices. Players and staff who were on this team from 2000 recall the following:
Damien Woody, attacking lineman: “The first night we had a training camp, Bill steps in front of the team and says, ‘Look, there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. Don’t ask for breaks because there are no breaks. Just put your head down and get to work. “And then he just leaves. I ask,” Oh my god, what’s going to happen? ” “
Charlie Weis, Offensive Coordinator: “It was [to] Train people on the way Bill does business. “
Ty Law, Defense Attorney: “”[Former coach] Pete Carroll had a different energy, was always optimistic. A lot of people didn’t take it, but I loved it. … When Bill came in, everything was different. It wasn’t as free as it was. “
Belichick, on the first day of training camp 2000: “I know that everyone comes to camp with their own personal and team expectations, but there has to be a significant price we have to pay to get these things done. There is a lot of blood, sweat and tears ahead of us Players concentrate. Dessert will come later. “
Scott Pioli, Vice President of Player Staff: “This year was about building a culture. If you weren’t all in, you were out.”
Brad Seely, specialty team trainer who has been taken over by Carroll’s employees: “It was really one of those emotional situations. We had a lot of new people as coaches, so we had to figure out how to work together, what everyone wanted from each other.”
Chad Cascadden, a former Jets linebacker who signed with New England this spring: “The fitness test; there were a number of different guys who didn’t make it. The punishment was that you couldn’t practice until you passed it. You had to repeat the test every day until they passed. It was like: ‘Wow! Come on!’ “
Tedy Bruschi, linebacker, on the first day of training camp 2000: “The vacation is over. It’s time to win games.”
Woody: “Let me tell you, it was the toughest training camp I have ever been to. It was brutal, like BRUUUUTAL! We just kicked it out. It seemed like a man retired every night, a veteran. Bill would approach the team before the nightly meetings and he would say, “Such and such a person is retired,” and he would move on. Like a recurring topic. “
Matt Chatham, linebacker: “It was one of the toughest years of my life. It was a wear test. Monday practice during the season. Incredibly stressful. You didn’t go home and say, ‘Wow, I’m in the NFL!’ It was more like ‘Holy s — how much longer will I do this?’ “
Otis Smith, corner kick: “Everyone had to follow the same rules. If [quarterback] Drew [Bledsoe] screwed up, Bill would pounce on him, just like if Otis screwed it up. He put it on the screen and said, “That’s why we don’t win, because we don’t perform at the right time. When it’s your time to make a piece, do this piece. ‘That was the culture he was trying to put and it didn’t matter who the player was. “
Cascadden: “The practice field was half a mile down the street from the locker room and we stacked cars to get there. It was crazy. You saw people in pickups with 10 people hanging around the back. ‘How safe is that from a distance “I remember Bob Kraft almost hit me with his car once.”
Woody: “He was just singling out people. We had a very experienced team, and it was a way to lose dead weight, people who had been in the league for a long time. His method was, ‘You know what? I’m going to get these guys through Hell and there will be people who fall by the wayside. The guys who survive, these are the guys we’ll take it out with and see how they do it. ‘”
Belichick, on the first day of training camp 2000: “The most important things I’m going to ask of them that are pretty firm are that they are on time, that they are attentive, that they are in good shape, and that they make a 100 percent effort. When they do these things, things go pretty well smoothly, and if not, it’s very difficult to manage a group of this size if we don’t have that kind of collaboration and compliance. “
Chatham: “If I remember correctly and maybe exaggerating, they cut down to maybe 47 players. Generally the teams cut down to 51-52 and then add a few players from other teams. There were several of us who weren’t. ” with the team at camp and then showed up, practiced for three days, and got up to play Tampa in that first game. My head turned. “
Pioli: “The salary cap was a disaster. By the time we got there, we were $ 10.5 million over the cap and we only had 41 players under contract. Think about it. There were some weeks when we only had 51 people on the roster had, but some of it. That was a message. One of the things we wanted to get rid of was permission. You weren’t given jobs, you had to earn them. “
On January 4, 2000, Bill Belichick resigned as head coach of the Jets just a day after it was announced that he would succeed Bill Parcells.
Woody: “We had to work our way out of the salary cap and we were a team in transition. We were a bad team, but you could tell how he taught. He didn’t let go of a detail. I always said I did.” I learned more about the game of football from Bill than anyone I’ve ever been associated with. “
Curtis Martin, Patriots and Jets run back: “What I also think is good for him is that he had his stay in Cleveland. Then he came to New England and went to New York. He’s one of those crazy genius types who just see all the mistakes he’s made did when he was in Cleveland and came back and was able to cross all of the T’s and puncture all of the I’s that he realized he might not be able to make the first round. “
Blacksmith: “I don’t want to say a year of sacrifice, but it did. It took a while. We tried to bake a cake and make it taste good. We stirred and mixed, using different ingredients to make the right recipe for us to find out. It’s been a tough year, man, until we found out. “
Woody: “The only thing I took away with me from 2000 was how brutally horrific this camp was. It was relentless. It felt like Bill had his foot on your throat for the entire training camp … I tend to to use this year for everything I have I always say to myself, “If I can survive this, there’s nothing out here that I can’t survive.”
Impressions of Brady as a rookie
While Brady is known to have moved from picking in the sixth round (# 199 overall) to one of the game’s greats, there was no sign of it going to be in 2000 (he completed a pass in the Mop-up service). or even until the beginning of the next season.
Seely: “The first thing I remember was that he wasn’t very good. In the end, we’d have a chance to practice and we’d have a 7v7 drill in the red zone or 1v1.1s. Whenever Tom threw the ball, we always bet on the defensive back. “
Weis: “We had Bledsoe, [John] Friesz, [Michael] Bishop and Tommy are all on the list. Bledsoe was obviously the starting quarterback and behind Bledsoe you had a veteran in Friesz and a talented athlete in Bishop. Michael could make any throw known to humanity, but it was very raw. Although we were fascinated by many of the things he did athletically, at this point he was simply not ready to carry out our offense. Friesz, he was definitely on the downside of his career, but he really brought a lot into the board room because he was mentally sharp. And Tommy, we drew and he was kind of wet behind the ears. “
Cascadden: “I’d like to say I saw Brady but to be honest, I don’t remember much about TB when I was there. It was the fourth string. It wasn’t even the third string. And they carried him on the roster, which was very strange. … We really didn’t see much of him. “
Woody: “We had Drew Bledsoe. He had this big $ 100 million deal, so Drew wasn’t going anywhere this year.”
Law: “I knew him because he was a Michigan man, so I got interested in him. Every time you get a guy out of college, you always want to make sure you keep an eye out for him. And the Brady thing from day one He came in and stopped work. Everyone knows who was the first in the building. That was me. I ran four to five miles down the street every morning at 6:30 am before training and when I did came in, guess who else was? The second or third guy – there’s Brady. But at the end of the day I went home. Brady stayed. He had that drive and that fire and that competitiveness. “
Seely: “”[Brady] was always the guy we had to yell at in the field: “Come on! We have a meeting. You will be late. ‘Because he always stayed out there doing extra work. It was self-made from that beginner year to what it has become. You’d say they’re not the same player. “
Weis: “One of the things he enjoyed doing during the year was that after training he got people who had his status and tried to go back and warm up again [the] Script of that day. It was very interesting to see because even though he couldn’t play in our eyes, he was preparing to play in his eyes. He treated it as an opportunity to get reruns, with people of similar status to him. “
Blacksmith: “He was always competitive and always talked a lot – in practice about burning us and doing this and that. He was the guy from day one.”
Woody: “The thing about Brady this year was, man, you could see it in him. Those qualities that he has shown throughout his career have always been there.”
Seely: “But at the time we were like, ‘I don’t know if this guy will ever be good enough to play in the NFL.’ Not to mention what he became. You have to give him a lot of credit just for his work ethic. I took that with Tom from that year – I didn’t think he was an NFL player, then he became one of the if not the greatest of all time. “
Weis: “One of the biggest things in history was how the quarterback room went from Bledsoe, Friesz, Bishop and Tommy to just two people – Bledsoe and Tommy. But there was a big division between them. [VP of player personnel] Scott [Pioli] and Bill said they had to get an experienced quarterback to be # 2. That person was Damon Huard [in 2001]. “
Unforgettable games along the way
The Patriots lost their first four games before Belichick celebrated his first win on the road against the Denver Broncos (28:19). Notable losses came on Belichick’s return to Cleveland (19-11) and a Thanksgiving clunker in Detroit (34-9) where Brady made his first career pass in garbage time.
Law: “I think we had good players but we stuck together. Every time you play 5-11 and you are a professional football team, you are not very good.”
Chatham: “I didn’t even know the names of my teammates. I wrote s — all over the tape on my wrists to remind myself of what I was doing because I had just got there at the end of training camp. I was young. There were some other new people in the building like me. It was just like having big eyes. “
Blacksmith: “It was very difficult to go to work, but we had to stay on course and believe in what we wanted to put together. It was very, very difficult to start as slowly as we did.”
Woody: “It’s been a tough year, man. Bill believed in hitting all year round and hitting more. Even for me, a sophomore, I even told my wife, ‘I don’t know if I can am I will be able to survive in the league if it turns out to be my whole career. ‘”
Chatham: “If you go back and look at the roster sales in 2000, it was kind of a bingo thing every Monday morning. People in and out. There were a lot of players coming and going for a week or two. It was very much that Bill and Scott just saw who was going to buy their way, who could prevail, who was willing to go through this. “
Woody: “0-4 – we were bad. We were at a crossroads. We had a lot of old veterans and Bill cut a lot of these guys. Lots of guys who really did well [Bill] Packages. We just didn’t have a lot of talent. “
Blacksmith: “I think our lowest point was losing to the Jets twice. Losing Cleveland was bad, but losing the Jets twice was tough because, if you remember, we were all in the Jets in 1999. They got us in New Jersey and New Jersey beaten then we go to New England and the Jets kick our asses, I think they felt like it solidified in terms of what they did, let some of us go and Bill doesn’t accept that [Jets] Job.”
Seely: “The reason I remember playing the Browns was because Belichick returned to Cleveland for the first time since training. It was just a bad day for us. I only remember that game when I got back on the plane and got back into the office and everyone was sitting around asking, “What are we going to do now?” We really couldn’t do anything other than keep working and trying to win more games. “
Law: “I don’t remember this was a big story because you think about it, Patriots-Cleveland. What would Deion do? [Sanders] say? “Isn’t it important to anyone! Nobody gives as —. ‘I don’t think that was a big deal for the players. It definitely didn’t affect us. “
Seely: “I also remember it was a long Thanksgiving day in Detroit. We couldn’t do anything right in this game.”
Law: “We got our asses whipped on Thanksgiving. I don’t know if we thought of the turkey at home. We weren’t used to it.”
Blacksmith: “You get some of your naysayers: ‘Oh, they suck, they need a new team, we need new players, we need a new coach.’ You hear something about it too. We could feed on it too. “
Ivan Fears, WRs / RBs coach: “The only thing I would say about this year, we just couldn’t make enough games in crunch time. That was a big deal. When you needed someone to make games, we just didn’t have enough guns. That was “Of course, our toughest year. I thought we corrected that and hit a new plateau next year.”
In the penultimate game of the season in Buffalo, three players (Law, Troy Brown and Terry Glenn) stayed behind after the game because they didn’t want to fly in high winds. They took a bus to Canada that evening, Law got separated, and they all ended up in the Headlines for the wrong reason. The Patriots lost their last game of the season at home to Miami 27-24, which ended in bizarre fashion when referee Johnny Grier called both teams back on the field for one final game after thinking the game was over. It was an odd end to the season.
Stepping stone to excellence
The lump in 2000 led the Patriots to large numbers of free agents in the off-season. After a 5-5 start to the 2001 season, they never lost again and won the Super Bowl XXXVI.
Pioli: “It was critical for so many reasons. The lost season? (Laughs) Those who lived it and became champions didn’t lose anything to us last year. Five and eleven felt like five years. People don’t understand the extent of all the emotions and risks wrapped up in the year 2000. “
Law: “It was his sophomore year and I sold my apartment to Tom. I had to help a man from Michigan, so I left all that stuff there, the TV, everything. I didn’t take anything but my clothes. I gave him sofas and a pool relaxed tables, beds. I said, “Just bring yourself with me” because he wasn’t making any money. I fought, it was $ 125 less than what I could have got for it at the market. The basement was just finished got the big job. But I saw how hard this guy works. “
Weis: “At that point, Bill had his footprint written down: ‘This is how this organization is going to work.’ The first time we walked between parcells with hostility, [former VP of player personnel] Bobby Grier and Kraft. We came for the second time and now it was Belichick and Pioli. They were definitely on the same page. It was very different there. It was Bill’s deal. It would be like that. That way, everything went pretty smoothly. “
Seely: “If you look back on 2001, we signed a number of free agents this off-season [guard Mike Compton, linebacker Bryan Cox, linebacker Larry Izzo, receiver David Patten, linebacker Roman Phifer, defensive end Anthony Pleasant, running back Antowain Smith and linebacker Mike Vrabel]. They all seemed to have very good years for us next year. People who weren’t really high profile people who would cost a lot of money but I think we signed up like 15 people who were really successful for us. They were all people who fit the Patriot profile that has always been that way – people who were smart, tough, and loved football. “
Law: “He knew what he had in the locker room, in terms of veterans and the people he could rely on from a leadership standpoint as of 2000. And he added. It was all part of the transition. It took a little time. One year. Then we’ll be in the Super Bowl next year. “