PHOENIX --- With his mumbled, one-word answers and stern demeanor, Bill Belichick often seems as gray as the hooded sweatshirt he wears on the sideline, as prickly as the cactuses seen everywhere at the site of this year's Super Bowl.
So it was surprising -- shocking to some -- that the New England Patriots' coach would even crack a joke at a media session this week. Or curl his mouth into a smile upon hearing that Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers would be the halftime entertainment.
"I wish I could stand out there and listen to it," he said.
Belichick rocks? Who'd have guessed?
And how about that quip at the expense of the Mexican TV reporter who came to Media Day in a wedding dress and suggested to him that she was more attractive than model Gisele Bundchen, Tom Brady's girlfriend.
"I wouldn't go that far," Belichick said.
Even the Boston Globe asked, "Who kidnapped Bill Belichick? Who invaded his body?"
Of course, he still won't acknowledge that the Patriots are on the verge of becoming the first NFL team to go 19-0. The "U" word -- for "unbeaten" -- has not crossed his lips at any point during the first 18 victories, so why should he say it now?
The 55-year-old Belichick is on his way to becoming one of the most successful coaches in NFL history -- perhaps the most successful.
If the Patriots beat the New York Giants -- and they are favored by nearly two touchdowns -- they will have won their fourth Super Bowl in seven seasons, the most successful run in nearly 30 years in a league that legislates parity among its teams.
The only real comparisons are Vince Lombardi, who won five titles in seven seasons in Green Bay; Chuck Noll, who won four in six seasons with Pittsburgh in the 1970s; and Bill Walsh, who built a San Francisco team that won four Super Bowls between 1981-89.
But none of them operated with free agency and a salary cap that makes it nearly impossible for a successful team to keep all its stars.
Belichick, the son of a career assistant coach at the U.S. Naval Academy, might be closest to Walsh, who was known as "The Genius" for his offensive innovations that are still very much in style.
Belichick's innovations are defensive -- especially those he used to slow down high-powered Buffalo and St. Louis offenses in the 1991 and 2002 Super Bowls, the first as defensive coordinator for the Giants, the second as head coach of the Patriots.
Like Walsh, Belichick lets people know he's smart.
He often projects an image that he's above explaining the complexities of his schemes and that he's simply smarter than his 31 adversaries.
Many of them resent him for that as much as they resent him for the episode in the first game of the season when a Patriots employee was caught taping the defensive signals of the New York Jets, coached by former Belichick assistant and protege Eric Mangini. Belichick was fined $500,000 by the league.
"He's one of the smartest people I've ever known, maybe the smartest. That's why I hired him," said Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who, despite numerous calls urging him to stay away from Belichick, hired him in 2000 even though his record as the coach of the Cleveland Browns from 1991-95 was 37-45.
GUY UP FOR HALL
Punter Ray Guy, a Thomson native, is one of 17 players who will be considered for election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame when the Board of Selectors meet today. A minimum positive vote of 80 percent is needed to be elected.
For the second consecutive year and the seventh time since 1992, Guy is one of the finalists. Guy, widely regarded as the game's best punter, has been eligible for induction since 1992.
The other finalists:
- WR Cris Carter
- DE Fred Dean
- DE Richard Dent
- RB Marshall Goldberg
- LB Randy Gradishar
- CB Darrell Green
- G Russ Grimm
- G Bob Kuechenberg
- G Randall McDaniel
- WR Art Monk
- WR Andre Reed
- LB Derrick Thomas
- CB Emmitt Thomas
- LB Andre Tippett
- T Gary Zimmerman
SUPER BOWL XLII
New England Patriots vs. New York Giants
WHEN: 6:17 p.m. Sunday, Fox-Ch. 54
WHERE: University of Phoenix Stadium; Glendale, Ariz.
LINE: Patriots by 12