Just when NFL fans thought the AFC east division might be there for the taking, the New England Patriots sign former league MVP Cam Newton to replace long-time division tormentor Tom Brady.
In the off-season of 2000 New England Patriots fortunes changed forever.
The Pats traded for the right to sign Bill Belichick as head coach, and then in the NFL draft with pick 199 they drafted a little-known quarterback out of Michigan named Tom Brady.
Twenty years later and the Patriots have appeared in nine Super Bowls, winning six of them, and boast 19 consecutive winning seasons.
It’s simply known as the Patriots dynasty, and it’s something we might not see in a salary cap-driven sporting league ever again. Almost certainly it won’t be seen in the NFL again.
Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are polar opposites. Brady is a charismatic people quarterback but Belichick is a cold football lover who cares only about winning football games. Brady’s obsession with winning football games and being the best football player he can be is what made this relationship work for so long.
Belichick implemented a few things to live by if you were to join the Patriots: ‘Do your job’ and the ‘Patriots way’. Adherence was expected, and if you didn’t live the Patriots way and do your job, you’d be shown the door faster than you could imagine.
You’d rarely hear anything coming out of the Patriots locker room – no rumours of unhappy players and definitely no players running their mouth to the media or on social media, which is rare in a sport with so many big egos. But taskmaster Bill Belichick made it possible for everyone to be on the same page every year in their quest to win Super Bowls.
In the 2000 season the Patriots went 5-11, but Brady wasn’t the starting quarterback – that position belonged to four-time Pro Bowler Drew Bledsoe, who had actually signed a then record ten-year $103 million contract with the Patriots after the 2000 season. Week 2 of the 2001 season and Bledsoe was injured on a sack, leaving him with internal bleeding. From that point on Tom Brady never relinquished the starting quarterback position until 2020.
Brady officially took over as starting quarterback in Week 3 for the 0-2 Patriots. He went 11-3 in the regular season and went on to win the Super Bowl against the heavily favoured St Louis Rams. The Brady and Belichick reign had begun, but nobody could guess what would come next.
The Patriots lost the first game in 2003 31-0, which was the biggest loss in the Brady-Belichick era, but what followed was possibly the most dominant two-season stretch the NFL has ever seen. New England lost only three more games across between 2003 and 2004, which resulted in back-to-back Super Bowl victories.
After just four years of Brady and Belichick together they had three Super Bowl rings.
The next few years were all solid regular seasons but ended in failed play-off attempts, as underscored by the 2007 season. After going undefeated 16-0 throughout the regular season, with Brady throwing for a then-record 50 touchdowns and winning his first MVP award, thanks to David Tyree’s helmet catch the New York Giants unfortunately managed to hand the Patriots their first loss of the season in the Super Bowl.
The 2008 season started as poorly as you could possibly think. Tom Brady tore his ACL in the first match and missed the season. In a true reflection of how good Bill Belichick is, he led a Patriots team with a backup quarterback to an 11-5 result, but due to a series of tie breakers the 2008 Patriots became the second team in history in miss the play-offs with an 11-5 record. This would be one of only three times Bill Belichick would miss the play-offs as Patriots head coach.
The dynasty was really cemented between 2011-18. New England made the AFC championship game every single year, winning five of them, and made five Super Bowl trips in eight years. They won three more Super Bowl rings, making it six in total, which means Brady owns the most Super Bowl rings as a player and Belichick the most as a coach, plus of course they have the most Super Bowl wins for a coach-player combination in NFL history.
The culture needs to be spot on for a sporting team to have such sustained success. Belichick has his ways and has stuck to his formula throughout his career. He has plenty of stories about releasing players for not living the Patriots way by not showing up to team meetings on time or missing sessions – it’s something Belichick won’t tolerate.
Belichick led the Patriots way, but the most important display of culture that had been built was from Tom Brady. Despite winning MVP awards and performing at a constantly high level, he regularly took pay cuts throughout his tenure so the Patriots could afford to pay for other stars to help win games of football.
The NFL have consistently seen teams bob up and make a Super Bowl or win a Super Bowl only not to be seen on the big stage any time soon. In recent times we’ve seen Cam Newton win a league MVP and carry the Panthers to a Super Bowl while still on his rookie contract. He then demanded a five-year, $103 million contract, which has left the Panthers missing the play-offs in three of the past four seasons – and they were eliminated in the first round in that one season they did make the post-season.
That’s just one example of a team that has struggled after making a Super Bowl. The Patriots are lucky that Tom Brady has never demanded a huge contract. Even after his MVP season in 2007 he asked for only $8 million a year. It definitely helps that his wife is one of the highest-earning supermodels in the world, but nobody would bat an eyelid if Brady asked for what he probably deserves each year – but that’s not his way. He wants to win, and the best way to win is to have money spent elsewhere for players to protect him and players he can throw to.
A 20-year relationship in any context is impressive, and for Brady and Belichick to be together for 20 years, including 18 full seasons, and to win six Super Bowls is incredible. It’s something we won’t see in the NFL again. The writing has been on the wall about a potential split between the two for a few seasons, but it still doesn’t seem right for it to finally happen. It’s a credit to the professionalism of the two that they were able to compete to the very end – even this year halfway through the season the 10-1 Patriots were Super Bowl favourites.
It sure will take some getting used to seeing Brady in a different jersey, but everything must come to an end. The Patriots dynasty has concluded for now, but don’t write off Bill Belichick just yet.