The Patriots are getting ready to fly down to Miami, a place where they haven’t enjoyed much success, but while the team is in flight, Bill Belichick’s mind will be on more than the Dolphins.
Perhaps the most storied football rivalry in history will once again be renewed on Saturday as Army and Navy will go at it for the 119th time. The game has special meaning for many, but none more so than Belichick.
The coach admitted it will be hard to see the game as the team travels to Miami, but that won’t stop him from doing his best to stay up to date.
“Joe and I talk about it every day,” Belichick said, referring to long snapper and Navy member Joe Cardona. “When your Dad coaches at Navy, that’s a huge part of your life. That game’s a huge part of everybody’s life at those two academies and it extended well beyond that. You know in May how many days there are left until you play Army.”
Belichick then went down memory lane, discussing some of his favorite moments watching the teams play over the years, which obviously began in his formative years watching his father, Steven, as a member of the Navy coaching staff.
“Pretty much all of them, especially the ones that Navy won,” Belichick began. “The ’62 game was Staubach’s sophomore year. They wore skulls and crossbones on their helmets. President Kennedy was at that game, he sat kind of right in front of us.
“The next year the game was postponed a week after President Kennedy was assassinated. That was the year Navy stopped Army on the 4-yard line and went to the Cotton Bowl. Those were pretty memorable games. Joe Bellino’s three-touchdown game in ’59 … that was the first game I ever remember watching. That and the Colts and the Giants. Navy won 43-12.
“Those were great memories. It’s a tremendous week there with the spirit of the week and pep rally on Thursday night. The sendoff of the team on Friday and then coming back and the victory bell on Sunday. Honestly that kind of set the tone for the whole rest of the year. When you live in that world, that’s the world you’re living in. I don’t want to say it’s a one-game season, but in some respects it really is.”
He’s the man – Belichick also weighed in a couple of topics regarding his team, specifically Devin McCourty. The veteran corner was announced as the Patriots Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee on Thursday, and the coach strongly agreed with that decision.
“He’s so deserving of that recognition,” Belichick began. “Devin’s just a tremendous person. Team captain ever since he got here, second year. He’s been a great player for us, great leader for us. He’s a great example for the younger players. He does everything well, he trains well, studies, plays special teams, defense, plays deep, up on the line, plays corner, plays safety, returns kickoffs, cover kickoffs. He’s a great player to have on this team. He’s been a great addition to our team from the day he got here.”
“It’s pretty special to come on to a veteran-based team and be recognized [as captain] that quickly. His unselfishness, presence, leadership and team commitment usually take at least a year if not longer but Devin was recognized in a year and rightfully so.”
Corner covered – Rookie J.C. Jackson has opened some eyes with his strong play recently, particularly covering the deep ball. Belichick talked about the rookie’s developed early on.
“J.C.’s really improved a lot over the course of the year. He’s gotten a lot better,” Belichick said. “He takes coaching well. He understands what he needs to see or the technique he needs to use and how he can improve what he’s doing. Then he works on it and he’s done that all year.
“He has good ball skills and hand-eye coordination to get his hands on the ball to break up plays. He just continues to improve in our system, in his individual techniques, in his communication with his teammates and understanding situational football. Understanding how the teams we play against and how different they are from week to week and moving to the current team and playing them differently than the way you play other teams. That’s part of the learning process that all young players go through.”
In a Flash – Josh Gordon has continued to improve each week, and lately the production has been more efficient than it was earlier in the season. Gordon has caught the last eight balls thrown in his direction over the past two weeks, and Belichick has notice the improvement.
“I think it’s gotten better each week,” Belichick said. “Each team is different and there are always new things to work on. He’s done a good job with all of that. The reps and timing has gotten better with both him and Tom [Brady] and the rest of the offense.
“There’s new stuff every week and each week there’s a new challenge.”