They’re pro football’s dynamic duo, the crusty head coach and ageless quarterback, chasing yet another Super Bowl title.
But former Patriots receiver P.K. Sam believes it’s a burning desire to constantly prove themselves that sets New England’s Bill Belichick and Tom Brady above the rest in the NFL.
“It’s a rare case of two people being on the same page,” Sam, also a former CFL player, said via telephone. “They both had a lot to prove . . . and I think they just came together and said, ‘No matter what, we’re going to do this.’
“It’s something I don’t think we’ll see again in our lifetime.”
Belichick became New England’s head coach in 2000, five years after being fired by the Cleveland Browns. Brady, now 39, arrived months later as a sixth-round draft pick despite a 20-5 record as a two-year starter at Michigan.
They’ll make a record seventh Super Bowl appearance together Sunday when New England faces the Atlanta Falcons. A win would be their fifth, the most for a head coach-quarterback tandem.
The six-foot-three, 210-pound Sam knows a thing or two about Belichick and Brady. The former Florida State receiver was a 2004 fifth-round pick by New England and spent two seasons there, receiving a Super Bowl ring as a 21-year-old rookie.
Since ’01, New England has the NFL’s most regular-season (196), playoff (24) and Super Bowl wins (four). Belichick and Brady have been a constant for a franchise forever tweaking its roster.
Sam, 33, appeared in two of New England’s first five games in 2004 before going on injured reserve with a groin injury. Sam said he locked horns with Belichick about the move because it cost him roughly US$70,000 in salary and Sam felt he could’ve returned later that season.
Sam went to the reserve/suspended list in January 2005 after violating team rules. He wasn’t with the Patriots when they beat the Philadelphia Eagles 24-21 in Super Bowl XXXIX.
“What people don’t know was back in my day if you were drafted after the third round, you had what was called a split contract,” said Sam, now working in IT sales in Dayton, Ohio. “If you went on IR, your contract was split in half.
“It was a case of me standing my ground and obviously he stood his. But I took it too far, I made a mistake and showed up late one day and that was kind of the final straw.”
Sam also played for Cincinnati, Oakland, Miami and Buffalo as well as Toronto (2008-09, 2011) and Calgary (2010) in the CFL. He remained upset about the New England suspension until 2012 when while listening to a radio program he heard someone say, ‘Until you wish success for people, you yourself will never receive it.’
That prompted Sam to write an apology to Belichick, stating he hoped one day they could meet and shake hands. That happened months later at the Super Bowl in Indianapolis where the Patriots lost 21-17 to the New York Giants.
Sam wrote Belichick again last week but his letter was aimed at Patriots players.
“I’m not sure he’ll have time to read it to them,” Sam said. “It’s to the younger guys to just make sure they’re on the same page.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re on IR or the practice squad, you’re still part of the team and your actions can help or hurt the team going into Super Bowl Sunday.”
Time has given Sam a new perspective on Belichick’s tough-love approach.
“It’s difficult when you’re young but as an older guy now what he teaches you lasts beyond football,” Sam said. “Accountability and the slogan that’s become famous and attached to his name: ‘Just do your job.’ That’s life.
“You go in and focus on your job . . . keep your head down, give 100 per cent and life works out. He holds you to a different standard and if you don’t (meet) those standards he gets rid of you. It’s that simple.”
However, Sam feels Belichick has mellowed with time.
“Now you see guys dancing on the sidelines and in the end zone,” Sam said. “I think you have to change with the times.
“I don’t know if he’d agree but I believe he has loosened up and understands the change in athletes and embraces that with his own rules and everybody fits in.”
Sam also got to know Brady while in New England, sharing a locker beside the star quarterback.
“He’s a great guy and he’s human, I think people forget that,” Sam said. “Sometimes when we talked he’d tell me stories about how he missed going to places he used to be able to go to before he started winning Super Bowls.”
Like Belichick, Sam said Brady enjoys light moments but is all business on the field.
“I remember my first game I wasn’t paying attention during warmups and ran the wrong route,” Sam said. “He wouldn’t throw to me anymore during warmups, the backup had to.
“I was surprised at the time but he was focused, he was trying to win the game.”
Brady has no intention of slowing down any time soon. He plans to play another six years.
“That just shows he loves to compete,” Sam said. “He has enough money, he has all the accolades but still wants to beat your butt.
“That’s what makes him Tom Brady.”
Sam will watch Sunday’s game and admits he wonders about what might’ve been.
“My wife, some buddies and I talk about it more than we probably should,” Sam said with a chuckle. “I talk about it more as a learning tool for younger guys, even my kids (two young sons, stepdaughter).
“When they’re asked to do something and don’t, I’ll reference my time in New England. I’ll say, ‘Hey, Daddy should’ve been a millionaire by just listening to what coach was saying and following the rules. When you’re part of a team and those are the rules, you have to follow them. That’s life.'”
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press