Bill Belichick's been around football for a long time -- emphasis on long. But if his interview with the guys from 'Inside the NFL' is any indication of the connections he's made over the years, it's pretty obvious why he's so highly regarded by just about everyone around the league -- and beyond.
Take Charles Barkley for example. That's right, Charles Barkley. You probably never saw Belichick and Barkley grabbing dinner together while he was head coach of the Cleveland Browns, but it happened.
The two go way back to the early-to-mid '90s, and on Wednesday night Belichick joined host Cris Collinworth and special guest Barkley on Showtime's 'Inside the NFL', where Belichick joked that dinner with Barkley was one of the highlights in his Cleveland career.
"I have a lot of respect for Charles ... as a competitor, athlete," Belichick said. "How do you lead the NBA in rebounding at 6-4? That's what a real competitor is."
Although Barkley is officially listed at 6-foot-6, 252 pounds, the message is still clear, and coincides with Belichick's mentality that the player who works the hardest will get the most opportunities. Barkley was certainly a player who fit that mold while in the league, and one that you can bet Belichick would have utilized to the fullest.
Speaking of such, just how would have Belichick used Barkley if he played in the NFL?
"Tight end," Belichick answered. "Great hands, smart, knows how to get open . . . tough in the red area, and we'd use him on some crackback blocks."
Sound familiar? Like, maybe, Rob Gronkowski? Gronkowski is also listed at 6-foot-6, 265 pounds, and seems to fit the definition Belichick gave of Barkley.
Collinsworth joked that Belichick's friendship with Barkley is what got him on the show, after alleged failed attempts by Phil Simms -- and expert analyst on the show -- to get him on.
"Phil knows I'd do anything to help him, so that's a bunch of garbage," Belichick said with a smile.
In 1979, Belichick and Simms began their careers with the Giants, Belichick as the special teams coach and Simms as the first pick made by the Giants in the 1979 NFL draft.
"After about a year or so, nobody wanted either of us," Belichick joked.
That's certainly true for Simms, whose career started off very slow due to injury and underwhelming play, but probably not so true for Belichick.
He eventually became the Giants' defensive coordinator in 1985 and the team, with Simms at quarterback, won two Super Bowls. Simms played a major role in the first one in 1986, and helped get the Giants to the second one before breaking his foot in the 14th week of the 1990 season.
But Belichick's Giants days are far behind him, and asked about his current Patriots team, Belichick seemed pleased with the results to date.
"I thought that the win against Dallas was a good, tough win for our football team," he said. "We haven't had a lot of those lately, to be honest."
Belichick specifically pointed to the last defensive stop and offensive drive of the game, when Patriots players on both sides of the ball "stepped up when they had to."
And then the conversation turned to the coaches' handshake at the end of games, in light of the recent exchange between the 49ers' Jim Harbough and the Lions' Jim Schwartz.
Belichick addressed similar questions earlier this week, but kept it interesting, saying again that he thinks the whole thing is a little bit overblown in terms of media coverage, but also admitting: "I've had a lot of memorable handshakes at the end of games and coaches have said things to me that I've remembered for the rest of my life."
Whether win or lose, Belichick said, an opposing coach can say the right thing and it means a lot.
No doubt Belichick heard a lot of "keep your head up" handshakes while head coaching the Browns.
In 1995, Belichick's last year with the team and the team's last year in Cleveland before moving to Baltimore, they held the 10th pick in the NFL draft. Belichick and the Browns' director of player personnel at the time, Michael Lombardi (now the insider on 'Inside the NFL'), had their eyes on a player in particular -- Warren Sapp.
Sapp is now also an expert analyst on 'Inside the NFL' (seeing a trend here?), although he wasn't present for the interview.
So what happened in 1995? Why didn't the Browns take Sapp, a seven-time Pro Bowler?
"Mike Lombardi loved Sapp, as I did," Belichick recalled. "It was one of those situations where the two of us were overruled by other powers to be in the organization on that day."
Belichick is most likely talking about the Browns owner at the time, Art Modell. The Browns ended up trading that pick to the San Francisco 49ers for a 1995 first-round pick (30th overall), a 1995 fourth-round pick, and a 1996 first-round pick.
So how did it work out for the Browns? They took Craig Powell, a linebacker out of Ohio State with their first pick in 1995. Powell was a bust, and out of the league after three seasons.
In 1996, after Modell moved the Browns to Baltimore, the Ravens drafted Ray Lewis with the pick they received in the deal. By then though, Belichick was gone.
He was on his way to serve as assistant head coach under Bill Parcells in New England.