After Sunday's Patriots game, I tuned in to Bill Belichick's press conference, hoping for a good laugh. I envisioned question after question from reporters trying to bait the coach into waxing on the AFC Championship Game followed Belichick stonewalling them in the most awkward way possible.
"I'm not really worried about which game it is," he'd mumble. "Just focused on the Ravens. They're a good team. Great competitors."
But in real life, Belichick took the stage and something was different. He was still far from cheerful, but unlike a typical Belichick presser, the coach was actually engaged. He was present. And while there was still a heavy helping of deflective cliches, many of his answers were filled with actual substance, perspective, and believe it or not, emotion.
"Of course were excited to be heading into the AFC Championship Game against the Ravens," he said. "Its a great honor, really, to participate in the game; to be playing for the right to represent the AFC the following week."
Excuse me. Did he just say excited?
"Tom has meant a lot to us since hes been here," Belichick said about Brady's setting the record for postseason wins. "He started winning playoff games the first year he really got a chance to participate in them. Tom is a great competitor. He had a great week of preparation as he always does for every game but especially the playoff games. Hes our leader and we all follow him, we all respect him and he led the team today, along with a lot of other guys but he certainly did his job, as hes done many times before. Theres no quarterback Id rather have than Tom Brady."
OK, maybe it's not out of the ordinary for the coach to throw praise on Brady, but this answer was heartfelt. It came from a deeper side of Belichick that's very rarely on display when he's standing at the podium.
And then this morning, during a conference call with the media, Belichick was asked about Sunday's struggles in kick off coverage.
"Overall our kickoff coverage has been one of the best things weve done all year," he said. "Were right at the top of the league in kickoff coverage. We didnt have a good play in the San Francisco game and then we had three bad plays yesterday, but overall thats been probably as consistent as anything weve done as a football team for the entire season."
Honestly, if I had shown you the above quote out of context and asked: "Which NFL coach said this?"
Would you have ever guessed Bill Belichick?
I wouldn't have, but after watching yesterday's press conference, it all makes sense. Belichick's honesty was reminder of something that I had very clearly forgot, even though it comes up every time the Pats are fortunate enough to make it this far.
That is: When it comes to the AFC Championship Game, not even Bill Belichick's immune to getting caught up in the excitement. After all, this is what it's all about. The act, the games, the secrecy, the cliches. It's all in the name of the opportunity that stands before the Patriots this Sunday. One win for a trip back to the Super Bowl. Even the coach has to smile.