Like Tyson entering the ring, Bill Belichick is pretty much unadorned when he settles into his solitary spot on the sidelines on game days.
Hoody or pullover? Check. Scowl? Check. Headset? Check. Good to go.
But tucked in the pocket of that hoody or pullover are what would be the equivalent of brass knuckles for Tyson. A small stack of index cards and a golf pencil.
You’ve seen it over the past 14 years. The camera pans to the Patriots sideline and there’s Belichick, jotting like a fiend.
What, exactly, is he writing down?
“Basically things I feel like we need to do during the game,” he said. “Adjustments or things I want to talk about at halftime or something I want to remember.”
Now, Belichick could easily take the “What the hell do you think I’m writing down, a Home Depot list? Caulk. High-grit sandpaper.” stance.
But over the years, I’ve come to realize he actually likes the “How does it work?” line of questioning.
What does he do with the notes?
“I usually transfer them so it would be notes after the game,” he explains. “Maybe it’s a communication between the coaches we need to talk about or some substitution where something happened. Something you won’t see on film because it’s not a film play, it’s something that happened on the sideline or press box. Maybe we missed something on a play from the press box. We write it down and talk about how we need to correct it. Sometimes it’s a halftime thing, sometimes it’s a day after the game thing. I just then have a record of it.”
The in-game jotting began when Belichick was with the Giants. It’s index cards, not note paper. And the preferred utencil, he says, is a golf pencil.
Does he ever struggle to read his own in-game scratch?
"I can usually . . . if I wrote it down. it’s usually something pretty significant,” he says.
Belichick is a record-keeper. And he’s no Luddite, using technology extensively throughout the Patriots program so few decisions are made by happenstance.
If you needed to know what the Patriots did on the second Wednesday in December back in 2008, he could find that. And the records compiled over 14 seasons in New England allow him to tweak and adjust.
“Each year is its own year and the needs of the 2013 Patriots are different than’11 or the lockout season or any of them,” Belichick explained. “Sometimes I go back and say, ‘Hey, what did we do on a particular day?’ [I’ll ask someone to] pull up all of our Friday schedules from last year and see ‘What did we do on Friday?’ Because sometimes you change things around and you have different situations where you change the order.”
“Sometimes we do two-minute drill on Wednesday, sometimes on Thursday, sometimes on Friday over the course of the years,” he pointed out. “You go back and reference and see why you did it on a particular day. We always go back and revisit at the end of the year the whole schedule. Our meeting times, our practice times. The media thing used to be 30 minutes, now it’s 45. Now we got this Comcast thing (on Wednesdays, Patriots Wednesday Live) that affects your schedule. Maybe we make a schedule based on those reasons, maybe we make them for football reasons.”
Sunday, the Patriots play at Cincinnati. The Godfather of Football Coaching and Planning, Paul Brown, was the Bengals’ founder and is Belichick’s role model.
The pencil and the index cards may seem anachronisms. But that kind of organization and record-keeping - in any occupation - is timeless.