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'There was tension in the relationship, but the miracle here is they could do it for 20 years'

Jeff Benedict, author of a new book on the New England Patriots, is this week’s guest on Behind the Lines.

Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.
Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.
Image: Fred Kfoury Iii

Updated Sep 1st 2020, 3:00 PM

AN OLD AMERICAN sports joke: a dynasty is defined as a family in China ruling for 1,000 years or a New York team winning three games in a row. 

And it was a former New York coach who built an American sports dynasty…but he built it in New England, along with a quarterback called Tom Brady and an owner called Robert Kraft. 

The remarkable story of the New England Patriots modern-day dominance of the NFL is told in The Dynasty, a new book by Jeff Benedict, whose last book was an acclaimed biography of Tiger Woods co-written with Armen Keteyian. 

Like the Woods biography that came before it, this comes with a serious heft of research and reporting behind it, and is a comprehensive look at the Patriots’ successes, failures and controversies charted from the days Kraft first set his sights on ownership. 

The vehicle for telling the story are the personalities of and relationships between Brady, Kraft, and coach Bill Belichick, and the dynamic between Brady and Belichick is the most fascinating.

Kraft’s relationships to both seem less complex: he genuinely loves Brady – his farewell text message to Brady earlier this year read “Love you more than you know for being so classy in everything you do. Your parents should be so proud. I love them for creating you. You are truly one of a kind” – while Kraft respected Belichick’s qualities and was thus canny enough to get out of his way on most issues. 

The Brady/Belichick dynamic was less clear-cut. 

Benedict writes that Brady consistently strove for fatherly approval from his coach but it was rarely articulated, given Belichick is hardly the most effusive of men. 

“I think he probably never got it to the degree he wanted it”, says Benedict. “Tom is a very loyal person and is extremely disciplined and hard-working. He got fatherly approval from his father and he got it from Robert Kraft.

nfl-super-bowl-liii-new-england-patriots-vs-los-angeles-rams Kraft and Brady after Superbowl LIII. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

“It’s worth saying that as a lot of fathers are not really good at showing their children fatherly approval, I think Tom Brady’s father was exceptional at that. Many sports team owners are not good at all in showing that approval and building the kind of relationship that Kraft built with Brady.

“From his head coach, it comes down to the kind of personality Belichick has. He didn’t communicate or physically demonstrate that kind of relationship the way Kraft did, they had a different way of doing that.

“Belichick’s way of showing how much he valued and appreciated Brady was how much trust he put in his hands. That’s an unspoken form of approval. It doesn’t involve saying anything, it doesn’t involve a physical pat on the back, but clearly, he looked at Brady as someone he absolutely trusted with putting the controls of the offence in his hands.

“He did that for 20 years. That was his way. It’s a harder edge and it builds that interesting complexity between the two men.” 

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Tensions grew between Belichick and Brady as the years went by, culminating in a major ESPN report in 2018 which openly asked whether this was the beginning of the end for the duo. ESPN cited Belichick’s decision to revoke privileged access for Alex Guerrero, Brady’s business partner, body coach, and the man behind the TB12 Method, which Brady claimed was helping to stay healthy and extend his career into his forties. 

Kraft diffused tensions and kept the show on the road for another couple of years, but Brady this year ended his 20-year association with the Patriots and sign for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

“This is a relationship that had real tension in it at times, particularly in the last 10 years”, says Benedict. “You have to look at it in its totality. When these two guys first met, Belichick was an unproven head coach. He wasn’t a winner. He had a losing record. Tom Brady had never started a game when Belichick picked him. In a way, Belichick staked his career on an unproven rookie. Brady hitched his wagon to an unproven coach. So if you look at the early years of the relationship, it’s a fantastic formative partnership between two guys who very quickly get to the top of the mountain together.

“They win a Superbowl together in the first year Brady is on the field. They win two more in the next three years, it’s pretty incredible.

“That’s the foundation of the relationship. As time goes on, if their relationship had gone the same way as every previous head coach/QB relationship in the annals of the NFL, after about 10 years they would have broken up and parted ways. That didn’t happen here and that’s because of Robert Kraft. They stay together for a second 10-year period, and in the second 10 years they win thee more Superbowls and went to five more.

“I think you should expect a lot of tension in a relationship like that. I make the comparison to Lennon and McCartney in this book for a reason. When you become the best rock band in the world there’s going to be tension. That tension produced some incredible music. The Beatles were a hit machine; Brady/Belichick was a winning machine.

“There was tension but when Belichick put on a headset and Brady a helmet, they went places nobody else could go. The miracle here is they could do it for 20 years. That, to me, is the story.

“That’s a lot more interesting than there was a little tension along the way. There should be tension.” 

So what does Benedict see in store this year, now the Brady/Belichick partnership is no more? 

“Time will tell. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that in the last 20 years of American football there has been nobody more competitive and more determined to win than those two guys.

“When they were together, I described it as an unfair advantage. You have the two best guys on the same payroll for 20 years. It’s not a lie their drive to win is any way diminished, and I suspect that these guys, as long as they are doing their jobs, will be successful.” 

Listen to the full interview with Jeff Benedict on Behind the Lines, our sportswriting podcast exclusive to members of The42. To subscribe and gain access to a 42-episode back catalogue, go to members.the42.ie. 

The Dynasty by Jeff Benedict is published by Simon & Schuster and is available now. 

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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