Bill Belichick’s knowledge of the game of football and his appreciation for those who shaped it over the past century are all well documented, which is why Sunday’s trip to Cincinnati has a special meaning for the New England Patriots’ head coach. His team takes on the Bengals in the stadium named after their co-founder and first head coach — a man Belichick has long admired for his role in making pro football what it is today: Paul Brown.
Brown, who was also the long-time head coach and namesake of the Cleveland Browns, is one of the most influential and successful figures in the history of the NFL. From professionalizing the game, to revolutionizing practice schedules and schemes, to introducing state-of-the-art inventions such as face masks and coach-quarterback radio communication, the game as we know it would not exist without Brown’s contributions.
Ever the historian, Belichick spoke about the impact the Hall of Fame coach had on him and the game itself during a media conference call earlier this week: “Coach Brown’s really the professional coach that I’ve probably looked up to more than any other, just in terms of the contributions he made to the game, and the professional way that he did things and the way he was able to adapt, and be innovative and creative to find ways to win.”
“I’ve always admired Coach Brown and had the opportunity to meet him when I was younger and be around him a little bit. And then the rest of the Brown family, Mike [Brown] and Pete [Brown], who recently passed away. It’s a football family, it’s a football environment,” continued Belichick.
While the Brown family is still deeply involved with the Bengals organization — his son Mike is the team’s owner and president — the late coach’s impact goes far beyond the club he helped establish in 1968, as Belichick pointed out: “Going back to those Bengals’ training camps, what Coach Brown did, what started at the Severn School in Annapolis, Maryland — that was his first job — and Ohio State, Great Lakes, and the Browns and Massillon...”
“I mean, he’s just really at the epicenter of great football at every level: high school, college, and professionally in two different leagues,” continued Belichick. “You know, [he] broke the color barrier — or re-broke it, I should say — when he brought Bill Willis and Marion Motley into the league. He did so many great things for the National Football League and for football. I just don’t think the game would be what it is today without his contributions and what he did for the game.”
After Cleveland joined the NFL from the short-lived AAFC in 1950, Brown went on to win three titles and 170 regular season and playoff games between his stints with the Browns and the Bengals. Belichick passed this mark in 2010, but not without honoring Brown along the way: ahead of a regular season game in Pittsburgh and with 169 victories on his résumé, Belichick was spotted wearing a fedora on his way to the stadium as a tribute to him.
“My dad was close with Coach Brown and other members of Coach Brown’s circle — Bill Edwards, my godfather, and so forth,” Belichick said. “So, to walk into Paul Brown Stadium and to know what he stood for, it’s certainly a sense of memories, and I feel a deep debt of gratitude and appreciation for all that he did for our game, and for our sport, and for coaching, and for all that I learned from him directly and indirectly through others like Coach [Rick] Forzano, who worked for Coach Brown at the Bengals.”
“There’s just a lot of ripple effects there that I’ve been very blessed and fortunate to have had the opportunity to experience.”