On Jan. 3, 2000, Victor Green walked into Bill Belichick's office and gave him a crystal paper weight, purchased from Tiffany -- a congratulatory gift on the day of his promotion. Belichick was succeeding Bill Parcells, who was planning to announce his retirement that day. Green left the office excited about the prospect of Belichick coaching the New York Jets.
"I remember it like it was yesterday," the former safety said last week.
The Jets' public relations director, Frank Ramos, also visited Belichick's office that day, but he didn't come away with the same positive feeling. His plan was to have Belichick attend Parcells' farewell news conference, creating a symbolic passing of the torch. But Belichick refused to join the festivities, prompting Ramos to think, "Something doesn't feel right."
We all know what happened the next day: Instead of a coronation, Belichick stunned the team by resigning as the "HC of the NYJ." That news conference took "bizarre" to a new level -- and Belichick did it again Saturday, delivering his "Mona Lisa Vito" defense amid Deflategate accusations.
No doubt, Deflategate will be the dominant story this week. It will provide some amusement for Jets fans -- they love to see Belichick squirm -- but it won't eliminate the cold, hard facts. It has been 46 years since the Jets reached the Super Bowl. The kids of the 1960s who idolized Joe Namath and celebrated Super Bowl III are middle-aged folks, having exchanged their radical white cleats for Velcro-strapped sneakers.
This year's matchup, between Belichick's New England Patriots and Pete Carroll's Seattle Seahawks, probably stings more than the other empty years because the two coaches are former Jets. Welcome to Super Bowl EX.
The Jets had future greatness in the building, but they tossed it out (Carroll) and watched in disbelief as it walked out (Belichick).
Carroll lasted one year as the head coach, Belichick one day.
Eight conference championships later, their careers will intersect Sunday in Glendale, Arizona, with Carroll trying to match what Belichick accomplished in 2003 and 2004 -- win back-to-back Super Bowl titles. No other coach has done it since then.
"It's kind of heartbreaking," said former Jets linebacker Marvin Jones, imagining what might have been.
Fifteen years ago, the Jets knew they were losing a brilliant defensive coach, but who knew Belichick would become the Lombardi of his era? He failed with the Cleveland Browns, so he was hardly a sure thing. Obviously, the Patriots thought otherwise. So did Green.
"I knew we were losing something pretty special," said Green, who also played a year under Belichick in New England. "I always tell people, Belichick is the best coach at every position in the NFL. That's how highly I think of him."
Belichick's legacy could be tainted by the Spygate scandal of 2007, and there will be another ugly stain on his record if the NFL's Deflategate investigation uncovers a smoking gun. If so, it's "the Barry Bonds thing, an asterisk next to his name," Jones said. "He'll always have that attached to him. But Belichick is one of those coaches that doesn't give a s---."
Like Green, Jones played for both Belichick and Carroll. Belichick was the Jets' defensive coordinator from 1997 to 1999 and Jones called him a "great coach." They said the same thing about Carroll, who was their defensive coordinator before becoming head coach in 1994. It's a fascinating comparison because the two coaches are so different, yet so much alike.
Personality-wise, Carroll and Belichick are as dissimilar as Jim Carrey and Sean Penn, but they share a self-confidence that allows them to coach aggressively. In other words, they're never afraid to wander outside the box. In the AFC divisional playoffs, Belichick confused the Baltimore Ravens with his funky formations and gadget plays. Carroll's successful fake field goal in the NFC Championship Game was a brilliant move; it changed the game for Seattle.
Carroll was hardly a star in his only season as the Jets' coach, finishing 6-10, but he was admired by many in the organization. He was upbeat and energetic -- and still is.
His former players remember him fondly, especially his pep talks. They said he had the ability to turn a casual, pregame conversation in a hotel lobby into a fire starter. He liked to use audio and visual aids during his speeches. One time, his special effects were provided by Mother Nature. Carroll pounded his fist on a podium a split-second before a clap of thunder, which knocked out the lights in the building. The timing was perfect, like something out of a corny Hollywood movie.
Carroll was criticized by fans and media for some of his methods -- too nice, they said -- but he's winning big with the same style in Seattle.
"I knew Pete was a good coach, it just took him 20 years to prove it," former Jets center Jim Sweeney said. "He was ahead of his time."
Former defensive tackle Paul Frase also was a Carroll fan, but he said the coach's "laid-back mentality didn't work well" at that particular time because of the changing landscape in the NFL. Free agency was in its infancy, and the big money was starting to pour into the players' bank accounts. That created a sense of entitlement among some players, according to Frase, who commended Carroll for taking the USC job in 2001. That allowed him to gain a greater understanding of the young minds preparing to enter the league, Frase said.
Carroll never got a chance to evolve on the Jets' job because owner Leon Hess woke up one day and decided he had to have Rich Kotite. It was a cold ending for Carroll.
When the season ended, Carroll spent a week formulating his plan for 1995. He carried a thick binder into a meeting with Hess, excited to share his thoughts on the future, but the session lasted less than a minute. Hess dropped the hammer because he wanted Kotite to be the head of "the Jets' family," as he put it.
A few days earlier, Hess was in the Bahamas when he heard on TV that Kotite had been fired by the Philadelphia Eagles. With some prodding by his daughter -- yes, really -- the wealthy oil man opted to change coaches. It was so out of character for Hess, who usually let his football people run the show.
"I was totally surprised and, quite frankly, disappointed," said Ramos, who was close to the late owner. "I always thought Pete was an outstanding coach."
A year ago, Ramos was invited to the Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium as a guest of commissioner Roger Goodell, and they watched Carroll's Seahawks claim the Lombardi Trophy on the same plot of land where he once coached the Jets. Ramos was genuinely happy for Carroll, who refused to be ruined by a premature pink slip 20 years ago.
No matter what happens Sunday, a former Jets coach will be celebrating another title. Will it be the guy they kicked out or the guy who bolted?