HOUSTON -- During the 2016 New England Patriots season, a pregame tradition between a father and his two sons highlighted why Bill Belichick has called the team’s run to Super Bowl LI “special” and “unlike any other.”
Shortly after Belichick arrives at a visiting stadium, he walks to the field and gives himself a chance to take it all in. Steve Belichick, Bill's oldest son, who is finishing his fifth year on staff and first as safeties coach, is always by his side. Sometimes Brian Belichick, Bill's youngest son, in his first season as a full-time personnel assistant, joins them.
If you tune in to pregame coverage of Super Bowl LI on Sunday, you should see this family gathering.
“I enjoy that a lot,” Bill told ESPN.com, stepping away from the media frenzy this week to share his thoughts on those father-son meetings. “It goes back to when they weren’t in these positions and they’d come to the game and not have a role in the game. Now we go out on the field, walk around, and talk about the game or whatever. There are some great pictures of us doing that.”
A notable one came in the 2016 season opener, when the Patriots returned to University of Phoenix Stadium to face the Arizona Cardinals. It was the Patriots' first trip back to Arizona since they defeated the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX.
Bill Belichick speaks with sons Brian (far right) and Steven, and right-hand man Berj Najarian, on the field. pic.twitter.com/wmrB3rvTIE— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) September 11, 2016
One of the obvious things they discussed was the spot where cornerback Malcolm Butler made his game-saving interception.
“It’s really special for me, those times with my dad before the game,” Steve said. “Call it the calm before the storm. There really aren’t that many people out on the field at that time, just kind of us, a couple grounds crew guys.”
The reminiscing mostly brings back some special memories.
Bill Belichick, with sons Steven & Brian, as well as special teams coach Joe Judge, assess field/weather conditions. pic.twitter.com/yqiGNkI7k0— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) January 1, 2017
“Sometimes we talk about other games. In Giants Stadium [now MetLife], we talk about the Giants. Or when we played the Saints, talk about Super Bowl XXXVI -- this is the corner where David Patten ran the out-and-up, and stuff like that,” Bill said.
“They remember a lot of things I don’t, of course, because they are smarter and have better memories than I do. So they might ask, ‘What about in this stadium, the play that...’”
Bill Belichick with sons Steven & Brian on Levi's Stadium field. This has become a bit of a pre-game ritual for them pic.twitter.com/CxfYEj7B3I— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) November 20, 2016
During the team’s October visit to Cleveland, for example, Steve reminded his father about the time he broke a chair in the locker room in his final years as Browns coach. Belichick’s Browns team had lost to the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars 23-15, and he was furious as Cleveland’s record dipped to 3-4.
Two weeks later, owner Art Modell announced that he was moving the Browns to Baltimore.
Steve was 8 at the time, but he remembers that -- and the broken chair. Bill smiled as he told the story this week, a reminder of how much he's enjoying reliving those days through the prism of his now 29-year-old son. Steve served as a general coaching assistant from 2012 to 2015 before being promoted to safeties coach before the 2016 season.
While their pregame meetings on the field provide a fun trip down memory lane, there is also a business element to them.
“We like to check the playing surface. That’s one thing he’s definitely taught me -- every surface is different: Is it hard, is it soft, is it slick? Was it just resodded if it is just grass?” Steve said.
Bill and Steve Belichick, in what has become a bit of a father-son routine, return from checking field conditions. pic.twitter.com/y1NSdlkxMl— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) October 30, 2016
Once they get through that, though, the moment is mostly about filling up the memory bank.
“That’s what we do. Trust me, I forget a lot of stuff too, and he bounces them off me,” Steve said. “Those times I spend with my dad are really nice. It’s cool to be there with my dad reminiscing. You get all those memories out before you can lock in.”