KRAVITZ: If anyone can survive DeflateGate, it's Belichick

Tom Brady, Kraft respond to 4-game suspension upheld by NFL

KRAVITZ: If anyone can survive DeflateGate, it's Belichick

New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick
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Bob Kravitz

For two years, Rick Venturi worked for the best coach in the modern history of American pro sports. And it’s why Venturi, a 40-plus-year veteran of college and pro football coaching and currently a football commentator, believes that if anybody can navigate the choppy waters of DeflateGate, it’s Bill Belichick.

Lord knows, he’s done it before. He did it the year after Spygate, when the Patriots, playing the us-against-the-world card, went 18-0 and dominated the league before finally losing to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl. He did it in 2008, when Tom Brady injured his knee, and the Patriots then won 11 games with Matt Cassel at quarterback. And it’s why Venturi, who was a defensive backfield coach and then defensive coordinator on Belichick’s Cleveland staff in 1994 and 1995, believes this situation is tailor-made for Belichick.

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“Look at him personally, I would say that without exception he’s the singularly most focused man I’ve ever been around,’’ Venturi said. “He has this incredible ability to tune out white noise, has methods to tune out white noise. The media despises it, but it’s that very thing that he’s able to do because that’s who he is and his resume allows him to do that.

“Now look, there’s going to be noise out there, but it’s not going to be there within that building. Understand, guys watch SportsCenter, read the papers, listen to what’s being said, but I promise you, when it’s time to work, those guys will be in that tunnel and they’ll lose sight of everything except what’s in that tunnel.

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“…I think this will bring out the very best in him. You talk about legacies, well, nothing would be better for his legacy because he’s in the conversation with Lombardi, with Noll, with Landry, with Walsh, with Shula, and he rightfully belongs in that conversation. Well, what would be better than to lose a Hall of Fame quarterback for however many games and still find a way to win? And keep in mind, he’s had time to prepare for this. When Brady got hurt, boom, Cassel was in there, and they still won 11 games.’’

The year after Spygate broke, the Patriots were a juggernaut, in part because of their talent, in part because they wanted to prove they could be dominant without breaking the rules. Venturi looks at the Patriots’ current situation and sees something tailor-made for Belichick.

“The other thing he does better than anybody else is build up that whole us-versus-them mentality; he’s a master,’’ Venturi said. “He has some of that high school mentality. So if somebody says something in the newspaper or an opposing player says something or there’s some narrative out there, that’s on the battleboard. That’s going to be discussed. He motivates extremely well. It’s not a rah-rah thing but he’ll find ways to get under a player’s skin. He understands that the same things that motivate a 16-year-old can still motivate a 29-year-old who’s won a Super Bowl. And I really admire that. I know where the skeletons are, but going to six Super Bowls and winning four in an era where everything is geared toward having parity, it’s an amazing thing.’’

I asked Venturi if he saw Belichick stretch and even break the rules when the two of them were together in Cleveland. He smiled wryly, then begged off the question. Sort of.

“That’s a good question,’’ he said. Then he paused, searched for the right words. “I just think basically he will take every edge he can possibly find to win a game. For instance, the (formation issue) against Baltimore, that was ingenious but people whine about it, but that’s an example of finding every possible way to push the envelope to win. The only thing I’ll say is it’s very easy to be that thorough and take one more step. I don’t say this negatively, but when you work for him and play for him, there is a tremendous pressure and accountability, so that pressure and accountability does create a culture where you’ll do just about anything to get the job done.’’

He smiled.

“I can’t go any further than that,’’ he said.

I wondered if he believed Belichick, who was completely cleared by the Wells Report, knew anything about the deflated footballs.

“I’m not sure he knew about the balls, honestly, but I thought from Day One after your story, that first presser, I was never comfortable with Brady, never felt an authenticity with him,’’ Venturi said. “I’ve seen Belichick in situations and I sensed there was more irritation with the issue, irritation with Tom, and not so much a coverup.

“But look, when you have a culture of going to the edge of everything in every possible way to win, then in some ways you’re culpable. You’re culpable for the culture you create. And listen, I’m not against that culture. But if somebody steps over the line, you’ve got to be smacked because we’ve got to have a level playing field. All a competitor asks for is a level playing field. And when you alter it, no matter how small people may think it is, that bothers me as a purist. I could never look at McGwire, Sosa, Bonds and A-Rod the way I look at Mantle, Maris, Mays and Ruth.

“To think this (deflation) hasn’t happened repeatedly over the years since ball customization (in 2006) is absolutely absurd.

“…I mean, if it isn’t important, you don’t do it. Some of the stuff I’m hearing now out of Boston insults my intelligence. They went beyond the envelope, you’ve got to pay for that, and the sad thing is, you’ve got to ask, `How many games did this affect?’ How about the Baltimore (playoff ) game when he went 9-for-9 down the stretch to pull that game out.’’

Venturi, like many of us, believe Brady could have defused a lot of this by being candid early on, but that didn’t happen. And now he’s dug in. Deep.

“Just come out and say, `Look, I like the ball as low as they can make it, it probably got under there, I’m sorry it happened and it won’t happen again’ – a little remorse,’’ Venturi said. “Like a Giambi or a Pettitre, unlike A-Rod. If he’d come out like that, maybe he would have gotten slapped, but nothing like what’s happened.’’

Now, keep in mind, Belichick has not been able to overcome (ital.)every(endital) piece of adversity he’s faced, and Venturi saw it up close in 1995. After a terrific 1994 season in Cleveland, it was announced the Browns would be leaving Cleveland and moving to Baltimore at season’s end. The team floundered.

“That was difficult; I’m not sure that we handled that as well as we handled football issues,’’ Venturi said. “We had a lot of injuries, the announcement of the move came with nine games to go, but that was not our finest hour. But understand, that’s a one in a million set of circumstances, to learn that you’re moving in the middle of the season. Those last few months were the worst weeks you could have spent. Honestly, I’m not sure anybody could have handled that well.’’

At this point, we don’t know when or if Brady will be suspended. He may get an injunction and he may not. If he gets the injunction, he may win in federal court or he may not. So Belichick heads into the season not knowing who his starting quarterback will be in Week One, much less Week Eight, depending on when this whole mess is adjudicated.

But if any coach is well suited to get a team through some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable, it’s Belichick

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