Saturday, May 30, 2015

Coach Grant, Meet General Belichick


Re-reading William McFeely’s biography of Ulysses S. Grant, my favorite figure from American history, I was struck this afternoon by Grant’s similarity to another great general: New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.

Admit it, the likeness is not half bad: Shave Grant’s beard, remove the headset, and dress Hoodie in a suit and bowtie, and they might be brothers. Both look out on the world with a dour, can’t-be-bothered stare. Neither suffered fools gladly.

What made the connection in my mind was Grant’s comment after receiving Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. He returned to his headquarters at City Point, Virginia, to find Admiral Porter’s flotilla firing salutes in his honor. Grant was not amused, as McFeely relates:

“Annoyed with the noise, Grant sat down and wrote some dispatches, among them a letter to Sherman; when this job was finished, he turned to his office aide and said, ‘On to Mexico!’”

Why Grant said Mexico, and not Cincinnati, as Belichick famously did after the Patriots’ terrible week-4 loss to Kansas City in 2014 involves more history than you want to read, probably. But McFeely’s analysis could apply equally to Belichick after a rousing victory, or a terrible loss:

“[His comment] was a dismissal of the bravado of victory, a call to himself and his staff to get back to work, and a recognition that new work must be found.”

Belichick, who instructs players simply to “do your job,” would understand.

The support Belichick gets from owner Bob Kraft is like that enjoyed by Grant from Lincoln. I’m sure Kraft doesn’t mind Belichick’s drab sideline attire any more than Lincoln cared about Grant’s drinking. Told that his lieutenant general might drink too much, Lincoln suggested that his other generals be served from the same keg. Whatever Grant was drinking might do them good.

Kraft wants what Lincoln wanted: a general who could kick ass and take names. The North won the war, and the Patriots have won the 21st century. Now you know why.

Note: Since this post didn’t fit my normal “categories,” I’ve pigeonholed it Saints and Those Like Them. Non-New Englanders won’t like that, any more than Southerners liked Grant. Too bad.

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