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30 for 30

‘The Two Bills’ goes beyond the relationship between Belichick and Parcells

Did you know that only one of them is actually named Bill?

The Two Bills, the 30 for 30 film on the history of the successful yet fraught relationship between champion coaches Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick, premieres Thursday on ESPN. Three things should be in the back of your mind as you watch the events that preceded the birth of the NFL’s greatest dynasty.

There is Only One Bill

The title implies that the film is about peers. The real Bill, William Belichick, may have learned a thing or two from Duane Parcells, but their careers are not even close to comparable. Confused? If you followed me on Twitter you wouldn’t be:

Super Bowl LII will be Belichick’s eighth trip to the big game, the most ever. He already has the most Super Bowl wins of any coach with five. He has the third-most wins of all time behind Don Shula and George Halas. But Belichick has coached 122 and 129 fewer games than them, respectively. And my favorite Belichick stat: He was the last head coach to win a playoff game for the Cleveland Browns, in 1996. He defeated Parcells’ New England Patriots 20-13.

Parcells is 13th on the all-time wins list, and his two Super Bowl wins tie him with eight other coaches. The driving force behind both of his Super Bowl-winning New York Giants teams was their defense, which was run by defensive coordinator Belichick. And Belichick was the assistant head coach on the Parcells-led Patriots team that lost in the Super Bowl to the Green Bay Packers in 1997.

The only argument for Parcells is that Belichick builds rosters based on the philosophies he learned from Parcells. That’s true, and Belichick may not have been as successful without first spending time with Parcells. But no one sees tennis greats Venus and Serena Williams as comparable.

So, maybe a new title is in order? How about Beli? Hear me out. Beli is not just short for Belichick, but the tense relationship between Belichick and Parcells is reminiscent of the relationship between characters in the classic 1998 film Belly. Buns (played by DMX) is definitely Parcells, and Sin (played by Nas) is Belichick. Buns is loud, aggressive and teaches lessons to his subordinates through humiliation. Sin’s demeanor is understated. He is strategic and his decisions are calculated. And like Belichick, he ends up in much better circumstances than his counterpart.

What about Bill & Duane’s Excellent Adventure?

I mean, it is more accurate.

Obviously, I know film titles aren’t always literal. Belly would have been funnier, though.

Alternate Reality

I know what started in New England in 2000 was a result of a fortuitous collection of people, not just Belichick. And there is no guarantee that Belichick would have been able to just create it anywhere. But his creativity, unorthodox strategies and obsessive attention to detail were the catalyst for the championship Giants teams and the flint that sparked the origin of the Patriot Way. I’m sure all teams’ fan bases are jealous of the Patriots, but fans of the New York Jets, Cleveland Browns, Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens will be angry if they watch this film while wondering “what if.”

Belichick was Cleveland’s head coach for five seasons until Art Modell fired him and moved the franchise to Baltimore and renamed it the Ravens. In their first season, the Ravens made the wise decision to hire Ozzie Newsome as their general manager. Newsome has become one of the best NFL general managers of all time and won two Super Bowls, so maybe they don’t wish Modell had brought Belichick to Baltimore. But had Modell kept the Browns and Belichick in Cleveland, maybe we would be talking about the “Browns Way.” Nah, that doesn’t even sound right.

After Cleveland, Belichick considered an offer from Jimmy Johnson to become Miami’s defensive coordinator. That role was eventually filled by Dave Wannstedt, who took over as head coach when Johnson retired in 2000. That also happened to be Belichick’s first year as head coach with New England. Wannstedt and the Dolphins won the division and beat Belichick’s team twice that season. The Patriots won the Super Bowl the following season. Wannstedt was fired in November 2004 with a 1-8 record, just before Belichick and the Pats won their third Super Bowl.

Maybe the Jets should be the most upset because, technically, Belichick was named the Jets’ head coach twice but never actually coached a game. If you don’t remember how that happened, the film is going to be a treat.

Pats Haven’t Fallen apart

One of the great credits to Parcells’ career is his coaching tree. Three of Parcells’ former coaches have gone on to win Super Bowls (Belichick, Tom Coughlin and Sean Payton). He clearly had a knack for spotting and developing future head coaches. Belichick’s assistants have been far less impressive. Houston Texans coach Bill O’Brien is a former Belichick assistant who still has a head coaching job in the NFL (Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia are expected to become head coaches in Indianapolis and Detroit, respectively, after the Super Bowl). And it seems O’Brien is always on the verge of being replaced. To be fair, Nick Saban was on Belichick’s staff in Cleveland. Saban is a great college coach, but he failed in the NFL when he took over the Dolphins for two seasons. In that time, he went 2-2 against the Patriots. Parcells managed the egos and aspirations of future head coaches and team owners in his own brash and sometimes public way. While the achievements are obvious, so was the inevitable conflict and his premature departure.

So, while Belichick’s legacy isn’t being bolstered by disciples spreading his gospel around the league, they also aren’t spreading his winning ways. Possibly, Belichick’s most amazing feat is the lack of internal conflicts and ego clashes. Through all the winning and scandals, Belichick has managed to avoid any internal strife, or at least kept it from getting in the way of winning. ESPN’s Seth Wickersham’s report earlier this season revealed that the Pats are not robots and are indeed susceptible to normal human emotions. But they are still favored to win another Super Bowl. Belichick is not the only person responsible for that, but he deserves a great deal of credit. He certainly didn’t learn that from Parcells.

This 30 for 30 film will give you what you expect, the history of the relationship between Belichick and Parcells, but it gives so much more. It is a must-watch for more than just football fans. It’ll open your eyes to the world of ego, drama and deception that exists behind all sports franchises, from the disappointing to the dynastic.

Domonique Foxworth is a writer at The Undefeated. He is a recovering pro athlete and superficial intellectual.