Bill Belichick didn’t give his full attention to the end of the Patriots’ first minicamp of the offseason. And it wasn’t because Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski weren’t there — it’s because Hall of Fame baseball coach Tony La Russa was.
Final day of Patriots minicamp is in the books. Interesting day for Belichick — he spent the first 45 minutes ignoring practice and chatting up Tony LaRussa. Then in 11 on 11 he chewed out the entire offense for committing an illegal substitution penalty. Sent them on a lap, too pic.twitter.com/LyzuCjPg2D— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) June 7, 2018
Thursday’s visit was just the latest public outing for the world’s most powerful Best Friends Forever. La Russa and Belichick have been close for more than a decade, pairing off after being introduced to each other by author Buzz Bissinger, who’d covered La Russa while he was managing the Cardinals in his 2005 book Three Nights in August and went to high school with Belichick. It was the perfect pairing; two men with eight world championships between them and faces painted with permanent scowls.
Last year, La Russa and, uh, Tom Crean, were special guests at the Patriots’ joint preseason practices with the Houston Texans in West Virginia. This spring, Belichick and La Russa met up to watch a Red Sox spring training game, where La Russa was qualified enough to field questions about the Patriots’ coach’s retirement plans. Back in 2012, he pulled back the curtain to tell the world Belichick was no business-only miser, but “as good a friend as you can expect to have.”
Somehow, the two find a way to bring out rare moments of sunshine and displays of honest-to-goodness pleasantness in one another. Belichick never looks happier in photos than when he does when La Russa is around. Here he is posing for the cover of Nantucket Magazine with girlfriend Linda Holliday:
Here he is celebrating his team’s 2017 AFC Championship.
Here he is celebrating New England’s 2016 NFL title in the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history:
And here he is, just hanging out with La Russa at Diamondbacks spring training. Look at that smile!
La Russa and, occasionally, the Lombardi Trophy are the only things that can get Belichick to drop his icy facade and showcase the goofball within. Sometimes La Russa doesn’t even have to be there, he just has to be successful. In 2011 when Belichick smiled (or, at the very least, performed something in the orbit of an actual smile) his way through the New England locker room wearing a La Russa jersey to commemorate his pal’s run to the World Series.
Perhaps aided by Belichick’s support, the Cardinals went on to win that year’s MLB title.
Each man is convinced the other is the genius, which is either an “aw shucks” feedback loop of deference or a truly amusing “you’re the dummy” ventriloquist bit being played by two men who’ve known almost nothing but ridiculous success in their lifetimes.
But in a perfect world, La Russa and Belichick could combine their DNA and create the ideal coaching hybrid — the merger of the “best fans in baseball” and the Patriot Way. They would win a title every other year and be feted by the most insufferable fanbase the world has ever known. It would look like this.
That’s the face of a man who drafts players who can run and catch passes out of the backfield while handling multiple positions in the infield. A man who dismisses both Moneyball and the Wildcat formation. A man who would bat Tom Brady eighth in his lineup.
Billy BeliRussa is glorious. BeliRussa smiles twice a year. BeliRussa knows every letter of both the written and unwritten rule books, and does everything in his power to bend those rules while only occasionally breaking them. BeliRussa is powered solely by your hate and vegetarian entrees.
Billy BeliRussa is his own best friend.