The successful but complex relationship between Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick is captured wonderfully in ESPN’s latest 30 for 30 documentary, “The Two Bills,” which premieres on Feb. 1.
It’s 77 minutes of priceless material, centered around a rare Parcells-Belichick sit-down that took place early last summer in the New York Giants‘ locker room at MetLife Stadium. It’s great theater, seeing them side by side. They compliment each other throughout the interview, but there are a couple of awkward moments and not as much warmth as you’d expect from two guys who have known each other for 40 years.
All of which makes it a must-watch.
I covered both men during their years with the New York Jets (1997-99), so it was a treat for me to relive some of the key moments — the Parcells-Belichick exodus from the New England Patriots in 1997 and, of course, the infamous Belichick news conference when he resigned as the HC of the NYJ. The documentary includes footage that I’ve never seen before from the news conferences. (If you look hard, you can see me sitting alongside future ESPN colleague Sal Paolantonio.)
There’s a lot of great stuff about the Parcells-Belichick years with the Giants, but we’ll stick to the Jets-related stuff. There’s a scene at the end in which Belichick’s voice is filled with utter disdain when discussing the Jets, which probably shouldn’t surprise anyone. But we’ll get to that in a bit.
Let’s start with the Jets’ controversial hiring of Parcells, who bailed on the Patriots after their Super Bowl in January 1997.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft offers strong opinions on the sordid chapter, essentially accusing the Jets of tampering (they did) and saying the NFL condoned it. The Jets tried to circumvent Parcells’ contract with the Patriots by hiring him as a consultant and Belichick as the coach. Parcells didn’t become the coach until the Jets compensated the Patriots with draft picks.
“The Jets just figured they’d be cute,” Kraft says. “What always bothered me is I think the league office tacitly blessed it and they told them how to do it.”
Kraft, perhaps still embittered by Deflategate, takes a swipe at the NFL, saying that entire Parcells/Jets experience “told me the league office was not as pure as I might have thought.”
The moment that still haunts the Jets is the day Belichick quit abruptly. Seventeen years and five Super Bowl titles after the fact, he explains it this way:
“Essentially, the problem I had with the whole arrangement was when all this transpired, there was no owner. Mr. [Leon] Hess passed away after the [’98] season. There were two potential owners — [Woody] Johnson and [James] Dolan. I hadn’t spoken with either one, but I had issues with both. … The whole ownership configuration was a major factor in my decision.”
At the time, Belichick drew criticism for rambling at his news conference.
“I thought it was a great news conference,” Kraft says with a small smile.
Belichick’s unexpected departure strained his relationship with Parcells, who still seems uncomfortable when discussing that subject. He tries to downplay the rift, but admits there was “a period of silence” between them.
Yeah, about five years. They reconciled on a golf course in Nantucket in 2005, thanks to former Patriots personnel man Scott Pioli, who is married to Parcells’ daughter, Dallas. He arranged the outing.
Hall of Famer Curtis Martin, one of several players interviewed, says the Jets could’ve had a “Patriots-like” dynasty if Belichick had stuck around. Oh, what might have been.
When the interview breaks up, Parcells and Belichick take a nostalgic tour through the Giants’ Legends Club at MetLife, reminiscing as they walk through a room filled with four Lombardi Trophies.
The stadium tour continues, resulting in a candid exchange in which Parcells wonders where they’re headed next. Belichick chimes in.
“You know, I think [the director] wants to take us to the Jets’ locker room,” he says, sounding like a junior high student headed to detention.
“He’s gonna what?” Parcells asks, incredulously.
“The Jets,” Belichick says. “You know, because of our connection with the Jets.”
After a pause, Belichick says to the director, “Not the Jets’ locker room.”
“I’m not going in there,” Parcells says emphatically. “I don’t want to go in there. What’s the point?”
The director agrees, making his two subjects very happy.