New England Patriots

New England Patriots

New England Patriots

A statue of former Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown at First Energy Stadium. (Photo by Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

  • The last time Bill Belichick left a football game in Cleveland, he had the caravan of buses carrying his New England Patriots circle around First Energy Stadium to its southeast corner and pull up curbside rather than head straight to the airport.

    An hour or so earlier, the Patriots had beaten the Browns in a game best remembered for Tom Brady’s return from his month-long suspension to start 2016. On Belichick’s cue, Brady and his teammates disembarked and gathered around the statue of another all-time great for the latest — and far from last — of the coach’s football history lessons.

    Towering above Belichick was the bronze likeness of his subject in this case, Jim Brown. Football tucked under his left arm in his left hand. Helmet sporting the two bar suspension facemark of the sixties tilted slightly to the right. Bent right arm away from his body. All as if sweeping around left end, turning the corner toward pay dirt.

    “I just felt like it was an opportunity for us, as a team after the game, to recognize and pay tribute to Jim and all that he stands for – both in and out of football,” Belichick said of the rare post-game detour on a media conference call the following day. “But in particular, what he has meant to the game of football and how much he’s done for the game and what it means for all of us.”

    On the verge of his next visit to Cleveland, where Belichick followed in the steps of idol Paul Brown to first serve as a head coach in 1991, he’s still educating players about the past that precedes them.

    “We get a lot of history here, for sure,” tight end Hunter Henry said on Thursday. “You’ll know the history of the game, especially being here. That’s so unique, man. You’ve got to remember the people that kind of came before you and set the way.”

    Two Fridays ago, before leaving for Green Bay’s Lambeau Field, Belichick’s pre-practice syllabus included an abridged history of the Packers and a brief glimpse at his own family history.

    “The highlight of it was when he showed a clip of his dad. He came in a ran a kick return,” Mack Wilson told Matt Vautour of “It was a pretty cool moment. Everyone was hyped up.”

    In 1941, Bill’s father Steve Belichick was signed out of the Detroit Lions’ equipment room to play fullback for his former college coach Bill Edwards. He appeared in six games, including an Oct. 26 encounter with the Packers before 30,269 at Detroit’s Briggs Stadium.

    After three-plus quarters, Green Bay greats Don Hutson, Cecil Isbell and Clarke Hinkle built an insurmountable 24-0 lead. Late in the fourth, Belichick provided the Lions’ lone score.

    And a moment his son could share eight decades later.

    Fielding a punt off a bounce outside his 20-yard line, the senior Belichick escaped into the open field and outran the pursuing Packers 77 yards to a touchdown.

    “He had some moves,” Jalen Mills told Vautour. “He looked pretty good.”

    By April 1952, Steve was coaching under Edwards at Vanderbilt University when his wife Jeannette gave birth to their lone child. They named their baby Bill, in honor of Edwards. Then they named Edwards the boy’s godfather.

    As Paul Brown’s former high school teammate in Massillon, Ohio, Edwards joined his coaching staff in Cleveland. Over time, he became a personal connection between the Belichicks and Brown.

    “We went to Browns training camps every year at Hiram (College) when I was a kid,” Belichick told reporters at the 2012 NFL owners’ meetings. “Then we went to Wilmington (College) when he was with the Bengals. He was always great to my dad, our family. He welcomed us, was very accommodating, I went to practice with my uncle, my godfather Bill Edwards. Those were great experiences as a kid to kind of be part of — well, we weren’t part of training camp — but to be able to be on the field, and eat lunch with them and talk to coach Brown and all that.”

    Belichick’s close friendship with Jim Brown formed out of an invitation to a game during the 1991 season.

    “I’ve had an opportunity to have known Jim for over 20 years now,” Belichick said on the aforementioned 2016 call with reporters. “I met him when I was the coach at the Browns and just had so much more respect and appreciation for him knowing him well as a person and as a friend, even just as an observer from a distance, but I think he’s meant so much to this game. He’s paved the way for all of us; players and coaches. [He’s] part of many people who have made professional football, the game of football, the great game that it is.”

    The list of whom surely includes the patriarch of the franchise the Patriots will host next Monday, George Halas, whose 324 wins overall as head coach of the Chicago Bears trail only Don Shula’s 347 victories.

    With 323 regular-season and playoff wins combined, Belichick is on the brink of tying Halas in second place, putting Patriots players in position to do much more than learn history from him.

    They can help their head coach make more of it.

  • Historical link

    When Steve Belichick played for Bill Edwards in Detroit, the Lions’ biggest star was the 1937 runner-up for the Heisman Trophy, Byron “Whizzer” White.

    White, who entered the NFL out of the University of Colorado as the league’s highest-paid player for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1938, joined the Lions for the 1940 and 1941 seasons. In the interim, he attended the University of Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. White later enrolled at Yale Law School, graduating in 1946.

    Sixteen years later, Whizzer White was appointed by president John F. Kennedy to the U.S. Supreme Court.

  • Stefansky

    Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski is the son of NBA executive Ed Stefansky. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

    The other father and son (head coach)

    Unlike his counterpart this Sunday, the Browns’ Kevin Stefanski didn’t grow up as the son of a football coach.

    His dad’s business was basketball.

    Ed Stefanski was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers in 1976, following his Ivy League career playing under Chuck Daly at the University of Pennsylvania.

    He remained in the game after graduating from the Wharton School, while becoming president of Preferred Mortgage Corporation. Stefanski analyzed local college telecasts and coached at Philly powerhouse Monsignor Bonner High School.

    In 1999, then in his mid-40s, Stefanski joined the New Jersey Nets as director of scouting, helping the team reach the NBA Finals in back-to-back seasons (2002 and 2003). He was elevated to senior vice president of basketball operations and general manager.

    Stefansky eventually left the Nets for the Sixers front office and has since worked for the Toronto Raptors, Memphis Grizzlies and Detroit Pistons.

    Bob Socci is in his 10th season calling play-by-play for the Patriots Radio Network on 98.5 The Sports Hub. Follow him on Twitter @BobSocci.

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