What did Bill Belichick say to Ted Johnson?
Remember? It was just before that fourth-and-a-half-yard situation the Steelers had in the first quarter. Bill Cowher had called a timeout. Belichick seized the occasion to beckon Johnson to the sideline. I remember thinking, "This has got to be something really good." At that instant, I felt calm. I felt serene. I felt there was no way the Steelers were going to get that half-yard.
And they didn't.
Now, Belichick might have been saying, "Hey, Teddy, tuck your shirt in." He might have been saying, "What did you think of Paul Giamatti on `Saturday Night Live'?" He might have been saying, "Can you believe the Celtics blew a 17-point lead against those crappy Hawks?" He might have. But it's more likely he was pointing out one little detail that would make the difference on the next play. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it. That's because my new life motto is "In Bill I Trust."
Full disclosure time: I picked the Colts.
Yes, I picked the Colts, but at least I wasn't foolish enough to put any money on it. I bought into the idea that Manning & Co. had the consummate well-balanced offense necessary to bother the Patriots' defense. It wasn't just the Broncos game, although that certainly was a deal-breaker in my mind. Yeah, I fell into that "Colts are due" trap. I figured if the Colts could come as close as they did Opening Night, when the Patriots had Ty Law and Ty Poole (and Richard Seymour), they would have enough to get the job done when these guys weren't around.
I figured 34-31, Colts.
So shoot me.
Now I have sworn complete allegiance to The Man In The Hooded Sweatshirt. I am thoroughly ashamed to have been so hard-headed as to doubt for a game, a half a quarter, a play, or even a second, the capacity of Bill Belichick, his assistants, and his players to do whatever is necessary to defeat whomever they play in anything remotely resembling a big game. They had a plan to beat the Colts, they had a plan to beat the Steelers, and they surely will have a plan to beat the Eagles and thus make themselves champions for the third time in four years.
What we have witnessed during the past two weeks is more than just good football, good sport, or good entertainment. We have witnessed something historic. Those of you who are old enough, and who care about more than just one sport, have seen these Patriots before. It is part of the extraordinary good fortune of being a Boston sports fan at any time during the past 50 years. We have seen the Patriots before because what the Patriots have become is a modern version of the Old Celtics.
Speaking of which, The Patriarch is watching, all right.
"Oh, sure," says Red Auerbach from his Washington apartment. "I've been following the Patriots."
He never has met Belichick, but he has been studying him from afar.
"He is obviously very, very focused," Red says. "He is clearly very bright and innovative. The players have to respect his knowledge. I'm sure that's the key to his success."
The Patriarch knows something about doing it again and again and again.
"I would start off every year the same way," he says. "I would say to them, `Did you have a nice summer?' And they'd be looking at me. I'd say, `Did you like the feeling of being on the greatest basketball team in the world?' And they'd still be looking at me. So, I'd say, `Why would you want to give that feeling up? You know what it feels like. They don't. You know how good it is. So, if you're smart, you'll play harder than ever. If they want it, make them come and get it. Don't give it to them.' That was my approach."
The Patriarch points out one essential coaching difference between his day and sport and Belichick's day and sport.
"He's got nine or 10 assistants [actually, 15]," Red points out. "They can always put their finger on what's happening on the ball club. I only had me."
That aside, The Patriarch can relate to much of what's going on with the Patriots. He can well imagine, for example, what message Belichick will be giving his team when it gets to Jacksonville.
"He'll say, `You're going down there and it will be a big party. You'll be influenced by a lot of people. There will be people telling you about endorsements and all this other stuff, and it can be a huge distraction.' He'll say, `Why did you come down here? You came down here to become the champions of football, and you can't deviate from that.' "
Belichick has saluted his team for playing its best football these past two weeks, and Red likes to hear that.
"That you can attribute to the players," he says. "In terms of motivation, that has to be on the players. You can't motivate anyone now. The coaches started doing their job in July and August, but now it's up to the players. If you have to motivate them now, they can't be motivated."
Red says it's OK with him if anyone wishes to compare these Patriots to his teams. He knows greatness when he sees it.
"You can see how these guys rise to the occasion," he notes.
So what did Coach Belichick say to Ted Johnson? It's the same thing Red would have said to John Havlicek. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.
Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is email@example.com.