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Given proper naval sendoff

ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- He wasn't a three-time Super Bowl winner yesterday. He wasn't a genius prowling the sideline in his gray hoodie, throwing the red flag and barking orders through his headset. He wasn't the terse, calculating man at the podium, guarding every word for fear he might let a secret slip or incite the opposition.

On this day, Bill Belichick was a son saying goodbye to his father.

''Dad, may you rest in peace," Belichick said from the pulpit as he looked upon his father's casket, draped in an American flag in the middle aisle of the majestic Naval Academy Chapel.

It was the day before Thanksgiving and approximately 200 people gathered to say goodbye to the 86-year-old father of the New England Patriots coach. Belichick's mom, Jeannette, his wife, Debby, and their three kids were there, as were plenty of football VIPs, including Patriots owner Bob Kraft, Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis, Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi, Boston College coach Tom O'Brien, Patriots vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli, Virginia coach Al Groh, and former Heisman Trophy winner Joe Bellino.

But this was a day for the Belichick family, and for former Navy players and associates who wanted to say goodbye to the old coach who knew more about football than just about anybody -- the man who served as a scout, assistant coach, and physical education teacher at the Naval Academy for 33 years. One after another, speakers came back to the same themes: Steve Belichick was about three things -- family, football, and the Naval Academy.

The college chaplain spoke of all the lives Steve Belichick had touched. Former player Tom Lynch said Steve will always be God's football coach, and delivered a message from Heisman winner Roger Staubach (''Steve was our rock. He was our integrity."). Former Navy coach Rick Forzano, a friend for 46 years, looked at Steve's widow and said, ''You are a champion to coaches' wives."

But it was left to the only child of Steve and Jeannette Belichick to deliver the eulogy. And as ever, the son of Steve Belichick was prepared.

Coach Bill didn't say anything about Tedy Bruschi dumping that Gatorade over he and his dad when the Patriots won the Super Bowl last February in Jacksonville, Fla. He didn't talk about calling his dad to discuss game plans to stop Peyton Manning. There was nothing about the Patriots or the Super Bowls or how proud his dad must have been. While his Patriot players were back in Foxborough, Mass., preparing for Sunday's joust in Kansas City, Mo., the vaunted Patriots coach simply spoke about what it was like to be the son of Steve Belichick.

Bill Belichick said the two major events in his dad's life were: 1. The opportunity to attend college at Western Reserve (later Case Western Reserve), where he earned his degree and fell in love with coaching; and 2. Meeting a young French and Spanish teacher named Jeannette Munn. College led to a fulfilling career that was in full evidence in the pews of the Naval Chapel yesterday. Meeting Jeannette led to a 55-year marriage. And those who know them best will tell you that the only child of Steve and Jeannette Belichick is more like his mom than his dad. He loves to teach.

Addressing his mother from the altar, Bill Belichick said, ''You were the real strength behind two coaches in this family and I love you."

He talked about his dad being only 11 when the Depression hit, and earning money for the family by caddying for a dollar a day. Steve Belichick was 22 when Pearl Harbor was bombed and served his country in the war in the Pacific. Always a Navy man.

Bill Belichick said ''tough" and ''fair" best described his dad's coaching.

''His ability to teach and interact with people has really come back to me in my lifetime and in the last few days," said the Patriot coach. ''They say Steve Belichick made them a better player, a better person, and some say he saved their lives. It's with a great deal of pride that I hear those comments."

Steve Belichick ran a football summer camp at the Academy during the offseason. All football.

''No horseshoes, no swimming," said his son. ''I'm sure if he did it today, there would be no cellphones and no video games. I can promise you. It was meet, practice, film, meal, then do it again. And when he said, 'Lights out,' he meant it. Ninety-nine percent of the time that would work, but on that one occasion when it didn't, he'd show up in the doorway and say two words: 'Get dressed.' That meant an hour of sprints and pushups on the lawn -- even if the sprinklers were going.

''Lights out wasn't a problem after that," Bill Belichick said with a chuckle. ''It was his way of getting discipline."

The Patriot coach talked about being a boy and watching his dad break down film and scout the opposition. By all accounts, Steve Belichick was the best. He could tell you what just about all 22 players were doing in any given frame. Woe was the player or assistant coach who could not.

Bill Belichick finished his tribute by talking about the opportunities that football had given his dad, then bringing home the message of life at the Naval Academy.

''I know my dad felt, as important as football was, he fully understood what a midshipman's role was when he came here -- to serve, defend, and if he has to, die for his country. He trained players to play football, to win, to beat Army, and to train to fight for their country."

Lucky guys, those Belichicks. Steve Belichick got to teach thousands of America's finest young men and lived long enough to hear most of them come back home and say, thank you. He also got to see his son reach the zenith of the profession they both chose.

Bill? He got to have his dad in his life for 53 years, and he'll forever know that he made his father proud. Corny, but true -- it just doesn't get much better than that.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is

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