Founded with the AFL in 1960, the New England Patriots reached the title game in their fourth season – 1963. They were obliterated in that game by the Chargers, 51-10, and didn’t return to a title game for more than 20 years. This time they faced the Bears and were once again obliterated, 46-10. A decade later, 1996, and they lost another Super Bowl, this time to the Packers, 35-21. Being a Patriots fan was by no means easy.

However, that all changed in the 21st century with the arrival of Bill Belichick, the former Giants defensive coordinator with a failed stint in charge of the Browns behind him, as well as a bizarre incident with the Jets that saw him resign as head coach at the press conference that had been called to announce his appointment. Still, despite some scepticism over his hiring, Belichick had a rapid impact, winning three Super Bowls in his first five seasons in charge.

The dynasty appeared to be over after that, with the Patriots losing two Super Bowls over the next nine seasons, winning none. However, their performance level hardly dropped during that time: they missed the playoffs only once and appeared in the AFC Championship game five times. Sure enough, from 2014 onwards they started winning titles again, taking another three Super Bowls in six years, and losing another. At the time of writing, Tom Brady – and ever-present in those Super Bowls – has headed to pastures new, so the question is whether Belichick can win without him.

Anyone wanting to understand the team more deeply, particularly its frequently uncommunicative head coach, should try the books below.

1The Education of a Coach (2005) by David Halberstam

David Halberstam, called “the Moses of American journalism” by Vanity Fair, made his name writing about the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement. Bill Belichick is not known for his openness but, Halberstam writes, he agreed to cooperate for this book in part because he had read and admired many of the author’s previous books. Belichick was also interested in the premise, which looks at his career partially through his relationship to his father, legendary football scout Steve Belichick. The book is about how Bill Belichick learned his craft – he doesn’t reach the Patriots until page 200 of my 278-page paperback edition. It’s a fascinating book about a fascinating figure. Sadly, it was Halberstam’s only football book. He was working on a second, about the 1958 NFL Championship Game, when he was killed in a car accident in 2007.
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2Moving the Chains (2006) by Charles P Pierce

The other piece of the puzzle in the greatness of the 21st Century Patriots is Tom Brady, the only player in NFL history to have won six Super Bowl rings as a player. He had won only half of those when Pierce wrote this book, which looks at Brady’s career and his phenomenal drive to succeed. There’s plenty more that can be written about everything that happened after 2005 but this is a good examination of Brady’s roots.
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3From Darkness to Dynasty (2016) by Jerry Thornton

Before Brady and Belichick came along, the Patriots hadn’t achieved much of anything. Jerry Thornton’s book covers the first 40 years of the franchise, which was a laughingstock for most of its existence. Happily for Patriots fans the book ends with the team’s first Super Bowl win, but those who want to know how painful life as a Pats fan was before that time should start here.
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4War Room (2011) by Michael Holley

This is a book that has dated, but in an interesting way. Michael Holley, who has written numerous books about the Patriots, goes into the ‘war room’ to look at how the Patriots are built. From there he tracks the path of two of Belichick’s lieutenants – Scott Pioli, who left to become GM of the Chiefs, and Thomas Dimitroff, who became GM at the Falcons. The premise is that the ‘Patriot Way’ is spreading through the league. However, Pioli flopped at the Chiefs and Dimitroff has a mixed record at the Falcons, though he taken them to a Super Bowl (which they lost to the Patriots). Just as with his coaches, Belichick’s front office execs aren’t able to duplicate the Pats’ success elsewhere.
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5Belichick (2018) by Ian O’Connor

It’s difficult to write a list like this without Bill Belichick dominating it. He’s not only the most important coach in Patriots history, but also one of the most important in NFL history. A lot of books are going to be written about him for a long time to come, just as they are about Paul Brown, Vince Lombardi and Bill Walsh. ESPN’s Ian O’Connor, who once wrote that the Patriots would regret hiring Belichick, is not the first to take on the task but his book is the most thorough. This exhaustive biog is unlikely to be surpassed until and unless we hear from the man himself.
Buy the book: Amazon US | Amazon UK


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