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Belichick & Diehl Two Croatian-Americans face off at Super Bowl XLII
By Nenad N. Bach
Published on 02/1/2008

Croatian-American Bill Belichick (left) has led the England Patriots to three Super Bowl victories, the most recent in 2005. This Sunday, February 3, 2008, his Patriots face the New York Giants led by fellow Croatian-American offensive lineman David Diehl. The Giants have not won a Super Bowl since 1990 and are ready to rise to the challenge.

Belichick Left the Giants, but They Haven’t Left Him
 Bill Belichick

Published: January 28, 2008

PHOENIX - They nicknamed him Captain Sominex back then, because even when he was first tasting the success that is now the norm for him, Bill Belichick had a monotone that sent Giants linebackers to their slumber in a darkened meeting room.

Belichick probably leaves that part out when he regales the New England Patriots with his New York tales, but he has forgotten little else about the franchise that launched him toward becoming the dominant coach in the N.F.L. The Giants, who will play the Patriots on Sunday in Super Bowl XLII, remain Belichick's touchstone 17 years after he left, the great teams and legendary players of the 1980s, who won two Super Bowls, providing all the reference points he needs now.

In the hours before the Patriots beat the Giants on Dec. 29 to complete a perfect regular season, Belichick and the Giants' president and co-owner, John Mara, spoke on the field. Belichick congratulated Mara on the Giants' season.

"I said, 'You're congratulating me?'" Mara said last week. "As I was leaving, he said, 'Hopefully, we'll play again.' He kind of said it like he meant it. And I'm thinking, Yeah, right."

On Sunday, Belichick's career will come full circle, the team he has built into a dynasty and coached to the verge of a perfect season needing to vanquish for the second time this season the one that, for 12 years, shaped so much of what he is today. When the Giants had success in the past, Belichick would call the former Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi to congratulate him. "There is still a lot of Giants in me," he told Accorsi more than once. For one day, at least, the Giant in him will be subsumed.

"In some respects, I wish it were somebody else," Belichick said in an interview last week. "There are a lot of teams I don't have that much affection for. Giants Stadium, the locker room is on the left and I always feel like I should be turning left. And I've been turning right for a lot of seasons now. We all move on. But it hits you right there, when you come out of the ramp and into the tunnel. The locker room was right there on the left, for all those years."

Belichick began with the Giants in 1979 as a special teams coach under Ray Perkins. When Bill Parcells became the defensive coordinator two years later, Belichick found his calling, starting to work with the linebackers. Among them was a rookie first-round draft pick named Lawrence Taylor. Belichick became the defensive coordinator in 1985 and the next season, with the second-ranked defense in the N.F.L., the Giants won the Super Bowl.

It was not always seamless. After the 1988 season, Belichick had had enough of the linebackers and told Parcells he wanted to coach the secondary. In that role, his players often matched up against a group of receivers coached by another Parcells assistant, Tom Coughlin, Belichick's counterpart Sunday. In the 1990 season, the Giants had the top-ranked defense and won the Super Bowl again, in Belichick's final game with the team before he left to be the coach of the Cleveland Browns.

"There were a lot of special guys and there were some challenges, but there was also a lot of personal growth," Belichick said of his years with the Giants. "Me, too. I was 26 or 27. I had a lot of growing to do as a person and as a coach."

With the Giants, Belichick began developing the coaching style that is fully formed now, down to the cut-off sweats and sneakers that the Hall of Fame linebacker Harry Carson remembers Belichick wearing even then.

Mara recalls Belichick at practice being like an intense college professor, always teaching and rarely screaming. Belichick was a stickler for detail, and he preached the importance of each player knowing his role. Carson's job was to stop the run. Taylor's was to rush the quarterback. There was no ambiguity, Carson said. Not much has changed. Only a few weeks ago, Belichick was caught on a field microphone exhorting a group of Patriots players to "just do your job."

"We always tried to whittle it down to the smallest possible things," said Virginia Coach Al Groh, who coached the linebackers for two years when Belichick was the Giants' defensive coordinator and remains close to Belichick. "We kept narrowing the focus on what we were going to give them. Players were focused not just from a mental and emotional standpoint, but from a specific task standpoint."

The Browns hired Belichick right after the Giants won the Super Bowl in January 1991. Two years earlier, Accorsi, Cleveland's general manager at the time, had interviewed Belichick at the Senior Bowl. The Browns had already decided on Bud Carson to be their coach then, so Accorsi conducted the interview in a coffee shop. Another man was waiting for Belichick, so they could go watch the practices together. After two hours, the other man left. After six hours, the interview finally ended.

"The interview was so captivating," Accorsi said. "He was so prepared and had such strong convictions, everything from strategy to the way he saw the game, to player personnel. He had all kinds of theories and innovations. And he doesn't just pick up players because they have talent; he has a job for them."

When Belichick wanted to keep linebacker Junior Seau from retiring last year, he called Seau in San Diego. "I have a job for you," Belichick told him.

And when he wants to show his linebackers today how to do the job - only when they mess up, Seau said - Belichick pulls out old black-and-white film of the Giants. Never, Seau said, does the viewing result in praise for the Patriots. "They’ve always done it better than us," Seau said.

But those old linebackers had to be persuaded, too. Sometimes, Carson said, Belichick would draw plays on the board - rushing two defensive lineman and dropping nine, for example - that players thought would never work.

"We were skeptics initially, but he won us over and we bought into the system," Carson said. "As I listen to what the Patriots are saying, I say that’s from the playbook of Belichick and Bill Parcells. It's about team. Don't say anything to make people angry. Don't give anybody anything to write about."

Belichick speaks so often about the Giants that linebacker Mike Vrabel has jokingly belittled the level of competition those teams faced. One day during training camp, Vrabel found a Giants helmet in his locker, courtesy of Belichick. A few years ago, Carson and Carl Banks stopped by Belichick's office before the Giants and the Patriots played a preseason game. "Man, I miss you guys," Belichick told them. "I wish I had guys like you now."

"Twelve years," Belichick said last week. "Think of how many plays, how many games, how many snaps, how many practices, how many meetings. You learn so much. The whole composite, it's awesome."

If they complete a perfect season Sunday, the 2007 Patriots will be viewed as one of the greatest teams in football history. But as Carson made his way through the Patriots' locker room after New England beat the Giants in the regular-season finale, two stars of Belichick's present approached a star from Belichick's past.

Carson could only laugh at what Tom Brady and Richard Seymour told him: "Bill is always talking about you guys."


Formatted for CROWN by   Marko Puljiĉ
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Diehl has been a shifty character

 In five NFL seasons, durable jack-of-all-trades David Diehl has started every game the Giants have played - 85, including playoffs. (Nick Laham/Getty Images)

By Jim McCabe
Globe Staff / January 31, 2008

CHANDLER, Ariz. - It is as if his pro football life had been authored by Theodor Seuss Geisel.

Right guard, right tackle. Left guard, left tackle.

Only the script has come not from the children's author but from New York Giants coaches and management. They have constantly kept David Diehl on the move along the offensive line, and he has consistently nodded his head.

"I'm a team guy. It's the way I was brought up," said the fifth-year offensive lineman whose versatility has helped forge a wall of protection in front of quarterback Eli Manning.

During a six-game winning streak that began in Week 3 and turned the team's fortunes around, the Giants' offensive line gave up just six sacks. For the season, New York yielded just 28 to rank 12th in the NFL, and preseason concerns about a line that for the first time since 1998 was without left tackle Luke Petitgout appear as distant in the rearview mirror as a Tucker Fredrickson catch and run.

No left tackle? No worries. Just slide Diehl over from right tackle.

The support for such a move was initiated by Jerry Reese, who took over as general manager Jan. 16, 2007. Some 27 days later, Reese made his first bold decision: He cut Petitgout, whose 2006 season had been cut short by a broken leg. Reese felt Diehl could handle the job and flamed the controversy by reportedly criticizing Petitgout's play. Throw in the fact that Pro Bowl running back Tiki Barber had announced his retirement and Giants followers were openly wondering if the team's Achilles' would be the offensive line - specifically left tackle - and the ground game.

Back-to-back losses to open the season and a 17-3 halftime deficit in Week 3 didn't provide much encouragement, especially with five sacks allowed in just 10 quarters. Still, people on the outside couldn't see inside the team's locker room midway through that Sept. 23 game.

"I'm not saying we were thinking we'd be in the Super Bowl," said Diehl, a strapping 6-foot-5-inch, 319-pounder from Chicago who played at the University of Illinois. "But I'm telling you, we believed in ourselves. That's all I'll say."

Inside University of Phoenix Stadium amid the circus-like atmosphere that is Super Bowl Media Day, Diehl stood calmly, quietly, and indeed, that's about all he wanted to say. The ship was righted in the second half of that Washington game. The Giants rallied to win to touch off the six-game winning streak, which went a long way toward vaulting them to 10-6 and into the playoffs. But Diehl isn't about to stick out his chest at the critics. Even a rousing sweep of Tampa Bay, Dallas, and Green Bay in the postseason and a trip to Super Bowl XLII isn't fuel for an "I-told-you-so" mentality.

Diehl is here only to do what he does best, which is play...and play...and play. He has started all 16 games for all five NFL seasons since being drafted in the fifth round in 2003, and if you factor in the postseason, that gives Diehl perfect attendance for all 85 games of his Giants career. While you can chalk up part of that to his refusal to accept sick days as part of the employee compensation package, Diehl said it goes beyond his control.

"Every NFL player takes care of themselves and tries to eat right, go in the cold tub as much as possible. I have a massage on my neck and acupuncture once a week," he said. "Every athlete does everything to his body to the best of his ability. But a lot of time, it's luck. It's a tough game, a tough sport. Injuries happen. A lot of time, it's being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and fortunately, knock on wood, for me it hasn't happened."

Instead, what has unfolded is a fascinating study of versatility and focus. Installed as the right guard for the 2003 season, Diehl became the first rookie since Mark Bavaro to start all 16 games for the Giants.

The only thing is, when the Giants drafted Chris Snee out of Boston College and moved him into right guard, Diehl was asked in 2004 to switch to right tackle.

Done deal.

Presumably, however, Diehl didn't become too attached to the right tackle position, because when Kareem McKenzie came aboard as a free agent in 2005, guess which position was his? Correct, right tackle. Would you mind moving to left guard, Mr. Diehl?

Done deal, which is pretty much what Diehl said in the days after Petitgout was released and the decision was made to move him into the left tackle spot. Thus for his fifth season did Diehl have a fourth position to learn. Just don't extend any praise to him. He simply considers it part of his job, though if you press him on the issue, Diehl will volunteer that he doubts you'll see him complete the entire offensive line by playing center.

"Every position but center. I can snap and block, but not at the same time," said Diehl. "That rules out center for me. We've got a good center in Shaun O'Hara so that's definitely not going to be in my future."

O'Hara agrees it won't happen, "because he's too tall and would block the quarterback's view downfield." But in the next breath, O'Hara praises Diehl's lunch-pail mentality and lack of ego.

"I've been able to fight through the little nicks and cracks and stay out there, because it's something I definitely pride myself on," said Diehl. "I'm a guy who's accountable. Guys look at me in the huddle and they know I'm going to be out there for 60 minutes giving everything I've got and doing everything to help our football team win."

That meant playing through a rather awkward situation in the NFC Championship game in Green Bay. Battling flu-like symptoms all week, Diehl at one point got nauseated. The next part was where things got, well, a bit disconcerting, because Diehl vomited, with most of it getting stuck in his facemask. Had it not been so cold, he could have cleaned it off. Now there've been plenty of times when players have looked through facemasks covered with mud and grass, but Diehl's dilemma? That, he conceded, was unique and not something he really wanted to talk about.

"Yeah, yeah, I had [flu-like symptoms]," he said. "I was sick, but what are you going to do? You've got to play."

And in his case, you've got to play...and play ...and play.


Formatted for CROWN by   Marko Puljiĉ
Distributed by This message is intended for Croatian Associations / Institutions and their Friends in Croatia and in the World. The opinions / articles expressed on this list do not reflect personal opinions of the moderator. If the reader of this message is not the intended recipient, please delete or destroy all copies of this communication and please, let us know! Or simply...enjoy and spread the word and good vibrations.