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David J. Phillip/AP

Losers in victory and defeat

Sports | Bill Belichick has long proved as much a loser in victory as he was at the Super Bowl in defeat

Issue: "The Road to Cana," Feb. 23, 2008

For many football fans outside New York and Massachusetts, the result of Super Bowl XLII produced mixed emotions. On the one hand, New England's 17-14 loss to the Giants ripped away an undefeated season from surly Patriots coach Bill Belichick. On the other, it preserved the 1972 Dolphins' sole claim to single-season perfection-and the obnoxious behavior accompanying that unmatched feat.

But scorn for Belichick has since mushroomed with accusations that his videotaping of opponents' play signals last fall was not an isolated incident. More significant charges have surfaced that he taped the final practice of the St. Louis Rams the day before Super Bowl XXXVI, a game the Patriots won 20-17. Should that allegation stick, the justice of New England's upset loss could drown out the insufferable self-aggrandizing of washed-up Dolphins-not that the '72 Fins would go quietly.

Long disdained for their cork-popping celebrations each season when the last undefeated team loses its first game, the ex-Dolphins players and coach Don Shula reached unprecedented levels of cattiness in the run-up to Super Bowl XLII. Shula publically minimized what the Patriots seemed destined to accomplish, suggesting that New England's "Spygate" episode early in the year tainted the run at perfection.

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In the wake of the Patriots' surprise defeat, the lone occupants of "Perfectville" proved no more gracious: "Was I prepared to continue looking down my nose at the Patriots if they had won? Sure-but naturally this makes it much easier," Shula said. Others wore the charge of pretentiousness like a badge of honor: "Nobody wanted to listen, but we are the greatest, most incredibly pretentious group of football players there is," said former Dolphins running back Mercury Morris.

For all the potential entertainment value, critics of Belichick found more satisfaction in witnessing the coach's public hissy fit. When the Patriots' last gasp for a Super Bowl comeback fell incomplete, Belichick sprinted from the sidelines, ignoring the shouts of game officials that he must remain for one final snap to run out the clock. Later, in his post-game interview, the three-time Super Bowl winning coach looked the part of a spoiled child, offering no tip of his hat to the Giants for pulling off the upset.

Such behavior should hardly have surprised anyone. Whether illegally videotaping opponents or running up the score in blowout wins, Belichick has long proved as much a loser in victory as he was at the Super Bowl in defeat.

Good Knight

Tony Gutierrez/AP

After 42 seasons and a record 902 victories, Texas Tech coach Bob Knight retired Feb. 4, handing over control of the Red Raiders to his son Pat.

Many had expected the head man to step down at the end of this season. In doing so with 10 games to play, he exits with quiet class often lacking throughout his storied career. The move provides Pat Knight a chance to develop in a season with low remaining expectations and gather steam toward better days next fall.

Bob Knight's accomplishments as a basketball coach are unmatched, but the fiery innovator's legacy will center as much on sideline tirades, profanity-laced interview outbursts, and mistreatment of players as it will his on-court success.

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