I made the mistake of reading Ron Borges’ piece in The Boston Herald Wednesday. It’s called “Borges: A one-sided conversation over breakfast with Bill Belichick,” and I’m linking to it here, with the warning that it could cause severe agitation.
This column makes me despondent. Borges used to write for The Boston Globe, which had the best sports page in the country 30 to 40 years ago. Do yourself a favor and order the compilation of Ray Fitzgerald columns called Touching All Bases. When you get it, turn to the final entry, written in 1982, called “Tricks of the Trade.” It’s eye-opening, because, in his inimitable, cheeky way, Fitzgerald lets you in on how to hack your way through a column. It’s a timeless piece.
Seemed like a good idea (“good” being a relative term) to go over this Borges work bit by bit, in a Drew-Magary-takes-on-Gregg-Easterbrook kind of way.
Put on your housework clothes, because we’re going knee deep.
PHOENIX – I sat down for breakfast yesterday with Bill Belichick. He seemed kind of distant.
He and his fellow coaches had come out west to join their bosses, as well as the straw bosses who run the NFL, for the annual league meetings. That’s where members of the rules committee annually conspire with commissioner Roger Goodell against the Patriots. Bill knows this better than the rest of us, but he was kind of mum on the subject.
Ah. See, if you read actual Patriots news, you would know that Belichick skipped out on NFL meetings to attend college pro days in Florida. If you did not know this, the column would get super confusing. The rules thing, I assume, is based on the presumption of many local fans that the NFL conspires against New England on a regular basis. Never mind that this week an NFL owner was quoted as saying that, if another team besides the Patriots proposes a rule change, it gets more traction.
But let’s not let the extra work of writing fact-based background get in the way. Avant, Ron!
When I went to charm school, one thing I was taught was the best way to get a conversation going is to break the ice with small talk.
Ha! Charm school. I don’t think he ever even went to charm school. Get it?
So I asked something I was sure a lot of people back in New England were wondering about since Super Bowl LI ended with Tom Brady’s jersey inside some Mexican editor’s sports coat.
“How come nobody stole your hoodie?” I asked.
No one – not one single person I’ve spoken to, texted with, or emailed – has ever asked about stealing the hoodie. Perhaps the biggest reason for that is because Belichick did not wear a hoodie during the Super Bowl. Again: facts. Maybe 20 seconds of research, depending on one’s ability to type “Belichick SBLI” and click on “Images,” would have made that apparent. At this point, I’m not sure if Ron even watched the game.
But why strain oneself, really? Why try, when you can effortlessly demonstrate writing skills that ooze from every pore?
Not wanting to cause an international incident by getting into a beef with Mexico over some dirty laundry, Bill thought it best not to comment. Who could blame him with a wall going up and all.
“Dirty laundry” is a pun, there, that accurately determines the level of humor within this article. We’ll ignore the weird wall comment, which I have to assume Ron thought was funny. Let’s keep going, Guy Imitating Everyone’s Probably-Racist Uncle!
I did wonder what he might think the hoodie was worth on the black market if Brady’s soiled game jersey was valued at $500,000, but I didn’t ask. Why pry?
Belichick. Didn’t. Wear. A. Hoodie.
Instead I did it the way it’s done these days. I spoke to one of the FOBs instead, who insisted, “A dollar more than Brady’s!” Of course. Who would quarrel with a spokesman from a society more secretive than the Freemasons? Not me. Back to my oatmeal.
Get over the hoodie, for God’s sake. Moving on, there is so much to unpack in this paragraph. FOB means Friend Of Bill, which leads to some journalistic issues. Did Borges actually talk to someone who knows Belichick? Is this a real quote? I don’t know, and I can’t tell from the context of this piece. What’s potentially revealing, though, is the line “I did it the way it’s done these days.” Though I’m not exactly sure what Ron is referring to, it seems like a curmudgeonly jab at today’s journalism, i.e., a method of getting around a source’s unavailability. That again calls into question the veracity of his quote: is there a real FOB, or to him, does “the way it’s done these days” mean making something up?
Because he made up just about everything else, often in fruitless searches for laughter. Cases in point:
Breakfast at 6:35 a.m. is a tad early by sportswriter’s standards, but according to deeply held beliefs in New England, Bill usually would have had lunch by now as well as done hot yoga, a Zumba class, watched tape of 12 college seniors and every AFC East opponent’s games since 1971, balanced his salary cap, worked on variations of the Pythagorean theorem and taken 100 throws right-handed and 100 lefty with his Paul Rabil-model lacrosse stick. No wonder the guy was kind of quiet.
This hyperbole is intended to be a burn on both Belichick and his fans. He works hard! The irony is that the coach leaving early to attend pro days is in itself a testament to his preference for football analysis over meetings. Remember, when it comes to scouting, his father wrote the book on it. Also, during the season, Belichick wakes up around 4 a.m. after about four hours of sleep. What a jerk!
Ron brings in the “No wonder the guy was kind of quiet” reference, another strained attempt at humor that at this point is just distracting. How confusing this must have been for readers who did not realize Belichick had left early. Must have seemed like the longest prelude to an interview ever.
Though, I’ve got to admit: solid reference on Paul Rabil.
Our silent rendezvous yesterday was in a hotel where it costs $11 for coffee, unless you want cream. Then it’s $17. That’ll put a damper on conversation, not to mention your appetite, so it was kind of quiet at the table.
So … billionaires like to meet at fancy hotels. Front page news, that. But, in light of nagging questions of veracity, I wondered if the $6 for cream were true. It is not. I got in touch with the Arizona Biltmore and received this price list: small coffee at The Café, $3.75. Large coffee, $4.75. Room service pot of coffee, $12. All cream is complimentary.
Now, some of you might be telling me to relax, that it’s obvious he’s exaggerating. I didn’t think it was so obvious. According to the hotel’s Cabana Club menu, an Arizona Sunrise cocktail costs $12, so it’s not impossible to think the prices he wrote were real.
In any case, if Borges wants to get into how expensive the place is, he could try harder. (He actually would have to: a room with two double beds costs $210 a night – not the Town ‘n’ Country Motor Inn, but not exactly The Ritz.) Its seems like even hyperbole gets a half-assed effort here.
Coffee there was so expensive, I had to ask Robert Kraft for a MicroLoan. It’s just not that difficult. Also worth noting how Ron keeps bringing out the “quiet at the table” ruse. Because Ron’s all alone. Seriously, this thing has turned into a plaintive cry for help.
I’ll skip a few more half-hearted metaphors regarding Belichick’s absence (“Bill had kind of a faraway look,” is one example) and settle into this mud puddle of references:
Later in the day, the owners were going to vote on a rule change that would prevent what it called “the leaper” block attempt on a field goal or extra point. You remember that became Shea McClellin’s specialty last season. He looked like Edwin Moses hurdling the line and slapping down kicks so New Englanders knew this was now a conspiracy to stop the Patriots. It seemed logical to ask Bill if he believed the Philadelphia Eagles offered that change just to hurt his team.
For those under 30, Edwin Moses won the Olympic gold medal in the 400 hurdles in 1976 and 1984. (Fun fact: the U.S. women swept the 100 meter hurdles last year in Brazil. That took 90 seconds of research.) Ron wants Pats fans to know how silly they are to think the rule was brought up to work against them. It’s a safety issue. Right?
The competition committee claimed it was an unsafe play. Well, isn’t running through the line more unsafe than jumping over it?
Kind of a turnaround from the previous point, here. In one paragraph, he says that Patriots fans are ridiculous for pointing out what they see as a ridiculous rule. In the next, he agrees that rule seems ridiculous. I have to wonder if anyone else looks at these columns before they get printed.
More disdain for Pats fans unveiled here:
I didn’t want to ask why he decided to blow the bank on Stephon Gilmore for $14 million a year when he’s paid Malcolm Butler minimum wage his entire career because In Bill I Trust, but I have to admit the last time I saw Gilmore he was about 15 yards behind Chris Hogan. It makes you think, unless you’re a Patriots fan.
Wow. Not even hiding it anymore. Besides contempt, Ron shows disingenuousness. He knows how contracts work in the NFL, and that, as an undrafted rookie, Butler was not going to make a lot of cash until his second contract (which is what Gilmore, a first-round pick with Buffalo, signed with the Patriots). In other words, Butler’s “entire career” has been three years of UDFA money. (You can check out old pal Miguel Benzan’s Patscap Twitter page for more info and links to salaries.) As far as Gilmore getting toasted by Hogan, just about every Patriots fan who paid attention this season thought of that upon news of the signing.
But Patriots fans don’t think, apparently. It’s almost like they’ve been conned into believing Belichick is good at his job.
What was on my mind was if Bill was considering doing his hair like Gilmore’s in a kind of bonding thing with the new guy? Sources say, you know. Then I realized with a hoodie that could get kind of bulky in the back. Bill seemed a little detached so why ask?
If making fun of dreadlocks is not racist, it is, at the very least, an exhausted, desperate bid at humor. “Wouldn’t it be funny if an old white guy got dreads?” could have passed for an attempt at a joke last century. It’s clumsy and painful now. And again with the hoodie, and again with the “detached” Belichick-as-absentee reference. At this point, he’s like a child in love with the same knock-knock joke.
“Not Bill Belichick!”
I’m skipping ahead. One can only take so much.
It was kind of quiet at the table with just me and Bill and one bowl of oatmeal and it was getting late.
God damnit. This is like if T. S. Eliot drank a bottle of gin, fell on his face, got concussed, and then tried to write “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”
Kind of quiet … getting late … coffee spoons … Like a patient etherized upon a table, indeed.
In Gainesville, Fla., where the University of Florida was holding Pro Day, it was already 10 a.m. I had a few more questions but Bill had drifted away. I thought, poor guy is so tired he came to breakfast disguised as an empty chair, which up to that point I thought was a pretty clever way to keep things intimate.
Someone please read that last sentence and explain to me just what in a tinker’s hump is happening there. Belichick is not present. We get it. With this empty chair thing – are we supposed to read it and experience it as a joke, where the premise hits us all of a sudden and our response is presumed to be laughter? I can’t imagine an adult writing this paragraph, reading it over, and thinking, “Yup, earning my money today.”
Judging by his record for drafting Gators from Gainesville, …
Ah! Alliteration! See, he already said the University of Florida was in Gainesville, but sometimes we sports writers can’t resist those alliterative phrases, even when redundant. Anyway, onward, Ron, you Writerly Rapscallion!
… it seemed his time might have been better spent over a bran muffin.
Is that a poop joke? I’m, like, 90 percent certain that’s a poop joke.
Of the eight Gators he’s drafted in 17 years, only Jeremy Mincey hasn’t been a bust. Only three remain in the NFL and none are in New England, unless you include Aaron Hernandez, whose uniform number is now W106228 not 81. Unlike when he was a tight end, whenever we see Aaron these days he’s covered … with prison tats and handcuffs.
Boy, Belichick must be terrible at drafting. (Only we know he’s not.)
Okay, to sum up something Borges knows but isn’t saying: Belichick knew former Gators coach Urban Meyer well and drafted a slew of his players several years ago. Florida has a new coaching staff and quite a few athletes – including the son of former Patriot Bryan Cox – who are getting a close look from the coach.
We’ll get to Hernandez in a minute, but I’d like to pause here and reflect on the fact that most of the “research” that went into this column involved finding the prison number of the former tight end. No statistics, no wins/losses, no combine results. A prison number.
Time for a super-fun detail. If you type the above number into a search engine, this article from an April 2015 page of The Daily Mail pops up. Here’s the best part: the first bit of the headline reads,
EXCLUSIVE: Aaron Hernandez is Prisoner W106228 – not 81 –
Looking at the similarities between the headline and his sentence, it sure seems that Ron got this idea from a source other than himself. This points to his laziness, because he can’t even think of another way to state a sad, stale one-liner. By the way, that ellipsis leading up to the “punchline” is all his.
Prison tats and handcuffs! Because innocent men were killed! Ba-da-BOOM!
Crap, there’s more? There’s more.
Maybe avoiding Gainesville might have been wiser than avoiding breakfast, because there’s only so many mistakes you can make with an omelet, but there was no sense asking. Bill was gone.
Maybe the biggest irony of this Borges work is that he laments “the way it’s done these days,” while showcasing the reason why it’s done that way. In the previous century, when I first got the AOL disk in the mail and stuck it in my tangerine iMac, I discovered Bill Simmons, aka “Boston Sports Guy,” on AOL Digital City. Like him or not (and these days, mostly not), Simmons tapped into the frustration that a lot of sports fans felt with writers – why do those guys get to travel and follow the team, yet seem to hate it? Why can’t I build a following writing with passion and humor from my home?
So, back to the headline question: why is Borges in Phoenix? What does he tell us about the NFL meetings that we didn’t know already, besides the price of a cup of coffee (which he made up)? Seems like a lot for the Herald to pay for an ongoing schtick of talking to a chair. Ron offers no fewer than 11 references to Belichick’s absence (“quiet,” “distant,” “invisible,” etc. – eviscerating a horse that was beaten to death by paragraph six), and zero references to New England actually winning the Super Bowl.
What hurts, here, is that it’s yet another blown opportunity. What is a day at the Phoenix Biltmore like? What’s the mood among owners and coaches? Laughs and golf? Furrowed brows and tense talks? I mean, if you’re there, do something besides writing about game-worn hoodies that were not worn at the game. And, if you’re going to write about the coach not being there, tell us he’s not there. Give us a Belichickian rundown of the breakfast. Was the bacon executed well? Did the kitchen put enough time into preparing the coffee? Does anyone work harder than the omelet chef? So many options.
There’s mailing it in, and then there’s this column, written with all the effort of having an intern send an emoji. About 10 years ago, Borges retired from the Globe. Given his palpable apathy shown on this page, it’s apparent he’s stayed that way.
Chris Warner still has that tangerine iMac somewhere. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter @cwarn89.