NEW YORK – You know him as a so-called coaching genius, a defensive savant who devises creative ways for his Xs to stop your Os. His on-camera personality mirrors that of his sideline attire – a drab, gray sweatshirt – reinforcing his image as a colorless man who does his best work in a darkened film room, dissecting game tape until his eyes are bloodshot.

You don’t know the other side to the Bill Belichick story. You don’t know the “other Bill,” as his friends like to say.

The Bill, a child of the “60s, who can recite verses from any Beatles song.

Who listens to Bruce Springsteen, U2 and, if he’s in a playful mood, The Jerky Boys, on those long nights in his office.

Who counts among his best friends Jon Bon Jovi, the rock star.

Who fancies himself as a “closet drummer” and a “classic-rock kind of guy,” at least according to Bon Jovi.

Who knew?

Seems that Belichick, coach of the AFC champion Patriots, can disguise his full persona as well as he disguises defensive schemes. Beneath the stoic facade is a fun-loving, regular guy.

“If you’re looking for a media darling who can sit on the Fox panel with Howie (Long) and Terry (Bradshaw), that’s the other Bill,” Bon Jovi says. “The Bill the public sees is the one who will never compete with Puff Daddy to see who has more bling-bling.”

Belichick isn’t a bling-bling kind of coach – the man doesn’t even wear any of his three Super Bowl rings – which makes his friendship with Bon Jovi all the more incongruous. It’s an Oscar and Felix kind of thing.

“He’s a football fan and I’m a Bon Jovi fan – perfect match,” Belichick says in a phone interview from his office in Foxboro.

They met 15 years ago, when the New Jersey-born Bon Jovi, a die-hard Giants fan, attended practice. At the time, Belichick was the defensive coordinator. In 1990, the night before a memorable Monday night game in San Francisco, they attended a ZZ Top concert together. A friendship was born.

When his buddy became the Browns’ head coach in 1991, Bon Jovi went to training camp as Belichick’s guest. Even bought him a drum set, prompting Belichick to recall, “It was a good way to take out your frustrations. Just bang away; it didn’t hit back.”

Bon Jovi became a Belichick groupie (seriously), taking trips to Foxboro when Belichick took over the Patriots in 2000 after his messy divorce from the Jets.

“I became the mascot,” Bon Jovi jokes.

Likewise, Belichick has been there for some of Bon Jovi’s biggest gigs. In 1995, he and his wife, Debby, toured with the band through Europe. They started in Paris, where Bon Jovi opened for the Rolling Stones, and they flew with him to Dublin. Belichick was struck by the similarities between a rock concert and a football game. The meticulous preparation. The warmup. The adrenaline rush.

“The reason they get along so well is because they each want to do what the other does,” says Rob Ingraham, a Belichick friend since their college days at Wesleyan, an upscale private school in Middletown, Conn. “Bill wants to be on stage and Bon Jovi, I’m sure, would love to be on the sideline.”

Bon Jovi admires Belichick so much that he dedicated a song to him on his first post-9/11 album, “Bounce,” released in 2002. In the title track, Bon Jovi writes about the nation’s resilience. He sees the same attribute in Belichick, who rebounded from a stunning and painfully awkward resignation from the Jets – perhaps the low point of his career – to win a Super Bowl with the Patriots in February 2002.

In the CD jacket, Belichick’s name appears in the acknowledgments, along with a message from Bon Jovi: “The song “Bounce’ is dedicated to you, my friend.”

“That,” Belichick says, “is really awesome.”

The song goes a little something like this:

“This ain’t no game; I play it hard/Kicked around, cut, stitched and scarred/I’ll take the hit, but not the fall/I know no fear, still standing tall/You can call it karma, call it luck/Me, I just don’t give a.”

“When he left New York, he should’ve been revered,” Bon Jovi says. “He should’ve had the opportunity to go out on the speaking circuit in Mickey Mantle-type restaurants. Instead, they ran him out on a rail because of a misunderstanding. I think I know the truth, and he got (screwed). It’s unfortunate, but he doesn’t play the media game.”

If they want a headline in Boston, Bon Jovi says, “they talk about the curse of the Red Sox. Bill doesn’t make headlines.”

But if they want to talk about someone who gets the job done, they talk about Belichick.

“Look at the shots he’s taken. He picked (Tom) Brady and let (Drew) Bledsoe go. He let Lawyer Milloy go, and they were going to lynch him. But here they are in another Super Bowl. In the world of reality TV and pseudo stars all over TV and the recording business, it’s good to see a guy who flies under the radar get the job done.”

These days, the two talk more football than music. Bon Jovi is the new owner of an Arena League team, the Philadelphia Soul, and he picks Belichick’s brain on player-personnel issues. As Bon Jovi says, “It’s like going to Muhammad.”

In turn, Belichick has found a way for Bon Jovi to help the Patriots.

Whenever New England plays in a dome, Belichick acclimates the players to the anticipated noise by blasting his friend’s songs in the practice bubble. It isn’t well-received by those who prefer hip-hop to heavy metal, but, hey, it works. The Patriots will take a 14-game winning streak into Super Bowl XXXVIII next Sunday against the Panthers.

Belichick and Bon Jovi. Go figure.

“I have a tremendous amount of respect for the guy, not only as a musician, but as a businessman,” says Belichick, who admires Bon Jovi’s management style, the way he creates a team atmosphere by making the lower-end employees feel needed.

Perhaps Belichick has learned something from his buddy. After last week’s win over the Colts in the AFC Championship Game, he recognized (publicly and privately) the contribution of backup quarterback Damon Huard. He didn’t play a single down, but Huard was lauded for his work in practice, mimicking Peyton Manning.

Belichick acquired most of his football knowledge from his father, Steve, a former coach at the Naval Academy, but there were many other influential people and events in his life.

He was raised in Annapolis, Md., during the turbulent 1960s. He worked as a bus boy and a caddie, once carrying the bag of vice president Spiro Agnew (a lousy tipper, according to Steve Belichick). By 1971, he was off to Wesleyan, where he grew his hair, studied economics, carried his lacrosse stick everywhere and, of course, listened to music. The Beatles. Bob Dylan. The Grateful Dead.

“The rebellious years,” Belichick says. “The music was so expressive. There was a real message there.”

In 1975, Belichick landed his first job in coaching, working as a special assistant to Baltimore Colts coach Ted Marchibroda. He made $25 a week, noting, “I made nothing because I wasn’t worth anything.”

He became driven to succeed, working 18-hour days as he climbed the coaching ladder. His approach hasn’t changed; it’s all work, no play. He rarely shows a glib side in public. When he told the story last week of calling plays for his kids in their neighborhood touch football games, it garnered more ink in the Boston press than the old Kennedy games.

“People make him out to be an automated, Xs-and-Os guy,” Ingraham says, “but take it from a friend – he’s the complete package.”

There is after all, the “other Bill.” He pulls pranks on friends and co-workers and he likes to go tubing off his boat in Nantucket – okay, so he’s not ready for the X Games – but his favorite pastime might be listening to music from his classic jukebox, a gift for his 50th birthday.

“All you have to do is push a button,” he says. “No quarters.”

Nice. Simple. No bling-bling.

(c) 2004, New York Daily News.

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Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.


ARCHIVE PHOTO on KRT Direct (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099):

Bill Belichick

AP-NY-01-25-04 0603EST

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