There’s plenty of familiarity among the higher ranks of the Super Bowl LI participants.
The New England Patriots on Feb. 5 seek to add to their incredible legacy. Meanwhile, the Atlanta Falcons are looking to break through and join the party of the NFL’s elite.
If the Falcons are able to reach the top, they’ll do so likely having taken more than a page or two from Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s playbook.
Two of the Falcons’ most important decision makers — general manager Thomas Dimitroff and assistant GM Scott Pioli — have longstanding professional ties to Belichick. Both worked for the Patriots head coach during his time in Cleveland and then again in New England before going their separate ways.
Belichick actually helped Dimitroff break into the NFL, as Dimitroff worked on the Browns’ grounds crew back in the 1990s. His father, Tom Dimitroff, was a longtime scout for the Browns, someone Belichick raved about in the past.
The relationship between Belichick and the Dimitroff family was documented in Michael Holley’s book “War Room.”
One excerpt from the first chapter details a kinder, caring side of Belichick not often seen in a story from Tom Dimitroff’s funeral in 1996.
As the casket was lowered into the ground, a man approached Helen Dimitroff. It was Bill Belichick. He knew that he wasn’t going to be a part of the Browns’ future, but he felt compelled to apologize for their past. The Browns hadn’t had a good 1995, from the dismissal of an ailing Tom Dimitroff to sneaking out of town. They were just a few weeks away from dismissing Belichick, too.
Belichick said he was sorry for the way things were handled with her husband and best friend, and apologized for some of the mistakes he made during that time. Then he and Helen embraced.
“Would you mind if I put a rose on your husband’s casket?” he asked.
She thought it was a beautiful gesture and nodded. He placed the rose on the casket and then stepped back. Helen could sense his sincerity. She knew as well as anyone how unpredictable the business of pro sports was, and it was part of the reason she made a point of encouraging people she knew in the business. She had always done that with her husband and son, and she was known for writing cards with small notes of encouragement to their friends. Bill Belichick was going to be added to her list. There would be a time when Helen would send one of those cards to Belichick’s office and the address wouldn’t be just his place of business; it would be Thomas’s and Pioli’s as well.
Belichick hired the younger Dimitroff as a Patriots scout in 2002, after which Dimitroff spent more than a half-decade rising the ranks in Foxboro. The Falcons eventually hired him away as their GM, where Dimitroff proved he didn’t need to follow Belichick’s lead, at least not on every little thing.
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