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Did a football to the head ignite Bill Belichick's coaching mind?


*Jeff Hostetler discusses a moment during 1984 training camp with then-Giants linebackers coach Bill Belichick: *

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. – Bill Belichick was the Giants' 32-year-old linebackers coach when Jeff Hostetler joined the team in 1984. Belichick had already earned a reputation as a brilliant, demanding, detailed-oriented coach who had the respect of coach Bill Parcells and linebacker Lawrence Taylor, both now enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame

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Now, of course, Belichick is a mortal lock to join them. On Sunday, he will coach the New England Patriots in a Super Bowl for the eighth time, against the Philadelphia Eagles. If the Pats win, Belichick will join legendary pioneers Curly Lambeau and George Halas as the only coaches in history to win six championships.

And Hostetler believes he deserves partial credit for Belichick's success. Well, not seriously. But Hostetler can point to one moment during training camp at Pace University that summer which perhaps helped push Belichick's career to legendary status.

"I think the turning point was when I knocked some sense into him my rookie year," Hostetler said in a phone conversation from his home in Morgantown, W.V. "It was a seven-on-seven (passing drill), and I was giving a picture for the defense (as the quarterback). We were running a lot of crossing patterns. I would take the snap and drop back and Bill would stand right where the center is, with his back to me, and watch the defense. And heck, we were running those short crossing patterns and I let one fly and I hit him in the back of the head. I think it just kind of knocked everything into the right spot, so I'm taking credit."

Let's just say that Belichick's first thought was not, "I really needed that hit in the head to become a Super Bowl-winning coach."

"He just lit into me," Hostetler said. "And I'm saying, 'Hey I can't help it, we're running short patterns and you're just standing right there.' That was the moment that I think the defensive guys all accepted me, because they were just thrilled to see him get hammered. But man, he yelled at me this and that. I think that was the turning point. I had so many of the defensive guys come up to me and say 'Nice throw, nice throw.' God, it was funny."

Belichick's feelings for Hostetler presumably softened during the seven seasons they were together in New Jersey. The Giants won two Super Bowls with Belichick as their defensive coordinator during that time, including Super Bowl XXV, when Hostetler became the starter with two games remaining in the regular season. He led the team to five consecutive victories, that last a 20-19 conquest of Buffalo for the championship.

The two men had a chance to reconnect last August, when the Patriots practiced with the Houston Texans at the Greenbrier in White Sulfur Springs, W.V., not far from Hostetler's home.

"It was great," said the 57-year-old Hostetler. "I've got a lot of positive memories of my time with the Giants, and obviously he had a big part of the success there. He's a lot easier to talk with now than he was then. He's done such a great job. I'm impressed by the continual success that he has, because it's tough to be successful. In that business, you're in, you're out."
Hostetler was accompanied on the visit by his three sons, two daughters-in-law and four grandchildren. Belichick invited them onto the field following practice. Hostetler's daughter-in-law Amy is a fervent fan of Brady, who came over to speak to the group.

"That was the whole purpose," Hostetler said. "I had to take her to go see him. It was good stuff. My sons enjoyed it, too. I've told them before that I've been impressed with him (Brady), and he's a good guy and he handles himself really, really well, and that was very evident when we spoke with him.

"He's been fortunate physically as far as injuries and things like that. You get up in age there and sometimes it's the mental part of it that you get tired of, constantly preparing and that kind of stuff. That's when you know it's time to hang them up. He's been impressive because that hasn't been the case. He's mentally as sharp as can be. You can tell with how he prepares and plays that nothing hard ever surprises him, because he's prepared himself so well."

Hostetler owns a construction company in Morgantown, where he is a big fan of West Virginia University's sports teams. He also heads the Hoss Foundation, which provides assistance to those in Monongalia County facing hardships due to traumatic injury, illness, or financial crisis.

"We are doing a lot of things with families that are in the hospital, we have a resource center inside our hospital here," he said. "Just trying to have an impact on families going through difficult times."

This is a serious impact, not like the one he had on Belichick's extraordinary career. Hostetler admits he's amazed at what Belichick's accomplished.

"It's impressive, because again you know how difficult it is," he said. "If you win the Super Bowl, everybody is shooting for you and it's tough to repeat. So it's impressive and the players that he brings in and keeping everyone on the same page, there's something to it. He's got something going right."

Who knows, maybe some of it is due to Hostetler drilling him in the head more than 33 years ago.

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