Belichick responds after fans notice Patriots rookie wearing illegal number
In all likelihood, “Jerseygate,” will not become a thing. Even if it were to become a thing, it most certainly wouldn’t be on par with “Spygate” or “Deflategate.”
That being said, the whole ordeal involving Bill Belichick and New England Patriots players’ jerseys illustrates the lengths that the curmudgeonly five-time Super Bowl champion head coach will go to so he can thumb his nose at the NFL establishment.
Given Belichick’s penchant for skirting the rules, it would be hard to blame anyone for being suspicious of him when anything seems out of the ordinary.
Case in point, a few eyebrows were raised when Patriots first-round pick Sony Michel was spotted wearing a No. 51 jersey in OTAs. During the actual season, Michel’s jersey number must be between 20 and 49, per NFL rules.
— Kyle (@marblekyle) May 24, 2018
It’s a small but noticeable thing, and unfortunately for Belichick, his reputation doesn’t exactly lend him the benefit of doubt.
When Belichick was asked about it, he naturally gave one of his gruff and sarcastic responses.
“Really not too worried about all the important stuff like that — numbers and what color gloves you wear and all of that,” Belichick told reporters, per ESPN. “That’s not really at the top of the list right now. Trying to learn football, trying to become a team, trying to get better each day — that’s really where our focus is.”
That’s all fine. There’s a reason the Patriots have been a modern-day sports dynasty, and a laser focus on football is a big part of that.
But the real story about the jersey numbers actually stems back to 2016, when the NFL first formally warned Belichick about having players wear jerseys without numbers on them.
Rookies like Michel wearing No. 51 and signal-caller Danny Etling wearing No. 58 (quarterbacks must wear a number between 1 and 19, per NFL rules) is Belichick’s way of responding to that 2016 edict.
Prior to 2016, Belichick had his players wear numberless jerseys. It’s a tactic he reportedly picked up from studying legendary Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Chuck Noll.
The reasoning was that numberless jerseys would improve communication between players. Not knowing a player’s “real” number and not having a name on the back of the jersey would force the players to get to know each other better.
The NFL was not thrilled with what Belichick was doing. The league felt that numberless jerseys made it unnecessarily difficult to monitor player practice time regulations. The NFL also felt that it would be easier to sneak an injured player into practice when going with numberless jerseys.
Patriots draft picks wore jerseys numbered in the 50s on Tuesday, with the exceptions of 56 and 57. Those two numbers belonged to Hall of Famers Andre Tippett and Steve Nelson, respectively. Undrafted rookies all donned jerseys in the 60s and 70s.
All players will be in their actual jersey numbers come Sept. 9, when the Patriots open their regular season at home against the Houston Texans.
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