ESPN 30 for 30: The Two Bills (2018)

Directed by Ken Rodgers

Bill Belichick has taken the NFL and placed a stranglehold upon it. For someone like me, who has lived most of his high school and adult life within the era of Brady/Belichick, it seems odd to me that he might have been a disciple of another coach, for is he not himself the “chosen one”? All of this complimentary and embellishing language is likely sickening to most, as it is to me, who detest Belichick and the Patriots and Tom Brady. But for a team who took the country by storm, who was America’s team in 2001 shortly after 9/11, they are a team who is easy to hate precisely because they are so successful. We can talk about narratives such as the NFL and the referees favoring them, about how they cheat and are overrated and this and that. But at the end of the day, nobody can take away the success they have had under Bill Belichick, and as hard as it is, his success as an NFL coach must be appreciated for what it is: legendary.

But before Belichick there was Parcells. Another Bill, who tamed the Bills for his second Super Bowl title in 1990. Parcells was a celebrity coach just as Belichick himself has become. He was a different personality than Belichick, more boisterous, excitable, outspoken. But the two are linked, forever, for their journey in the NFL and the various trials, tribulation and successes, sometimes in spite of each other. Their story is fascinating and NFL Films’ Ken Rodgers (Elway to Marino, The Four Falls of Buffalo) is here to tell it, as only NFL Films and ESPN 30 for 30 can: hagiography. I threw that word around when discussing the last 30 for 30 film, Nature Boy, about pro wrestler Ric Flair. I understand the NFL’s need to direct their own story, but it also feels like it comes as a detriment to really getting into this fascinating relationship between two of the games greatest coaches.

Direction really becomes an interesting word when describing this film and NFL Films’ role in its production. A common complaint about other 30 for 30 films involving NFL Films is that they brush over the bad and controversial to practice a worship service at the feet of the subjects feet. Hagiography. Parcells and Belichick, while their flaws are touched on, their controversies mentioned in passing, are over celebrated and the real crux of the story swept under the rug. It is an amazing thing to have gotten these two legendary coaches in the same room to discuss their careers considering Parcells essentially blocked Belichick from interviewing for the Patriots, and putting him as heir apparent for whenever it was he decided he didn’t want to coach anymore. Belichick proved time and again deserving of a head coaching position, and yet it seemed Parcells did everything within his power to prevent that and keep him on his staff instead. This point is touched on mostly in passing.

Instead, the film focuses more on the coaching success of these two men, and how well they worked together before this controversy, and how much Belichick has accomplished since. As with most films of this type, the producers spend most of the time recapping how the two came to meet and work together, and their successes on the field, most notably winning two Super Bowls with the Giants. These are impressive and important sequences, but for a film short on time, coming in at just under 78 minutes, the focus is more on their success, leaving very little time to explore their dynamic and tenuous relationship. They worked great as a team, and that much is covered in great detail, but their falling out, their struggle to separate from each other is another story altogether that I wanted a lot more of.

Ultimately it is always better to highlight successes than failures, especially when pedaling your own product, and this film does that very well. Parcells and Belichick occupy a very important space in the history of the NFL, and their partnership helped shape the history of the game in a major way over the course of three decades of coaching. Rodgers is a capable filmmaker who does what he does very well. Assembling archival footage, gaining commentary from interviews with important players such as Lawrence Taylor and Pepper Johnson, and executives like Robert Kraft, all help shape the story being told. But my disappointment of that word, “shaping”, how Rodgers manipulates the tale to the benefit of the NFL, to show more of the good than the bad, creates an unbalanced experience, and one which ultimately feels incomplete and partially inaccurate.

★★ – Didn’t Like It

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