Bill Belichick Is Still Stone Cold

Marcus Cannon

Marcus Cannon

Like most sports fans, I stopped reading Rick Reilly, the former Sports Illustrated back page columnist and current ESPN something-or-other, when he started mailing it in a decade or so ago. (And if I were Rick Reilly, right here, I’d make some sort of joke about how these days you e-mail it in.) But his recent story on Patriots fifth-round draft pick Marcus Cannon is really very good. Vintage Reilly, you might say.

As Reilly writes, Cannon, a 6-foot-5, 358-pound offensive lineman out of TCU, was marked down on most team’s draft boards as first-round talent. But just two weeks before the draft, doctors discovered Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in his lower abdomen, causing his stock to plummet. The whole story is worth a read, though I do have one quibble. Referencing Bill Belichick’s decision to finally draft Cannon in the 5th round, Reilly writes:

“But what kind of whacked NFL coach would draft a player with cancer? A certified genius with a hidden heart, that’s who.”

I mean this as more of a compliment than a knock, but if there’s one thing we can be fairly sure of at this point, it’s that, when it comes to football, Bill Belichick does not have a hidden heart. He’s as stone cold as they come: Just ask Lawyer Milloy, Mike Vrabel, Richard Seymour, or any of the other veteran stalwarts that Lord Hoodie has remorselessly jettisoned in his time here.

As much as Reilly might like to manufacture a nice storyline, it would be wildly inconsistent if Belichick’s drafting of Cannon had anything to do with tugging heartstrings or goopy sentiment. If it did, Belichick would also have picked up BC linebacker Mark Herzlich, who had his own battle with Ewing’s sarcoma. The safe bet is that Belichick tapped Cannon because, flush with draft picks he’d meticulously stockpiled over the years, the coach saw an opportunity to take a calculated risk on a top of the draft talent in the fifth round. If it works out, the Patriots will have hit the jackpot. If not, no big deal, most fifth rounders don’t work out anyway.

All of that being said, the best you can hope for now is a full recovery for Cannon — as Reilly’s story makes clear, that alone would be jackpot enough.