Beautiful mind or cruel mind? Here in the hometown of Fred Rogers and Bill Cowher, where a retro-franchise values its own, where a community has survived Big Steel abandonment, Bill Belichick outsmarted the city's throwback heart and outwitted its quaint romance Sunday night.
Such is the harsh power of Belichick's methodical detachment. If Belichick were not able to separate himself from emotion, if he could not inspect his flaws with the clinical eye of a forensics expert, he would not be able to correct his faults.
He admits mistakes when his peers make excuses. And this is his greatest strength: self-evaluation. Bill Parcells can recite the Man in the Mirror, but Belichick lives by the importance of self-reflection.
Once again, he slipped on his decoder ring Sunday night to make sure that, in his second lap with the Steelers this year, he would not end up twice fooled.
Where did the Patriots go wrong on Halloween? What did Pittsburgh do so right in that game? By simply dissecting that question, the brainiac applied a chaos theory that put the Patriots in the Super Bowl after a 41-27 victory in the American Football Conference championship game.
It may sound contradictory, but this genius redux happens all the time. He is now 14-0 with the Patriots when facing a quarterback for the second time, a sign that he is able to confound and confuse the senses of an opposing team, its star and its coach.
The pressure of matching Belichick's intellect drove Cowher into a panic -- and it was only 8 minutes into the game, only a 3-0 deficit. Acting with awkward desperation, Cowher chose to go for it on fourth-and-1 at the New England 39.
Jerome Bettis played the bully who was supposed to kick sand on the Patriots' pencil necks. Instead, Bettis was stopped behind the line of scrimmage and fumbled, the Steelers' second turnover of the game.
"That was huge," said Patriots linebacker Ted Johnson. "It was huge for our psyche and state of mind."
Suddenly, The Terrible Towels were turned into lap blankets as the Steelers played into Belichick's strategy of insecurity. The Steelers were so demoralized, they were caught with their self-esteem down on the Patriots' next play, when Tom Brady threw a 60-yard spiral that hit receiver Deion Branch in stride just before he crossed into the end zone.
"The key to that play was David Givens," Belichick said. "He ran an over route that ate up the corner and safety."
Givens was the receiver the Steelers knew, the one who had 101 yards receiving against them on Oct. 31. Branch, injured and inactive in that game, hadn't entered the Steelers' thoughts. By the end of the game, Branch had become the object of Brady's affection with 116 yards receiving, 37 yards rushing and 2 touchdowns.
This is what Belichick does to opponents. He jukes them with his moves of the mind, going with one player when they expect another, an implementer of decoys and deceptions. "I've been a believer in Bill Belichick for a long time," the Patriots' owner, Robert K. Kraft, said. "He is a very special coach."
He makes other coaches look pedestrian. All week long, Cowher went with the stale philosophy mouthed by many coaches: We're sticking with what we do best.
Great, if Ben Roethlisberger was the same rookie sensation he had been in October. Great, if the Steelers hadn't fallen behind so soon, so fast.