By BILL WAGNERCAPITAL GAZETTE |APR 24, 2021 AT 6:13 PM
Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley stood on the sideline at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium holding a fancy key to the City of Annapolis that had been mounted on a hand-carved oak board.
Buckley was all set to present that special keepsake to renowned New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick at halftime of the Army-Navy men’s lacrosse game.ADVERTISING
All the dignitaries participating in the ceremony were assembled, notably Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk and Vice Admiral Sean Buck, the academy superintendent.
One could understand the slight look of concern in Buckley’s eyes when someone asked aloud: “Where is Bill Belichick?”
Buckley, who had failed in two previous attempts to present Belichick with the key to the city, started looking around nervously. The mayor knew Belichick was somewhere on the field because they had come down there together from the press box. However, it appeared Buckley had briefly lost the guest of honor.
Finally, someone spotted Belichick, who was almost unnoticeable standing alongside the grandstand with a headset on. It turns out he was being interviewed live during the game by CBS Sports Network.
When Belichick finally took off the headset and walked over to greet Buck and Gladchuk, there was a general sense of relief. An event that had been three years in the making was finally going to happen.
Moments later, Buckley performed the formal presentation and afterward spoke about how grateful he was to at long last get it done.
“It feels so amazing to recognize a legendary figure in Coach Bill Belichick, who is one of the most humble people I’ve ever met,” Buckley said. “It’s the classic example of local boy made good. Coach Belichick got his start here in Annapolis then went on to do so many incredible things.
“At every step along the way, he never forgot his hometown. He sells the City of Annapolis all over the world, and I’m just thrilled that today we were able to recognize that,” Buckley added.
Belichick, nattily attired in a Navy blue suit for the occasion, was accompanied by his longtime partner Linda Holliday. The 69-year-old was surprised and thrilled to be joined on the field by a group of boyhood friends.
Among them were Annapolis High classmates and teammates Bill Greenfield, Paul McFadden, Marc Gilbert and Jerry Blackwell. Also on hand was Eddie Mullen, a St. Mary’s graduate who played lacrosse against Belichick during high school. Steve Samaras, owner of Zachary’s Jewelers and another old friend of the Patriots coach, completed the contingent.
Belichick gave each man a big bear hug when they came onto the field for the ceremony. He reserved the biggest embrace for Ron Wolfe, who was the Annapolis High lacrosse coach when Belichick was a starting defenseman for the team.
“Bill was a very smart player. He didn’t have the greatest foot speed, but he understood the game and could anticipate situations,” said Wolfe, who played Belichick on the crease.
Belichick sported a broad smile throughout the ceremony, which included a two-minute video tribute featuring interviews with Greenfield, Mullen, Navy football coach Ken Niumatalolo and former Navy player and current Patriots long snapper Joe Cardona.
“It’s an incredible honor to be recognized by your hometown. There’s nothing bigger than that. I’m so proud to be an Annapolitan,” Belichick said.
Belichick was asked about having so many of his boyhood buddies participate in the ceremony.
“That was amazing. Some of these guys I haven’t seen since I was living in Annapolis,” he said. “It’s great to be back in Annapolis, great to be here at this stadium and great to be watching Army-Navy lacrosse.”
A trio of seniors – midfielder Joe deLyra, defenseman Nick Franchuk and goalie Spencer Rees – led Navy to a convincing 9-4 victory over archrival Army. Belichick has attended many Army-Navy men’s lacrosse games over the years and said the experience never gets old.
“Just an awesome game, which is exactly what you would expect,” he said. “Both teams are playing it all out on the field. They’re playing like everything depends on it and it does.”
Greenfield, semi-retired following a successful career with Hyatt Commercial Real Estate, was responsible for putting together the gathering of Belichick high school friends. He graduated from Annapolis High in 1970 along with Belichick and they have remained close friends ever since.
“Bill and I go way back to our youth boxing days,” said Greenfield, noting they were part of a program run for local kids by longtime Naval Academy boxing coach Tony Rubino. “We’re all so very proud of what Bill has accomplished and honored to say we knew him way back when.”
Mullen, who played attack for St. Mary’s and therefore went directly against Belichick, has also stayed in contact with the coach over the years. When Belichick is in town, he and Mullen may play golf at the Naval Academy course or eat crabs at Cantler’s Riverside Inn.
“We’ve all followed Bill’s progress over the years and marveled at what he’s been able to do as an NFL coach. Of course, we take great pride in it,” Mullen said. “You’re talking about the greatest coach of all time and he’s from Annapolis. He’s a hometown treasure.”
Belichick spoke to the Navy men’s lacrosse team in the locker room before the game. Navy coach Joe Amplo said the eight-time Super Bowl champion made an impactful speech.
“That gentleman walks in the locker room and the guys perk up. He was very intentional and deliberate about his comments,” Amplo said.
Belichick had asked Amplo if there was any specific ground he should cover. Amplo, in his second season at Navy, was not about to make suggestions to someone who has set the standard for leading players.
“He said exactly what I would want him to say — that the game isn’t about emotion, it’s about execution. It’s about doing your job, paying attention to the details and making the next play. That’s exactly what our guys needed to hear because that’s exactly what we’ve been telling them all week,” Amplo said.
“Whether it’s football in the Super Bowl or lacrosse in the Army-Navy game, it’s about making the simple plays. Whoever blocks and tackles the best in his sport has a good chance to win. Whoever catches, shoots and picks up a ground ball in our sport has a good chance to win.”
Bill Wagner has worked for Capital Gazette Newspapers for 30 years. He served as beat writer for Navy athletics and general assignment sports reporter. He is also the sailing editor.