Bill Belichick once was the head coach of the New York Jets’ staff for one game
For as much as fans deride the Pro Bowl, the NFL’s annual all-star game, the exhibition has provided some of the most unique situations in pro football history. Where else would you see, for example, Sean Taylor earn a penalty-free roughing the kicker call, Jeff Saturday switching teams in the middle of the action… or Bill Belichick coaching the New York Jets?
Jets fans are too familiar with Belichick’s infamous single day at the helm at the turn of the century that ended via napkin resignation. Forgotten in the annals of team history is a slightly longer stint in February 1997, when Belichick, having landed the Jets’ defensive coordinator job, served as the interim boss for almost a week while his mentor and longtime collaborator Bill Parcells worked out his departure from New England that allowed him to coach Gang Green.
But Belichick did head up the Jets’ staff for one victorious afternoon in February 1999. Alas, the Super Bowl was exclusively a January event at that point in time (the first February big game coming three years later), leaving Belichick to coach another winter NFL event: the temperately preferable but much less prestigious Pro Bowl in Honolulu.
Though the exhibition game pitting all-stars in the traditional AFC vs. NFC format was previously held in the week after the Super Bowl (as opposed to the modern edition, which now runs in the week before the game), the staffs from the conferences’ respective runners-up were chosen to lead each side at that time (such duties now fall to the Divisional round loser with the best record).
Parcells, having just wrapped his second season at the helm of the Jets, was eligible for the consolation prize after the team fell to the eventual champion Denver Broncos in the AFC title game.
However, health issues sidelined Parcells, who turned the trip to the islands over to Belichick. Thus, for one sanctioned NFL event Bill Belichick was, technically speaking, the head coach of the New York Jets.
It was his first unofficial head coaching action since he oversaw the final five seasons of the Cleveland Browns before their three-year hiatus brought about by the Baltimore Ravens’ founding.
1998: Pro Bowl Week-The behind the scenes craziness of the Parcells/Belichick moves from the Pats to the Jets after 1996 would have blown up twitter. NY Jets staff coached the AFC but Parcells didn't go to Hawaii so Belichick went, which was the closest he came to being HC of NYJ pic.twitter.com/B7EE5tiIFv
— BigBlueVCR (@BigBlueVCR) February 3, 2022
Belichick wasn’t alone for his lone excursion with the top headset. Five members from the 1998-99 AFC East title effort were invited to Hawaii, including Aaron Glenn, Keyshawn Johnson, Mo Lewis, Curtis Martin, and Vinny Testaverde.
Hinting at what was to come in the new century, Belichick’s AFC squad ran away with the game in a 23-10 final at Aloha Stadium. Johnson (87 yards on seven receptions) earned MVP honors alongside another fellow Belichick/Parcells pupil, Ty Law of New England. Law would later work with Belichick on three Super Bowl titles and later spent two seasons with the Jets.
Broadcasters Al Michaels, Dan Dierdorf, and former Jets quarterback Boomer Esiason acknowledged the unusual situation while calling the game for ABC. The pair celebrated Belichick’s success under Parcells, noting the stark difference in records when the former was on The Big Tuna’s staff.
Prior to their time with the Jets, the pair had collaborated during Parcells’ time at the helm of the Giants and Patriots, reaching three Super Bowls and winning two. Esiason also spoke of rumors of labeling Belichick the “heir apparent to the New York Jets”, noting that he had turned down open head coaching spots in Chicago and Kansas City. One last shared effort awaited in 1999, when the Jets finished a respectable 8-8 after losing franchise quarterback Testaverde to a season-ended injury in Week 1.
Of course, Belichick’s unofficial perfect record as the technically speaking head coach of the Jets is of little consolation to green supporters, who would soon feel his wrath shortly after he took the New England position.
It’s perhaps part of an underlying curse of green Pro Bowl participants. For example, the previous Jets coach to lead the AFC all-stars, Walt Michaels, resigned after appearing in the 1983 game. Two of the Jets to win the game’s MVP award, Johnson and Jamal Adams (who shared the honor with Patrick Mahomes in 2019), each lasted only a single season more after earning the honor (though Mark Gastineau had avoided such a trend after taking over the 1985 edition).
The 2022 Pro Bowl will be played on Sunday afternoon in Las Vegas (3 p.m. ET, ESPN/ABC/Disney XD).
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags