Bill Belichick Puts Heat On Patriots With Early Arrival In Miami For Opener Against Dolphins

Six Days in Miami sounds more like a sequel to The Hangover than a Bill Belichick plan.

The New England Patriots arrive in South Florida on Tuesday to get acclimated to the devastating South Florida heat and humidity. They're getting ready for the season opener against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET.

It’s also a statement about what the September heat in Miami can do to the bodies and minds of people who play professional football. It can make incredibly tough men quit and drive coaches to distraction worrying about it.

Is Belichick being driven to distraction? By traveling to Miami six days ahead, is Belichick acknowledging the flaws of his team and how the early part of the season matters more than ever before?

For the moment, let’s focus on the reality of playing in South Florida this time of the year.

Dolphins Own September Home Games

Since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, the Dolphins have had only 41 homes games in August or September that started in the 1 p.m. hour (the 1997 opener was on Aug. 31 and another game was delayed by lightning to 1:30 p.m.

In those 41 games, the Dolphins are 29-12. They were 29-7 prior to the past three years, which included a massive rebuild in 2019 when the team went 0-7 to start the season, including 0-3 in 1 p.m. home September games. One of those 2019 losses was a 43-0 shellacking by the Patriots. 

Since 1970, the Dolphins are 49-24 overall at home in September. Bottom line, home games in September are a huge advantage. It’s so pronounced that the NFL has often scheduled around September home games. There have been 24 seasons in which the Dolphins were scheduled to have one or no home games in September, a fact that used to annoy the late and legendary coach Don Shula.

But the particular importance of a 1 p.m. start can’t be overstated in Miami. Unlike a 4 p.m. start in which the end of the game is played as temperatures cool, there is no escaping the sun, heat and soul-draining humidity with an early afternoon start.

It is so bad that in the Aug. 31, 1997 game, then-Indianapolis quarterback Jim Harbaugh, a man who literally will quote Shakespeare when standing up for a fight, took himself out of the game because of extreme cramping. Likewise, former All-Pro nose tackle Ted Washington, who spent a career rag-dolling offensive linemen, once was unable to move from the line of scrimmage against a one-on-one block. Washington then took himself out of the game.

Bill Belichick Having A Marty Mornhinweg Moment?

And even former Detroit head coach Marty Mornhinweg, a very intelligent man, spent weeks leading up to a September game in Miami studying the right type of fruits and vegetables to feed to his players in advance of the game. Mornhinweg even described the science of it in a long diatribe during a conference call that was a little wacky, to say the least.

And the Lions still got crushed by the Dolphins and the heat.

That’s to say nothing of the many players, whether draftees or free agents, who would come to Miami over the years and complain about how hard it was to play in South Florida. The late Junior Seau, a Hall of Famer and fitness buff, said it took months to get used to the humidity there.

Then, of course, there are the distractions of Miami nightlife, which are sometimes just as hard on “recovery.”

Which gets us back to the whole idea of Belichick’s plan to come to South Florida early. Is this a stroke of genius that other teams could copy in the future? Or is this Belichick’s “Mornhinweg Moment”?

It’s a fascinating question. But it’s clear this is also an acknowledgement that Belichick is going to unusual extremes when he has normally been very low-key about losses.

'On To Cincinnati' Has Worked In The Past

Over the past 21 years, the Patriots have often lived with being an ordinary team in the early season. Despite their success in winning seven and appearing in nine Super Bowls during that time, they have gone 4-0 to start the season only five times and started 2-2 or worse nine times. In five of their nine Super Bowl seasons, they started 2-2 or worse.

That included the 2014 season in which the Patriots lost in Miami opening week and were crushed by Kansas City in Week 4. Belichick then issued his famous “On to Cincinnati” quote. That season ended with the Patriots beating Seattle in the Super Bowl.

Belichick has privately acknowledged that the first four games of the season are essentially an extended version of preseason. Players are getting used to the tempo of games and live hitting. The Patriots don’t hit a lot in practice in training camp.

Of course, having a quarterback like Tom Brady for most of that time can cover up a lot of flaws.

Now, however, Bill Belichick is going to an extreme to be ready for a game that in the past he might have viewed as an advanced practice.

Written by
Jason Cole has covered or written about pro football since 1992. He is one of 49 selectors for the Pro Football Hall of Fame and has served as a selector since 2013. Cole has worked for publications such as Bleacher Report, Yahoo! Sports, The Miami Herald, the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, and started his career with the Peninsula Times-Tribune in Palo Alto. Cole’s five-year investigation of Reggie Bush and the University of Southern California resulted in Bush becoming the only player to ever relinquish his Heisman Trophy and USC losing its 2004 national championship.