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History, mutual respect bind Packers-Patriots joint practices

Bill Belichick has a deep appreciation for Packers’ place in NFL history

Packers Head Coach Matt LaFleur, Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick
Packers Head Coach Matt LaFleur, Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick

GREEN BAY – Hinkle. Hutson. Nitschke.

As Bill Belichick made his way down to the practice fields carrying the names of three of the Packers' all-time greats on Wednesday, the New England Patriots' legendary coach took time to appreciate the moment.

"It's very moving," Belichick said. "There are a lot of great players and coaches that have done that through the years. It's a great part of football, great part of tradition, and I'm honored to be part of it and be here."

There is perhaps no active coach with more knowledge and appreciation of Packers football than Belichick, who's currently in his league-record 49th consecutive year of coaching in the National Football League.

The second all-time winningest coach in league history has been to Green Bay several times over but never for a joint practice between his Patriots and the 13-time world champion Packers.

Prior to Wednesday's two-hour, 27-minute practice, Belichick was asked about the historical significance of practicing twice against Green Bay this week. The 71-year-old coach then recounted many of the players and coaches who established the legend and lore of the Green Bay Packers.

Belichick praised Head Coach Matt LaFleur for the success he's enjoyed during his first four seasons, while acknowledging the accomplishments of MVP quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre.

He also referenced the earlier eras of the 104-year-old franchise – from Vince Lombardi and Bart Starr to Hutson and Cecil Isbell, whose name recently resurfaced as a senior finalist for enshrinement into Canton.

Isbell, who retired at just 27 years old in 1942, was named All-Pro in four of his five seasons with the Packers and held the franchise record for passing touchdowns thrown in a season (24) for 40 years.

"They're the oldest franchise in the league, going all the way back to Lambeau and starting the team and all the success they had with Hutson, Hinkle, Isbell and all those guys," Belichick said.

"Then, Lombardi and most recently with Favre, Rodgers and now with Matt. His first three years here, double-digit wins every year. It's a great program, a lot of history to the game here."

Belichick and LaFleur never worked together directly but there are some shared commonalities between the two coaches. Prior to coming to Green Bay, LaFleur was Tennessee's offensive coordinator/play-caller under Mike Vrabel, who played eight seasons for Belichick in New England.

LaFleur said the Packers proposed the idea of a joint practice with the Patriots, looking to bring one of the league's perennially successful organizations to Green Bay for the week. He's also enjoyed collaborating with Belichick on the schedule leading up to the joint sessions.

"You always like to go against people that you respect," LaFleur said. "And obviously he's been the model of consistency in this league for a long time and they've had a lot of success.

"It's no secret, he's highly regarded as one of the greatest coaches of all time. So why not try to steal a little piece from how they do things and just get a closer look at it."

By all accounts, Wednesday's practice went off without a hitch. The Patriots warmed up on Hinkle Field before making the walk across the Hutson Center to join Green Bay at Nitschke for team periods.

Along with 11-on-11 and the final two-minute drills, the Packers and Patriots went toe-to-toe on special teams, where re-signed first-team All-Pro returners Keisean Nixon (Green Bay) and Marcus Jones (New England) worked against the other's unit.

Packers assistant head coach/special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia received rave reviews last year for helping turn around Green Bay's group, while the Patriots have been consistently prolific in that phase under Belichick.

"Their system is different than our system, both offensively and defensively, and they do a great job in the kicking game with Rich," Belichick said. "It's a good opportunity to work against different players. Good scheme, good program, well-coached and they have great facilities here."

The Packers and Patriots hit the field again for a public practice Thursday morning before the two teams square off in preseason action Saturday night.

As appreciative as Belichick is of the Packers' rich history, it's also been meaningful to Green Bay to welcome one of the most decorated coaches in NFL history back to Lambeau Field.

"He's a great coach and, yeah, he definitely has an aura around himself," quarterback Jordan Love said. "People just kind of notice him out there. It's hard to miss him out there."

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