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As the seasons crunch

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Among Bill Belichick's celebrated strengths is his iron grip on his troops. His ability to exert fierce discipline without sacrificing devotion ranks with the wiles and guiles of such fabled military high rollers as Stonewall Jackson and Georgie Patton, etc.

Clark
Booth

Unconquerable

These days, the seasons crunch. Spring rolls into summer bringing with it a flood of pre football-season annuals, dope-books, treasure troves of analytics and if you've checked much of it -- (proof of being the proud possessor of an idle mind, by the way) -- you know this much: your Patriots had better be ready to go unbeaten, untied, and rarely scored upon in the coming season; wire to wire.

Nothing less will be justifiable. There's not a gridiron savant, media wise guy or Vegas handicapper so much as hedging. The consensus that the defending champs are -- however improbably -- the NFL's most improved team is universal. There's no dissent, nor whiff even of a little willing suspension of disbelief if only for argument's sake. The tub-thumping is deafening. The bandwagon rolls a month before camps open. Why bother to play? It's already over.

You can just imagine how much all this runaway euphoria does not amuse Bill Belichick, relentlessly grim orchestrator of this budding masterpiece. The dour Boss will not be comfortable with the notion that the only team he has to fear is his own. But it's a monster he created. Now he gets to live with it. Seems reasonable!

Tiger's stripes

In the wake of his latest personal fiasco might it be time for the sports world to stop making excuses for Tiger Woods? He's had huge physical problems which may seem unfair but all that goes with the territory of sport -- even in golf -- and the ranks of those who've suffered as grievously while having had nowhere near as much good fortune stretch from here to eternity.

Sympathy for a fellow who has fallen so far is not unreasonable. But the most painful fact of the matter is Tiger Woods has brought much of his grief down upon himself. Too often that unpleasant reality is ignored or glossed over in justifications one finds weak. Still, the compensations he's so long enjoyed continue. According to those who keep such statistics, Tigers Woods' earnings last year totaled $45 million even though he won very little, had no impact on major tourneys, and was forced by health problems to withdraw from still others.

Granted, money is not everything. One assumes Woods would trade a whole helluva lot of it for the restoration of his former dominance in his game and eminence in the culture and peace in his personal life. Such losses are indisputably sad. So too have been the mistakes he's made in abetting them.

Bruins

It might be easy for the Bruins to assess their Stanley Cup experience with Ottawa and draw the wrong conclusions. After all, the gritty Senators came within an unlucky puck bounce in game seven's double overtime of stunning the Penguins, thereby making it to the Finals. Equally razor thin was the margin by which the Bruins got ousted by the Senators in Round One when all four of their excruciating losses were by one goal, three of them in overtime.

How facile might it be for the Bruins' brain trust to trip over their own deductive reasoning and falsely conclude they're equals and are but half a break and a friendly referee's favorable whistle from being where the Penguins themselves now sit, within the grasp of the Cup. That would be folly, of course. But the danger -- given the level of experience of said brain trust -- exists. Would that it were, so simple.

On the Gronk

Among Bill Belichick's celebrated strengths is his iron grip on his troops. His ability to exert fierce discipline without sacrificing devotion ranks with the wiles and guiles of such fabled military high rollers as Stonewall Jackson and Georgie Patton, etc. His intolerance of the most trivial indiscretions of even his most earnest, loyal, totally obedient slugs is yet another staple of his gathering legend.

So the question of why he puts up with the childish nonsense of his highly talented but often indisposed tight end, Rob Gronkowski, has become fascinating. Last summer the Gronk achieved stardom with his entertaining dance routines on cruise ships only to have his football season shortened once again by another round of serious injury. A connection? Who knows!

But then this off-season -- only weeks after back surgery -- we have Gronk rehabbing by doing Wrestle-Mania. He got the huge attention he obviously craves by jumping into the ring to battle wild and crazy fellow wrestling maniacs on live TV. One doubts this amuses Belichick but he goes on letting Gronk be Gronk.

Would Belichick put up with this from a Julian Edelman or Malcolm Butler? But then of course neither would go there, nor would others dare. Gronk did partake of recent off-season practices held in secret. He reportedly looked "good." But then Gronk always looks good, in merry May!

Leigh on Ali

Lastly, old friend Leigh Montville -- one of the more prolific of our contemporary literati -- has a fresh and valuable perspective on Muhammad Ali for you to savor. Leigh focuses on Ali's most important battle and the one that insures his place not just in sports annals but our entire history; his fight with the United States Government -- 1966-1971 -- that ended up in the Supreme Court.

Author of seven major works -- including and most especially a sheer masterpiece of a Ted Williams biography -- Monty's huge reportorial skills shine in all his labors. Ever the intense observer, he's a relentless gatherer of details, a superior researcher and maybe the best interviewer I ever competed with in the workplace. How so, you ask? Because when he talks to someone, he listens to what they say; really listens.

Such skills were vital assets in the probing of Ali's complex tale and if you think you already know this character, understand the antics in the ring and companion theatrics were but one dimension. There was all the rest; decidedly more important issues of race and religion, crisis of authority and rage in the streets, Viet Nam and Islam. This is the epic world of Muhammad Ali that Montville engages.

Not an easy chore. But Montville's taken it on. No surprise there. "Sting like a Bee" is the title. You'll love it!

Clark Booth is a renowned Boston sports writer and broadcast journalist. He spent much of his long career at Bostonís WCVB-TV Chanel 5 as a correspondent specializing in sports, religion, politics and international affairs.

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