Belichick to receive key to the City of Annapolis during Army-Navy men's lacrosse game
By BILL WAGNER | The Capital, Annapolis, Md. | Published: April 23, 2021
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Tribune News Service) — By all accounts, Bill Belichick enjoyed an idyllic childhood growing up in Annapolis.
His father was an associate professor of physical education at the Naval Academy and longtime assistant coach with the football program.
In fact, Steve Belichick became the longest-serving assistant in Navy football history — holding the title of special teams coach and advance scout from 1956 through 1989, a tenure that spanned seven head coaches.
The academy was a playground for a young Bill Belichick, who routinely attended Navy football practice and caught passes from future Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach afterward.
Bill Belichick has become one of the most famous sons of Annapolis and professes love and appreciation for his hometown to this day.
When the Patriots captured their sixth Super Bowl crown, Mayor Gavin Buckley realized it was long overdue to honor Belichick as a "great Annapolitan." That moment will finally come on Saturday afternoon at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
At halftime of the Army-Navy men's lacrosse game, Buckley will present Belichick with the key to the City of Annapolis. It is a ceremony four years in the making as Buckley initially decided in 2018 to bestow the honor.
Steve and Jeannette Belichick raised their only child in the Harness Creek Area of Annapolis off Ferry Point Road. The younger Belichick attended Annapolis High, where he played football under legendary coach Al Laramore and lacrosse for Ron Wolfe. He was the starting center for the football team and a defenseman in lacrosse.
After graduating from Annapolis in 1970, Belichick went on to Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, where he also played football and lacrosse. He graduated with a degree in economics but decided to follow in his father's footsteps as a football coach.
Fast forward almost five decades and Belichick is now a legendary figure in NFL history. The 69-year-old is a lock for firs-ballot induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame after leading the New England Patriots to an NFL-record six Super Bowls. The Patriots have appeared in 13 AFC Championship games and nine Super Bowls in Belichick's 22-year tenure.
Throughout his NFL career, which also featured a pair of Super Bowl titles as defensive coordinator of the New York Giants, where he coached from 1985 to 1990, Belichick has never forgotten his roots and maintained close ties to Annapolis. He returned home regularly during the offseason to visit his parents and continued his lifelong association with Navy football.
When Steve Belichick died in November 2005 at the age of 86, the family received special permission to have him buried at the Naval Academy cemetery. The elder Belichick served in the Navy from 1942 to 1946 with tours in the Europe and Pacific Ocean theatres.
The Touchdown Club of Annapolis established a special award in honor of the elder Belichick. The Steve Belichick Memorial Coaches Award has only been given out a handful of times and in each instance Bill Belichick was on hand to personally present the plaque to the recipient.
Jeannette Belichick remained in the family home for many years before finally moving into assisted living after her health deteriorated. Bill Belichick closely oversaw the care of his mother up until her death on Sept. 14, 2020, at the age of 98.
The potential for rain Saturday will not damper nor postpone the long-awaited ceremony. In Naval terms, it's all systems go, full speed ahead with the City of Annapolis and Naval Academy Athletic Association having worked closely to plan the proceedings.
Naval Academy athletic director Chet Gladchuk said Belichick is scheduled to arrive at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium around 11 a.m. and will speak to the Navy men's lacrosse team before the game, which gets underway at noon.
Belichick will watch the annual showdown between service academy archrivals from the Flag Bridge of the press box as guest of Vice Adm. Sean Buck, the Naval Academy superintendent.
Gladchuk and Buck will both participate in the presentation ceremony to be held in the middle of the field at halftime. City of Annapolis TV has produced a two-minute video tribute that will be played on the scoreboard screens located on either end of the stadium.
"We're so grateful that coach Belichick has remained so close to the Naval Academy family. He is personally and emotionally invested in the institution," Gladchuk said. "It's such a privilege for the Naval Academy to be part of this recognition. I'm sure this will go down as one of coach Belichick's most memorable moments."
Buckley will then formally present Belichick with the key to the City of Annapolis. City officials have created a special award that features an oversized brass key set onto an oak board. It features the City of Annapolis seal along with the motto Vixi Liber Et Moriar ("I have lived, and I shall die free").
"I'm thrilled that we're finally going to get this done. Coach Belichick has been extremely patient through this process and remains humbled by the honor," said Buckley, acknowledging Wednesday night he was knocking on wood that an "act of God" will not prevent the presentation.
"I've still got my fingers crossed," he said.
Belichick was originally scheduled to receive the key to the city during the Army-Navy men's lacrosse game played in April 2019. However, fate intervened when former Navy football great Joe Bellino died on March 28, 2019. Belichick, who had developed a close friendship with the 1960 Heisman Trophy winner, was invited to the funeral by the Bellino family and did not hesitate to accept.
Undeterred, Buckley reset the ceremony for Johns Hopkins at Navy men's lacrosse game on March 14, 2020. That contest was never held because the emerging coronavirus pandemic canceled the spring season for all collegiate athletics.
Saturday will mark the second time Buckley has participated in a key to the city ceremony, having previously done so in October 2019 as part of a recognition for musician and actor Dylan Gilmer. Young Dylan, as he is known, was honored after signing to star in a Nickolodeon sitcom produced by Tyler Perry.
Gilmer was feted with a motorcade from Germantown Elementary to City Hall, where he was presented with a City Council citation by Buckley and a key to the city by Alderwoman Sheila Finlayson.
Buckley told The Capital this week that event was conceived and organized by Finlayson, so she had the honor of handing over the key to Young Dylan.
However, the mayor liked the idea and decided there were other prominent individuals deserving of such special recognition. After getting Belichick across the line, Buckley hopes to also present action sports superstar Travis Pastrana with a key to the city at some point.
Buckley, who asked aides to comb through City Hall records to find evidence of similar presentations by previous mayors, said there is nothing to indicate any history of key to the city ceremonies in Annapolis.
However, an article that appeared in the Oct. 22, 2004 edition of The Capital reported that a Connecticut man returned a key to the city to then Annapolis mayor Ellen O. Moyer. Jim Fitzgerald, a 1968 Annapolis High graduate, had come into possession of a 13-inch bronzed key with the inscription "Key to the City of Annapolis" on one side and "Chartered in 1708" on the other side.
A friend of Fitzgerald's had bought the key five years prior at an auction in Crumpton on the Eastern Shore. He traded the key to Fitzgerald in a collectibles swap.
James Cheevers, director of the Naval Academy Museum at the time, reported that he inherited a similar key when he took over the position. Local historians theorized the keys were crafted for the city's bicentennial celebration in 1908.
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