January 31, 2019


Who is this guy? (Wright Thompson, ESPN)

You don't notice Ernie Adams at first, but he's always there in his own peculiar way. Walking the halls in the Patriots' complex, lost in his own thoughts, he will often ignore co-workers. In meetings, he has been known to fall asleep. After practice, he is almost always the first person Bill Belichick consults. On game day, he's in the press box with a headset on, running numbers, computing percentages and, some around the league insinuate, overseeing more insidious operations.

When Belichick is taking those lonely walks up and down the sideline, his head bowed as if in prayer, you can bet it's Ernie Adams yapping away in Belichick's ear. Some call him the smartest man they've ever met. A longtime NFL watcher compares him to "Q," James Bond's master of espionage and gadgetry. Author David Halberstam called him "Belichick's Belichick." No other team has anyone like him on its payroll. And yet, save for football insiders, he is virtually unknown. In an era of media oversaturation, there is exactly one more picture of Bigfoot on The Associated Press photo wire (two) than there is of Adams (one). And it's of the back of his head.

So here, in the ballroom of the Phoenix Convention Center, just six days before New England will attempt to complete a perfect season that Adams played a significant role in creating, I want to know what the almost-perfect Patriots think about their secret weapon: a guy with thick glasses and the sartorial sensibility of Mister Rogers; a guy who lived with his mother until she died three years ago. Who, exactly, is Ernie Adams?

"I don't know what his job title is," linebacker Adalius Thomas says. "I didn't even know his last name was Adams."

"Ernie is a bit of a mystery to all of us," offensive tackle Matt Light says. "I'm not sure what Ernie does, but I'm sure whatever it is, he's good at it."

Finally, I approach receiver Wes Welker. "I'm writing a story about Ernie Adams," I tell him.

"Who?" he says.

"The guy who's always with Belichick who doesn't ever really talk."

"Oh," he says, recognition washing over his face. "Ernie."

He thinks for a second. "He's got to be a genius," he says, "because he looks like one."


This is why God created best friends. Inside a cavernous church, Ernie Adams sat through his mother's funeral, the saddest day of a man's life, and by his side, where he'd been for years, was Bill Belichick. Sept. 25, 2004 was a beautiful New England day, a Saturday morning during the Patriots' bye week. In the tree-lined suburb of Brookline, Mass., a small crowd had gathered in the Gothic Revival Episcopal Church on the corner of St. Paul Street and Aspinwall Avenue. The stone bell tower rose cold and medieval against the fall blue sky.

The mourners had come to say goodbye to Helen Adams, a woman who loved education and adored her son even more. Ernie and Helen lived together, like something out of a Victorian novel, one friend said, with much doting and an occasional trip to the old continent. At the end, Ernie took care of his mother. In the crowd were friends from childhood, high school and college. One of them was the headmaster of Dexter School, where Ernie went to elementary and junior high. "I was struck by the loyalty of Belichick to Ernie," Bill Phinney says.

That bond is the cornerstone of the Patriots' dynasty. In many ways, the traits we associate with Belichick and the Patriots are traits commonly ascribed to Adams. The humble pie? Classic Ernie, frequently described as having no ego. The rumpled hoodie? Again, classmates remember, classic Ernie. Together, Adams and Belichick have created the transcendently successful franchise they dreamed of creating back in high school.

"It's really the story of a friendship," says Michael Carlisle, a successful literary agent who was Adams' high school roommate at Andover.

Adams and Belichick met in 1970. Adams had been at Phillips Academy in Andover, an elite New England boarding school, for three years. In that time, he'd become a campus legend, famous for his quirky attire and habits. He wore high-top cleats and old-fashioned clothes, looked and talked like something from the 1940s. His three obsessions were Latin, naval history and, strangely, football.

...that if it were April you'd assume he was another Sidd Finch.

[originally posted: 1/31/08]

Posted by at January 31, 2019 6:07 PM


As soon as I read the top title I thought "Finch."

"A longtime NFL watcher compares him to "Q," James Bond's master of espionage . . ."

Nah, a master of espionage on the Pats payroll? Whoduthunkit.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at January 31, 2008 5:39 PM

The Rooneys used to have guys like this around in the 50s and 60s, but they weren't prep school types. Some of them were better known in Pittsburgh than the players. However, the team was almost always a doormat, until the 70s.

Posted by: jim hamlen at January 31, 2008 6:29 PM