How do you have extensive behind-the-scenes access to the top decision-makers for one of the NFL’s most secretive franchises for the better part of two seasons, write a book about it, and not have much interesting in it? That’s the question I have to ask of Michael Holley’s Patriot Reign: Bill Belichick, the Coaches, and the Players Who Built a Champion. Sitting down to write this review perhaps a dozen hours after finishing the book, I find myself at a loss to talk about the interesting insights I gleaned from reading it. Perhaps reading it would’ve been a more valuable experience when the book first came out in 2004, but even then I doubt it. Too much of the book is devoted to the time before Holley had the extensive behind-the-scenes access (the first third, roughly), and too much of the remainder is taken up by descriptions of game action where Holley’s access provides little, if any, value-add over a game recap written the day of the game. In what’s left, there’s not much insight into any of Bill Belichick, Romeo Crennel, Charlie Weis, or Scott Pioli beyond what I already knew, and the players are almost complete ciphers. I may have said unkind things about Next Man Up, and still think they’re true, but Feinstein’s at least was a relatively complete portrait of a team in a season; Patriot Reign doesn’t even get that far.
Despite my quibble with whether reading Patriot Reign was a particularly valuable use of my non-infinite time, reading it was a relatively pleasant experience. If you’re a Patriot fan who wants to read about your favorite team and don’t care about deep insights and unique content, you could do worse. For serious football fans, though, there’s little if anything of interest or importance. And I’m still planning on reading Holley’s newer book, War Room.