BEREA: First, there was the divide.
Then there was a series of well-scrutinized handshakes and awkward embraces. Finally came the soap opera that was Spygate. Now, it's simply the big chill.
Since Sept. 9, 2007, when a New England Patriots camera man was caught taping the New York Jets defensive signals during a 38-14 trashing of the Jets, Eric Mangini and former mentor Bill Belichick's personal dispute went public — settling each in opposite camps much like the Hatfields and McCoys.
Another chapter in the odd relationship between Mangini and Belichick continues Sunday when the Browns host the Patriots at 1 p.m. at Browns Stadium.
Unfortunately, there will be some folks more concerned with the details of the handshake than the outcome of the game. That's because while Mangini has tried to reach out to Belichick, the former has no interest in making up.
''Maybe they will, maybe they won't,'' said veteran Browns linebacker David Bowens, regarding the potential for a truce. ''I don't know all the particulars on their relationship. All we've been focusing on is what we need to do to win the game and not necessarily handshakes.''
Yet, to understand the significance of the game Sunday, one must know the history of the handshakes. The tale begins here in Berea in 1994 when Belichick was a young Browns coach who took a professional liking to a ball boy named Mangini.
Both had graduated from Wesleyan University in Connecticut, giving the pair a common ground, and Belichick gave Mangini his first break by hiring him as a special assistant with the Browns the following season.
Over the next decade, Belichick and Mangini continued to coach on the same staffs, first with the Browns, then with the Jets under coach Bill Parcells and finally with the Patriots.
In 2006, Mangini broke away from his mentor by taking his first head coaching position with the Jets — the controversy has ensued since.
While the details vary pending the point of view, the facts are that while the Patriots were in the playoffs in 2006, Mangini interviewed for the Jets job. After a Patriots loss to the Denver Broncos, he began to assemble a coaching staff. Something about the way Mangini went about preparing for his new job rubbed Belichick the wrong way.
In fact, one rumor has it that when Mangini went back to New England to gather his things from his office, Belichick had already changed the locks and had Mangini's belongings shipped to him in boxes.
Could the bad blood have started with Mangini taking a divisional job that Belichick asked him not to?
''No, we talked about it at my house,'' Mangini said. ''And he was very supportive of it and we had a great conversation.''
Yet, once the pair began going head-to-head as head coaches, the traditional handshake after the game increasingly became a series of awkward movements that indicated all was not well between the mentor and protege.
In 2007, the rivalry really began to heat up. The Jets were accused of tampering with Deion Branch while the Patriots receiver was embroiled in a contract dispute, but later exonerated. A month later, the NFL was investigating the Patriots for Spygate. This time, fines were levied against Belichick and the Patriots and the team was stripped of it first pick in the 2008 draft.
Browns receiver Ben Watson played with the Patriots when the Spygate controversy garnered daily headlines.
''I remember a lot about it,'' he said. ''I just remember a lot of that didn't have much to do with the players.''
Let it be duly noted then, that Mangini trails Belichick 2-5 all-time in head-to-head matchups, winning the last one, though, when Mangini and the Jets had Brett Favre as quarterback.
''They are both very competitive guys,'' said Chansi Stuckey of the Browns and formerly of the Jets. ''They both want to be the best. It's common for one to want to outdo the other, I know both want to come in and pound the other guy.''
Two years later, there's still no denying the icy relationship between the pair hasn't thawed.
During this week's conference calls, Mangini repeatedly spoke of his respect for his former mentor. Yet, Belichick refused to answer questions about Mangini, never uttering his name.
Asked if Mangini had reached out to him and if he was receptive of the offer, Belichick gave an awkward long pause then answered: ''Right now I'm really receptive to working on the Browns and trying to get our team ready to play, that's what my focus is right now.''
Later asked where things went wrong between the two, Belichick again redirected his answer.
''Right now I'm just trying to get our team ready to play this week just like I do every single week,'' he said. ''There's really no difference between this game and any other game. It's one football team playing another one.''
Yet, for two men who supposedly dislike each other so much, there's a lot of common ground between them.
''I think they're both great coaches,'' Watson said. ''They're both great game planners. Obviously, coach Mangini learned a lot from coach Belichick. In turn, coach Belichick, I think, learned a lot from coach Parcells. . . .Football is about relationships, it's about passing down knowledge. There are guys under Mangini who are going to be looking at him one day, the way he looks at Bill.''
By the time Belichick spoke Wednesday with the media in New England, his mood had lightened — a little bit. Asked what he expected the handshake to be like at the end of the game, he quipped: ''Hopefully, I'll have a smile on my face.''
Stephanie Storm can be reached
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