PHILADELPHIA -- The David Rittenhouse Laboratory is home to the University of Pennsylvania's Physics and Astronomy department, where courses such as "Physics 514: Mechanics, Fluids, Chaos" and "Physics 632: Relativistic Field Theory II" are taught. I sat in Thursday on a course so complicated that I was completely lost just listening to the professor explain when next week's midterm would be.
In other words, these are some pretty smart people. And as such, they are eminently qualified to address the issue that is worrying Eagles fans this week as the Super Bowl nears:
Is New England coach Bill Belichick really a genius?
Google "Belichick" and "genius" and you get more than 18,000 matches. Google "Belichick" and "Einstein" and you get almost 900 matches.
Clearly, we in the media are convinced he's a genius. Then again, most of us also are stumped by the Roman numerals in the Super Bowl logo, so we're probably not the best authority on this subject. Which is why I dropped by Rittenhouse to pose the question to graduate students and get their response.
"I understand that football is a complex game, but I hate it when they call football coaches geniuses," says Michael Walsh, who is studying high energy theory. "They say Bill Belichick is a genius. Bill Parcells is a genius. They're great at football, but that doesn't make them geniuses."
Well, maybe it doesn't if you're only playing Cleveland. But whipping the Steelers in Pittsburgh is a whole different story.
"Football is definitely the sport that requires the most strategy," says Chris D'Andrea, who is studying cosmology. "If you want to say that he's probably one of the premier coaches as far as setting up game strategy in all sports, I don't know if that would qualify him as a genius. Probably not. But at the same time, he's definitely at the head of the class as far as thinking coaches go."
So then you would definitely put him on a par with Einstein?
But what if he wins on Sunday?
"Are you kidding?" says Luk Somers, who is studying connected physics. "Einstein developed his theories on relativity, the photoelectric effect and Brownian motion in a five-month period in 1905."
Well, yes. But Belichick could win his third Super Bowl in four years.
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Jim Caple has taken to the streets of Philadelphia as the Eagles and their fans get ready for the Super Bowl:
"Big deal," says Tatiana Rodriguez, who is studying high energy experimental fields. "The Cowboys did that, too."
So are you suggesting that Jimmy Johnson is also in the same genius class as Belichick and Einstein?
Thank God. Because equating Johnson and Einstein would just be ridiculous, despite the comparable hair.
But Einstein and Belichick, that's a different matter.
"OK, Belichick is doing brilliant things with the secondary with people nobody has ever heard of before, like Rodney Harrison," D'Andrea acknowledges. "But that takes away from the players. Corey Dillon is one of the best running backs in the league. Tom Brady is a phenomenal passer. Belichick has a very good set of linebackers. He does make a lot of good, interesting moves, where he brings in Mike Vrabel as a tight end and things like that. And he's got Adam Vinatieri, the best kicker, as a placekicker. He's got a lot of the right pieces.
"So you can't say that he's far and away better than everyone else, because not everyone else has what he has to work with. But he definitely does make very good use of what he has."
"Like that game last year against the Broncos when he intentionally took a safety?" Walsh adds. "That was pretty decent."
Exactly. Would Einstein have thought of that? For that matter, could Einstein have come up with a defense to the West Coast offense?
"Einstein helped design magnetic torpedoes that create a defense system for the entire West Coast," Somers says.
Hmm. Well, maybe. But the Japanese didn't have Terrell Owens in World War II, now did they?
"But what is a genius?" D'Andrea says. "There's no set definition. It's a subjective definition, that's the problem. As a football coach he might be a genius, like Lombardi or Tom Landry."
"You know," Somers says. "Sylvester Stallone is ranked as a genius in some intelligence tests."
Rocky's a genius?
"No, not Rocky. The actor. Stallone. Really."
(There really is no suitable response to this statement.)
Anyway. While it is clear that Belichick is a genius now, he was not when he coached in Cleveland. Which poses a corollary question: Is genius variable by location?
"Maybe,'' Walsh says. "Because the Patriots play a lot better outside."
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.