I have spent the last few weeks previewing the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2013, outlining their accomplishments and achievements and the paths they took to greatness.
I am taking a different approach when it comes to Coach Bill Parcells. This will be a little personal.
Make that a lot personal.
My first encounter of sorts with the coach came at Pace University in New York and the training camp of the New York Giants in 1986. That would be the year that Parcells led the team to the first of two Super Bowl titles in five years.
I was there as a writer and a reporter asked Coach a question about the Atlanta Falcons, who the Giants would be practicing with and later playing in a preseason game. The reporters asked, “what does this game with the Falcons mean?”
Parcells answered very definitively. “If we win, you guys will write that it’s just a preseason game. If we lose, you’ll write ‘what’s wrong with the Giants?”
I knew right then I liked this man. Ten years later, I finally got the opportunity to meet him. While in my days with ESPN and at Super Bowl XXXI, I got the chance to tag along with my friend Tom Jackson for a one-on-one interview with Coach Parcells. To be candid, I practically begged Tommy to take me with him.
It was the right move. After the interview, Tommy kindly introduced me to Coach. After already learning so much during the interview, I was even happier I got the opportunity to actually meet him. We talked about the area where my family lived in Pennsylvania and part of New Jersey. He knew his high school football in that area, certainly much more than me. More importantly, I was ready to suit up (which is laughable). But in a quiet way, Coach the human being had already won me over in a big way.
Over the next few years, I was able to work with Bill on a number of projects involving television. I also had my share of one-on-one conversations with him. I know I learned something new every time I spoke with him and that’s not hyperbole. His big-picture perspective of the game was amazing. He knew what his team had to do and he also knew what all the opposition had to do as well.
Above all else, his ability to communicate and understand people is what makes him one of the great teachers to ever take the field in the National Football League.
He is the only head coach in league history to take four different teams to the playoffs. He led the New York Giants to wins in Super Bowls XXI and XXV.
He took the New England Patriots to the playoffs in 1994 in his second season with the team and to Super Bowl XXXI in 1996.
Parcells took over a New York Jets franchise that was 1-15 in 1996 and had them in the AFC title game in 1998.
In Dallas, the Cowboys were 5-11 three straight seasons from 2000-02. In 2003, Coach joined the team and they finished 10-6 and were on their way to the playoffs.
His work in his brief time with the Miami Dolphins was amazing. He took over football operations in 2008 following the team’s embarrassing 1-15 season. The Dolphins would capture the AFC East the following year with an 11-5 mark. The 10-win improvement tied an NFL record.
Polarizing to some and mesmerizing to others, Coach Parcells does not demand loyalty. He simply inspires it. His passion for the game is unquestioned. His love and concern for the men he coached is far more important and certainly much more impressive than any win-loss record or trophy. This will always be a game about people and Coach Parcells knows how to talk to people. He also knows how to teach them the game, to get them to do things they might not have thought they could do.
I am reminded of his second game with the Cowboys in 2003. He was returning to the Meadowlands to face the Giants on a Monday night and his team was coming off a loss to the Atlanta Falcons. But when it was all said and done, Dallas won an overtime classic in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, 35-32, a huge win for his club.
After the game came the expected questions. But before that commenced, Coach addressed the media and wanted to make it clear how appreciative he was to see so many of his former players come to the game to wish him well, etc. It was then back to the business of the game itself, but it showed so much about the man and why the men who play this game want to play it for him.
Now Coach Parcells will take center stage this weekend, along with the rest of the members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2013.
There’s little doubt what he could have done with the likes of Larry Allen and Jonathan Ogden up front and Curley Culp and Warren Sapp in the defensive trenches. Imagine the fun he would have had with linebacker Dave Robinson. And he would be more than happy to have Cris Carter on his team after having to face him on numerous occasions.
Simply put, he would have loved coaching these men. And not surprisingly, they would have loved him right back.
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