Bill Parcells will be dressed to the nines tonight as he waves and smiles at the Superdome crowd and NFL Nation during his introduced along with his Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2013 mates. He’ll look every bit like your favorite football uncle or professor, friendly and knowledgeable and ready to help out.
And just think that before Gordon Ramsay, Anthony Melchiorri and Anne Burrell, Parcells already had established his own reality series as the new sheriff from hell — or was it heaven? — for so many pro football players who passed through his neck of the woods.
Parcells was hardly the first rough, tough, son-of-a-gun pro football coach. But he was one of the best at rolling the good cop and the bad cop all into one larger-than-life persona. And that’s one of the reasons he’s in the Hall of Fame tonight.
“The thing about Bill was he kept you on your toes,” Wayne Chrebet, Jets fans’ favorite wideout, reminisced with me late Saturday night about his on-field boss with the Green & White from 1997-99. “You’re walking around the complex and he’s coming down the hallway toward you and you really don’t know what to say. You’re looking down and he’d say, ‘Don’t worry, kid. We’ll get ‘em.’ He’d extend that hand and pick you up. You’re smiling and he’d say, ‘What are you so happy about?’
“He kept you on your toes. He never let you relax. And he always got the best out of you.”
Aaron Glenn, who played corner on Parcells’ Jets those same years and then two more years for the Cowboys, had a similar story to tell.
“He had these mind games he always played on me,” AG said. “He’d say I was too small. He’d say I couldn’t cover the best receivers in the game. I used to think, if he thinks I couldn’t cover those guys, why’d he match me up against those guys in the games? I wanted to show him what I could do.”
Parcells, who I remember more than a few times denying that he played mind games with his players, let alone us reporters, had a number of favorite tactics to get through to “his guys” as well as the guys who were his for the moment on whatever team he was resurrecting.
“I remember as a rookie,” Curtis Martin recalled of the roots of his trademark ball security, “I fumbled the ball a couple of times in training camp and Bill made me carry that ball for, like, a week straight. I wasn’t allowed to be caught without the ball. When I was eating lunch or dinner or in meetings, I had the ball in one hand. He told the entire team to knock it out of my hands whenever they saw me. I was penalized if they were able to knock it out. That attention made me focus on the ball. It was a huge part of my game, to the level that giving up the ball was letting my team down.”
There was the time, Chrebet recalled, dusting off a classic Parcells-ism, that he told No. 80, “Hey, Chrebet, your career’s going over a cliff like a dumptruck with a cement parachute.” There was that other time, early in ’98, when Wayne suffered a bad ankle sprain going out of bounds and jumping rope with the chain crew on the sideline. And a week later Bill came by to check on Wayne as he was rehabbing the injury — by kicking him in the ankle.
“It hurt enough without him kicking it,” Chrebet said, “I looked at him like ‘You’ve got to be kidding me. What’s wrong with you?’ But even at the moment, I couldn’t be mad at him. He was just making sure I was really hurt.”
He wasn’t mad, but he got some classic Tuna payback late in the ’98 season as the Jets headed for the playoffs and their highest points of the Parcells regime.
“My family was Jets fans, of course, but they were diehard Giants fans,” Chrebet reminisced one more time for me. “It was ’86. I would’ve been 13 years old. And I’m watching and thinking it’s the coolest thing in the world when Harry Carson’s got on the yellow jacket and he sneaks up behind Parcells and dumps the Gatorade on him. I said I want to do that, and I want to do it to Bill, too. It was a pipe dream at the time.”
Then as events sometimes unfold, Chrebet got his chance. He doesn’t remember which game it was (maybe the win over New England in the regular-season finale?), but he was on the sideline late in the game and he said the thought struck him: “I’m gonna get this guy for all the stuff he gave me all year. I’m gonna douse this guy with Gatorade.”
“And he laughed. He took it. He wasn’t upset. He loved every part of it,” Chrebet said, no doubt looking at the Parcells-autographed photo of the prank hanging on the wall of his den. “He was just part of the team. He was right in our circle. He brought us all together.”
There were lots of other elements to the Parcells persona, naturally: Bill’s fierce, feisty competitiveness, his cadre of selfless assistants who implemented his one-voice philosophy, his attention to all the details in all the meeting rooms.
It all came together to produce wonderful results. Teams that hadn’t been winning started winning again. The Giants, Patriots, Jets, Cowboys, even the Dolphins whom he finished up with as team president, did better than they had been once he arrived.
And most of the players, especially “Bill’s Guys,” all sounded variations on the theme of what he meant to them.
Martin, as he was approaching his Hall enshrinement last year: “I know I wouldn’t be in this position I’m in had I not listened to him.”
Glenn: “He once told me, ‘I challenged you. I knew what you had and I wanted to get the best out of you.’ That’s something he can do with any player at any level.”
Giants great Lawrence Taylor to ESPNNewYork.com on Saturday: “If I’d played for another coach on another team, I probably would’ve been a good player. But Bill was the one who made me LT.”
“Somebody told me that if Bill doesn’t mess with you, you’re in trouble,” Chrebet said. “He messed with me a lot. We were both Jersey guys and he busted my chops. The good thing was you could fire back at him a little bit, but you knew your limits. But I wanted to coached, Bill knew everything that was going on, and everybody bought into it. This guy came in and I’m like, ‘I’m glad you’re here. I’m ready to win.’ “
For these reasons and many others, we’ll get to see Bill Parcells holding forth one more time from the field on Super Bowl Sunday.
Tags: Aaron Glenn, Bill Parcells, Curtis Martin, Lawrence Taylor, New Orleans, Pro Football Hall of Fame, Superdome, Wayne Chrebet
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