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INDIANAPOLIS -- In the early hours of his first Super Bowl Sunday, Tom Coughlin had to deal with an all-out blitz of grandkids. They barged into his hotel room a little after 7 a.m., 90 minutes after he woke up, and started drawing animals on a game plan designed to topple an 18-0 team.
The New York Giants' coach let the children play with his pencils and markers, let them crawl all over him, he would say, "like I wasn't even there." They doodled his X's into O's, his O's into X's, and the man known as Colonel Coughlin and Major Tom couldn't help but laugh and surrender to the whims of young ones who cared not even a bit about Tom Brady's tendencies.
|Tom Coughlin would join an elite group if he won another one of these.|
"It was very relaxing to me," Coughlin said of the morning of the greatest day of his football life.
Coughlin became a champion that day, Herb Brooks-ing the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. But that was then; this is now. At 65, Coughlin isn't coaching to win the big one anymore. His rematch with Bill Belichick's New England Patriots offers something more permanent.
A personal place in the history of the game.
Coughlin wakes up this Sunday to his shot -- maybe his last shot -- to go down as an NFL legend. A lot of guys have won a Super Bowl, but not a lot of guys have won two. And if you want to point to the two-timers who aren't certified legends -- George Seifert and Tom Flores, come on down -- understand that Coughlin's two championships wouldn't be your garden variety pair.
He would have beaten the NFL's first 18-0 finalist in one Super Bowl and the most successful coach-quarterback partnership of all time in both.
Oh yeah, and he would have done it for a flagship franchise in the world's noisiest marketplace.
Bill Parcells is the only New York coach to have won two Super Bowls, and despite his failure Saturday to gain induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame -- Parcells was at least as deserving as the six winners booked for Canton -- his legend is secure, bronze bust or no bronze bust.
One more conquest of the Patriots, and Coughlin will match Parcells, Tom Landry and Don Shula, not that he ever wanted to talk about it. The Giants' coach wasn't about to make any meaningful comments about his legacy in the lead-up to Super Bowl XLVI, not when he's built his philosophy around the here and now.
Coughlin wouldn't look beyond a special teams drill in a midweek practice, never mind a Super Bowl Sunday. He's not much for reflecting or for basking in his own glory. In a quiet moment outside his office last month, when reminded that a second parade would enhance his place in the sport's memory bank, Coughlin said, "That's not the goal that I have.
"I was taught that it's not about me. It's about us. It's always about us, and about what it would mean to these young men who have earned the right to be in this competition."
Coughlin counts John Wooden and Vince Lombardi among his most significant influences, and no, he doesn't have enough time left to join their elevated ranks. But it does appear Coughlin has enough energy to coach until he's 70, and who knows, maybe even join Belichick, Chuck Noll, Bill Walsh and Joe Gibbs as the only men to win at least three Super Bowls.
As it is, two would be enough for a man who was about to be fired seven weeks back. The Giants lost a home game to the Washington Redskins, ended up in a 7-7 heap and appeared ready to fire up a thanks-for-the-memories farewell tour for a coach who, if nothing else, delivered what co-owner John Mara called the franchise's greatest night.
The night Coughlin stopped his former Giants staff mate, Belichick, from pitching a Don Larsen game at Don Shula's expense. New England's 19-0 would have trumped the old Miami Dolphins' 17-0, and Belichick would have gladly told you what you could do with your Spygate asterisk.
Now the Patriots get a second crack at the Giants and a chance to exorcise a demon or three. Brady made his relatively harmless remark at the pep rally in Foxborough, and Belichick made sure New England clammed up good after that.
Coughlin? He let his players show their personalities, let them talk in a way Giants aren't supposed to talk. Jason Pierre-Paul slapped an exclamation point on the bold filibuster by effectively suggesting Brady played scared against the Giants' pass rush in Week 9.
It didn't make much sense to enrage a Hall of Famer-to-be after that Hall of Famer-to-be had already promised his owner he would play much better in the Super Bowl than he did in the AFC Championship Game. But then again, it didn't make much sense for Pierre-Paul to predict a Lambeau Field victory over the 15-1 Green Bay Packers before, of course, his team made them the 15-2 Green Bay Packers.
Nothing much makes sense about the Giants, starting with their seemingly dreadful offseason, their recovery from 7-7 and their discovery of Victor Cruz, who would save one franchise (his) and sink another (Rex Ryan's) on an absurd 99-yard dash.
Coughlin was wiped out on the sideline during that Christmas Eve throttling of the New York Jets, yet made sure he hobbled out for the postgame handshake with Ryan, who had disrespected Coughlin long before barely acknowledging him in defeat.
To the victor went the spoils. Coughlin pulled another charmed postseason run out of the 2007 handbook and once again landed on the other side of Belichick.
The grandkids are four years older now, and less likely to barge into Coughlin's room early Sunday morning and mistake his Super Bowl game plan for a coloring book. But the Giants' coach could still use something to break up the tension.
He's not just competing for a championship. This time around, Tom Coughlin is taking his shot at history. Maybe his last shot.
Ian O'Connor is the author of "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter." "Sunday Morning With Ian O'Connor" can be heard every Sunday from 9 to 11 a.m. ET on ESPN New York 1050.