Commentary

Bill Parcells' induction overdue

The two-time Super Bowl-winning coach will finally be welcomed into Canton

Updated: February 3, 2013, 1:42 PM ET
By Ian O'Connor | ESPNNewYork.com

For a second straight year they debated the slam-dunk case of Bill Parcells for nearly an hour, the news media members who pick pro football's Hall of Famers, and maybe it was fitting that Parcells was forced to experience some agony before the ecstasy.

Maybe it was fitting that the guy who spoke of his greatest player going to Canton on roller skates ended up crawling there on his hands and knees.

Parcells almost got fired after his first season as head coach of the New York Giants. He ultimately endured painful rebuilds of the Giants, Patriots, Jets, and Cowboys, and a painful wait on his journey to Canton, too.

"But if Bill didn't finally get in this year," Lawrence Taylor told ESPNNewYork.com on Saturday night, "they needed to shut the Hall of Fame down. The whole thing wouldn't have meant anything without him in there."

If a lot of people thought Parcells' failure to earn induction last year was something of a joke, Taylor wasn't among them. "I wasn't laughing," he said by phone. "You can't keep a coach like Bill Parcells out of the Hall of Fame, or the place means nothing. I'm very thankful to be part of his legacy.

[+] EnlargeTaylor-Parcells
AP Photo/Ray StubblebineBill Parcells will join Lawrence Taylor in Canton.

"I don't know if I could've done it without Bill Parcells. He didn't force me to play like everyone had played the last daggone 60 years. He allowed me to be more of an athlete instead of a linebacker, and I think that says a lot about his greatness. 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."

And in the context of Hall of Fame worthiness, that's good enough for me.

So is the entire championship program Parcells brought to the Mara family business. From the start of the 1964 season to the December 1982 day Parcells was promoted into the position of head coach, the Giants had one postseason victory to their name. Along the way there was a fan rebellion, a fumble for the ages, and a remarkable streak of 17 consecutive playoff-free years.

It was a period, John Mara said, "when we were a laughingstock."

Parcells almost lost his job after going 3-12-1 in his first season, after he picked Scott Brunner over Phil Simms and general manager George Young was sent off to court Howard Schnellenberger behind his back. But he would barely survive to coach LT through his prime, to win eight playoff games and two Super Bowls with two quarterbacks over eight seasons as a Giant, and to establish one of the great coaching legacies in the history of this sport, or any sport.

It's a legacy that should've been honored this time last year, when the Hall of Fame selection committee didn't bathe itself in glory by rejecting the only coach to lead four franchises to the playoffs, a coach who was a few possessions in Denver away from taking a third franchise to the Super Bowl in January '99, thirty years after the Jets' last trip.

Parcells inspired the longest debate among the selectors then, and he inspired the longest debate among the selectors now. He was a job-hopper, a guy who retired and unretired more than your average boxer, and a coach who could bully and berate with the worst of 'em. So no, it wasn't going to be easy for Bill Parcells, even if his gameday record said it should've been.

It doesn't matter anymore. Saturday night, the man with a 4-1 postseason record against Bill Walsh, Joe Gibbs, and Marv Levy finally joined them in the Hall of Fame.

John Madden was the first one to call with congratulations, returning the favor after Parcells had been the first to call him following his own induction in 2006. "It's beyond comprehension, really," Parcells told reporters in New Orleans. "You don't ever perceive yourself to be that way. They were the heroes."

Now Parcells gets a bronze bust of his own. "It's just unbelievable," he said. "When you start in this business you're not aspiring to do anything but win games and keep your job."

He kept it long enough to join the Patriots and Jets running back he ushered into the Hall last summer. Parcells was supposed to go into Canton with his very own teacher's pet, Curtis Martin, who badly wanted to be inducted in the same class with the man he ranked only behind God among the strongest influences on his career.

"I actually don't think I would've played more than four or five years without Bill Parcells," Martin said of his presenter last year.

"Parcells to Canton!!!!" Martin tweeted Saturday night. "I feel just as happy as when I made it!"

Players loved Parcells, and hated him, and loved to hate him, too. Before and after he pitched a perfect game in Pasadena to win Parcells's first title, Simms wanted to slug him on the sideline here and there, and he wasn't the first or the last. But as a master button pusher, a coach who knew which players responded to raging threats and which to soft reassurance, Parcells had few, if any, peers.

"Bill had such a talent for motivating people," LT said over the phone Saturday night, "different ways of motivating people. That's one of the things I loved about him as a coach."

One of Parcells's most enduring victories supports the claim. In the NFC Championship Game following the 1990 season, Parcells faced the two-time defending champion 49ers in Candlestick Park with a backup quarterback, Jeff Hostetler, who had replaced the injured Simms. San Francisco was going for an unprecedented Super Bowl three-peat with two all-timers, Joe Montana and Jerry Rice.

"I told the press that Jeff Hostetler is not going to be the reason we lose," Parcells told me once. "Jeff later told me he read it and that it was very important to him that I believed in him." The Giants toppled the dynasty without scoring a touchdown. Their vicious, 15-13 victory was defined by Leonard Marshall's knockout of Montana, and by a fifth Matt Bahr field goal that sent the Giants straight to Tampa. "The players told me something I did before the San Francisco game that was pretty influential on them," Parcells would recall. "There was only a one-week break between the conference championship and that Super Bowl, so before we flew to San Francisco I told them, 'Pack enough clothes for two weeks because we're not coming home.'"

Coaches drank beer on that giddy flight to Tampa, a flight Parcells would call "the greatest plane ride we ever had." He turned to his players seated behind him and said, "This night is yours," if only because he knew their butts were his as soon as the plane touched down.

The Giants landed in the middle of the night, and their coaches grabbed a few hours of fitful sleep before rising for 7:30 a.m. meetings on the high-flying, no-huddling Buffalo Bills, who had beaten the Raiders by 48 points for the AFC crown. The Bills didn't arrive in Tampa until that night, and Parcells always thought those extra hours of on-site preparation meant a point or three to his team.

Buffalo was supposed to win the game, win it big, but Parcells thought he had better and tougher players than Levy did. Parcells also had the superior staff, one that included a defensive coordinator named Bill Belichick and a wide receivers coach named Tom Coughlin.

The Giants slowed Buffalo's fast break, turned it into a half-court game, and watched Scott Norwood line up from 47 yards out in the end. Bahr approached Parcells and told him Norwood hadn't nailed one on grass from that distance all year and assured him the Buffalo kicker would overkick it, exactly what Norwood would do.

"Like a golfer whose body gets too fast," Parcells would say, "he ended up blocking it out."

Before they headed back to New Jersey, Parcells, Belichick and Coughlin savored their last moments together as a championship staff -- Belichick would end up with Cleveland, Coughlin with Boston College, and Parcells with his first retirement news conference. At the team's victory party a semi-delirious Coughlin was heard mumbling "world (bleeping) champs" over and over, and Parcells made sure that expression was printed on his aide's souvenir blanket.

Parcells, Coughlin, and Belichick have won seven Super Bowls in all, and another Parcells guy, Sean Payton, has won one, too. So as much as Michael Strahan got robbed Saturday night, robbed like Parcells did last winter, the 71-year-old coach deserved this nod over the 41-year-old pass rusher.

Strahan will get in next year, anyway. Parcells? He doesn't have to sweat it anymore. He made it to Canton the hard way, no roller skates required.

Ian O'Connor

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Ian O'Connor has won numerous national awards as a sports columnist and is the author of three books, including the bestseller, "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter." ESPN Radio broadcasts "The Ian O'Connor Show" every Sunday from 7 to 9 a.m. ET. Follow Ian on Twitter »

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