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Jim Murray

Bill Parcells: a Big Tuna in Big Apple

January 25, 1987|Jim Murray

The Giants call him Big Tuna because he looks like something that should be fighting a hook around a party boat in the North Atlantic.

But Bill Parcells reminds you more of a New York cop. You wouldn't want to ask him directions to the Metropolitan Museum, but he'd be nice to have around if a motorcycle gang showed up.

He's blunt, antagonistic, irascible, outspoken, cynical and superstitious. Dirty Harry to a T. A perfect part for Clint Eastwood.

And a perfect coach for the New York Giants. These are football's version of the Bowery Boys if the Bowery Boys all gained 150 pounds and 4 inches in height. This is not a team, it's a street gang. Convicted felons are less fearsome.

If you found yourself in a cell next to the New York Giants in the big house, you'd be afraid to leave. And you wouldn't even want to know what they were in for. They make Hell's Angels look like kids in a Christmas pageant.

Bill Parcells gets to run this wild-animal act. He must feel more like a keeper than a teacher. As if he's got the wrong tools. An earphone and a clipboard instead of a whip and a chair and a gun that shoots blanks. Or shoots, period.

This is not a team that takes kindly to direction. It appears at first blush to be more a collection of bullies than athletes. It has been the master of the rude or non-answer all week long in the press conferences. The rival Denver Broncos, by contrast, are as friendly and chatty as housewives over a clothesline, but the Giants favor churlishness. Their basic attitude is, "Take a hike."

How would you like to coach this bunch? How would you like to make a living telling Lawrence Taylor what to do?

Other teams call their coach Mister or Skip or Boss. The Giants dump Gatorade on theirs.

Given their reputation, Parcells is probably lucky they don't dump him into the East River. With concrete blocks tied to his feet. The Giants are the kind of people who, if they weren't football players, the FBI would be taking pictures at their family weddings.

Bill Parcells looks as if he understands this state of mind, even encourages it. There's an element of the platoon commander of "The Dirty Dozen" about him, as if he rounded up this crew on a Marseilles waterfront, in the French Foreign Legion or found them jimmying open a window from a fire escape. They might be right for this dirty kind of work, but you dassn't turn your back on them for a minute, all the same.

Not many people could handle this New York Giant team, you have to feel. The impression you get is, this is a bunch of barely-sociable thugs. There's nothing finesse-like about them. There's no secret to the way they win football games.

They win football games the way Hitler won Poland. They should have spiked helmets. They come at you with the maniacal fervor of ax-murderers, someone once said. They cluster around the ball like a shark frenzy. They are as merciless and unrelenting as a tidal wave.

They were probably as mutinous a crew of cutthroats as ever got shanghaied when Parcells first took them over. They led the world in talking behind the coach's back, and most of them spent so much time in the whirlpool bath on injured reserve, the club symbol should have been a rubber duck.

Parcells didn't know whether to coach this team or quarantine it. When he went 3-12-1, the prevailing opinion was, he had resolved the issue by doing neither.

Parcells was ready in one respect: He was from New York, too. He could be as brusque, sarcastic, insensitive and impatient as any cab driver or hot-watch peddler on 7th Avenue. He knew the score. He didn't come into town with a straw suitcase to buy the Brooklyn Bridge, either. He might have been just what this team of bad boys needed. Bill had grown up in the tenements, too. He wasn't in awe of these guys. He just made sure he cut the cards, too.

You don't usually find career coaches who grew up in the shadow of Manhattan. Coaches usually come from places where they say fim for film and tin for ten and they talk in the soft drawls of Dixie or the nasal twang of the prairies and they answer to names like Bear or Hoss. Places where football coaches rank right alongside archbishops, and the state governor tries to get next to them at picture-taking.

North Jersey is hardly a hotbed of football coaches, and even the Giants historically had to hire on guys with two first names to take on the chore. In Jersey, coaching football ranks right alongside pool hustling or selling vegetable peelers.

If you want to learn to coach, or even play, football, you have to escape the industrial flatlands and go somewhere where campuses aren't ivied and the game isn't considered just to be PE for students, in fact, where it's considered too important to be turned over to students.

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