The New York Giants defined pro football in the 1980s.
The Giants burst onto the scene in the middle part of the decade, a franchise rejuvenated after decades of searching. It matched the whole Morning In America nonsense that had seeped into movie theaters in those years. Lawrence Taylor approached quarterbacks like Rambo, shooting from the hip and leaving a pile of bodies and consequences for someone else.
Masterminding the whole thing was a sloppy looking, silver-haired guy on the sidelines. Bill Parcells was like Richard Crenna's colonel, a pigskin Svengali who coaxed the killer instinct out of his men.
It's more than a little shocking that he did not make the cut for the Hall of Fame.
I remember the image of Parcells on the sidelines, a white collar poking out from a team-colored sweater, the letters writ bold in the era's clunky style of branding. As the years went by, Parcells' look started sagging, along with the rest of his appearance. He opened the doors for the pajama-clad style of his protege Bill Belichick. Tom Coughlin, another protege, embraced his old boss' more sartorial look, an updated version of the collar under the sweater.
Looks never mattered for any of the three. Had any of them opted to wear a clown suit on the sideline, they would still exude the essence of a football coach, a delicate blend of father figure and four-star general.
The genius of Bill Parcells is that he was no technocrat. During his days with the Giants he delighted in drawing that contrast with Bill Walsh. Parcells derisively coined the term "West Coast offense" while expressing his delight at beating the 49ers on the way to his first Super Bowl win in the 1985 season.
Parcells ran a basic offense and a basic defense. His playbooks carry a heft similar to "The Crying of Lot 49" while others have made theirs thick and impenetrable, like "Gravity's Rainbow." Motivating players trumped scheme, and that's what Parcells really excelled at in his time as a football coach. It hearkens back to a different era, football coaches whose mothers never read Dr. Spock.
New Jersey born and raised, Parcells has a classic, pre-Boomer origin story, as told in his biography, Parcells. He lost a school yard fight. His father, a former G-Man, sent him back to finish it. Duane Charles Parcells became Bill, fiercely competitive and contemptuous of losing. A future Hall of Famer was born.
One of things I always respected about Bill Parcells is that he was a real bastard. But a bastard in the same way that George Patton was a bastard, a magnificent one that demanded your respect, methodology be damned.
His stature in the game is big enough that it even connects to the genesis of the Gatorade Shower tradition. Giants defensive tackle Jim Burt poured a cooler full of glorified sugar water over Parcells' head in October of 1985. He did it as a means of revenge after a week of castigation from Parcells. The Giants won that game.
Perhaps history hasn't given Parcells enough time to appreciate his contributions to the game. His last days in Miami, miscast as a front office guy in his late 60s, stained his legacy with the failures of recent memory. He probably never should have taken that job. There's a picture of him watching the Dolphins practice while draped over a golf cart. It's a picture of a man out of place in the world, the era he belongs to long gone.
Bill Parcells did not make the final cut in Saturday's Hall of Fame selection, a day before his two most prominent proteges vie for the Lombardi Trophy. Coughlin and Belichick, regardless of your feeling about either man and their teams, are a link to the past that Parcells represents.
Belichick and Coughlin are very much their own men, which is the only way former Parcells lieutenants can be. Steely and more stoical than their former boss, both men embrace the same competitive essence and the willingness to do what it takes to come out on top.
This year's Super Bowl looks like it could be high scoring affair. Don't be surprised though if it turns into a battle of attrition. Either scenario will be marked by the same style of blood and guts football that both Belichick and Coughlin learned from the master. This weekend is really about Bill Parcells, Hall of Fame or not.