Sixteen games in, Bill Parcells was on the ropes.
It was 1983, his first year as New York Giants head coach, and Parcells' injury-ravaged team had finished 3-12-1. General manager George Young considered firing Parcells as he flirted with hiring Howard Schnellenberger.
"They had conversations," Giants co-owner John Mara said the other day. "It never materialized. George said something like, 'Let's give Bill another chance. Maybe I can get Schnellenberger next year.' "
Parcells knew he was under pressure.
"I think in '83, I was trying to be a head coach. In '84, I decided to be Bill Parcells," he told NFL.com this week. "And I kind of made a little promise with myself that I would try to do things my way, and I gave my best effort in that regard. And I really dispensed with the feelings of doing what a head coach was supposed to do."
Said Mara: "That experience changed him. Prior to that, he was a pretty easygoing, gregarious, friendly, personable guy. Starting in 1984, he was much more gruff, much more focused. He showed a little mean streak from time to time. He was a different guy, and it worked for him."
Through 19 years as an NFL head coach of the Giants, New England Patriots, New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys, Parcells became known for resurrecting struggling franchises. He reached a Super Bowl with the Patriots and was one game away with the Jets. But the 71-year-old Parcells will be enshrined Saturday into the Hall of Fame largely because of his time with the Giants, which produced two Lombardi trophies.
It's the stuff of fairytales: A Jersey boy, Parcells spent his youth "living and dying with the Giants."
"Every Sunday, probably my whole life, I always made it a point to be interested in the Giants," Parcells said. "That was true when I was coaching them. It was true when I was coaching college. And it was true when I was coaching another team. I always paid particular attention to what the Giants did."
"One thing about New York that I've learned, once you've won for them, their fans never forget," Parcells said. "That's different than some other places I've been. I've been fortunate to feel the love from the New York fans and from the Giants, and I'm very grateful for that."
Mara considers the Parcells era a golden age in franchise history.
"We went from being a laughingstock franchise to one of the more respected franchises in the league, due in no small part to him," Mara said. "I never went into a game when he was our coach feeling like we were outmatched by the opposing coach. I always felt like we were ahead of the game. That's a great feeling to have."
If Parcells did it his way, he also did it with his guys. Carl Banks, a rookie linebacker in 1984, remembers Parcells calling the team together early in training camp.
"It stands out to me," Banks said, "because it was the only time I saw him at his most vulnerable."
The players had heard rumblings about Parcells' uncertain job security. According to Banks, Parcells told his team: "Listen, we got to win around here or my ass is going to be fired. I'm going to fix this roster. But I need to know that once this roster is set, that those of you who remain will be my guys. I need to know you'll be with me."
Banks considers that a turning point.
"That, to me, was the birth of the whole idea of 'Parcells guys,' " Banks said. "He didn't talk to us that day in coach-speak or in clichés. He broke down the situation to its most basic point. I think that was the day we learned not only who would be Parcells guys, but who Parcells was."
Mara looks back on the '84 season as a franchise-changer.
"Making the playoffs was huge. It looked like we were building on something," Mara said. "The rest is history."
While Parcells coached stars -- including Hall of Fame linebackers Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson, as well as quarterback Phil Simms -- it was his ability to bring out the best in every player that elevated his teams.
Phil McConkey was a 27-year-old rookie receiver in 1984, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and a Navy veteran when he joined the Giants. His father was a vice squad cop. His early schooling was overseen by tough-love nuns.
"And yet, under Parcells, I felt like I'd been coddled my whole life," McConkey said. "That stare, that glare was so intimidating that every single person got so much more out of themselves, because he refuses to accept excuses."
During training camp in 1987, McConkey said Parcells yelled at him "like I just fumbled away the Super Bowl" after he had muffed a post-practice punt while wearing a patch over one eye to protect a scratched cornea.
"Games were a relief," McConkey said, "because he was 30 yards away."
Banks said Parcells' disdain for complacency pushed even the best players to work harder. The coach wanted no one to be comfortable, preferring to create conflict.
"He'd jump in the middle of tight end/linebacker drills," Banks said. "You had to step your game up or it wasn't going to be pretty. And not because of the drills, but because he chewed your butt out if you got beat."
"That's how he was, constantly pushing you, pushing your buttons," Martin said. "I think that's what made him a great coach."
An example: Martin said Parcells once missed a Jets practice to attend a funeral. Parcells watched the practice on tape and approached Martin and fullback Jerald Sowell the next day.
"I don't know what got into you two while I was gone," Parcells told them. "I think you could've started practice with two eggs on your helmet and they still would have been there when practice ended."
"I definitely wouldn't have been a Hall of Famer if it weren't for Bill Parcells," Martin said. "I don't think I would have played more than six years."
Martin will be in the audience Saturday night in Canton, Ohio. He still believes Parcells should have been part of last year's class.
And to think, he almost didn't make it. At least not with the Giants, a franchise that continues to feel the Parcells effect.
Parcells was indirectly introduced to Tom Coughlin by McConkey in 1988, when Parcells was looking to hire a receivers coach. McConkey, who'd spent a brief spell as a member of the Green Bay Packers with Coughlin as his receivers coach, told Parcells, "You should look at the guy in Green Bay. He's your type of guy." Parcells hired Coughlin, who remains a close friend to this day.
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And at the end of the 2006 season, when Mara was feeling external pressure to fire Coughlin, he thought back to 1983. Patience, Mara decided, was necessary again. Now it is Coughlin who has delivered the Giants' two most recent Lombardi trophies.
The legacy of Parcells lives on, in his former players and in his former franchise.
"I think about this all the time: What would have happened if we followed through and terminated him at the end of the '83 season?" Mara said. "Where would we have gone with that?"