As much as the Pro Football Hall of Fame rules allow, I’m going to take you on a visit inside Room 277 of the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans for last Saturday’s eight-hour meeting that resulted in Bill Parcells
and six others being selected to the Class of 2013 for induction on Aug. 3 in Canton.
The rules prohibit attaching names to the arguments made by any of the other 45 media members on the voting panel in New Orleans, but I can reveal what I said.
Here’s how it worked: The meeting started at 8 a.m. and presentations were first made on the two senior candidates, Curley Culp and Dave Robinson. We voted yes or no, with 80% approval needed for election. Culp and Robinson made it. But the results were not revealed to the voters or the public until the NFL Network selection show aired at 5:30 p.m. ET.
Next came the presentations on the 15 modern-era finalists (only the final five have a chance to get in). Parcells was fourth — a good spot before anybody gets worn out by all the presentations.
This year, it was my responsibility to make the presentation on Parcells; I had made the presentation on Curtis Martin the previous two years.
Martin, the fourth-leading rusher in NFL history, was selected in his second year on the ballot. Parcells made it to the final 10 last year. This was Parcells’ fourth shot — the first two came between the Jets and Cowboys jobs, when voters were wary that he would coach again — which he did.
In the month leading up to the vote I spoke to about half of the selectors to see where they stood on Parcells. The feeling going into the meeting was a lot more positive than it was in 2012, but it was not going to be a slam dunk. The areas of concern about his candidacy still needed to be addressed.
Point: He is the only coach in NFL history to take four teams to the playoffs, but he left all four of them (he was never fired). Counterpoint: He left all four teams in much better shape than when he arrived. Point: He has never won a title without Bill Belichick . Counterpoint: Belichick has never won a title without Tom Brady. (Conclusion: Nobody wins the Super Bowl alone.)
In the presentation, I stressed:
- Parcells was 2-1 against Bill Walsh in the playoffs. He beat Joe Gibbs in the NFC Championship Game and Marv Levy in the Super Bowl. Those three other dominant coaches of his era are in the Hall of Fame. What about Parcells?
- He is the 10th-winningest coach in NFL history (including playoff wins). The top five are in the Hall. Belichick, Marty Schottenheimer , Dan Reeves and Chuck Knox are next. Belichick is still coaching and Parcells was a superior coach to the other three.
- Parcells’ coaching tree is among the most prolific in NFL history: Belichick (3-2 in the Super Bowl), Tom Coughlin (2-0) and Sean Payton (1-0). Parcells was 2-0 with the Giants and 0-1 with the Patriots.
But what made Parcells special was his ability to push the right buttons with his players. So I started the presentation with a classic Parcells anecdote. Before the Giants played the Rams in the 1989 playoffs, he left an airline ticket to New Orleans on a stool in front of Lawrence Taylor’s locker. Irv Pankey , the Rams’ left tackle, had dominated LT in his career.
But Pat Swilling, who played LT’s position with the Saints, had his way with Pankey in 1989: three sacks in one game and one sack in another.
“I want you to go down to New Orleans,” Parcells said. “Now you don’t have to change jerseys, because he also wears No. 56. Just give Swilling your helmet and send him up here. And you go ahead and stay down there and play for the Saints this week, because I need somebody that could whip Pankey.”
LT’s response: “If you wanted Pat Swilling, why didn’t you draft the son of a *****?” Even though the Giants lost to the Rams on the Flipper Anderson play, LT had two sacks and seven tackles.
The Parcells conversation in Room 277 went 55 minutes, by far the longest of any of the candidates. I had a very good feeling about his chances when it was over.
The first reduction was from 15 to 10. It’s hard to get more than one non-player into the HOF in the same year, so I thought Parcells’ candidacy strengthened when he made the first cut and former 49ers owner Ed DeBartolo and former Browns/Ravens owner Art Modell didn’t. The next cut was to five and there were 10 strong candidates: Larry Allen, Jerome Bettis, Cris Carter, Kevin Greene, Charley Haley, Jonathan Ogden, Parcells, Andre Reed, Warren Sapp and Michael Strahan.
I was actually a little nervous for Parcells, having known him more than 30 years. He has such an appreciation of the game’s history. The Hall of Fame means a lot to him.
First, it was Allen, then Carter and Ogden. If Parcells was in, he would be next alphabetically. If not, it likely meant Sapp and Strahan would make it four first-year inductees with Allen and Ogden. Parcells’ name was called.
It turned out that Strahan was, in effect, beaten out by Sapp.
Parcells had made it to the final five. The next step was each candidate needed to get 80% support — a minimum of 36 votes. They are voted on individually. In most cases, that’s a formality. They are no longer competing against each other.
The final results were not known until the NFL Network show. Parcells was in.
“It’s just unbelievable,” Parcells said.