Former Giants Head Coach Allie Sherman Still A Coach For The Ages
This week, as the defending Super Bowl champions face the Redskins in the season opener, I am reminded that almost 40 years have passed since Allie Sherman paced the sidelines for the New York Giants, barking orders, relaying signals, outwitting the opposition. Like any great football coach, he still approaches autumn Sundays with eagerness and regimental preparation: He wakes up. He opens the paper, checks the schedule, peruses the game previews. He listens to the radio pundits and watches the television analysts.
All the while he waits - not as much for the 1 p.m. kickoff, but for my call.
A decade back, the football coaching legend struck an unlikely partnership with a 10-year-old boy. Though separated by two generations and a professional football career, Allie turns to me every Sunday morning. Newspaper columnists and ESPN experts tout a wealth of experience to legitimize their opinions, but to Allie, my amateur insights are sound bites of genius.
We run down the roster of contests, debate each matchup and pick the winners. Disinclined to learn the Internet so late in the game, the coach consults the kid for last-minute weather reports and injury updates. I track our results from week to week.
We call each other "partner." When I went off to college, Allie worried our partnership would end. He thought I would sleep through kickoff or forget the day of the week or simply not have time for him anymore. I assured Allie his phone would still ring every Sunday morning. Research papers due Monday or bedtimes at the break of dawn - nothing has kept me from making 20 minutes for Allie before kickoff.
Aside from his being head coach of the Giants, I knew little about the Allie Sherman the rest of the world knows. To me, he is a sweet old man, a good friend. To the rest of the world, he was coach of the Giants in the 1961 and 1962 NFL Championship games (no Super Bowl back then), the first person in NFL history to win Coach of the Year honors in back-to-back years and the man famously booed out of New York to the chants of "Goodbye Allie" in 1968.
When Allie, his wife and his daughter visited me at college last fall, I realized how famous Allie is, even years after his heyday. Strangers approached us looking for nothing more than a handshake, hoping to absorb some of the football guru's wisdom.
They should have wanted to absorb some of his caring and gentleness, too. Allie spent the day touring my University of Pennsylvania campus at a comfortably unhurried speed. He stopped to support a student group combating breast cancer, buying a T-shirt with the words "I [heart] Boobs" written across the chest.
Allie may be aging, but he still has a firm grasp on the football world. He does not forget that New England's coach is a mastermind or that Indianapolis' quarterback is masterful. He does not forget that Dallas has a knack for winning and Miami a tendency for losing. He never seems to forget anything related to football.
My alarm sounds. It is 10 a.m., still an hour before Allie leaves for a friend's anniversary lunch. He does not own a cell phone, not to mention an answering machine, so I give myself breathing room to reach him. On my third try, Allie picks up and the game breakdown begins; the Super Bowl is always anti-climactic. With only one game to pick, the conversation is the season's shortest, compared with those weeks with 16 contests. The Patriots look invincible, but the Giants are on a hot streak. We pick Allie's old team to pull off the unthinkable.
Two days later, Allie is getting ready to watch the ticker-tape parade from his apartment window. We talk about the unlikely Super Bowl, how smart we were to pick against the odds.
"Great season, partner. It will always be great."
As long as there is time on the clock, it will always be great.