Remembering Allie Sherman and his Philly Connection
This past week, many articles have been written about former New York Giants coach Allie Sherman, who passed away at 91 last weekend. A lot of those articles appeared on football websites or in New York City publications.
But Sherman was a Philadelphia man in so many ways: After all, this was where he started his NFL career as a lefthanded (a novelty at the time) backup quarterback for the Eagles – and the Steagles during the war years, in addition to his job in a factory to support the war effort.
As a Philadelphian myself, I want to not only celebrate Allie Sherman the football figure and his connection to our city, but also to remember Allie the man – my friend, a special person the world will sorely miss.
When I got the call from his family that Allie had passed away, I went to my laptop and Googled his name. I clicked on the “news” tab. Every few hours, I refreshed the screen. I was waiting for the rest of the world to find out.
Sunday turned into Monday. Then, late Monday night, the first headline popped up. In that article, and all that followed, the rest of the world relived Sherman’s most illustrious accomplishments in poignant remembrances. The son of Russian immigrants, the Brooklyn College graduate, the NFL quarterback, the mastermind of the T-formation, the three-time champion head coach of the New York Giants – the list of accolades went on. Sherman achieved a life that most of us dream of having for ourselves.
To the rest of the world, his narrative was familiar. He might not have manned an NFL sideline since the earliest years of the Super Bowl era, but he was still a celebrated football figure. To me, however, these obituaries were missing the true essence of Allie.
For nearly two decades, Allie was my dear friend – which probably sounds odd coming from a 27-year-old.
Long before I was born, Allie’s family lived in the same neighborhood (in Scarsdale, N.Y.) as my father’s family and they were friends. Years later, through our families’ connection, I developed a unique bond with Allie. I was entering double-digit ages; he was entering his 70s. We both loved talking and watching football. In the years to come, we loved talking and watching football together.
Talking to Allie every Sunday morning of football season became a cherished ritual. We eagerly awaited each other’s calls. He always picked up the phone the same way: “Hello, Partner.” That was his nickname for me. His voice saying those words will always echo in my head.
We went through the schedule and analyzed every game. We picked the teams we thought would win and kept track of our predictions throughout the season. From Week 1 through the Super Bowl – year after year. His knowledge of the game was masterful. He dissected quarterbacks, analyzed matchups, and frequently shared lessons in football mechanics and strategies.
Allie was always a coach, even from the couch. Whenever we had the chance to watch games together, he had a habit of jumping up from the couch and standing in front of the TV to act out what the players should have done. His energy was infectious.
When I moved to Philadelphia for college in 2005, Allie worried that our Sunday morning calls would end, that I would be too busy for him. But nothing was ever going to keep me from talking to my “Partner” before kickoff.
Whenever he came to visit me in Philadelphia, it was a sweet homecoming for him. Sure, he got famous coaching the Giants, but he loved this city. He always spoke fondly of living and working in Philly, and of playing quarterback for the Eagles and the Steagles.
For some years, Allie lived west of the Schuylkill in what is now Chestnut Hall – the same building I lived in for a year after college. It was an uncanny coincidence. Watching him travel back in time as he walked around the streets of Philadelphia was a privilege. He was filled with history and stories and wisdom. Not to mention incredible insights into the world of football.
Throughout my life, this is how I knew Allie Sherman. He was my friend. He was the person I talked football with every Sunday. He was an adoring husband to his wife and a loving father to his children. He was a humble and kind and gentle man. He was a true gentleman.
Years ago, my family made our own Haggadah (or prayer book) for the Passover holiday. At the end is a quote credited to Jacob P. Rudin:
“Let it not be said that life was good to us, but, rather, that we were good to life.”
In every other article about Allie Sherman you read this week, you will learn how life was good to him. But from this story, I hope you learned how truly good Allie was to life.
Philadelphia and the rest of the world lost a great man this week – not for his football acumen or professional accomplishments, but for his compassionate character and boundless kindness.
I miss you, Partner. It will be sad turning on the playoffs this weekend without you in this world.