Bill Parcells was a master of psychology and simplicity. He saw his job as coach as that of taking a group of men and putting them in position to win, not just games, but championships. He made it a point to speak to every player on the team every practice. He built relationships that extended beyond the game with his players, but had no shame in using these relationships to induce better performance.
In the 80’s Kurt Benson was an all-pro tackle for the Giants, and Gary Jeter an all-pro defensive end for the Rams. In a prior meeting, Jeter tormented the Giants. Before the next meeting, Parcells spoke to Benson personally for 45 minutes before the game about family and life, not a word of football. In the tunnel on the way to the field, Parcells walked up behind Benson and said “if Jeter touches Simms, I’m cutting you,” and kept walking. Benson dominated Jeter and the Giants won.
Parcells understood the relationship of motivation, manhood and competition. A relationship illustrated by one of his favorite stories. A story of a relatively anonymous fight between Eugene “Cyclone” Hart and Vito Antuofermo. Parcells didn’t see the fight hearing about it second hand from Teddy Atlas, but it resonated deeply in his core beliefs. (I have below quoted the story from a Parcells by Michael Lewis that appeared in the New York Times in 2006).
“Hart was a well-known big puncher heavily favored against the unknown Antuofermo. In the early rounds Hart knocked Antuofermo around the ring. Antuofermo offered no apparent physical gifts except “he bled well”. “But,” Parcells recalls, “he had other attributes you couldn’t see.” He absorbed punishment by Hart so well that Hart became discouraged. In the 5th round, Hart began to tire, not physically, but mentally. Seizing the on the moment, Antuofermo attacked and delivered a series of quick blows that knocked Hart down, ending the fight.”
“When the fighters went back to their makeshift locker rooms, only a thin curtain was between them. Hart’s room was quiet, but on the other side he could hear Antuofermo’s cornermen talking about who would take the fighter to the hospital. Finally he heard Antuofermo say, ‘Everytime he hit me with that left hook to the body, I was sure I was going to quit. After the second round, I thought if he hit me there again, I’d quit. I thought the same thing after the fourth round. Then he didn’t hit me no more.’
“At that moment, Hart began to weep. It was really soft at first. Then harder. He was crying because for the first time he understood that Antuofermo had felt the same way he had and worse. The only thing that seperated the guy talking from the guy crying was what they had done. The coward and the hero feel the same emotions. They’re both human.”
I spoke with my daughter Holland last night, and asked her what she wants to do with her life, a dad cliche if ever there was one, and she responded by saying all the really good jobs were unrealistic. It made me think of this story. The coward and the hero feel the same emotions, what divides them is not the emotions, but their action. Action makes reality.
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