Bill Parcells was circumspect about his chances of gaining entry into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on his third try. When we talked about his candidacy a few weeks ago, he said he wasn't obsessing over it.
"If it happens, it happens," said Parcells, who was bypassed last year and ignited intense criticism of a Hall of Fame process in which he didn't make the final cut. "And you know what? Maybe I don't deserve to be in the Hall of Fame."
A moment of insecurity? Perhaps. Despite his coaching brilliance, Parcells has been a lightning rod for criticism, in part because of his brusque personality that rubbed some people the wrong way. He didn't make it to Canton last year, prompting plenty of second-guessing of voters who bypassed him for other choices despite Parcells' terrific coaching resume.
But there was a part of Parcells that really wondered whether he'd ever get to enjoy the thrill of making it to the highest place in pro football. Was he too much of a bully? Did the fact that he coached in four different places work against him, prompting some to wonder why he simply couldn't stay in one place?
Parcells no longer has to ask the questions and wonder if he'd ever achieve pro football immortality. He was selected for Hall of Fame induction late Saturday afternoon, capping a career that undoubtedly qualified him for this honor. At last, Parcells can rest easy about his place in the NFL.
"It's just unbelievable," he said in a telephone interview. "It's such a thrill to join such an elite group, especially the ones that paved the way for guys like me. I'm just grateful for those coaches that came ahead of me.
"It's really a tribute to the players I had, who worked hard and played hard, and nobody had a better coaching staff than I had," Parcells said. "I'm lucky in that respect. I'm very, very grateful and appreciative."
Parcells' imprint on pro football is undeniable. He took the Giants, who had struggled for almost two decades before his arrival in 1983, to two Super Bowl championships, using his unique blend of strategic brilliance and motivational mastery to build two of the greatest teams in franchise history. He helped turn Lawrence Taylor into a Hall of Fame performer and maybe the best defensive player of all time. He tapped into the grit and determination of Phil Simms and turned him into a Super Bowl MVP. And he brought out the best in Mark Bavaro, Joe Morris, Leonard Marshall, Carl Banks and Jim Burt, players who all reached heights they might never have imagined without the stern handling of their demanding coach.
Parcells' second Super Bowl title came after Simms got hurt. Jeff Hostetler took over and managed the offense, finishing off a remarkable playoff run with a massive upset of the heavily favored Bills.
Parcells left the Giants after his second Super Bowl title because of health problems, leaving the team with a chasm at head coach that Ray Handley was incapable of filling.
When Parcells, who underwent heart bypass surgery, grew weary of working as a television analyst, he went back to what he loved most and took over a floundering Patriots team in 1993 that had finished 2-14 the year before. Within four years, he was back in the Super Bowl. The Patriots lost to the Packers after the 1996 season, and Parcells, frustrated by contract issues with Robert Kraft, whom he inherited as an owner, bolted for the Jets.
Who could forget what he accomplished with a team that had gone 4-28 the two previous seasons? Parcells had the Jets at 9-7 in the first year and fighting for a playoff berth, and had them in the AFC Championship Game the following year.
It was one of the most brilliant coaching jobs you'll ever see, in some ways more remarkable than his run with the Giants because he didn't have nearly the number of blue-chip players with the Jets.
Another ownership change -- from Leon Hess to Woody Johnson -- and Parcells was gone again. He spent a year as the Jets' GM, then walked away and spent two more seasons on television before taking over in Dallas.
The Cowboys had gone 5-11 the previous three seasons, but in his first year on the job, Parcells got them to 10-6 and into the playoffs with quarterback Quincy Carter.
The man was a master at resurrecting franchises, and he was accorded his rightful appreciation for a job well done. A job brilliantly done.
"Bill Parcells has been thought of as one of the all-time greats for a long time, so it is with great pride that we can officially refer to him as a Hall of Famer," said his former defensive lieutenant, Bill Belichick. "He deserves all the recognition he is getting and for his career to be celebrated in Canton forever."
He has made it to Canton, a place where he belongs.
Even if he wondered if he'd ever get there.