Ray Lucas will never forget Bill Parcells' show of faith
Bill Parcells will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame next Saturday. You no doubt will hear plenty of stories about his legendary career with the Giants and how he molded some of the game's greatest players -- Lawrence Taylor, Phil Simms, Harry Carson, Mark Bavaro -- and so many others he touched along the way.
You probably won't hear about Ray Lucas.
But Lucas will remember Parcells' faith in him for the rest of his life.
This was back in 1999, when a Jets season that began with Super Bowl expectations was beginning to crumble after Vinny Testaverde went down in the first game with a season-ending Achilles injury. After falling to 1-4, Parcells anointed the untested Lucas, who had never started an NFL game, as his No. 1 quarterback.
"I couldn't believe it when he told me,'' Lucas recalled this past week. "He walked in the room, and you knew he didn't get any sleep because we had lost the game the day before . He said, 'This kid's starting. I don't care if any of you don't like it, he's gonna start the rest of the season.' ''
Lucas was so excited -- and at the same time so incredibly nervous -- that he wanted to share the news with his wife. When he went to his locker before calling her on the phone, he noticed something.
"There was a box of Depends in the locker with a note that read, 'Try not to [soil] yourself,' " Lucas said. "Right then and there, all the nervousness went out. I kept that box and that note in my locker the rest of the season."
Lucas lost his first start, 16-13, to the Colts, and suffered an ankle injury on the game's final play. But after being reinserted in the lineup two weeks later, Lucas went on a run that helped the Jets improve from 1-6 to finish the season 8-8.
Along the way, he beat Parcells' old Patriots team on the road on a Monday night and got the best of Dan Marino in Miami in another Monday night win. It may not have been the most successful season of Parcells' Hall of Fame career, but when I asked him a few days ago what he considered his greatest coaching job, he pointed to that 1999 season.
"It's hard to hold a team together when you're 1-6," said Parcells, 71, who won two Super Bowls with the Giants and got to another one with the Patriots. "That wasn't any monumental success or anything, but I think most coaches will tell you when you start 1-6, it's tough to maintain the things that you need to be successful."
What made the turnaround all the more surprising was that it came behind a most unlikely starting quarterback.
Lucas was a Parcells guy, even if he didn't have the pedigree after a solid career at lightly regarded Rutgers. Lucas had to beg for a job with the Patriots when Parcells was New England's coach in 1996. But it was that tenacity that convinced Parcells to give him a shot as a special-teamer.
"I called Parcells and said, 'I just need a chance. I'll play anything. I'll do anything,' '' said Lucas, now an NFL analyst for SNY. "He put me on hold for maybe five minutes, and it felt like an hour. And finally he came back on and said, 'We'll send a plane ticket and see what you got.' "
Lucas wound up making the team and played special teams as the Patriots reached the Super Bowl, where they lost to the Packers. Parcells took Lucas with him to the Jets the next season. And two years after that, in Parcells' final season as the team's coach, Lucas helped the future Hall of Famer salvage the season.
Lucas was floored when I told him that Parcells called 1999 his best coaching job.
"You serious?" he said. "Made my year."
When you think about Parcells, you think about one of the great motivators in the history of the NFL. A fine tactician, yes, a man whose 3-4 defenses helped revolutionize the game. But it was Parcells' mastery of the mind that separated him from his peers, and the way he could get to players as athletically gifted as Taylor and Simms and Carson and Bavaro was astonishing. The way he could bring out the best in undrafted free agents such as Lucas was even more breathtaking.
So listen to all those stories Parcells and others will share about his days with the Giants, Patriots, Jets and Cowboys, and relive all the memories and the championship moments. But also remember the guys on whom he made such an indelible impression.
Those guys were as big a part of what Parcells gave to the league as any of his biggest wins. When you were a Parcells guy, you knew you were something.
Lucas knows. He'll never forget.
"What's a Parcells guy? He would probably take you to a cliff and make you hang off and then step on one of your hands," Lucas said. "If you held on, you'd become a Parcells guy. Next to my father, Bill Parcells is the greatest man I've ever met."
Parcells was touched when we talked about what he meant to Lucas, and he holds the former Jets quarterback in high regard. Asked if he considers Lucas a Parcells guy, the coach responded, "Shoot, he's in the front row. He's a team guy. He's unselfish. He's tough. He'd do any job. I really like that son of a gun."
But Lucas did get one thing wrong, as Parcells pointed out at the end of our conversation.
"It wasn't Depends I left him in his locker when I named him the starter back in '99," the coach said.
"It was Huggies."