If there ever was a perfect marriage in the NFL, it was the one that existed in New York between the Big Tuna and the Big Apple. In a city that loves big personalities and lots of winning, Bill Parcells delivered in spades during his decade-plus run coaching the Giants and Jets.
The larger-than-life coach took over as the Giants' head coach in 1983. In just three years time, Parcells led the franchise to its first Super Bowl victory, a 39-20 triumph over John Elway's Denver Broncos. Parcells and the Giants returned to the summit four years later in dramatic fashion; New York edged the Bills in the only Super Bowl decided by a single point.
Parcells didn't win a ring with the Jets, but he did guide the franchise to an AFC Championship Game while looking over one of the greatest one-year turnarounds in NFL history.
Parcells' career also included notable coaching stops in New England and Dallas. In 1996, the Patriots reached the Super Bowl for only the second time in franchise history. Parcells finished his coaching career after leading the Cowboys to the playoffs with then-first-year starting quarterback Tony Romo under center.
In light of his 82nd birthday, here are five fast facts about Parcells:
The origin of the 'Big Tuna'
Parcells said that the nickname was given to him by Patriots players in 1980 during his one season as the team's linebackers coach.
"They were trying to get me to sign up for a free turkey that doesn't exist," Parcells said during a 2013 interview on "The Dan Patrick Show." "[I said] what do you think I am, Charlie the Tuna? And that goes back to that StarKist commercial where Charlie was kind of a sucker. … I was a rookie coach [in 1980]. I knew there was something fishy because too many guys asked me."
Broncos season-ticket holder
After a brief tenure with the Detroit Lions (he was released by the team during his rookie training camp), Parcells quickly went into coaching, starting out as a linebackers coach at his alma mater, Wichita State. He then had assistant gigs at Army, Florida State, Vanderbilt and Texas Tech before getting his first head coaching job at Air Force.
After his first season at Air Force, Parcells was offered the job as the Giants' new offensive coordinator. Parcells initially took the job, but ultimately decided to stay in Colorado because he didn't want to move his family again. He instead took a job as a real estate agent and spent some of his free time that fall as a Broncos season-ticket holder.
"I was miserable," Parcells said in an NFL Films documentary. "That's about the best way to put it. At some point in time, my wife realized, 'You're a coach. Go back to doing what you love doing if you can go do it.'"
Parcells ultimately got back into the NFL a year later with the Patriots. He was rehired by the Giants in 1981 and was named the team's new head coach two years later.
The Belichick connection
Bill Belichick and Parcells met in 1978, when Parcells was at Air Force and Belichick was an assistant coach with the Broncos. Belichick reached out to Parcells to see if there were any openings on his staff following the '78 season, but Parcells was reluctant to say anything as he was in the process of joining the Giants staff.
Belichick discovered the reasoning for Parcells' reluctance when he saw Parcells at the Denver airport as both men were on their way to New York to accept assistant jobs with the Giants. Parcells didn't stay in New York, but ultimately began working with Belichick when he was rehired by the Giants in 1983.
Parcells' first year as the Giants' head coach was rocky as the team went just 3-13 that season. His uncertain future with the team after the first season prompted him to give Belichick his blessing to pursue other coaching opportunities. But instead of leaving town, Belichick, who had opportunity to joining the Vikings staff, decided to stay with the Giants. He said that Parcells' blessing to pursue other opportunities was one of the reasons why he decided to stay.
"In the end, that probably is what made me want to stay more than anything," Belichick said in an ESPN documentary. "I said, 'Bill, I'm not going to Minnesota. I want to be here, and I want to do everything I can to make this work.'"
Parcells rewarded Belichick's loyalty when he tabbed the then 33-year-old Belichick as the Giants' new defensive coordinator in 1985. A year later, Belichick was carried off the field by members of New York's defense after the Giants shut out Washington in the NFC Championship Game. The Giants won the Super Bowl two weeks later.
The two made more history four years later. Led by the defense, the Giants shocked the 49ers in the 1990 NFC title game thus preventing San Francisco from possibly becoming the first team to win three consecutive Super Bowls. In Super Bowl XXV, Belichick and Parcells demised a game plan to keep the Giants offense on the field while keeping the Bills' high-scoring offense on the sideline. They did this by running the ball with Otis Anderson and rushing only three players on defense while not allowing Buffalo's receivers to gain yards after the catch. The result was the Giants offense having the ball for over 40 minutes (a Super Bowl record) and New York's defense holding Buffalo to just 19 points.
Following Whitney Houston's performance for all-time before the game, Super Bowl XXV itself emerged as a game for all-time.— Pro Football Hall of Fame (@ProFootballHOF) January 27, 2023
On a night there were five lead changes, the @Giants squeaked out the narrowest of 20-19 wins over the Bills to claim the championship.
📹: @NFL pic.twitter.com/zQ1aOu1sOk
One of Parcells' greatest attributes as a coach was his ability to have success with franchises that had been struggling to do so prior to his arrival. New York had just one winning season from 1973-83 until Parcells guided the Giants to their first of three consecutive playoff berths in 1984. Of his first playoff team, Parcells has often credited the '84 Giants for saving his job and allowing him to put together a Hall of Fame career.
When Parcells was hired by the Patriots in 1993, New England had not made the playoffs since 1986, a year after it reached its first Super Bowl. In his second season, Parcells led the Patriots to a 10-6 record and a playoff berth (New England lost to Belichick's Browns in the wild card round). Two years later, the Patriots (with Belichick back on Parcells' staff) won the AFC title during Parcells' final year with the team.
In 1997, Parcells took over a Jets team that went 1-15 the previous season. New York shocked many by doing 9-7 that season while finishing just out of the playoffs. The Jets went 12-4 the following season and had the defending champion Broncos on the ropes before Elway led one last comeback in the 1998 AFC Championship, which was played in the stadium where Parcells had been a season-ticket holder two decades earlier.
In 2003, Belichick took over a Cowboys team that had gone 5-11 each of the previous three seasons. The Cowboys capture a playoff berth during Parcells' first season in Dallas and would make it back to the postseason during his final season as coach in 2006.
Belichick is the headliner, but the Parcells coaching tree includes several other prominent names. Among the other members of Parcells' coaching tree are Super Bowl-winning head coaches Tom Coughlin and Sean Payton.
Upon becoming the Broncos' head coach in 2023, Payton said that his primary goal is to accomplish something that Parcells got close to but didn't achieve in becoming the first head coach to lead multiple franchises to a Super Bowl win.