- Greg Garber, Writer, Reporter
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Drew Bledsoe first met Bill Parcells at the scouting combine before the 1993 draft.
"I went up to his hotel room and it was kind of like meeting 'The Godfather,'" the Buffalo Bills quarterback said last week. "I don't even remember what we talked about. He was friendly enough and actually smiled at me for a little. But then, when I got to my rookie year, he made sure that I knew my place."
Bledsoe saw this coming. Before he arrived in New England as the No. 1 pick in the draft, he spoke with Phil Simms, who had led the Giants to two Super Bowls under Parcells.
"He said, 'Aw, man, it's a pain in the ass, it really is,' " Bledsoe said Simms told him.
Simms, in a recent phone conversation from his Franklin Lakes, N.J. home, confirmed this. In fact, when he goes out and makes speeches, he has a routine. He asks the audience, through a show of hands, if they think Parcells is tough. Invariably, everyone raises their hands.
"He's worse than that," Simms tells them, dropping the hammer. "He's so much harder than you can ever imagine."
Parcells was criticized for failing to secure the services of a veteran quarterback, say Jake Plummer or Brian Griese, before his first season in Dallas. Carter was 6-9 as a starter in his two previous seasons and threw 12 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions.
This season, he is one of the important reasons the Cowboys are an astonishing 7-2. Carter completed 15 of 32 passes for 116 yards last Sunday in the Cowboys' 10-6 victory over Bledsoe and the Bills. But he did not throw an interception and his two-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dan Campbell in the first quarter was the difference in the game.
"There is no secret why he's doing better," Parcells told Texas reporters last week. "There is no magic potion. There is no big change in his ability. What has changed is his preparation and work ethic and his commitment. That is what has changed. You can maybe put that all under maturity. Maybe he's starting to grow up a little bit. Maybe he felt like his back was against the wall and it was close to the end of the line."
Carter returned the favor.
"I take pride in trying to do my best for Coach Parcells because of the faith he's had in me," Carter said. "He's a dedicated coach, and he cares about me as a person, not just a player. I know that."
Working the room
Parcells has always had a way of extracting effort from his players. It is why he is 156-106-1 as a head coach and his teams have reached three Super Bowls, winning two of them. And despite his expertise on the defensive side of the ball -- he played linebacker in college and made an early impression as a defensive coordinator -- quarterbacks have never been immune from his interventions.
Perhaps no quarterback suffered more abuse than Simms. When Parcells ascended to the Giants head coaching position, Simms had already been in the league for three seasons but had never managed to stay healthy. Playing behind Scott Brunner, Simms threw only 13 passes that miserable 3-12-1 season in 1983. Jeff Rutledge, playing behind Brunner, threw 174 passes that year.
Simms started every game the next three seasons, landing in the playoffs each time, culminating with Super Bowl XXI at the end of the 1986 season. Simms' fiery personality and competitive nature made him particularly susceptible to Parcells' goading.
"He'd work me almost every day," Simms said. "And I was an easy mark. It's like owning a restaurant. What do you do? You work the room. Bill was awesome at working the room."
Simms had a big game against the Detroit Lions in 1988, clearing 300 yards and throwing for four touchdowns. He was the last player in the locker room the Monday after the game and Parcells stopped by for a chat.
"Hey, boy," he said to Simms "You did OK yesterday."
Simms, thinking, in a "real moment of stupidity" replied, "Well, yeah, OK. I had a great game."
Parcells shook his head sadly.
"Son, that disappoints me to hear you say that," Parcells said. "It disappoints me to think that my expectations for you are greater than the ones you have for yourself."
Simms was furious.
"I said, 'Well, I'll show him. I'll have the greatest game this week that I can,' " Simms said. "I fell into the trap. I didn't know it then, but I know it now, looking back. I was going to prove him wrong. I was going to work hard that week and have a better game."
Jeff Hostetler has a unique perspective of Parcells. He was a rookie quarterback on the Giants' roster in 1984 and didn't play a snap for four seasons. He played wide receiver and covered kicks, but he didn't get his chance until 1988, when he played briefly for an injured Simms.
"I remember the first opportunity I got to play," Hostetler said from his Morgantown, W.Va. home. "It wasn't going real well and I happened to call the wrong formation. After that, he called me over to the sideline and just ripped me, told me that he's going to have me out on the (New Jersey) Turnpike tomorrow looking for a new job.
"I walked away from him thinking, 'Man, that's the way to give me a little confidence.' But I learned at that point that I was responsible for what I did as far as preparation. Whenever I got the chance, I needed to get it done."
When Simms went down with an ankle injury toward the end of the 1990 season, Hostetler was ready. He started the last two regular-season games, then won the Giants' three postseason games over the Bears (31-3), 49ers (15-13) and Bills (20-19) in Super Bowl XXV.
Bledsoe is the first to admit he never caught the kind of flak Hostetler and Simms did. Maybe it was because he was the No. 1 overall pick, perhaps Parcells believed he wasn't the kind of player who responded to daily diatribes. This is not to say that Bledsoe didn't experience his Parcells moments.
He was a rookie at New England and he recognized a blitz coming from the defense.
"I'm standing back there in the shotgun, so I start to audible and then I start to audible to something else," Bledsoe said. "And he stops practice and I'm there in front of everybody and he's like 'Wait a second, you don't have time to stand back here and order dinner. You don't have time to order Lobster Thermidore. You've got to run the play.' "
Practice, practice, practice
If Parcells is a master psychologist, his couch is the practice field. Bledsoe, Simms and Hostetler had eerily similar memories of Parcells' constant patter.
"He would literally be about two feet behind me and it was 'Come on, Simms, get the play off. Get them to go. Let's go. Jesus, are you going to complete a pass today?' " Simms remembered.
Said Bledsoe, "The big deal was to get the ball out of your hands, get it to the other guys. He'd be yelling in your ear, 'Throw it, throw it, throw it.'
"It got to the point where I couldn't wait to get into the game so I could get some peace and quiet."
With Parcells, there is always a rhyme to the reason, a lesson to be learned.
"One day we were having a practice and the offensive line was doing bad," Simms said. "They couldn't protect me. And he stops practice and he comes in, ripping the offensive line. And I'm behind him, going 'Yeah, good, because they need it, Coach.'
"And when he gets done, everything is real quiet. He turns and looks at me and he goes, 'and it's your fault.' And I'm like, 'Oh, my God, what am I supposed to do, block them, too?' He goes 'if you weren't so buddy-buddy with these guys, if you were more like their leader, they'd fear you. They'd never let a guy hit you -- that's your fault.' And I went, 'Wow.' He just undressed me -- and I'll never forget it.
Never a particularly positive influence, Parcells handed out compliments like pearls.
"The one time that I specifically remember in four years that he actually complimented me was where we were walking off the field here in Buffalo," Bledsoe said. "We're walking out of the tunnel and he said, 'Kid, they couldn't do much with you today.' You know, that's the only one I can remember."
Hostetler's one compliment was similarly backhanded.
He stepped in for Simms and beat New England 13-10 in the final regular season game in 1990.
"I had some big runs to help us win the game, completed some key passes and he came up to me in the locker room and said, 'It didn't look pretty, but you've got to go through these things,' " Hostetler said. "That was his compliment to me."
Rutledge, too, felt the sting of Parcells' barbs. At the end of every season the coach would tell Rutledge, now the athletic director and football coach at Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville, Tenn., that he better come back in the best shape of his life or he'd be looking for another job. Every year Rutledge would find a few rookie quarterbacks on the training camp roster trying to unseat him. Somehow, he managed to stick for eight seasons and made a number of big plays on the way to Super Bowl XXI.
Back on May 22, Rutledge nearly died in a brutal auto accident with an 18-wheel truck in Tennessee. He broke most of the bones in his face, lost all his teeth and was helicoptered to the hospital. For 24 hours, doctors weren't certain he was going to live.
"Bill found out I was in the hospital and he called," Rutledge said. "We talked for a few minutes. During the conversation, he told me he loved me.
"I went, 'Wow!' Coming from what I had been through, that meant so much to me. He's got a memory -- he remembers everything."
Rutledge, who has recovered almost completely, has his football team 9-1 heading into Friday night's playoffs.
Grounded for life
The Giants trailed the 49ers 13-9 in the fourth quarter of the 1990 NFC championship game and Hostetler went down with an injury. Nevertheless, he led the Giants on two drives that resulted in field goals and a scintillating 15-13 victory.
After the game, Hostetler was summoned to a television interview and passed Parcells, who was on his way back to the locker room. Hostetler made a point of asking the Giants public relations man to hold the buses for him before going to the airport.
But, sure enough, when he walked out to the parking lot after the interview, all five of the team buses were gone.
"This is during the Gulf War and they were going right out to the tarmac to get onto the plane," Hostetler said. "I had no way to get out there. I just helped us win a huge game and that's what he did, took all the buses and left. John Madden ended up getting me right up onto the tarmac and onto the plane.
"As I walked past Parcells, he just gave me a smug smile and shook his head. So he always had this way of making sure you were grounded."
And when he led the Giants to their second Super Bowl title in five years -- Hostetler completed 20 of 32 passes for 222 yards and one touchdown -- Parcells never congratulated him.
"After the Super Bowl, Bill never said a word to me about the game or anything like that," Hostetler said. "He was always looking at the future and thinking of ways to get guys motivated. I'm sure that was his way of trying to continue to motivate me."
Hostetler, who went on to play four seasons with the Oakland Raiders, claims Parcells has calmed down considerably since his early days.
"I think Bill has definitely mellowed," Hostetler said. "He's made a lot of mistakes, whether he'll admit it or not. He's learned and I think Quincy is the benefactor of that."
Parcells actually admitted back on Nov. 4 that the biggest surprise of the season's first half in Dallas was the development of Carter. Heading into the second half, he had completed 135 of 234 passes for 1,703 yards and eight touchdowns -- all career highs.
"When we first started and he made a mistake, I wasn't surprised," Parcells said. "When he makes one now, I am surprised."
Carter and the Cowboys were not among the preseason Super Bowl picks, and the Cowboys are still a long shot. And yet, they keep winning games. Based on Parcells' history, you have to believe the Cowboys may be destined for the Super Bowl sometime in the next three seasons.
His former quarterbacks will be watching.
"He would grab at you at different times and tell you different things," Bledsoe said. "Then as I got later in my career he would actually even ask my opinion from time to time. Not that he would always take my advice, but he would at least ask my opinion."
Simms, despite all the static he got from Parcells, speaks fondly of his former coach. Maybe its because he bullied and bludgeoned Simms into the performance of a lifetime: 22-for-25 passing (88 percent) -- the highest playoff completion percentage ever -- in the Giants' 39-20 victory over Denver in Super Bowl XXI.
"We'd have a 30-second conversation and that would be enough to get me out of a slump or get me going," Simms said. "It's his greatest trait, he had a special way of dealing with people. And that's what made him get to the Super Bowl three times, is that dealing with people.
"It wasn't X's and O's, there was no secret there. It's about how he treated us, how he worked us, as a human being and how we responded to that."
Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
No one has taken more grief from Bill Parcells during his coaching tenure than the guys who played QB.