Tom Coughlin's New York Giants won two Super Bowls against the New England Patriots, quarterbacked by Tom Brady

By Greg Hanlon
February 04, 2021 10:04 AM
Tom Coughlin
| Credit: Larry French/Getty

Tom Coughlin believes anyone who's ever been to the big game gets the same feeling around Super Bowl time: The anticipation, the nerves, the awe of a game that can define a career.

It certainly did for Coughlin, the 74-year-old former coach of the New York Giants, who won two Super Bowls with the team in the 2007 and 2011 seasons. Both were major upsets over the New England Patriots, when the Giants shut down their opponent's explosive offense — quarterbacked by Tom Brady.

Thirteen years after Coughlin's first title, Brady, 43, is back in the Super Bowl — and Coughlin, from his home in Florida, marvels at how his former foe has defied age.

"Phenomenal," says Coughlin, saying he has the "utmost admiration" for Brady.

"A quarterback rating of 102 — are you serious? He looks like a young man; he's taken great care of himself," adds Coughlin, who has spent much of the COVID-19 pandemic focused on his charity, The Jay Fund, which supports families with children who have cancer.

Coughlin has been watching the playoffs with a coach's eye, because being a football coach is not a part of yourself you ever turn off. The upcoming game fascinates him, and on the Wednesday before he was alight with questions he can't wait to see answered: Will Tampa Bay try to control the clock to keep Kansas City's explosive offense off the field? Will the blitzing defensive schemes of both teams backfire against dangerous, cerebral quarterbacks like Brady and Patrick Mahomes?

"That's the game being played within the game," he says.

Tom Brady (left) and Patrick Mahomes
| Credit: TANNEN MAURY/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock; Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Though he's not the sentimental type, Coughlin allowed himself some nostalgia on Wednesday, the 13-year anniversary of Super Bowl XLII to end the 2007 season, when the Giants beat the then-undefeated Patriots in a historic upset. He says he texted stars Eli Manning, Michael Strahan, Chris Snee and former Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who drew up the scheme that stopped Brady's high-flying offense in that game. Now, Spagnuolo is Kansas City's defensive coordinator, tasked with the same difficult assignment.

But Coughlin's loyalties are split: On the Tampa Bay side is star defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, a major contributor on the 2011 Giants Super Bowl winning team. Pierre-Paul's career was nearly derailed on July 4, 2015, when he suffered a gruesome hand injury during a fireworks accident that required his right index finger to be amputated. But this year, he regained his old form and made the Pro Bowl for the first time since 2012.

"You've got to give the kid all kinds of credit for what he's fought through," says Coughlin. "You'll never forget that 4th of July and how awful that was. For him to keep a positive approach and be where he is today says a lot about his character."

Tom Coughlin

Coughlin's admiration extends to the coaches; he counts both Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians and Kansas City's Andy Reid as close friends. He believes the accomplishment of getting to the Super Bowl this year is more impressive due to the pandemic, which limited offseason and preseason workouts and made practice schedules sporadic.

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"This would be one of the most stressful years any coach has ever had," says Coughlin, who also credits the NFL players for their discipline in following COVID safety protocols.

Both Reid, 62, who coached Kansas City to a Super Bowl victory last year, and Arians, 68, are among the oldest NFL coaches. Coughlin can identify: When the Giants won Super Bowl XLVI to cap off the 2011 season, he was 66 years old and became the oldest coach ever to win the game. The Patriots' Bill Belichick, the losing coach in that game, now holds that distinction after the Patriots captured the 2018 title. If Tampa Bay wins on Sunday, Arians would become the oldest Super Bowl-winning coach.

To Coughlin, the late-career success of both coaches is testament to the perseverance required to succeed in the profession.

"You have to be a good football coach to begin with," he says. "Then you pray for the opportunity. Things line up for you. You hang in there. You battle."