Photo credit: Cataffo/NYDN
I still remember it like it was yesterday. My family lived on Long Island. The scare of “Y2K” was a fervent start to the new millenium and football was a distraction. There was a chill in the air, my parents cooked plenty of food, and my father and I sat in front of our larger tube television to watch the New York Giants take on the Minnesota Vikings in the 2000 season’s NFC Championship game. Big Blue was a welcome and beloved distraction from the realness of that year, so gathering around to cheer and yell felt amazing, especially to bond with family.
My father felt good vibes heading into the showdown with the high-powered Minnesota Vikings offense, but I remember him saying, “The Vikings are tough, it’s not gonna be easy.” Fast forward to a 41-0 shutout, and it’s safe to say my father lost his marbles with elation.
Even after losing to the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XXXV, the Giants proved themselves one of the best teams in the league in a season that cemented my fandom as a child.
Jim Fassel led those New York Giants.
In what was a bleak moment for the team after falling to a 7-4 record with slim playoff hopes, Fassel went on in a postgame press conference to make a major guarantee:
If you got the crosshairs, you got the laser, you can put it right on my chest, I’ll take full responsibility… I’m raising the stakes right now. If this is a poker game, I’m shoving my chips to the middle of the table… I’m raising the ante, anybody wants in, get in. Anybody that wants out, can get out. This team is going to the playoffs.
And that they did. Starting quarterback Kerry Collins had a career resurgence, Tiki Barber broke out with nearly 2,500 total yards of offense, and the defense was led in sacks by defensive tackle Keith Hamilton, with Michael Strahan behind him for a total of 19.5. I still remember my father having his face painted blue, the watch party we had, and even though the end result was disappointing, I felt pride in the Giants. MY Giants. And Fassel made that possible.
Fassell was a born and bred football man, playing through high school, college and eventually drafted by the Chicago Bears in 1972. He slowly made his way to the sideline though for his real calling as a coach, moving from an old World Football League gig to the college ranks where he mentored the legendary John Elway at Stanford. That parlayed into multiple positions around the NFL as a quarterbacks coach or offensive coordinator, even reuniting with Elway in Denver for a brief stint. Eventually, he landed the Giants head job, leading the team to a 10-5-1 record in his first season that had Big Blue clinch their division and earned him Coach of the Year honors for 1997.
Coach Fassel led a remarkable career, and there isn’t any way I can attest to his character, as I never got the honor of knowing him personally. But from what I’ve read, he was remarkable even off the field. He brought Giants fans joy, returned a sense of grit and toughness that is the hallmark of New York Giant football, and embodied the passion and support a coach should give his team in so many ways. He made the team a true competitor, oftentimes leading them to successful turnarounds when the deck was stacked against them. Comeback victories and defeating seemingly superior opponents are cornerstone moments of Fassel’s Giants career.
But most of all to me, Coach Fassel is a vivid name in my memory banks. Those early years, the formative ones that molded me into who I am today, are full of watching Jim Fassel lead the Giants. My love for football, my pride in the Giants, the bond it helped to cement between my father and I growing up, all is rooted in those childhood years of life living in New York, wearing Giants blue and watching them push for a championship. Coach Fassel was a critical part of my writing career, including my love for scouting, and contributing here to ATB.
We here at Around The Block are so saddened to hear of his passing and wish his family the best. In remembrance of Jim Fassel, we here at ATB – New York Giants wish to say thank you for his leadership and the fandom he helped instill and/or create.
Rest in peace Coach.