For Gibbs to defeat Parcells, it often meant concocting a game plan to overcome his aggressive defense, which stuffed the run and pressured the quarterback. But the chess matches generally boiled down to brute force.
"It was who was still standing. It was a total mugging," Bugel recalled, adding that smash-mouth football was epitomized in the NFC East, which produced seven Super Bowl winners from 1982 to '93. "The toughest guy won those. After those games you went to the whirlpool -- the coaches and the players."
Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs.
(Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
Former Redskins tight end Rick "Doc" Walker called Parcells and Gibbs "Neanderthals with different philosophies."
Parcells and Gibbs protected the quarterback and employed run-oriented offenses, although Gibbs took more chances with deep passes. Gibbs, whose team played a 4-3 defense, was considered the offensive innovator. Parcells, who utilized a 3-4 defense, was more of a defensive mastermind.
However, the coaches are in many ways kindred spirits with myriad similarities.
"There's not really a hair's difference between the overall intent of either coach," Parcells said. "I really don't think so."
Parcells and Gibbs are known for their drive, maniacal work ethic and persnickety ways. Both emphasize discipline, smart football and are extremely well-prepared. They are masterful motivators, plucking obscure players who become critical players.
Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Dan Henning has known Parcells and Gibbs for more than three decades after working as an assistant for each. "They're a lot more similar than they are different," said Henning, who expects to be transfixed by every snap tonight. "You're talking about two guys who are going to compete like hell whether it's golf, racquetball or football. You better bring your lunch pail because they're two great competitors who happen to ply their trades in football."
When Parcells quit the NFL after winning Super Bowl XXV against the Buffalo Bills, Gibbs praised him for leaving on top. But the Redskins' coach predicted that Parcells would eventually return. After Gibbs retired, Parcells said he could empathize with Gibbs.
A year before deciding to rejoin the Redskins, Gibbs said he identified with Parcells for returning to the game. Despite the pleasure of a new interest -- horse racing in Parcells's case -- the NFL's pull was too great. "You can probably put yourself in his place. I could a little bit easier than a lot of people," Gibbs said. "You kind of know what he's feeling. And I noticed a couple of things he said when he took the job that kind of made sense to me."
The sharpest contrast between the coaches is in their demeanors: Parcells, irascible and domineering, rules by fear. Gibbs, active in his Christian faith, has a relatively genteel personality that belies his passion. Gibbs has never been heard cursing by Redskins players; Parcells peppers conversations with expletives. Gibbs is self-deprecating and expresses discomfort in the spotlight; Parcells is cocky and enjoys interplay during media sessions.
But Henning believes that viewing their personas as polar opposites is too simplistic.
"You don't want to get on the wrong side of both of them. They can crack the whip," said Henning, 62, who coached under Gibbs in Super Bowl XVII and XXII and under Parcells with the New York Jets. "People might see Bill that way because he's more confrontational with the press. I've seen Bill charm the balls off a pool table. The beauty of both of them is that they know when to push the buttons."
Bugel said, "Behind closed doors, he [Gibbs] can rip your shirt off, and knock your teeth out."