The stories about him are legend. He is the feisty Dutchman who tried to fight a reporter when the scribe asked him whether he was a quitter or a fighter. He is the man who once ripped a Super Bowl tie pin off a reporter's tie and hurled it out the window of a cab, declaring, "Ain't no damn reporter who deserves a Super Bowl tie pin."
He quit the Minnesota Vikings in 1965 in a fit of pique, then came back the next day, saying he had made a mistake. Even his retirement from the game as a player, coming after he had led the Philadelphia Eagles to the National Football League title in 1960, was marred by a dispute. He claimed he had been promised the vacant Eagle coaching job. They said he hadn't.
"I guess," Norm Van Brocklin once mused, "they call me the Dutchman because I always do things the hard way. But I've always been a fighter, I'll never stop fighting."
On a hot, sunny afternoon on the Georgia Tech campus, Van Brocklin, dressed in shorts, a battered old pair of sneakers and a Tech football T-shirt, was sitting on a sofa, smoking a cigarette.
"Mellowed out?" he said in answer to a question. "No, I don't think so. They still haven't boxed all the fire out of me. Don't think they will for a while. But I think I've matured some, learned some lessons about life and living with people."
He is 53 now, but looks older. His face is lined and fleshy around the neck. He smiles easily and, according to a friend, could now be called, "the king of the one-liners."
The new Norm Van Brocklin is an assistant coach at Georgia Tech, working under Pepper Rodgers, a man also known for his combativeness. But some of the fight seems to have gone out of Van Brocklin, perhaps because he has spent the last five years raising pecans on his 174-acre farm.
Or, more likely, it is because he almost died in March after undergoing brain surgery to have a blood clot removed.
"My wife says I looked like a dead man when they took me into the operating room," he said. "I never had to deal with the idea that I might die because I was in a coma the whole time. I didn't have to deal with the worst of it.
"But now that I'm still here my attitude is kind of different, I guess. I appreciate the fact that He" - he looked skyward " "has given me a second chance. I plan to take advantage of it."
Van Brocklin has been out of football since 1974 when he was fired by the Atlanta Falcons after 6 1/2 seasons as their coach.
His years in Atlanta and his six years as coach in Minnesota were frequently stormy, as he took expansion teams and built them into playoff contenders - but never quite made the playoffs.
After Rankin Smith fired him, Van Brocklin retired to the farm he had bought in Social Circle, Ga., two weeks before he was fired. "I'm 0-2 living in that house," he said with a smile. "I guess that sort of typifies a football coach's life. You buy a house, boom, you get fired."
Although he frequently said during his five years away from football that he was content, Van Brocklin admits now that he missed the game and would have jumped back in sooner if the opportunity had been there.
"The offers weren't there," he said bluntly. "I didn't go out looking for a job but everyone knew where I was. Hell, they knew I was out there and they knew how to find me."
Actually, finding him was not all that easy for Rodgers. "We were sitting around the office one day and Pepper was trying to think of who to call to fill our open offensive coaching slot," said Tech spokesman Jim Schultz. "All of a sudden Pepper says, Hey, what about Van Brocklin?
"Well, the general feeling was that he would be a natural if he would do it, especially since we were putting in a pro-style offense. Pepper said he would call him.
"But we couldn't find a phone number for the guy. No one had it. No one knew it. Finally, after a couple of days it hit me that I had once had the number in my old files. I dug them up and after three days of looking, we finally found him."
Van Brocklin did not leap at the opportunity, although he was immediately intrigued. He and Rodgers had dinner and then Rodgers and his wife drove out to the farm and spent an evening. The two men shook hands that night.
"I was a little apprehensive at first for three reasons," Van Brocklin said. "First, I'd never been an assistant coach before. Second, I'd never coached in college, and third, I'd never recruited.
"But finally I decided if you can coach in the pros you can coach in college, or vice-versa. And working with Pepper, what little we've done so far, has been a pleasure."
Rodgers says he wanted Van Brocklin because of his knowledge of the game and his ability to analyze talent. "Having Norm here can be nothing but positive for us," said Rodgers, who also hired former Heisman Trophy winner Steve Spurrier to coach the quarterbacks. "Sure, he'll get attention. That's good for Georgia Tech."
Van Brocklin is in a uinque position as an assistant coach at Tech - he has almost no idea what kind of a team he is going to be coaching and knows few of the players by name.
"I really couldn't tell you how good we're going to be because all I've done so far is watch a couple of spring practices," he said. "I missed most of srping because of my surgery.
"Guess you could say that I've finally found a way to get out of spring practice," he added with a laugh. "Have brain surgery."
Although he jokes about it, Van Brocklin's experience of the spring was no laughing matter. He first began experiencing circulation problems on his left side a year ago but a physical examination turned up nothing. Then, in March, returning home from an exhausting weekend as a chaperone for his 16-year-old daughter's basketball team at the state championships, Van Brocklin said, his whole left side "just collapsed."
An arteriogram showed that Van Brocklin needed an operation. A week later he returned home. "That first night I apparently started having seizures," Van Brocklin said. "My wife said I kept kicking her in the bed. Then I slipped into a coma."
He was rushed to the hospital for brain surgery. "You can see where they went in," he said, pointing to a bump on the top of his forehead. "I feel about 200 percent better now, like a new man."
Clearly, he is eager to get back into football and freely admits that another crack at coaching in the NFL would delight him.
"I took the Georgia Tech job for two reasons," he said. "First, my wife was getting tired of looking at me. Second, I missed the damn game."
Van Brocklin's overall coaching record of 66-99-7 in slightly less than 13 years is deceiving because twice he took expansion clubs from ground zero to playoff contention.
But he never made the playoffs. First in Minnesota and then in Atlanta, he had young teams which seemed to be on the verge of cracking the big time, then slid back into mediocrity.
Van Brocklin did not want to go into details on his pro coaching career. But it was the only subject which lit up his eyes and caused him to lean forward and speak with an intensity that was noticeably absent when other matters were being discussed.
"Look," he said, pointing a cigarette, "I could say a lot of things about a lot of people. Everyone knows that. But I'm not going to do it. I'm not going to be a pro football pimp. You won't see me out there writing a book about my inside experiences with pro football."
He insists that he is not bitter about his coaching career.He does not like to talk about the rift which reportedly developed between himself and Fran Tarkenton when the two were in Minnesota. He will not criticize Falcon owner Rankin Smith. He will not even criticize his old foes in the media.
But there is one topic which gets him talking - the players' union.
"The strike in '74 was what killed us with the Falcons," he said. "Before then, we were competing. We were 9-5 the year before and should have been in the playoffs. We had a good team.
"But I guess I made a mistake a lot of other coaches didn't make. I remembered that it was management that signed my check and I was loyal to management.The players knew that and when they came back they just quit popping. We never competed.
"Look, I didn't make any bones about how I felt. I thought the players were way out of line. I remember they kept listing their demands. I was raised to never demand anything because if I did my old man would whip my (rear). These kids have never really had to work a day in their lives. But they will eventually. And it's going to hurt."
Bob Neals has worked as the Falcons broadcast voice with every Falcon coach since 1966. He has vivid memories of working with Van Brocklin and Van Brocklin's relationship with his players.
"I did a live TV show with Norm every week and occasionally we had players on," said Neale. "I can remember once we had (former Falcon running back) Art Malone on. I had just started to ask Art the usual questions when Norm breaks in and say, "Art, why don't you tell the people how you left training camp as a rookie because you weren't man enough to take the work?"
"When Malone wouldn't tell the story, Van Brocklin did. In detail."
Van Brocklin willingly concedes that he made mistakes during his years with the Falcons and Vikings, but remains unshaken in his belief that he could successfully coach in the NFL again. He also willingly talks at length about a comeback.
"I guess I wasn't adaptable enought then," he said. "Things had to be my way or no way at all. I've learned from that.
"Maybe I was naive in thinking I could take over teams like the Vikings and Falcons and whip them into shape quickly, but I guess if you're a competitor you think you can whip anything, no matter what it is.
"I'd like to go back to the NFL even thought there are a lot of sharks and barracudas out there. It's a success though because of two things: Pete Rozelle is the world's best PR man, and television. I think the thing that's helped it on television is the fact that everything else is so bad.
"I think I could handle the league though. I've been through the meat grinder recently, been knocked down a lot. But now I'm back up and I've still got some fight left in me.
"If I could change things, maybe I would. But really I couldn't because I had to do things my way. In that sense I'm still that way. No matter what I do, I have to be me. Always. That part I can't change." CAPTION: Picture 1, Norman Van Brocklin, passing in the 1960 NFL title game.; Picture 2, Van Brocklin today, right, and in 1958, inset.