Director Oliver Stone must feel like he is in heaven. In his new movie, "Any Given Sunday," Al Pacino plays a legendary NFL coach who calls a news conference to announce he is retiring. Everybody gathers. Sweet words are said. Then Pacino takes the microphone and drops a bombshell. No reason to spoil the ending. Let's just say there's revenge and gloating, plus egg on a lot of faces.
Pure Hollywood. Couldn't happen. Except that, this week, it has.
On Monday, Bill "Tuna" Parcells quit as New York Jets coach. On Tuesday at 10 a.m., longtime Parcells assistant Bill Belichick met with Jets coaches to go over his new role as head coach. Plans were made. Backs were slapped. A news conference was scheduled for 2:30 p.m. for Belichick to discuss his future as Jets boss.
At 2:25 p.m., Belichick gave his boss a crumpled piece of paper; his resignation was scrawled on it. How hurriedly was the note dashed off? Belichick wrote that he was quitting--after one day--as "H.C. of the NYJ." No time to write out long words like "head" and "coach."
Of course, New York is standing on its head. Headlines scream: "Belichicken"; "Bring Back Tuna"; and "We Need Tuna, Not Tuna Helper."
However, the big mystery is where Belichick went for the "missing hours" between his a.m. meeting and his p.m. shocker. Belichick says he had a career epiphany while running on a treadmill looking at the empty Jets practice field.
I think he went to the movies.
This life-imitating-art stuff started small on Sunday when the Redskins' Irving Fryar caught a touchdown pass and reprised the end zone celebration from "Any Given Sunday." Fryar tossed the ball like a hand grenade and, when it landed, all his teammates fell down.
"Our timing was terrible," said Fryar after the game. "They've got to watch me for their cue. This week, we have to go back, study the films and do better."
As it turns out, Fryar's end zone ad was a mere trailer, so to speak. The core subject of Stone's movie is the enormous human price paid by NFL coaches. They truly love the game--its warrior values, its larger-than-life heroes (who dot the movie), its weekly adrenaline rush and its camaraderie, not to mention the glory and money. But the price they pay may be even greater than the injury-dues paid by players. Coaches become addicted--and twisted--for life.
The NFL coaches currently littered on the field of battle bear testimony to the truth of Stone's movie. Ray Rhodes lasted only one year in Green Bay, despite an 8-8 record and a wild-card shot until the final Sunday. With only three black head coaches, the NFL hardly needed Rhodes to get a quick boot. The Packers were also the only team with offensive and defensive coordinators who are black as well. Now, they're gone, too.
If you want a definition of NFL pressure, try these words from New England owner Robert Kraft. "This is a business of accountability," he said, after firing Pete Carroll on Monday. "Two years ago, we won the division. Last year, we barely made the playoffs and this year we're 8-8. We need a momentum change."
How would you like to have an excellent year, followed by a good year, followed by a decent year, only to be fired for "a momentum change." Memo to Norv Turner after his job-saving NFC East title: Nothing lasts forever.
Yesterday, it was Mike Ditka who got the ax. Up until the end, he fought to keep his job. The No Fun League and Iron Mike haven't been on the same page for a long time. Cigars and Hawaiian shirts, trading all your picks for Ricky Williams, then taking the rest of draft day off, are adorable. But you're at a disadvantage against the manic Belichick types who, when he coached the Browns, routinely kept his assistants working until 1 and 2 a.m. Over the years, Ditka occasionally stayed up after midnight. But generally not to diagram zone blitzes.
Even Parcells's retirement raised unsettling questions. His departure at 58 was not a shock. Too old to "work 365 days a year," he claimed. Is this a man who knows himself or is kidding himself? Parcells is the prototype control-freak, workaholic NFL coach--heart problems or not. So speculation instantly began on how long the "Tuna" could go without a coaching fix. A year? A month? If Dick Vermeil is back in the playoffs at age 63, how long will Parcells keep the monkey off his back?
As Redskins assistant GM Bobby Mitchell noted last week, "The NFL is washed out in terms of head coaches." Or should that be burned out? What kind of profession is it when Bill Cowher could get canned in Pittsburgh? Has the NFL become terminally dangerous to the mental health of sane adults?
In "Any Given Sunday," half the characters are locker room back-stabbers, soulless owners, shameless contract-breakers, bald-faced news-conference liars and front-office schemers. Unfortunately, the cast of characters who have taken center stage in the NFL this week would feel right at home on the big screen. And they seem to show up every day of the week. Not just on Sunday.