Through the years I've had the opportunity to interview Tom Coughlin on a number of occasions, while chronicling his rise from small-town, three-sport hero to coach of the Super Bowl-champion Giants. As the Waterloo, N.Y. native prepares his team to play the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 46 Sunday, I offer some facts, stats and anecdotes about the one-time backfield mate of former Syracuse University All-Americans Floyd Little and Larry Csonka.
* Coughlin scored 19 touchdowns his senior season at Waterloo (a school record that still stands, nearly a half-century later) and guided the Indians to a 15-1 record and league titles his final two seasons. He was inducted into the Section V Football Hall of Fame in 2003. And two years later his high school renamed the football stadium after him. "Tom was a great high school player,'' said his coach Mike Ornato, who later coached Steve Young at Grenwich (Conn.) High. "Tom was a very shifty open-field runner and one of the hardest-working, most dedicated athletes I've ever encountered. The same characteristics that have personified his coaching were there as a player."
One of seven children, Coughlin also captained his varsity basketball and baseball teams to league titles.
Friends remember Coughlin turning everything into a challenge. "Tom was a precursor to that promotional campaign in which you were told you'd receive your pizza for free if it wasn't there within 30 minutes from when you ordered it," said Jack Kidd, who played football and baseball with him in high school. "He'd load as many groceries as he could on this big basket he had on his bike and race from one home to the next. Tom was never satisfied with just going through the motions. He was always a guy on the move, a guy who challenged himself and others."
As a high school freshman, Coughlin and a friend attended a Syracuse football game at old Archbold Stadium (where the Carrier Dome now stands). Future Heisman Trophy winner Ernie Davis ran wild that day, and Coughlin became so smitten with the running back that he couldn't stop talking about him. Coughlin's high school teammates eventually started calling him "Ernie." "Watching him run with a football," said Coughlin, "was like watching an artist paint."
He earned a football scholarship to SU and played running back and wingback. He didn't however carry the ball much because Coach Ben Schwartzwalder had Little, an All-American at halfback, and Csonka, an All-American at fullback, do the lion's share of the lugging. "It was a great time to be an Orangeman,'' Coughlin said. "I had the best seat in the house to view two of the greatest running backs in football history."
In 1968, Coughlin was named the top student athlete at SU and was honored with a day in his hometown.
While at Syracuse, Coughlin had future Orange basketball coach Jim Boeheim as the residential advisor of his dormitory. "Tom was the nicest, quietest young man you'd ever want to meet," Boeheim recalled. "Never in a million years would I have envisioned him becoming this drill sergeant football coach."