Don Parcells, R.I.P.
Mickey Spagnola passes on some sad news, the passing of Don Parcells, a man I never knew existed, from brain cancer.
Life keeps interrupting football for Bill Parcells. Real life.
A couple of weeks ago, Wellington Mara, the long-time owner of the New York Giants, the man who basically raised Parcells in the NFL, died.
Now again, Wednesday night. Bill Parcells received the phone call he’s probably been dreading for several years. His brother Don Parcells, 20 months his younger, had finally succumbed to the brain cancer that had nearly taken his life several times earlier. This one hit harder, harder than Wellington. This one is blood. “Tough there,” Bill Parcells said following his 30-minute press conference out here on Thursday, taking that slow walk down the breezeway back to his office. “Tough times.”
You got the idea he might wanted to have said more. But you could tell, he just couldn’t. Not then. Not now. The pain still was too raw. And after all, Bill Parcells still has a job to do. He is the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, and he would never allow anyone to see him in a weak moment, no matter how understandable that would have been.
That’s how he’s been, evidently, throughout his coaching career, insisting on keeping his private life private. Oh, he’ll mention something about his daughters every once in a while for the sake of humor, and he’s even made mention of his ex-wife just recently. He’s talked of his mom quite often, telling us that’s where he acquired his style of confronting a problem or person head on. But you know what, and maybe this is my fault, but I never knew Bill had a brother, let alone two, Don the middle child of Charles and Ida Parcells, and Doug, a high school coach and teacher, the youngest. Never came up. Never asked.
If we only knew . . . and if those witnessing this new chapter of his life had only knew how close he was to Don, an executive banker who resided just outside Newark, N.J., and who went to school at West Point and fought in the Viet Nam War.
The Newark Star-Ledger caught up with Bill nearly two years ago, the Cowboys getting ready to play that playoff game against Carolina in Charlotte, N.C. The paper was doing a story on Don Parcells. But in doing so, the writer, Steve Politi, was establishing a side of Bill few ever get to know. “That’s blood right there,” Parcells was quoted, knowing his younger brother nearly died two years earlier from grade-IV glioblastoma – the most aggressive of brain tumors. “He is my closest brother, and I love him very much. We’re 20 months apart, age wise. He is one of the closest people I have in this world.”
That right there should explain just how “tough” this day has been for Bill Parcells, and just how tough the rest of this week will be on him. He’s a football coach, not a corporate executive. He can’t call in sick the rest of the week. He’s got a team, and that team has one of the season’s most important football games to play Monday night, in Philadelphia against the Eagles.
[H]e’s got guys counting on him, not only his coaching staff, but his players. At best, he might be able to get away Sunday when the team flies to Philadelphia. And for sure part of the day on Monday when Don Parcells’ funeral will be held, since the Cowboys-Eagles don’t get underway until 9 p.m. (EST).
To Bill Parcells, he knows the show must go on. He also knows his players have enough to think about. He did not burden them with his personal life.
“I heard,” said 12-year veteran Aaron Glenn, who is on his second tour of duty with Bill. Did he say something? “He would never tell us,” Glenn said.
Evidently not. When his quarterback was asked if he had heard, Drew Bledsoe, who is spending his fifth NFL season with Bill Parcells, said, “Nooo, when? I didn’t know.”
And when Keyshawn Johnson finally concluded uttering his umpteenth “Not my problem” response to questions about the Eagles suspending Terrell Owens, he kind a nodded knowingly when asked if he knew, saying, “Yeah, you just kind of knew, but he didn’t say anything.”
No, that would have been un-Bill-like.
That the people closest to Parcells professionally–and that’s close, given the nature of being on a team–didn’t know that he had a brother, let alone that he was dying, is further proof that big time sports is a strange existence. Players and coaches routinely show up and perform while wives are giving birth, close relatives die, and other major life-altering events that sideline people in other walks of life.
Don Gutman has a brief biography of the young Parcells boys, describing a life that was far more “normal.”
The West Point Class of 1965 has a reprint of the Steve Politi piece referenced in Spagnola’s article. Particularly chilling, especially on Veterans Day, is this passage:
The two went separate ways after high school: Bill to Wichita State to pursue a career in athletics, Don to West Point to play football. The latter graduated from the military academy just in time for the Vietnam War.
One night, during an operation in the jungle, his brigade came under heavy mortar attack. He tried to hide in his foxhole, but he still got hit. Both his legs, bleeding badly, needed tourniquets. He knew he would not survive the night, but the rescue helicopters could not get to him.
Finally, one made it through. He was taken to an aid station, where he prayed he would make it through triage. His big brother got the news days later, and never felt more helpless.
I’D LIKE 20 MORE YEARS
Don spent four months rehabilitating his injuries in Japan and, when he got healthy, was sent back to Vietnam. The near-death experience gave him a perspective on life that helped after his cancer diagnosis. “You know, I lived longer than I thought I would have anyway,” he said. “I could have been dead at 22 or 23.”
The life of a combat soldier isn’t exactly “normal,” either.