Perseverance pays off for Tom and Tom
By Mike Bianchi
Orlando Sentinel — February 5, 2008
If you want to attain Super Bowl glory, reach your professional pinnacle and walk in the pantheon of legends, take it from two guys I’ve known for a long time.
Take it from Tom and Tom.
Tom Petty and Tom Coughlin.
One’s a slow-talking, laid-back old rocker. The other’s a yelling, screaming, hard-line old coach. But as the Super Bowl unfolded Sunday night, I couldn’t help but marvel at how similar their paths to greatness turned out to be. They both made it big because, more than anything, they are two of the most driven, dedicated men in the history of their professions.
Let’s start with Tom Petty, who grew up in Gainesville just as I did. He was a friend of our family. He was the best man in my sister’s wedding. My mother used to be a live-in nanny for his two daughters.
People told Tommy he’d never make it as a rock star. They said he didn’t have a good-enough voice. Wasn’t a good-enough guitar player. And, frankly, he wasn’t good-looking enough, either. He was too gaunt and his teeth were too big.
His art teacher at Gainesville High School urged his friends not to hang around with him because he was too consumed with his music and wouldn’t amount to anything. He worked in a cemetery once, digging graves and mowing grass to pay for his guitars and amps. Sometimes, you have to bury the dead to keep your own dream alive.
“Ever since Tommy got a guitar, he knew what he wanted to do,” said Mike Nixon, his boyhood friend and my sister’s ex-husband, after watching Petty’s Super Bowl halftime performance. “He wanted to make music. Everything in his life revolved around that.”
The same could be said for Tom Coughlin’s obsession with coaching. I started covering Coughlin during his first training camp with the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars and was astounded at how absolutely passionate he was about even the most trivial coaching minutiae.
During a visit to his house in Ponte Vedra Beach the year after the Jaguars fired him, it was comically sad how lost Coughlin was without a football team to coach. I kidded him then that he should rent an office somewhere just so he could sleep in it. He was so out of his element in everyday life he couldn’t even figure out how to use the telephone answering machine.
“Judy [his wife] had to give me three lessons on the goofy thing before I finally learned how to check the messages,” Coughlin said then.
Coughlin paid his own way to the NFL combine during the season he was unemployed. He brought his stopwatch and timed every player. He also took a trip to Houston, where his former defensive coordinator, Dom Capers, was the coach of the NFL’s Texans. Capers invited Coughlin to help with a minicamp, and, afterward, Coughlin spoke of the experience with the exuberance of a girl who’d just been to a Hannah Montana concert.
“Dom and I drove to the office together at 5:15 every morning — just like old times,” Coughlin said then. “I got to watch practice, go to the meetings and then watch the practice tape. Dom even had a little room for me where I was able to sit by myself and look at red-zone tape. I had my own machine. It was a wonderful experience.”
You see, Tom Coughlin needs to coach football just as Tom Petty needs to sing songs. And there they were on the same stage Super Bowl Sunday doing it the way they’ve always done it: With more substance than style.
In a football world mesmerized by glitzy offense and passing-game pyrotechnics, Coughlin and his New York Giants won with defense and ball control. And in a musical world filled with lip-synching and crotch-grabbing, Petty didn’t need lasers and light shows to put on a memorable performance. Just his guitar, his bandmates and his songs.
Old-time rock ‘n’ roll.
Perhaps it was no coincidence that Petty’s final song at the Super Bowl was entitled “Runnin’ Down a Dream.” It’s something he has done in a musical career that has spanned four decades and landed him in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And it’s something Coughlin has done in a coaching career that has spanned nearly as long and netted him a Lombardi Trophy.
“I tell the players, it’s good to dream,” Coughlin said after his Giants pulled off one of the biggest upsets in football history. “It’s funny because when I was right out of college as a Division III coach, you dream. You continue to dream. You always dream of being the very best you can be.”
The secret to success isn’t always complicated. Sometimes, if you dream big enough, work hard enough and want something bad enough, you can become the best of the best.
Take it from Tom and Tom.