INDIANAPOLIS — Tom Coughlin, the alleged tight-as-a-snare-drum head coach of the New York Giants, heard my question this week in the sea of faces that stretched before him in the papal audience that has now become postseason news conferences and couldn't resist offering the rarest of Super Bowl sights.
A smile from one of the two Bill Parcells disciples coaching this game.
"One of the greatest running backs of all time over there, ladies and gentlemen," Coughlin said as he nodded to me while the puzzled multitude wondered who the heck he was addressing.
But this is the reason why the Giants beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl this Sunday at 6:30 p.m. on Cincinnati's Channel 5.
Coughlin has Ahmad Bradshaw at running back and not me.
Don't laugh. He did a half-life ago. A span of 32 years ago to be exact when he was the 32-year-old running backs coach for Syracuse and I was a junior that had somehow talked head coach Frank Maloney into letting me work as a running back for a week during spring practice so I could write about it for The Daily Orange.
"Yeah, you're right. Tom didn't like that very much," Joe Morris said Friday. "The best thing I can say about you that week is that you were given no quarter and you took none."
Which is the Syracuse all-time leading rusher's very nice way of saying I was a disgrace to the uniform. Paunchy. Asthmatic. Slow, but short. The option pitch with me coming around the corner took slightly longer than a mid-term.
"To be honest, it was a difficult thing to play tailback at Syracuse University as a new running back and playing behind the best running back," said Morris, still kind after all these years.
Former Syracuse and Giants running back Joe Morris (47) with the author in 1980.
The Giants won a Super Bowl with Morris running the ball. They've already won one with Bradshaw running the ball, but that was only nine times for 45 yards against these Pats. The Giants will win another one four years later, but Bradshaw is going to have a bigger role and here is where it should be recalled that the G-Men nicked the Pats for 111 yards on 29 carries without Bradshaw when they won 24-20, back on Nov. 6., in Foxborough.
"Both Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs have shown at times they can be dominant backs," said Morris, coaching me up like he did that spring at Coyne Field. "It's been inconsistent. You know as a back you don't gain a yard without your offensive line. When they were 7-7, I wondered how they could make it.
"But guess what? Some guys got healthy at the same time, they came back and they're rolling. Lately they've been able to run the ball just enough when they need to run the ball. And if they can run it just a little bit ... Eli (Manning) can't throw it 63 times I don't care against who. If he wasn't elite before San Francisco, he is now."
For games in February, the stats compiled from the games in September, October, November and December are virtually useless.
The Patriots defense is far from all-world, but it also has played down the stretch like it's not rated the next to last in the league and tackle Vince Wilfork may be the best run-stuffer in the loop.
The Giants were dead last running the ball, but as Morris notes Bradshaw and Jacobs split the 28 carries for more than 150 yards against Atlanta, Jacobs helped kill the clock in Green Bay with a 14-yard touchdown run to finish the scoring, and no one runs it against the 49ers.
This is going to be kind of like Super Bowl XXV when Coughlin and Pats head coach Bill Belichick assisted Parcells to an improbable win over the point-a-minute Bills by keeping Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly on the sidelines.
The Giants ground game hogged the ball for more than 40 minutes, running back Ottis Anderson was MVP, and Parcells won a second Super Bowl with a different quarterback.
It will be kind of like that because the Giants would like to keep Brady off the field. But Manning is a Super Bowl MVP in his second Super Bowl and not the merely serviceable Jeff Hostetler in his first.
It will be more like when Morris ran for 67 yards on 20 carries during Super Bowl XXI against Denver in allowing quarterback Phil Simms to win MVP hitting 22 of 25 darts.
"That would about do it," said Morris, the Giants uniform policeman on home Sundays. "Just enough to be effective when they need it and let Eli make plays. But they're capable of doing more. In New England's last two games, Wilfork has really shut down the run, but Bradshaw is a complete kind of back that can catch the ball and if Brandon just focuses on the game and not worry about what else is going on, he's a big-time back. He's an emotional player, but if he's focused he'll be fine."
Long before I met Coughlin and Morris, I was partial to Giants running backs. Before the merger in '70, the Giants were always on TV in New England, where they had a big following despite the arrival of the AFL's Patriots.
The Pats wouldn't catch my fancy until Draft Day 1971 and Jim Plunkett. Until then it was the G-Men all the way and even after Plunkett arrived I kept the poster of New York running back Ron Johnson on the wall amid Tony C., Yaz, Rico, Havlicek and Robert Gordon Orr.
Then the kid I backed up for a week at Syracuse ended up breaking Johnson's all-time Giants rushing record. With the help of the intensely detailed Coughlin.
"When I first got there, I had no idea what Tom was talking about and I was wondering, 'Do I have to know all this?' " Morris said. "He said, 'It will make you a better player.' He was right.
"He taught me how to watch film. That first time, I never learned more than I learned in that hour and a half. When I got (to the Giants), they'd ask how I learned so much of the offense and I'd say, 'I had this coach in college … ' "
When Morris helped coach a high school team a few years ago, his players wondered what he was doing watching all that film. It went back to that first session with Coughlin. "Fifteen plays and watching everyone's first step," Morris said.
Alas, Coughlin couldn't help me. I was too far gone.
"He tried," Morris said. "He tried because you were trying. That's what he's always looking for."
After Coughlin gave me the nod this week, I wanted to let him know I was still ready to try if he needed me.
"I'm ready to go, Coach," I said. "I think I can run the option right now."
Without missing a beat, Coughlin said, "You couldn't do that before so I don't know how."
I forgot my question with the laughter.
It doesn't matter.
Coughlin is loose and he has his running backs.
Giants again, 24-20, with Bradshaw going for 90 to milk the clock.