Lou Anarumo, the Staten Island native who has ferried the Bengals defense from an idea to the Super Bowl and is pointing the bow dead ahead at the elite, never takes a game in Jersey for granted.
Take Sunday's joust with the Jets (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) at MetLife Stadium, his first trip home for a game that counts since the postseason run his guys gave up an average of 20 points a game and his head coaching interview with the Giants of his boyhood dreams.
On Thursday night his high school coach, Al Paturzo, had to let him know who won the drawing. Those four tickets and a parking pass for Sunday Anarumo had donated to the Susan Wagner High School Hall of Fame Foundation drawing? It raised $10,000. A hundred chances for $100 each.
"That's a big deal for us," says Paturzo, who counts loyalty as one of his old battered quarterback's greatest traits. "When he comes home, he doesn't go party in the city. He's here with these guys, out to dinner, over the house, at the AC. The guys he grew up with are still some of his best friends."
The night before last month's preseason game against the Giants at MetLife, Anarumo, 56, ordered a bunch of pizzas for the team from Denino's, insisting it is and always has been Staten Island's best pizza.
Paturzo has never stepped foot in the place. It has the audacity to be located in Port Richmond, an adjoining school district.
"I'm just not going in there," says Paturzo, who sticks with Joe and Pat's on Victory Boulevard.
Loyalty is as big in the Paycor Stadium locker room as it is in the Castleton Corners neighborhood of Staten Island. From players he helped draft, such as linebackers Germaine Pratt and Logan Wilson, to seasoned pros he helped target in free agency such as savvy strong safety Vonn Bell and crafty slot cornerback Mike Hilton, Anarumo has built a resourceful defense with the neighborhood tavern credo of trust.
"He trusts us to do our job and we trust him to put us in the right place," Hilton says. "The way he adjusts on the fly. You give the offense some things to see what they want to do. Lou is quick to make those adjustments. He's a leader. He has so much respect in our room. He trusts us and we trust him. He's definitely a guy we want to play for."
Quick? Hilton remembers the Bengals down 21-10 at halftime of the AFC title game and Anarumo realizing the Chiefs weren't going to run the ball even though they were up big.
"That's when we started dropping eight men," Hilton says.
Loyalty is a big reason Anarumo signed on James Bettcher to coach linebackers after the Super Bowl following Al Golden's departue to Notre Dame. They met in 2018, Bettcher's first year as the Giants defensive coordinator and Anarumo's only year as their secondary coach. It was enough to form a bond. They saw the game the same way and felt comfortable in the fox hole together.
Not a lot of coordinators would bring in a former two-time NFL coordinator to work under him, maybe viewing it as a threat. But that's not the credo.
"I could give a damn about that," Anarumo says.
His system has been built on a mass of ideas from his previous stops. His playbook is as much of a melting pot as his city.
"I wasn't here when he started building this defense, but you can see how he's developed the young players," Bettcher says. "He's taken the best of what he believes in and put it in here as a multiple system. He works to present issues without complexity.
"And in our room there's a very clear directive on what to do on every snap. There are a lot of smart guys. And Lou is one of those guys. But it's the smart guys that can communicate it so the players can do it in a split second and that's what Lou can do … When you've been around a while, you know what it's supposed to look like. You look at him in front of the room presenting to the players and he looks like a future NFL head coach."
They would seem to be rather an odd couple. Bettcher, the classic Midwesterner, a college offensive lineman from Lakeville, Indiana. Anarumo, the quarterback with the city edge whose arm was so shot he came back from Wagner College to help Paturzo coach.
"People like Lou," Paturzo says.
Definitely a people person. He even gets along with Bostonians.
"You know Coach Lou. High energy," Hilton says.
If he sees someone wearing a Red Sox hat, he wastes no time letting them know his loyalties lie with the Here Comes The Judge Yankees.
"We always have an edge. We can't get rid of our edge. If people get rid of their edge that they have, they're not going to be successful," says Paturzo, who saw him connect with players right away. "You have to let them see through the edge … He gets in your eyeballs. He's not going to look away. He's always going to tell the truth and you can always count on him."
Lou Anarumo Jr. seemed to be a natural teacher. Lou Anarumo Sr. was one before becoming an elementary school principal. It looked like his son was headed on the same path.
"He had the board of ed in his blood," Paturzo says.
But after he coached Paturzo's quarterbacks for a few years and then took over the junior varsity for a few more and looked into enough eyeballs, the guys on the staff felt like he was destined for bigger things. He was quick on the sidelines.
"A lot of guys go by rote. Not him," Paturzo says.
He'd learn one thing and never have to go over it again.
"We told him he was wasting his time. You can't stay here anymore, we were telling him," Paturzo says. "You know, you get a little older, you get a family, and you don't leave. We told him to get out of here. We helped him get out and get to the Merchant Marine."
With the Staten Island guys pushing, that was the first stop. The first big break was a graduate assistant's job at Syracuse. "Then he was on his own," Patruzo says.
"If it had been a G.A. job for quarterbacks," Anarumo says, "I'd be a quarterbacks coach now. But it was a secondary job. That's just how the chips fell."
Since then, Anarumo has been amassing his playbooks and sifting the best of what he's got. There was that long stint at Purdue before one of his Staten Island mentors, Kevin Coyle, the long-time Bengals secondary coach, got the DC job with the Dolphins and brought him to Miami.
Anarumo's got a sprawling rolodex that can be a fertile spot for even more ideas. When he was at Purdue he would have a weekly conversation with the Ohio University defensive coordinator about opponents. Maybe he and Jimmy Burrow even talked about Burrow's son Joe a few times.
Anarumo calls his system "a smorgassboard," of all those things. He says it doesn't come from a coaching tree. "Too many branches," he says. A jungle for The Jungle. You can call it a hybrid 3-4. It can suddenly go from a five-man front to a four-man look with the backers lurking in the A gap or a three-man line with a zone blitz.
"I love the word multiplicity," says Bettcher, who has donated some of his 3-4 stuff. "It speaks volumes when offensive play-callers can't get a bead on what you do. You see that on tape. You see teams chasing certain coverages. And they're not getting them.
"Lou understands it's a player's game. He's the first to say it. He's built it that way."
One day he'll be in front of the group talking about a passage from Will Smith's autobiography. The next day maybe he'll show a boxing clip, something he's been known to do the night before games.
"These are elite men,' Bettcher says. "It's a challenge to keep the attention spans of elite men."
One thing Anarumo won't do Saturday night is order Denino's.
"I can't be worried about what time the pizzas are going to get there," Anarumo says.
But it never gets old coaching down there. When was growing up, his family had tickets in the old Meadowlands (maybe Section 312?) following the Giants. Not the Jets. Although he does remember going to a Jets game at Shea Stadium and he thinks O.J. Simpson was running the ball.
"I think so. I don't know," Anarumo says. "I was freezing my butt off."
When he was coaching the Dolphins, the trip to MetLife was an annual pilgrimage. When he coached the Giants for a year, the way of life had become a way of life. Now he's coming back again with his burgeoning playbook and even Paturzo is rooting for him.
"I've always been a Packers fan because Vince Lombardi was from Brooklyn," Paturzo says. "Still am. But, you know, I have to root for Lou."
Anarumo gave his old coach a ticket to the Super Bowl and after all those games in Jersey, that's when it hit home.
"If we had won, that would have been the culmination," Paturzo says. "To see him there calling the plays, going back and forth, his mind going a million miles an hour. A guy who went through the ranks calling plays in the Super Bowl. It doesn't get any better than that."
But if there's no Denino's coming to the hotel, Anarumo is certainly treating this one like the Super Bowl.
"I always remember driving by that stadium as a kid and wishing so badly I could be a part of it in some way," says Anarumo, who is looking it right in the eyeballs.