When I was growing up, “Coach” was always a huge part of my life.
“Coach is the one who gave me the shot,” my dad would say, referring to 1976 when Dick Vermeil became the new head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. As a rookie NFL head coach, Vermeil decided to hold an open tryout and signed a 30-year-old school teacher who didn’t play college foot-ball, Vince Papale. What started out as a publicity stunt ended in a 2006 Walt Disney movie called “Invincible,” starring Mark Wahlberg.
What Dick Vermeil did with the Eagles organization was just the beginning of the impact he would have on the NFL world. During his NFL head coaching career, Vermeil took major risks that set up three losing teams for greatness. In 1980 he led the Eagles to their first Super Bowl, in 1999 led the St. Louis Rams to their first Super Bowl victory, and he is a two-time winner of NFL’s Coach of the Year Award. Seventeen years later, he can add a new title: Pro Football Hall of Famer.
His accolades as a coach are only part of the reason Vermeil is one of 362 people in the Hall of Fame, of which he has coached 15 and worked with five. Aside from his tough coaching style and humility, he is also known for his infectious smile and emotional side. It was almost expected that he would cry during a big press conference, speech, or after a big win. You know what they say … he’s an emotional Italian!
I had the opportunity to go with my family to the 2022 Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Weekend in Canton, Ohio, which was the birthplace of the NFL in 1920. The festivities began on Aug. 4 with the Hall of Fame game where we had pregame field passes. This was the first time my dad stepped foot on that field since 1978 when the Eagles played the Miami Dolphins. When I asked him what was so special about the weekend, he said,“because this time I get to share it with my family.”
The Gold Jacket dinner the next day allowed the inductees to see their guests before the actual ceremony on Aug. 6. As Coach came through, you couldn’t miss the excitement on his face as he grabbed players from his past. I was lucky enough to catch the moment he saw my dad and embraced him. During the ceremony, each inductee walked through a gauntlet of former hall-of-famers, taking Coach the longest. The impact he had on so many was on display for all to see. Visibly emotional, he was greeted by his wife, Carol, who was like a mother to many of his players. Knowing Coach would probably cry, master of ceremonies Rich Eisen said the moment should be “sponsored by Kleenex,” getting a loud laugh from the audience.
Saturday was the official enshrinement where the eight inductees were presented their busts and gave a speech. Showing how beloved he truly is, Coach received the loudest applause of all inductees, and his entire speech was paying homage to the coaches and players who got him up to that podium. Following the event, there was a private party for all of his guests where nearly 100 former players that showed up in support. He insisted on taking photos with every team he coached and during the Eagles alumni photo, the players broke out into the fight song. The love, respect and pride these men continue to show their former coach is enough to give you chills.
Like any true Italian, Coach is a true lover of wine. His passion for football turned into a passion for wine when he created the Napa Valley-based Vermeil Wines. With eleven different wines that can be bought on their website, I can confirm his Cabernet Sauvgnon tastes better than Caymus.
The best part of this once-in-a-lifetime experience (aside from drinking all his wine) was getting to see a glimpse into my dad’s playing days with his old teammates. It is something my mom, Janet, brother, Vinny, and I will cherish forever. I doubt when Vermeil took that chance in 1976 he knew the impact he would be making on one man, let alone his entire family for generations to come. One thing he continuously preached was the importance of family, and I was so proud to be there with mine.