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Savoring the moment

Herm Edwards is overjoyed for Bucs and ex-coach on other sideline.

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By HUBERT MIZELL

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 18, 2000


TAMPA -- Herm Edwards loves Dick Vermeil. Tony Dungy's top coaching assistant was an Eagles defensive back for 51/2 seasons (1977-82), playing for the NFL weeping wonder who, at 63, is flourishing as born-again coach of the St. Louis Rams.

"Tony, the night before a Bucs game, talks with our players a max of five minutes," Edwards said. "But with Vermeil, it was always a dissertation. An hour or more.

"Back in Philadelphia, a bunch of us Eagles players would gather at the rear of Saturday night's meeting room. We would bet pie a la modes on whether Dick would become so passionate that he cried."

Edwards saw Vermeil's tears as strength, not weakness. "With him, it's so genuine," said the lean, fiery man who coaches Tampa Bay's secondary. "Dick deeply cares for players. Always honest with them.

"So many Vermeil qualities are precisely those of Dungy. Both are so thorough, consistent, loyal and conscientious. But, of course, with one big difference: Dick being far more prone to cry."

Herm laughed.

Loves them both.

Edwards, at 45, with fluid emotions of his own, told of the midseason morning in October 1982 when Vermeil, the father of coaching burnout, surrendered from the Eagles.

"Dick walked into our locker room and hugged me," Herm recalled. "He said, "It's going to be okay.' We'd become close. Vermeil was exhausted. He'd given every ounce of mental and physical energy, but our record was 3-6. We players were sad yet happy for Dick. He needed to get away."

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Vermeil was 46.

His hiatus would last 141/2 years. Dick stuck around the NFL, making an easy living as a network TV analyst. He seemed comfortable, sitting beside Brent Musburger in a broadcast booth. Vermeil's blood pressure abated. He seemed at peace.

Edwards knew different.

"Nothing delivers professional satisfaction like winning the ultimate championship," he said. "Dick had come so close, getting the Eagles to a Super Bowl before losing to Oakland after the 1980 season."

Herm became a Philly rookie in 1977. "Vermeil, while coaching at UCLA, tried to recruit me in 1974," he said. "I instead went to Cal. Three seasons later, I got bypassed in the NFL draft and was eager for a free-agent opportunity."

Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula, along with personnel director Bobby Beathard, wanted Edwards. "I told them I needed time to think," Herm said. "I flew home to California, but (Eagles assistant coach) Carl Peterson was waiting for me at the L.A. airport.

"He talked me into immediately boarding another flight, a red-eye to Philadelphia, where Vermeil was waiting. Dick said, "I'm going to get you this time.' I signed. An opportunity that has become a 23-year career."

In his second season, Edwards scooped an infamous fumble by Giants quarterback Joe Pisarcik on Nov. 29, 1978, returning it 26 yards for a touchdown to beat New York 19-17 in what became known as "The Miracle at the Meadowlands."

Edwards played for Eagles who lost 24-17 to the 1979 Bucs in the NFC playoffs. "We couldn't stop their running game, especially the late Ricky Bell," he said. "Tampa Bay got us down 17-0, and we were headed for a depressing plane ride back to Philly."

A year later, the Eagles were 12-4 and Vermeil coached them to Super Bowl XV. "Jim Plunkett had a fabulous game at quarterback," Edwards said. "We couldn't handle the Raiders.

"Dick had come so close. He drove himself even harder to win the championship. We players saw how it was eating him. Seldom going home to rest. Draining himself until the day when he quit.

"It stuck in Vermeil's craw, through all those years as a broadcaster. He silently hungered for another chance. An old passion chewed at Dick. But when the Rams' offer came in 1997, a lot of old friends wondered if it was a good idea.

"I talked with Dick, asking him, "Hey, pal, you really sure you want to do this?' It didn't worry me that the game of football had passed him by. I wondered how Vermeil might relate to today's athletes, who had evolved quite a lot since 1982.

"Vermeil built the Eagles around fellows who absolutely loved to play. Getting paid for it was a bonus. Players can be different now. But, clearly, the Vermeil style, so honest and so passionate, is working beautifully in St. Louis."

Edwards can't wait until Sunday. He knows old buddy Vermeil will do everything possible to scorch Herm's defensive backs from Tampa Bay, using a 21st-century offense abundant with speed and skills.

"It couldn't be better," Edwards said. "Working with Tony Dungy, going into the NFC Championship game against my longtime buddy. Before kickoff, I look forward to embracing Dick. It will be emotional. I'll probably cry. You know he will.

"It can be a small world."

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