‘From the Pressbox’
By Ernie Palladino
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A long time ago, in a nation divided by the consequences of Vietnam, Tom Coughlin wrapped himself in the Red, White, and Blue of our flag and never loosened his hold.
By Wednesday night, he had an award to go with that warm blanket of security so many others around the world covet, but find far beyond their grasp.
Coughlin stood among five recipients of the “Outstanding Civilian Service Award,” the Army’s third-highest award for a civilian, for his various activities involving outreach to the military.
As one who has witnessed Coughlin in action as he’s played host to Wounded Warriors at practice, or in joining the USO in a coach’s tour of Iraq in 2009, or in his visits to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, it’s no surprise that Giants fan and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno would have chosen the old coach for an award like this.
What is surprising is how Coughlin came about his love for the military. You see, Coughlin never served in the armed forces. As the country was coming apart — hippies vs. hardhats in 1967, Coughlin was setting a school record for pass receiving in his senior year at Syracuse. But he said he always respected and admired those who made the sacrifices of freedom that allowed him to stay in school.
“It’s always been there,” Coughlin said. “It’s always been a strong belief on my part to be supportive of our military. You have to remember, I was in college during the Vietnam era and I just have great respect for people who make the sacrifices that our armed forces do for the rest of us.“
For all intent and purpose, Coughlin might as well have served, since everything about him speaks of military discipline. His beliefs in precision execution, adaptability, and motivation might well have come out of the West Point playbook of Army life.
Many of his coaches, most notably current Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan, are veterans. It was Sullivan, then the Giants’ wide receivers coach, who introduced Coughlin and his players to a true hero, Lt. Col. Greg Gadson in 2007.
Gadson, a double-amputee thanks to an unfortunate run-in with an IED while on patrol in Iraq, provided much of the motivation for that year’s Super Bowl run. Ever since then, Coughlin has regarded Gadson as an unofficial co-captain.
His demeanor is also militaristic, belying an underlying warmth for those needing a hug more than a kick in the rear end. The speech he made upon his hiring in 2004, calling for a restoration of Giants pride, had all the trappings of the opening of the movie “Patton,” without the American Flag as a backdrop.
The oldest coach in the NFL, soon to be 66, was clearly moved by the award.
“I think it‘s a tremendous honor,” Coughlin said. “I’m very humbled in receiving this honor. I‘ve learned a little more what this honor is over the last week or so. Like I said, it’s very humbling.
“If you think back going all the way back to 9/11 and how that changed the way, I hope, all Americans feel about our armed forces, the changing of the way in which war is conducted, what they do for us on a daily basis so we can work in this great National Football League and all Americans can sleep under the blanket of freedom, it’s a very, very humbling experience.”
He’s felt that way for more than 40 years. With Memorial Day fast approaching, it seemed a fitting honor for someone who serves his country in his own way.