By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns
Frank Gifford adored him.
Sam Huff couldn’t stand him.
Giants fans loved him as much as Gifford did, then hated him as much as Huff did.
Of all the coaches the Giants have hired over the last 55 years, none have approached the complex career of Allie Sherman, who died over the weekend at age 91.
Sherman was the only viable successor left on the coaching staff when Jim Lee Howell stepped down after the 1960 season, one year after defensive assistant Tom Landry left for Dallas and two years after offensive assistant Vince Lombardi began to forge his legend in Green Bay. But the fans who had filled Yankee Stadium during the glory years of the mid-1950s came to love him as the offensive genius who led the Giants to three straight championship-game appearances between 1961 and ’63.
They were exciting times, all right. The offense he created around slinger Y.A. Tittle set franchise records that stand today — 36 passing touchdowns and 448 points scored, both in 1963. They lost to Green Bay twice and the Bears once in championship games, and Sherman became the first coach ever to win Coach of the Year honors in consecutive seasons (1961 and ‘62).
“Allie was a friend of mine,” said Hall of Fame running back Gifford, whose last two of his five championship-game appearances came in ’62 and ’63. “There were a lot of times after practices when we were in Yankee Stadium, and he would come over if I wasn’t looking like I was happy. He wanted to know what was wrong. He’d pull up a stool and we’d talk.”
Then came the fall, a hard one that would end for Sherman in the preseason of 1969 with fans chanting a cruel, “Good-bye Allie! Good-bye Allie! Good-bye Allie! We hate to see you go!”
Huff, who never got along with a coach who knew everything there was to know about offense but precious little about defense, was traded to Washington after the ’63 season.
As we see today, all the good he did his first three years at the helm came undone in a series of bad personnel moves. It didn’t help that Huff and Sherman had warred since Day 1 over the coach’s tinkering with Landry’s tried and true defensive techniques. But when Huff found out while sitting in Ed and Dick Modzelewski’s restaurant in Cleveland that he’d been packed off to Washington, his hatred of Sherman grew ever more intense.
He never forgave the man. As the aging Sherman grew frail well past the millennium, Huff’s hatred remained white-hot.
“I know he’s sick,” Huff said in a magazine article in 2011. “I know he’s not in good shape. But I hate the guy. Always will, till the day he dies.”
Unbeknownst to anyone at the time, that trade began a 17-year tailspin. Only three above-.500 seasons and a handful of 7-7s interrupted the losing. The Giants wouldn’t taste the playoffs again until Ray Perkins in 1981.
Sherman went 24-43-3 his last five years after going 33-8-1 his first three. What went unnoticed were his contributions during the losing. He made ex-Giants Em Tunnell and Rosie Brown the NFL’s first African-American assistants in 1965 and ‘66. He entertained media questions during the week and, breaking with a bunker mentality that exists to this day, allowed reporters to view a portion of the game film to better grasp his strategy.
After his firing, which Wellington Mara claimed had as much to do with saving the exacting coach from a nervous breakdown as it did the good of the franchise, Sherman became one of the first coaches to go into TV. He was nothing short of professorial in his analysis. And he remained that way years after he left the air. He turned his personal interviews into a combination journey through offensive history and primer for successful execution.
He remained close with his old team, the only one he ever led.
“Allie was a great coach and an even better man,” co-owner John Mara said Tuesday. “He was a special friend, and I will miss him dearly.”
For a man who heard the derisive chant of angry fans, who attracted the undying hatred of one of the Giants’ greatest defensive players, Sherman deserves to be remembered for more.
He did the franchise a lot of good, too. The excitement level around Yankee Stadium during the Tittle years was something that has rarely been equaled.
“He wanted to succeed and he did,” Gifford said. “He did a great job as far as I’m concerned.”
You May Also Be Interested In These Stories
[display-posts category=”sports” wrapper=”ul” posts_per_page=”4″]