Jim Fassel had a Super Bowl party planned at his Las Vegas home … until his son called two days after the NFC Championship.
“Dad,” John Fassel told him, “I was there for you in your Super Bowl. I want you to be there for me.”
And Jim Fassel says over the phone:
“So I’m comin’.”
John Fassel was on the sidelines when his father was head coach of the New York Football Giants at Super Bowl XXXV, when they lost 34-7 to the Ravens. John Fassel will be on the sidelines at Super Bowl LIII as the Rams’ special teams coordinator when they try to prevent Tom Brady and Bill Belichick from winning their sixth championship together.
“I know you want to be on the 50-yard line about 10 rows up,” the son told the father.
So Jim Fassel will be looking down at his son coaching in the Super Bowl.
When asked what it will be like for him, Jim Fassel breaks down on the phone.
“For him to be there,” he begins, his voice choking, “No. 1 is what type of man he is. The person he is overrides the great coach he is. … I’m sorry to be emotional.”
Jim Fassel is 69. John Fassel, father of three daughters, is 45.
“I think I can capsulize him in one sentence,” Jim Fassel says. “When he graduated from high school, and we were in New Jersey, and I said, ‘John, what do you want for your graduation present?’ He said, ‘I want to go out and spend a week with grandpa.’ My dad [Bud] stopped work, took him to the beach, took him to the Angel games. … They just hung out like best buddies. That just says everything about him. He’s the most unselfish guy I’ve ever met in my life.”
John Fassel was one of three assistants kept by Sean McVay after former head coach Jeff Fisher was fired. He is creative and fearless and an elite special teams coordinator, and Jim Fassel laughs when asked where his second of five children gets his riverboat gambler from. He takes you back to 1995, when he was head coach at Utah.
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“When he was a ballboy for me, he was talking about fake plays,” Jim Fassel said. “‘You can fake a punt here and you can onside kick here and they won’t understand it. That’s who he was.”
Jim Fassel did not let his son play football until high school.
“He just loves coaching like nobody I’ve ever been around,” Jim Fassel says. “When he got named head coach at New Mexico Highlands, I asked him, ‘What is your recruiting budget?’
“‘We don’t have one.’
“How are you gonna recruit?
“‘I bought a pull-behind tent that pops out.’ And he and two of his coaches would sleep in there, and they would park in like a Walmart parking lot. And then in the morning, they’d go to McDonald’s and get something to eat and go on recruiting. They had no money. They had zero money.”
Now “John has always made the best out of not-great circumstances, and I think that’s why people like him,” Jim Fassel said. “Do you know how he got the punter?”
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“He wanted a guy that could throw the football,” Fassel said. “He was a quarterback at Oregon State. He went to [then-head coach] Jeff Fisher and he said, ‘This is the guy I want. Can we tell him that we’ll sign him as a free agent if we can’t draft him?’ And Jeff Fisher said, ‘Yes, tell him that.’ And John recruited him.”
The fond memories of a young boy always wanting to be by his father’s side roll off Jim Fassel’s tongue as if he is reviewing a scrapbook of his life.
“Remember when I made The Guarantee? He called my wife and said, ‘Is Dad OK?’ ” Jim Fassel said. “And she said, ‘You know your dad. He knows what he’s doing.’ ”
Dad had guaranteed the playoffs, and the Giants went to the Super Bowl.
Of course Jim Fassel believes the Rams have the league’s best special teams, and he raves about McVay.
“He’s a positive guy,” Fassel said. “There’s no cussing. He is very calm. Wade Phillips — I worked for Wade, I know Wade, I talk to Wade, and he doesn’t browbeat people and scream at ’em. And John — John’s never had a cuss word in his life. They make it fun and enjoyable, and these guys get excited to play. I think that’s the secret.”
Jim Fassel was asked if he has advice for his son on Super Bowl Sunday.
“I don’t have to tell him anything because I know who he is,” Jim Fassel said. “I don’t care if you’re going to the Super Bowl or the moon. He’s the same guy. He’s not changing.”
They speak every day. Including Game Day.
“He calls me from the stadium, he’s dressed, he’s on the field: ‘Hey dad, how are ya?’ We talk, he says, ‘What time is it there?’ I said, ‘Well, it’s 10 o’clock here.’
“ ‘No, it’s game time! It’s game time!’
“He’s done that without a glitch for 10 years or more.”
The next Game Time call will be the best one of all. Dream day for a dream son. Dream day for a proud father, too.