10-26-2012, 08:12 PM
On October 30, 2002, New York Jets head coach Herman Edwards took the podium for his usual mid-week press conference with the media, perhaps unaware that he was about to unleash the soundbite that would forever define him. Edwards' team was in a bad way, a season was going down the drain, and it was up to the coach to deliver a message. Boy, did he ever. "You PLAY to WIN the GAME" would define Edwards more than anything else -- more than a 10-year career as a defensive back that included a Super Bowl appearance and the fumble recovery that sparked the "Miracle at the Meadowlands," more than a combined eight years as the head coach of the Jets and Kansas City Chiefs, and more than his current position as an analyst for ESPN. "It was said and intended this way, and it wasn't intended for a commercial," Edwards told a Houston radio station in February about the meaning of the phrase. "You have an obligation as a player -- as an athlete at any level -- and it doesn't matter what sport it is. When you sign on, you sign on. You prepare that week to go win. I don't care about your schedule, or how many people got hurt -- it doesn't matter. You owe it to the people in the building and guys in the huddle to prepare yourself to win. That's the most important thing that week. My dad was in the service for 27 years. He used to tell me, 'It's not about tomorrow -- it's about today. What are you going to do today a little bit better than what you did yesterday?' "Don't tell me about tomorrow! I don't want to hear about tomorrow!" Edwards' voice rose in volume and inflection, just as it did at the podium that day a decade ago. Judy Battista of the New York Times was the reporter whose question prompted Herm's most famous soundbite. 10 years ago, Battista was a determined sports reporter for the Times. She's now the NFL writer for the paper, and she remembered that day as if it just happened. "The Jets were 2-5 at the time, and they had just lost to Cleveland. I mean, it was bad. And it was the Wednesday after that game, during his regular press conference. We were asking questions, and my question that sort of set him off was, 'Do you have to talk to your team about not giving up on the season?' And he took it from there," she recalled with a laugh. "I have always wondered, and I've never talked to Herm about this, but how much of it was spontaneous, and how much of it did he come into the room knowing he was going to deliver a message to the team? I don't know how much of that was sort of measured and contemplated before, and how much of it was spontaneously reacting to the question." I asked Battista if this was similar to what former New York Giants head coach Jim Fassel did when he delivered his famous " shoving my chips to the center of the table " speech, and she concurred. Fassel said that in November of 2000, and the Giants went to the Super Bowl that year. "Exactly -- where it was clear that he was coming in with a predetermined message. I assume that he knew he had to deliver some sort of message, and he was waiting for an opening." The quote didn't seem like a big deal at the time -- at least not to the reporters on duty. It was just one more day with a highly quotable coach. "We were just sitting there, and I was a regular beat writer then, so he was interacting with all of us, as he always did. Herm's press conferences were not just Herm standing up there, delivering the address --they were pretty interactive. Honestly, I don't even remember what the next question was; I just remember that the press conference wound up, and we all said, 'Okay -- I guess we have our story today!'" Interestingly enough, Battista didn't even use the famous quote in her story , which ran the next day -- "You PLAY to WIN the GAME!!!" didn't really catch fire until it hit the airwaves, What Battista caught, however, was a coach very much compelled to tell his players that they were not out of the race, no matter how dismal things may have looked at the time.