Spy games

The Baltimore Sun

Now that Matt Walsh has finally told his story, I feel that the right thing to do is to come clean about something.

I was once a suspected NFL spy. At least, I figure that's why New York Giants coach Bill Parcells threw me out of practice at the Meadowlands nearly 18 years ago and sent word through a team emissary that I was never to darken the doorstep of Giants Stadium again.

But I have an excuse. I misinterpreted the rules.

I was working for a Philadelphia newspaper, and the Eagles and Giants were preparing for a game in November 1990. I was dispatched to North Jersey to cover the Giants. Earlier in the day, I had already annoyed Parcells with a question involving Dave Meggett's blitz pickups, fumbling or some similar minutiae.

Sometime during the afternoon, most of the writers in the stadium press room started heading out to practice. So I did the same.

It was mentioned that visiting writers weren't supposed to watch practice, but I figured if I got out there and they sent me away, so be it. I was wearing a baseball cap with my paper's name on it so I wasn't being surreptitious.

Practice was at an enclosed field built in the parking lot, if I recall correctly, and the security guard waved me through. I was standing next to Giants general manager George Young, who was sitting in a lawn chair.

I was barely paying attention to the field because Young and I were discussing a mutual favorite book, William Manchester's American Caesar, about Gen. Douglas MacArthur. I did notice that a player on the Giants' scout team was wearing a red jersey cover with No. 41, so I figured a New York defensive read was the movements of the Eagles' No. 41, Keith Byars. Big deal.

Right about then, Parcells' whistle went off like a firehouse siren and he yelled in my direction: "YOU! What are YOU doing here!"

Parcells disengaged himself from practice and walked toward me.

"Just watching practice, Coach - like the other guys," I said.

Young was chuckling slyly like Sydney Greenstreet.

"Those other guys are from here," Parcells yelled, continuing his march to the sideline.

I got the point. The New York writers could be trusted, but I might carry back secrets to Eagles coach Buddy Ryan.

I was insulted. Scared witless by the advancing Big Tuna. But insulted.

Perhaps thinking everyone would be punished with banishment for my sin, one of the New York-area writers (I won't name names) piped up, "We told him he wasn't supposed to be here."

Even more infuriated, Parcells ordered me out.

Chastened, I hurried back to the press room. Later, when I went to the Giants' locker room for post-practice interviews, I discovered security had been alerted.

Someone from the front office also told me Parcells had decreed I could never come back to Giants Stadium, even for games.

So, I waited for Parcells. Finally, he emerged from the locker room. I gave him a song-and-dance about just doing my job, that like any other writer I honored the implied secrecy of practices, and hey, I was wearing that ball cap identifying my paper so I wasn't being a sneak.

Parcells rolled his eyes, gave me a short lecture and lifted the lifetime ban.

Actually, he was pretty nice about it. Much nicer than Jimmy Johnson was when he threw me out of the Dallas Cowboys' locker room a few months later. But that's another story.


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