It was Jan. 25, 1981, and Gainesville resident Chuck Clausen was coaching in the Super Bowl.
As the defensive coordinator of the Philadelphia Eagles, he had helped lead his team to 12 wins in the regular season, and they were favored by three points against the Oakland Raiders on the sport’s biggest stage.
“I coached a big part of my life in big stadiums,” Clausen said on Thursday. “But walking into that stadium for the Super Bowl — it was awesome. I looked up and was overwhelmed.”
That’s the feeling that awaits both the New York Giants and the New England Patriots in tonight’s big game, despite the fact that both teams played in it just four years ago.
And while Clausen won’t be caught up in the drama as he was back then, his role in giving one of the coaches their start in the NFL certainly gives him a vested interest in the game.
Three years after the Eagles’ trip to the Super Bowl, they were looking for a new receivers coach.
“We wanted someone who could teach,” Clausen said. “We didn’t want someone that could just go out and play catch with the guys. We needed a teacher. So (head coach) Marion (Campbell) told me to go out and see what I could find, and I kept coming up with this name: Tom Coughlin, quarterbacks coach, Boston College. I told Marion about him, and I guess the rest is history.”
Now, Coughlin will attempt to enter elite status as a coach by winning his second Super Bowl championship.
Based on his time working with Coughlin, Clausen said that it’s no surprise.
“Everyone always asks if I feel something special for being the guy that gave Tom his first pro job,” Clausen said. “Listen, if we didn’t do it, someone else would have. He’s that good.
“He’s got some very good qualities that help him coach. He’s disciplined. He watches what he eats; he runs every day. I think that helps him as a coach.”
And for Clausen, even though the title wouldn’t be his, it would still be something to hang his hat on.
His Eagles came up short in their pursuit of a title. Despite defeating the Raiders twice — once in the preseason and once in the regular season — they fell 27-10 in the game that mattered most.
“In retrospect, I think we just thought that since we’d already beaten them twice, we could just win again,” he said with a laugh. “But you forget how hard it was to win the other two. I think that might have been one of the poorer games I’ve coached.”
Clausen said that, after the game, he knew exactly how he’d approach it the next time the team got there. But the opportunity never came. He spent 15 years as a coach at the professional level, and that was his only shot at a Super Bowl.
“You don’t really consider the fact that that might be your only chance,” he said.
But now, three decades later, the game is little more than one of a long list of stories from the former coach’s days in the NFL.
He wears his NFC Championship like a badge of honor, proud to say that he is one of the few lucky enough to have made it to the final week of an NFL season.
“I don’t know the scores or anything (from that year),” he said. “But I do know this: We went to the Super Bowl, and the other teams didn’t.
“You hate to lose the game, but you know what? That’s the way it is. It was the Super Bowl. There were (26) teams that didn’t get there. We got there and lost, but we got there.”
He refrained from giving a prediction on tonight’s game, but said that, emotionally, he would have to side with the Giants because of his time coaching with Coughlin.
But, no matter the result, he stressed how proud each team should feel to have a shot at a title as he did.
“I coached in the league for (15) seasons,” he said. “Most players and coaches I was with never got a chance at a Super Bowl. It’s a rare opportunity.”