Football and wine.
No, not the whine that takes place when a referee throws the flag that wipes away the game-tying touchdown. Wine.
On the surface, the two don't appear to have much in common. But this week's A Football Life: Dick Vermeil, a phenomenal documentary which debuts Friday night at 9 PM on NFL Network, shows that football, like wine, is about what's beneath the surface.
The first head coach to guide the Eagles to a Super Bowl appearance grew up in wine country - Calistoga, California to be exact - and was the son of a mechanic, Louis, who taught him about the virtue of hard work. Vermeil now applies the same four principles of success that made him a successful coach into the wine trade as the head of Vermeil Wines - people, patience, passion and - of course - hard work.
Early in his coaching career, Vermeil worked as an assistant at both the college and pro levels before getting the call to be UCLA's head coach in 1974. In 1975, Vermeil guided the Bruins to an 8-2-1 record, the first conference title in 10 years and a berth in the Rose Bowl against No. 1 Ohio State. Instead of allowing his team to enjoy the fruits of its labor, Vermeil put his team through two-a-days leading up to the big game. The team nearly revolted. Vermeil said that if the team quit, he would find students on campus who would work hard to represent the school.
He didn't care about the talent or resources that other teams, like Ohio State, had. Vermeil focused on making what he had better. He knew how to motivate and asked his team what type of story did they want to tell to their kids and grandchildren years later? That they played against Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, or that they won?
The Bruins stunned the Buckeyes and legendary Hall of Fame coach Woody Hayes.
UCLA would have been a popular pick to win the national title the following season, but a call came from the Philadelphia Eagles to be their new head coach. At first, Vermeil, being loyal to his players and coaching staff, wanted to stay, but he was convinced otherwise. Vermeil questioned the quality of the job, knowing how passionate Eagles fans were. Vermeil was told that if it was a good job, someone would already have it. It was up to Vermeil to make it a good job.
Vermeil came to Philadelphia and the players were surprised by the California native's looks and tendency to wear his emotions on his sleeve. Multiple former players in the piece wondered if Vermeil was cut out for the job. But, as former quarterback Ron Jaworski explained, you would be making a huge mistake if you thought Vermeil was soft by any standard.
The Training Camps under Vermeil were pure torture. Vermeil told the players that no one ever drowned in sweat. Vermeil separated the Eagles who wanted to be there from those who were collecting a paycheck.
Vermeil was "as demanding as you can be as a coach, but as compassionate as you can be as a human being," Jaworski recalled.
The Eagles, after Vermeil preached patience and developing the talent in place, won the franchise's first NFC East and NFC championships. Using the Rose Bowl prep as a blueprint for the Super Bowl, Vermeil put his players through two-a-days. This time, it did not work as the Eagles lost to the Raiders in Super Bowl XV.
That loss was a turning point in Vermeil's career. The only way Vermeil knew to get better was by working harder, crafting more hours out of the day. The weight of the loss took its physical and emotional toll on Vermeil. Following the 1982 season, Vermeil stepped down citing burnout as the teams.
"We were hurting for him," Jaworski said.
A Football Life: Dick Vermeil follows the coach's career through his broadcasting days, the second chance to coach in St. Louis, his Super Bowl win and tenure with the Kansas City Chiefs. NFL Films brilliantly married the parallels of two of Vermeil's passions - football and wine - and showed why Vermeil's unique personality and approach produced extraordinary results in different eras of the game.
It's a must-see for fans who want to reminisce about that era of Eagles football. It's a powerful piece for fans, like myself, who have read stories about that time, but didn't get to experience it. With no game this week because of the bye, this is a pretty darn good way to get your Eagles fix.