No one on the Giants can match Michael Pope's championship heritage.
This is the franchise's fifth Super Bowl and Pope, the team's tight ends coach, has been on the coaching staff for every one of them. He alone has the distinction. Pope also was a New England assistant on Bill Parcells' staff when the Patriots lost to Green Bay in Super Bowl XXXI.
Pope will try to win his fourth Super Bowl ring on Sunday when the Giants face the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI. He also has two NFC Championships. That is an impressive collection of football jewelry few can match. But Pope spends no time admiring it.
"I never look at the rings," Pope said this week. "They're in a safe deposit box. I don't wear them. That's old news. I'm proud to have been a part of it. But those rings to be don't represent anything I've done. What they represent is what we did putting the team together, and how hard and difficult it is."
Pope first joined the Giants in 1983 – Parcells' first year as head coach – as an assistant special teams and defensive backs coach. He became the tight ends coach the following year and has been instructing that position ever since. Pope is widely regarded as the NFL's finest tight ends coach. Five of his players were selected to the Pro Bowl - Five of his players have been selected to the Pro Bowl – Mark Bavaro and Jeremy Shockey of the Giants, Rodney Holman (Bengals), Ben Coates (Patriots) and Stephen Alexander (Redskins). Pope's players have made the NFL's all-rookie team five times, including four Giants - Zeke Mowatt (1983), Bavaro (1985), Howard Cross (1989) and Shockey (2002), plus Cincinnati's Tony McGee in 1993. Pope has also been instrumental in the development of Kevin Boss, Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum.
He'd rather work with players than admire his rings.
"The reward comes from being able to watch those guys whether it, was Jake Ballard or whether it goes back to Zeke Mowatt way back when, or Mark Bavaro," Pope said. "That to me is what you remember. You can buy a ring if you want to and make it look like a Super Bowl ring. That's no big deal. It's what the ring represents. I don't need to wear those. I have the rewards of those friendships and the relationships with those players. That's much more important to me."
Pope was with the Giants when they won Super Bowls XXI and XXV. After stints with Cincinnati, New England (including another Super Bowl) and Washington, he returned to the Giants in 2000, the season they lost to Baltimore in Super Bowl XXXV. When Tom Coughlin became the Giants' head coach and began assembling his staff in January 2004, Pope was the only position coach he retained from the previous regime. They were both rewarded with a victory in Super Bowl XLII and they have a chance to win another championship Sunday.
"Every one of those teams was difficult to get to the Super Bowl," Pope said. "I always felt that the team that didn't win the Super Bowl that had the most talent was our team at New England and Brett Favre and the guys beat us in New Orleans in the 1996 season. That was disappointing; I thought we should have won the game because I thought we had the best team. And we didn't that day and all that matters is how you play on that day. We had a real good team when I was at the Redskins (in 1999), but we didn't get to the Super Bowl. We lost to Tampa Bay in the second round of the playoffs down there and I thought that team had capabilities."
Pope, frankly, did not have the same opinion of the Giants team that lost to the Ravens.
"Once you've done this a little bit, you can see the matchups and whether you should really have a chance or not," Pope said. "In 2000, when we played the Ravens, I knew it was going to be a major upset because their defense was so good. And our offense – we lit Minnesota up two weeks before (in a 41-0 victory in the NFC Championship Game) because they played a lot of zone defense and Kerry Collins lit the place up. But the Ravens blitzed every down, so we didn't have time to throw a three-step drop. It wasn't anybody's fault. We couldn't block them all. It's always about the matchups."
Pope believes the Giants match up well against the Patriots and he expects a close game, perhaps similar to the team's 24-20 victory in New England on Nov. 6. These aren't just hunches. Pope is finishing his 29th consecutive season as an NFL assistant coach. He will celebrate his 70th birthday next month, but retirement is as far from his mind as it is from Coughlin's.
"I love it," he said of coaching. "I can't do anything else. I don't know how to do anything else. I don't want to do anything else. I still have lots of energy. Developing these players – when you look at yourself in the mirror when you shave in the morning, you can't say it's keeping you young, because the guy you're looking at in the mirror doesn't look that young. In your heart and your mind it does.