NEWARK, N.J. –** John Fox was walking to his podium in the interview room following Super Bowl XXXVIII when he wistfully said to no one in particular, "Someday I'm going to win one of these things."
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Eli Manning helps his brother prepare for Super Bowl XLVIII The "things" Fox cited were Super Bowls. That evening he was head coach of a Carolina Panthers team that came up just short against the New England Patriots in a 32-29 loss. That dropped Fox to 0-2 in the Super Bowl; he was the Giants' defensive coordinator when they lost to Baltimore in Super Bowl XXXV.
Ten years after his last opportunity to win a ring, Fox will get another chance on Sunday. He is now the head coach of the Denver Broncos, who will tangle with the Seattle Seahawks Sunday in Super Bowl XLVIII in MetLife Stadium.
In his first Super Bowl, the Giants absorbed a lopsided 34-7 loss to the Ravens. Three years later, Fox, then in his second season as the Panthers' coach, suffered a much different but no less painful defeat when Adam Vinatieri kicked a 41-yard field goal with four seconds remaining in the game. The lesson Fox learned in his first two Super Bowls remains with him.
"I learned it's no fun to lose," Fox said at Super Bowl Media Day in the Prudential Center. "We lost a very close game there. In the other Super Bowl, we weren't successful as well. We're doing everything in our power to change that this time."
This might be his best chance to win a title. He does, after all, have quarterback Peyton Manning leading an offense that scored an NFL-record 606 points this season.
Fox began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at San Diego State in 1978, but his road back to the Super Bowl began in earnest when he joined Jim Fassel's staff in 1997. The previous year, Fox had been the defensive coordinator of the Oakland Raiders, but he resigned prior to the 1996 season and spent several months a consultant for the St. Louis Rams.
In his five seasons in East Rutherford, the Giants twice made the playoffs and won the NFC title in 2000, when their defense was ranked fifth overall and second against the run. The Giants ranked third in the NFL with 230 sacks in that five-year span. Fox coached numerous standout players, including Michael Strahan, Jessie Armstead and Keith Hamilton and his success as coordinator prompted the Panthers to hire him as their head coach.
Fox inherited a team that was 1-15 the season before his arrival and guided it to the Super Bowl in his second season. After nine years in Carolina he moved to Denver and has led the Broncos to the playoffs in each of his three seasons there.
"You kind of are what you've been around and I've been very blessed to be around a lot of tremendous coaches, owners, and general managers," Fox said. "My time with the Giants - to be with Wellington Mara and Robert Tisch to see them basically every day, George Young, Ernie Accorsi - a lot of really good football people that you learn from it, and you watch how they handle different situations. I was very blessed to spend my five years there with some outstanding people.
"I have some fond memories. That championship game back in 2000, I guess it might have been 2001 by then, it was in a completely different stadium. They built a beautiful stadium and we were there earlier this year much like our opponent; they were there a little bit later this season. It's a great organization, tremendous families running the organization. Their head coach (Tom Coughlin) is probably one of the guys I look up to the most in this league. So I've got great memories about the organization. My sons went to school in Wayne, New Jersey and I watched them grow up, so I've got nothing but great memories here."
Fox refuses to say it will mean more to win a championship in a season in which he endured a serious health issue. On Nov. 2, during the Broncos' bye week, Fox collapsed on a golf course near his Charlotte home. He underwent surgery to repair a defective heart valve. After resting in North Carolina for 3½ weeks he returned to Denver the day before Thanksgiving. The Broncos were 3-2 in his absence.
"First and foremost, I am appreciative of this, regardless of any health scares or any of the things I've been through," Fox said. "This is a very hard place to get to. I've been blessed to do it three times, once as an assistant and twice as a head coach. Going back, like any health scare, whether it was your parents or somebody in your family, in this case it was myself, it was a setback. It was a little bit scary for a minute. I really don't think about it much now. The first four days, I thought about it a little bit, because it was like getting hit by a truck. I got better every day just like any player who has been through an injury. I never thought I wouldn't be back once I was going through the process. Fortunately, I had my family and good medical people, and here I am. I really haven't thought about it much, to be honest with you, recently."
Fox was asked how far he has come since his surgery.
"Well, pretty far," he said. "The first thing I say is I'm 150 percent better than I was prior to my surgery. I had what they called aortic stenosis, which is my valve collapsed. So I had the valve the size of a pinhead, and now it's the size of a quarter. I feel better. I feel way healthier than I did nine, 10 weeks ago.
"I think my wife (Robin) would attest to that; she nursed me for four weeks. It was something I was born with, a bicuspid aortic valve. It was something I monitored, actually they found it here when I was working with the Giants in one of our annual physicals. But it was one of those things where it was going to have to get fixed at some point. If it hadn't happened kind of an emergency type of way about nine weeks ago, I'd be looking at having that next week. So I'm glad it's over with. I was very blessed, had a great team of doctors. I was in a familiar surrounding with docs and hospitals that I knew and trusted. I thought it was pretty much like any injury of a player. I was going to be (out) four to five weeks; I made it back a little early, worked hard to get back. Really once that started, I never really gave it a second thought. I had a plan and we executed the plan, and just like I tell players, sometimes setbacks are setups for better things to come."
A coach who had two Super Bowl setbacks can certainly speak on that subject. Now he's back in the area where he restarted his career and will make his third attempt to win a ring in the home stadium in the franchise we once worked for and still holds in high esteem.
"It would be very exciting (to win the first Super Bowl in the metropolitan area)," Fox said. "It would be exciting to win anywhere. This is the epitome of the profession, to be named world champs. Both sides, I'm sure, will be putting all of their best to do that. I spent five great years here. I was very blessed. I worked for a great organization. I'm not knocking any other organization, but I just speak for the one I worked for. Tremendous families, both the Mara family and the Tisch families. Great area, both the New Jersey and the New York side. Very avid fans, very much into their football, regardless of what side they are rooting for. It is very passionate. Much like being in this area, people are passionate just about being here. It would mean a lot. I have a lot of close friends here, neighbors from my Wayne days. It would mean a tremendous amount to win it here."