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Turncoat Priest

By Michael Eisen

Additional photography by Mike Malarkey

One of Bill Parcells' favorite stories, the head coach had become friends with Seton Hall's Rev. Mannion, but the relationship took a turn when he saw him on the field as the Bills' new chaplain.

Everyone has heard about a turncoat. Bill Parcells can tell you about a turnjacket. And it's one of his favorite stories from Super Bowl XXV.

When he was the Giants' head coach from 1983-90, Parcells appeared at several fundraisers for Seton Hall University At one of those dinners, he met Rev. John Joseph Mannion, the school's chaplain, and the two men became friends. Mannion also spent 21 years in a weekend ministry as the chaplain at various times for the Detroit Lions, Los Angeles Rams, the Jets and the Buffalo Bills. But as Parcells said, "deep in his heart, he was really a Giant."

When the Giants met Buffalo in Super Bowl XXV, Mannion was a chaplain for the Bills. He was brought to Buffalo by former coach Chuck Knox, a Parcells confidant who met Mannion when Knox was an assistant with the Jets.

Parcells and Mannion were both on the Tampa Stadium field as the team went through their pregame paces prior to the Super Bowl. Instead of spending a few moments together, Parcells and Mannion had a strange non-meeting.

"Now Father John's there, because he's the Buffalo Bills' team priest," Parcells said. "I'm friends with him, I know him. There he is in warmups. He's got his Buffalo Bills jacket on, and he's on the other end of the field. And he will not look at me. I'm looking at him, I'm standing down there at the 40- or 50-yard line and I'm looking at him. He knows I'm looking, but he's not going to acknowledge me, because he's embarrassed."

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Parcells eventually abandoned his quest to get Father Mannion to react to him and walked to the end of the field where the Giants were warming up.

The Giants, of course, defeated the Bills, 20-19, in one of the most dramatic Super Bowls ever played. Parcells was carried off the field, lifted the Vince Lombardi Trophy on a podium in the locker room, congratulated his players and assistant coaches and fulfilled numerous media obligations.

Perhaps two hours after the game's final play, Parcells was showered and dressed and ready to leave the stadium.

"We win the game and we're on the team bus getting ready to go back to the hotel," Parcells said. "There's Father John standing right in front of my bus window. And he has his Giants jacket on. I get off the bus, go round the front and I said, 'You're nothing but a traitor.'"

Mannion suffered a fatal heart attack while celebrating Mass at a Seton Hall chapel in 1996. Parcells has wonderful memories of his friend.

"Father John Mannion," Parcells said. "He was the best."

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