Top 100 Irish America's Finest In Sport
"What we talk about is great effort, outstanding preparation, and being the very best that you can be. If you are as good as you can possibly be, the rest of that stuff will take care of itself."
Tom Coughlin, New York Giants coach.
In the following pages we salute all those sporting heroes who are "the best they can be."
Though the 2007 Patriots will be remembered for the perfect team that wasn't, their quarterback still had an incredible season. Not only did Tom Brady win NFL MVP, but the three-time Super Bowl champion threw 50 touchdown passes in an unbeaten 16-0 regular season. In fact his numbers were so ridiculously high all season that it seemed a glorious coronation was inevitable. However, Tom Coughlin, the man on the opposite side of this page, and his team of Giants did not read the script and put an end to such perfect ambitions.
Brady, though, put a brave face on the loss immediately after the Super Bowl, saying, "We had a great year. It's just unfortunate that tonight turned out the way it did."
Though this defeat will take some time to recover from, Brady (whose family traces its Irish roots to counties Cork and Cavan) is only 30, so it is surely only a matter of when, rather than if, he gets his fourth ring.
In the meantime, Brady's popularity has transcended his sport and now he is beginning to rival the likes of David Beckham and Tiger Woods as global sporting icons. The New England Patriots quarterback is now as popular for his actions off the field as he is on the gridiron.
At the end of the 2006 season, Tom Coughlin was being run out of New York by media and fans alike. Twelve months later and the man can almost walk on water. That's what a Super Bowl win will do for a coach, but it was his own transformation as well as how he changed the mindset of his team that was most impressive.
Defensive linchpin Michael Strahan said it best when he remarked, "From more rules and less suggestions to more suggestions and less rules." Once Coughlin relented a little on the rigid discipline that is his trademark, the Giants responded by warming to the man and buying into his plan. Team that up with a quarterback who discovered himself, add a mean defense, and the man born in Waterloo, New York, was the rock upon which the Patriots floundered.
To the victor come the spoils, they say, and going from a one-year last-chance-saloon contract signed at the start of the season, Coughlin can expect a multi-year contract with a serious pay hike when the celebrations die down.
"Every team is beatable, you never know," said Coughlin after his team's improbable win. "The right moment, the right time, every team is beatable." What he failed to mention was that to accomplish that, you need the the right mentality and the right coach. Way to go, Tom.
For fifty years Jack Curran has coached basketball and baseball at Archbishop Molloy High School in Queens, New York. In that time he has coached and mentored thousands of kids in the local community. And not without success either.
Curran and Archbishop Molloy have won the double - the New York City basketball and baseball title in the same year - four times. No other school has even done it once. In fact, with five basketball titles and 17 baseball titles, the Molloy trophy cabinet is pretty full. In terms of wins, in basketball Curran is around the 900 mark and in baseball he is hovering around 1,600.
But coaching was not his first calling. Curran was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers as a pitcher and ended up in the Philadelphia Phillies farm system in the early 50s before a back injury put an end to his playing career. After working as a recreations director, Spalding rep and building material salesman, Curran came across a newspaper ad for a coaching position at Archbishop Molloy. The rest, as they say. . .
During his time, six former Stanners (as the basketball players are named) have gone on to the NBA, but as Curran told The New York Times in an interview recently, "I've been told that the true measure of a coach is the quality of the people he has turned out long after they have left him. In that regard, I think I measure up pretty good."
Carolina Hurricanes center Matt Cullen comes from a family with ice hockey in its blood. Cullen's father was the hockey coach at Moorhead Senior High School (the Minnesota town where Matt grew up and the school he graduated from in 1995). One of his younger brothers, Mark, plays for the Detroit Red Wings and another, Joe, played for the Toronto RoadRunners.
After two years at St. Cloud State University, Cullen was drafted in 1996 to the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. After five and a half years with the Ducks, it was on to Florida and then to the Carolina Hurricanes, where he won the Stanley Cup in 2005. He was then traded to the New York Rangers but returned to Carolina after one season. As we go to press on Feb. 23, Cullen scored twice to help the Hurricanes beat the Washington Capitals, helping Carolina maintain its hold on the Southeast Division lead.