Jim Fassel, head coach who led Giants to Super Bowl, dies at 71

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Giants head coach Jim Fassel
Giants head coach Jim Fassel

Jim Fassel, one of just three coaches to lead the Giants to a Super Bowl and a man who made one of the most famous guarantees in New York sports history, has died at the age of 71.

Fassel died of a heart attack while under sedation at a hospital in Las Vegas on Monday, his son John told the Los Angeles Times. He had been experiencing chest pains earlier in the day, according to the Times.

Fassel coached the Giants from 1997-2003, and was the NFL Coach of the Year in 1997 when he led the Giants to a 10-5-1 record and the NFC East title. He went 58-53-1 in seven seasons with the Giants, taking them to the playoffs three times. But his most memorable season came in 2000, when he led the Giants all the way to Super Bowl XXXV.

The Giants started 7-2 that year, but began struggling in November with two ugly losses. His response to that became his signature moment when, on Nov. 22, 2000, he began his regular Wednesday press conference by vowing “This team is going to the playoffs.”

“If you’ve got the crosshairs, you’ve got the lasers, you could put it right on my chest,” he said. “I’ll take full responsibility. I’m raising the stakes right now. This is a poker game, I’m shoving my chips to the middle of the table. I’m raising the ante. Anybody who wants in, get in. Anybody wants out, they can get out. This team is going to the playoffs, OK? This team is going to the playoffs.”

He was right. The Giants won their last five games to finish 12-4, win the NFC East and earn the top seed in the NFC. They also won their first two playoff games, including a rousing, 41-0 win over the Minnesota Vikings at old Giants Stadium in the NFC Championship game.

Unfortunately, their wild run came to an end two weeks later, when Fassel’s Giants lost to the Baltimore Ravens, 34-7, in Super Bowl XXXV in Tampa.

The next season was much more difficult for the Giants since it was played in the shadow of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which took place just hours after they arrived back in New Jersey from their season-opening loss in Denver. Fassel led the Giants’ response, helping to organize a trip to Ground Zero to meet with first responders and to raise money to help them out.

He often said that one of his finest memories as a coach was when the Giants won their first game after 9/11 – an emotional, 13-3 win in Kansas City. Fassel and his coaches wore “FDNY” and “NYPD” hats on the sidelines that day to show their support for first responders.

Fassel got the Giants to the playoffs one more time after that (2002), but the wheels came off in his final season. With two weeks left in what would become a 4-12 season, Fassel met with co-owners Wellington Mara and Bob Tisch and asked them to announce that he would be fired at the end of the season. “I wanted it out of the way so I could get on with coaching these last two games,” he said.

Fassel never got another head coaching job in the NFL after he left the Giants. He joined long-time friend Brian Billick with the Ravens as a senior offensive assistant in 2004, and as their offensive coordinator in 2005-06. Fassel’s final coaching job was in the short-lived United Football League, where he coached the Las Vegas Locomotives from 2009-12, winning back-to-back UFL championships in 2009 and 2010.