Alden Gonzalez, ESPN Staff Writer 326d

John McVay thrilled for grandson, dismissive about 'The Fumble'

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- John McVay laughed when reminded about "The Miracle at the Meadowlands" earlier this week, but not in a warm, inviting kind of way.

He was asked how often it crosses his mind.

"Never," McVay said, "unless somebody brings it up."

It was brought up, delicately, because the Los Angeles Rams, guided by McVay's up-and-coming grandson, are in town to play the New York Giants on Sunday. McVay carved out a legacy as a front-office executive with the San Francisco 49ers, teaming with Bill Walsh to build what became a dynasty through the 1980s and 1990s.

But prior to that -- and long before the 49ers named their draft room after him -- McVay was the Giants' head coach for 2½ seasons. He remembered how the Giants finally got off to a good start to begin his second full season in 1978, winning five of their first eight games. But they ran into a three-game losing streak, then hosted the division-rival Philadelphia Eagles at Giants Stadium on Nov. 19.

The Giants were on their way to a win, needing only to let the clock run out on third down. But instead, they ran a play. Giants quarterback Joe Pisarcik bobbled the snap, which led to a fumble while he was trying to hand the football off to fullback Larry Csonka. Herm Edwards, now an ESPN analyst, picked it up and sprinted 26 yards for the winning score. Giants offensive coordinator Bob Gibson was fired the next morning, and McVay was let go as head coach at the end of the season.

Time -- and success, with his own career and throughout his family -- has pushed the memory of "The Fumble" deep into the background of McVay's thoughts.

"That was a long time ago," McVay, 86, said in a phone conversation from his home near Folsom Lake, located about 30 miles northeast of Sacramento, California. "That’s like saying, ‘Do you remember when you got in a fist fight when you were in the eighth grade and got your butt kicked?’ You kind of dismiss these things from your memory. I have enough to think about right now."

Foremost on McVay's mind is his 31-year-old grandson, Sean McVay, who has guided the Rams to a 5-2 start as the youngest head coach in modern NFL history.

These days, McVay hears about his grandson mostly through his son, Tim. Sean's hours are too intense for John to keep up. Lately, John McVay has been getting people coming through his door with letters for Sean, which he is now charged with getting to him.

"I pick up his fan mail," McVay said, laughing. He hasn't had a chance to see any of Sean's games in person, but, he added, "We have a magic thing called television."

McVay hasn't missed a single game there.

"When I watch them, they’re playing hard," McVay said of his grandson's Rams. "The quarterback is making strides by leaps and bounds. I like their enthusiasm, and they’ve been playing well. They really have."

McVay coached at Michigan State, Dayton and for a team called the Memphis Southmen of the short-lived World Football League before being hired as a Giants assistant in 1976. The man who got him the job, Bill Arnsparger, was fired after an 0-7 start, and McVay took over as head coach.

He went 14-23, suffered through one of the most devastating losses imaginable and never coached again.

The way McVay recovered from that, and almost immediately transitioned into one of the game's most decorated and successful executives, always resonates with his grandson.

"The way my grandfather was able to respond from that tough experience says a lot about him, where you kind of don't blink," Sean McVay said during the offseason. "You show me a successful person, you show me a great leader -- they've been through some adversity, and they've responded in a way that you want to show that mental toughness, that resilient mindset. I think that's what he did."

The Rams, coming off 10 consecutive losing seasons and a 4-12 showing in 2016, have outscored teams by a combined 74 points this season, giving them the NFL's second-best point differential. Their offense, last in the NFL in yards each of the past two years, is averaging the sixth-most points per game. Their defense, led by 70-year-old coordinator Wade Phillips, has allowed the sixth-fewest yards per game over the past four weeks.

John McVay is the one who introduced his grandson to Walsh's renowned book, "The Score Takes Care of Itself," which Sean has read multiple times. McVay calls him "a very intense young man."

"I should call him a kid," McVay said, "but I can't call him a kid."

His biggest piece of advice: Pace yourself.

"I don’t think he does this, but there’s a lot of coaches that sleep in the office for six months," McVay said. "Hopefully he doesn’t do that."

His grandson already has one of the game's brightest offensive minds, but those who know the Rams coach best will tell you that it's his leadership, the way he can rally a group, that makes him special. He already has changed the culture and raised the accountability of the Rams players. They seem to follow his "We Not Me" mantra, and McVay recognizes that.

"It’s as a team and as an organization that they’re moving forward," McVay said. "Right now, they’re hitting on all cylinders, and I think they’re playing well as a team. You don’t hear anything about superstar here, superstar there; nobody complaining about, ‘I didn’t get enough snaps.’ You don’t hear that kind of crap. It's good to see."

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