FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- On Friday night, Teddy Bridgewater takes the next big step in his remarkable recovery from a career-threatening knee injury. He will make his New York Jets debut, his first extensive action since that horrible day two years ago. More than 170 miles north of Met Life Stadium, in the tiny town of Saratoga Springs, New York, one of his biggest fans will be watching on TV, perhaps fighting back his emotions.
Bill Parcells is known for his legendary gruffness, but he reveals his softer side when it comes to Bridgewater. The Hall of Fame coach developed an affinity for Bridgewater when they first met for lunch at a restaurant in Palm Beach, Florida, in 2014, when the quarterback was preparing for the draft as a highly regarded prospect out of Louisville. Since then, Parcells has followed his career closely and he knows exactly what Bridgewater endured to make it back from his freakish and gruesome injury.
"This was a very, very serious injury," Parcells said by phone Wednesday. "It wasn't just, 'Oh, well, he had knee surgery.' Trust me.
"I’m just happy for Teddy. He deserves another chance. He was very close to not ever getting it."
"You can't help but root for him. I'm rooting for him and he knows that."Bill Parcells, on Teddy Bridgewater
On Aug. 30, 2016, Bridgewater dropped back to pass in a noncontact drill at the Minnesota Vikings' training camp and his left leg separated at the knee -- a knee dislocation that caused a complete tear of his ACL. The team was so shaken and horrified that it canceled the rest of practice, which never happens in the NFL.
After a complicated surgery, Bridgewater missed the 2016 season and played only a handful of snaps in a mop-up performance last year. Incredibly, he has had no limitations since signing with the Jets in March. But now the red practice jersey comes off and he will be fair game for the Atlanta Falcons in the preseason opener for both teams. He said it gives him chills to think about his journey over the past two years.
Parcells, too, marvels at his young friend's determination.
"Hey, when you go through these travails and things like that, in the end it’s more satisfying," he said. "When you have to climb that mountain -- and he had a big mountain to climb, this kid. Now he’s back playing. How could you not hope he’s successful? You can't help but root for him. I'm rooting for him and he knows that."
Parcells was introduced to Bridgewater by Abe Elam, one of his former players with the Jets and Dallas Cowboys. Elam lives in South Florida and mentors players entering the NFL. He invited Parcells to sit down with Bridgewater and share his wisdom. Parcells, 76, who winters in Jupiter, Florida, enjoys counseling young players. In fact, he hosted Sam Darnold and Josh Allen for an afternoon at his home a few weeks before the most recent draft.
Parcells was struck by Bridgewater's maturity and winning personality. They stayed in touch over the years, with Parcells checking up on him through Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, one of his coaching proteges. In March, Parcells met Bridgewater for lunch in Jupiter, around the time he signed with the Jets. He believes Bridgewater still has the ability to do special things, if his knee is right.
"Hey, this kid had his team in the NFC [divisional round]," said Parcells, referring to the 2015 wild-card playoff game in which Minnesota's Blair Walsh missed a chip-shot field goal in the final seconds. "If the guy kicks a field goal, he's in it. I'm telling you, he can do things."
Bridgewater is getting a chance to compete for the Jets' starting job, which is amazing when you consider he nearly lost his career. If he doesn't land the job, there's always a chance he could be traded. Either way, it's an amazing story. Whenever he's asked about his comeback, he credits his mother, Rose Murphy, a breast-cancer survivor.
"Her biggest thing was to stay positive because she said that the cancer feeds off of negativity," Bridgewater said. "Watching her remain positive through what she went through gave me this positive mindset and never allow any doubt or any negative thoughts to creep in."
Bridgewater's mother is a big part of his life.
"Do you know why? Because she's the boss," Parcells said with a laugh. "Of course, she inspired him."
The old coach paused. You could almost hear a catch in his throat.
"He's the best kid," he said. "The best kid."