Indulge me and my story about
. During an unguided moment on our TV show this weekend, I was asked for predictions. As if I were shell-shocked from a brutal day in the markets, I blurted, "I worship Dick Vermeil," and
, our unflappable hostess, brought me up short with -- no, not sports -- the market. I then mouthed something about the banks. But in truth my mind was on Vermeil and today's Super Bowl.
Twenty-three years ago Dick Vermeil gave me my first break in professional journalism. It was 1977. I had just graduated from
, where I was president of the Harvard Crimson, but I'd done nothing about getting a job after graduation. I was living at home, writing letters to newspapers and getting rejected by pretty much everyone I applied to.
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At the time Michael Kinsley, the current editor of
and then the editor of
The New Republic,
knew I had nothing cooking in the job world. He called me up at home and said he wanted me to do an article about meritocracy, and asked if I knew of any meritocracy in real life. As a lifelong professional football fan, I knew that Vermeil had taken over the
and had determined to change that franchise's losing ways by bringing the best talent on board.
I mentioned this to Kinsley. He said, what the heck, go see Vermeil and see if he'll let a
reporter into training camp. At the time, getting credentialed was a big deal. Vermeil didn't want a lot of people hanging around his intense sessions. He was determined to make his training camp the most rigorous place on earth, where only the most deserving of players, regardless of previous headlines or claims on greatness, were going to make it.
So, uninvited, I showed up at his training camp in Westchester. I remember climbing over some fence early in the morning before anybody got there, because I didn't have credentials, and then hanging out outside the locker room in a place where I didn't think I'd be spotted. Of course Vermeil showed up first, being Dick Vermeil, and there I was in full Afro, with jeans and a corduroy jacket, notebook in hand, standing next to the most revered man in Philadelphia, in his second year of the Eagles and determined to go to the Super Bowl.
I introduced myself, saying I was working for
The New Republic
and wanted to do an article about how he was bent on assembling a meritocratic team, picking the best athlete in each position, regardless of pedigree.
I think about this now, how downright absurd it was that I was there, that I was there for the
and that I was confronting my biggest hero in some predawn raid on his training camp. I know what I would have done in his position: called security and had me booted back to my mom and dad's place, if not to Chester County jail.
Ah, but Vermeil was and is and will always be special. And he looked at me and he said, "Yep, good idea. I am running that kind of training camp. Come every day and see. And spend as much time as you can with our director of player development, Carl Petersen."
And I'm thinking, "He's kidding. He's giving me
. He must be kidding."
And then he says, "You better send me a bunch of copies because I don't normally read
The New Republic
For the next three weeks I attended every practice. Every time he cut somebody he instructed Petersen to talk to me about it. And when a walk-on, Vince Papale, a high school gym teacher, made the squad, Vermeil set up an interview with Vince and myself in order to show how meritocratic this camp really was.
I wrote the article in October. After it appeared, I got job offers galore and my career was launched. It was my big break. I know we're never supposed to worship anyone in this world, but Dick Vermeil comes as close to somebody worth being thankful to as anyone I'll ever meet. So, even though I was kidding when I told the camera "I worship Dick Vermeil," you gotta believe that I want the
to win today. You see, Vermeil never got that Super Bowl ring in Philadelphia, although that last place team I watched in Westchester won the NFL championship two years later.
Now it's time for Vermeil to get what he always deserved, because not only is he the best coach in the NFL, but he may be one of the nicest guys ever to walk this planet.
Yeah, idols are OK, today. This one day, they're just fine.
James J. Cramer is manager of a hedge fund and co-founder of TheStreet.com. At time of publication, his fund had no positions in any stocks mentioned. His fund often buys and sells securities that are the subject of his columns, both before and after the columns are published, and the positions that his fund takes may change at any time. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. Cramer's writings provide insights into the dynamics of money management and are not a solicitation for transactions. While he cannot provide investment advice or recommendations, he invites you to comment on his column at