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Dick Nolan 1932--2007
November 19, 2007
GOTHAM FANS are a notoriously fickle bunch, so it says something that when Camel cigarettes was looking for a New York athlete to put on a Times Square billboard in the early 1960s, it chose Dick Nolan, a Giants defensive back who was not flashy but who personified diligence and determination. "He made himself into not just a good player, he was an extraordinary player," former teammate Frank Gifford told the New York Daily News earlier this year. "He didn't have the physical talent to do it all. He just willed himself. He was tough—as good as there comes in that respect."
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November 19, 2007

Dick Nolan 1932--2007

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GOTHAM FANS are a notoriously fickle bunch, so it says something that when Camel cigarettes was looking for a New York athlete to put on a Times Square billboard in the early 1960s, it chose Dick Nolan, a Giants defensive back who was not flashy but who personified diligence and determination. "He made himself into not just a good player, he was an extraordinary player," former teammate Frank Gifford told the New York Daily News earlier this year. "He didn't have the physical talent to do it all. He just willed himself. He was tough—as good as there comes in that respect."

It's a clich� to say that a player is a "coach on the field," but with Nolan, who died last week at age 75, that was literally the case. In 1962 he was traded to Dallas ( Roger Maris took his place on the Camel billboard), where former teammate Tom Landry used him as a player-coach. Injuries forced Nolan to stop playing midway through the season; the secondary's loss was the coaching staff's gain. Nolan took over the defense and molded it into a unit that for years would remain one of the league's stingiest. In 1968, when he was 35, Nolan was hired away to be head coach of the 49ers, a wide-open team that filled the air with footballs but seldom won. Nolan didn't try to remold the team into the Cowboys West; he played to its strengths, getting quarterback John Brodie better receivers, and the team won three straight division titles (before losing in the playoffs each time to Landry). Nolan later led the Saints to their first nonlosing record (8--8 in '79) and returned to the Cowboys as an assistant in the '80s.

Nolan's son Mike, predictably, was described by his college coach, Oregon's Rich Brooks, as being "a coach on the field." When Mike was hired as the 49ers' coach in 2005, he successfully petitioned the NFL to let him wear a suit on the sidelines as his father had. "My father always projected an image of authority," said Mike, "and I wanted to honor him—the way he lived his life and his whole career as a coach."

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