Especially in the meeting room, where Parcells would regularly humble Weis with withering sarcasm. "Charlie was the whipping boy," says Parcells. "I was the whipping boy once, Belichick was the whipping boy once. Everybody gets to be the whipping boy."
Yet it was a perfect environment in which to learn the game. "From the beginning he could keep a lot of balls in the air," says Belichick. "He was breaking down film for me, for Romeo, for [special teams coach] Mike Sweatman. He's a really smart guy--you could see that from Day One."
The Giants won Parcells's second Super Bowl in January 1991, and barely a month later Weis met his future wife, Maura, at a pub on the Jersey shore. They were married that summer and now have two children: Charlie, 11, and Hannah, 10. (Hannah is globally developmentally delayed, meaning that her motor, social and speech abilities have been slow to progress; in 2003 the Weises started Hannah & Friends, a foundation that has raised nearly $600,000 for underprivileged families with special-needs children.)
Between 1990 and 2004 Weis did the NFL's Northeast corridor tour: three years with the Giants, four years with the Patriots, three with the Jets under Parcells and five back in New England as Belichick's coordinator in three Super Bowl wins. "He has a knack for calling plays, for timing and setting things up," says Belichick of Weis. The Patriots' coach remembers two games in particular: Super Bowl XXXVIII, in which Weis orchestrated the game-winning drive, and January's divisional playoff victory over Indianapolis. "In the Indianapolis game, Charlie was really efficient in terms of keeping our offense on the field and theirs off the field," Belichick says.
Both of those games came after Weis almost died in the summer of 2002. With roughly 340 pounds on his 6'1" frame, he decided to undergo gastric bypass surgery. It was widely reported that he did it to improve his appearance and thereby boost his chances of a head-coaching job. "My father had a heart attack at 51 and died at 56--that's what scared me," says Weis. "Was I concerned with my appearance? Yeah, but I was also concerned with being a fat slob, dropping dead and leaving my wife with two kids, one with special needs."
His wife felt the surgery was impulsive and unnecessary. "It was typical Charlie," says Maura. "He decided to do it, and two weeks later he had the surgery.''
After the surgery Weis was hospitalized for a month with complications from severe internal bleeding. Yet he recovered in time for the Patriots' training camp, where he used a wheelchair and a motorized scooter to get around. He took practice tapes home at night, and quarterback Tom Brady visited every evening after practice. Three years later Weis is down to about 255 pounds, but he has no feeling in the lower part of his right leg and walks with a noticeable limp. He has filed suit against Massachusetts General Hospital.
"I probably should have died," he says, and then pauses for effect and raises his eyebrows. "But I didn't."
Weis may or may not be the right person to lead Notre Dame back to the elite. But he is arriving at a time when some long-standing obstacles to that goal are falling. Willingham and his predecessor, Bob Davie (and even Lou Holtz in his later days in South Bend), were bedeviled by the three-headed monster of substandard facilities, unrealistically difficult scheduling and often too-exacting admissions standards. Glacially, Notre Dame has addressed these issues.
Late this summer the school will unveil the $22 million Guglielmino Athletics Center, a sprawling network of football offices and meeting rooms, along with a recruiting lounge and a 25,000-square-foot conditioning center, which is already in use. The complex brings Notre Dame squarely alongside schools like Oklahoma and Texas in the arms race to attract recruits and make them play better. "I hope it's not a palace," says Jenkins, sheepishly. Well, it's a palace. And it was long overdue for a football program that aspires to greatness.