Common suffering and Vermeil's loyalty kept the staff from rebelling. But after the 1981 season, offensive coordinator Ed Hughes left, telling friends he feared a heart attack.
By Vermeil's second year, the outmanned Eagles were coming within a touchdown of far superior teams. But already Carol Vermeil could see the sprint dehydrating her husband. At last she and Eagles general manager Jim Murray persuaded him to visit the team psychiatrist. Vermeil entered the house a few hours later, his jaw set.
"Well?" said Carol.
"It would take me a week," said Dick, "to straighten the guy out."
7. BECOME HEAD COACH OF A SUPER BOWL TEAM!
BY THE THIRD SEASON, VERMEIL WAS UPI'S NFC Coach of the Year and the Eagles made the playoffs as a wild-card team. He buried his head on Tose's shoulder in the locker room and sobbed after the game that sewed up the playoff berth. He hijacked cornerback Herman Edwards's Super Fly hat at the team party, put it on and danced.
He opened Christmas presents a week late at home so there would be no disturbing his preparation for his first playoff game. His team lost. "If I described what it felt like inside me to lose," he says, "you would write me off as a lunatic. They'd call me one-dimensional, but when I lost, it was the only dimension that people evaluated."
But the Eagles were winners now, and winning only made the tension worse. He set curfews for himself and broke them. He canceled vacations. He gulped coffee for breakfast, ate a Carnation Breakfast Bar for lunch and sometimes had a hoagie, while sitting on the toilet, for dinner. He'd try sleeping pills or hot chocolate or a glass of wine to get to sleep, and still he'd awaken wondering what Shula and Landry and Noll were doing. When he went home, his mind did not, and once dinner ended he'd plug himself into stereo headphones and a Neil Diamond tape and collapse on the couch. He lectured his players that their families were their No. 1 priority.
His sense of responsibility was overwhelming him. He personally redid an entire section of the playbook after an assistant coach drew the circles and squares representing offensive and defensive players freehand, instead of tracing them with a stencil. He accommodated virtually every media and charity request, speaking at up to 50 functions a year. He became frightened—but only for a moment—when long spasms shot through him as he gaped at films. On occasion he seemed to be asking for release from something he could not control. "Sometimes I wish Leonard Tose would fire me," he said.
Because Vermeil heaped so much blame on himself for everything that went wrong, criticism was more than he could bear. "He put on this air as this tough little French sonofagun," says Peterson, by that time his personnel director, "but underneath it he was more sensitive than anybody knew."