for better or worse, “you play to win the game” has come to define the 66-year-old arizona state football head coach. began as a weekly news conference on October 30, 2002, addressing an abysmal squadron of jets. it went from typical conversation to full-blown tirade and eventually became a staple in the vernacular of sports.
“This is the beauty of sports: you play to win the game. hello? you play to win the game. You don’t play just to play it,” Edwards muttered that day. “That’s the good thing about sports. you play to win. ‘you play to win the game’”.
over the years and while edward remained in the spotlight, the sound bite somehow made its way into the public consciousness. When it comes to the New York Jets, people know that Joe Namath made a guarantee, and Herm Edwards, who coached the Jets from 2001 to 2005, told everyone why you play the game.
“there is no situation so dire that it would make jets coach herman edwards swear,” judy battista, former new york times jets reporter, wrote after the press . “but for edwards, ‘quit’ is a four-letter word, and when asked today if there was any risk of the jets giving up as the season neared disaster, he reacted with more anger than he had shown. publicly earlier in his season and a half as head coach.”
if you’ve ever seen the video clip, and it would be really awesome if you didn’t, you read the words of the quote as edwards passionately articulated it that day. your voice goes up an octave as you yell “hello,” as if it were a question. you phrase it like edwards did as if there is a period between each word and your arms swing as you say, “you play. gain. the game.”
and ever since that day, any image of edwards, even now as the arizona state head coach, even though he refuses to utter the quote again, that tirade is the first thing that comes to mind. this is how it all happened and the legacy he has left :
note: some quotes have been edited for length and clarity
ray mickens (jets’ db, 1996-2003): that was herm’s second year. we were trying to get that identity.
rich cimini (former new york daily news jets reporter): the team was falling apart. they just blew up as a 23-3 lead against cleveland at home (on Sunday before the press conference).
barry wilner (new york associate press reporter): that was a talented team, and they shouldn’t have gone 2-5.
cimini: they were a team that was falling apart.
randy lange (ex-jets reporter for the bergen record): part of this may have been that herm was going through a quarterback change at the time. (chad) pennington was drafted in 2000 but didn’t start until 2002, that year. and he didn’t start the season. It was vinny headstrong’s ball for about four games, and early in game four in jacksonville, vinny had trouble, I think he got hurt, and pennington came in, and it was pennington (work).
chad pennington (jets quarterback, 2000-2007): herm took me into the practice room and said, “hey, the ball is in your hands. do not look back.” From that point on, I had confidence in myself, and I knew he had confidence in me to get this where it needed to go.
battista: the season seemed to be in a tailspin.
the press conference
lange: it was a wednesday, and wednesdays in the nfl are usually the big days for the media.
mark cannizzaro (covers the jets for the new york mail): the newsroom for the jets was this little room; it was like a small classroom at hofstra university. it was a facility on the hofstra campus. but our press room was not a very big room.
battista: I just remember that we were all in the press area. it was really small, and the house was full. and took off, that’s for sure.
lange: the press conference was at 11 o’clock, at 11:30 it was over. then we went to the locker room. then we had lunch. then we would see a little practice.
cimini: I was sitting to your left. I think judy was to the right of him. judy used to sit in the same seat, in the first row, but to the right of herm.
cannizzaro: I don’t know why, but I remember that day, the day you play to win the game, I was actually sitting in a chair to the right of her. .
cimini: it was judy battista’s question that sparked her tirade.
battista: I just asked the question. I wasn’t implying that the team would quit, I was just asking, “do you need to protect them so they don’t think the season is over?” and herm just took it from there.
wilner: I was prepared for that question. I think he probably expected it.
lange: turned the volume up to 11, as they say. he had that whole theatrical thing downstairs.
cimini: just got epic.
edwards: You only get one chance. words are powerful you have to make sure you do it right because you don’t take it back… I said what I said. that was the first time I said it, and I’ve never said it since.
“you play to win the game” was just a small part of a much larger tirade from edwards. It started with Battista’s question, and there were follow-ups from Battista, Cannizzaro, and others. With each question, Edwards’ animosity seemed to grow.
in the question that preceded “you play to win the game”, someone asked edwards if he had conveyed his thoughts on giving up his players. “I don’t need to broadcast them. you can stream them today. they know who their coach is, they know they have no choice, ”he replied.
The entire press conference lasted almost half an hour and consisted of more than 30 questions. However, it was the last seven that revolved around resigning and Edwards’ penultimate response that provided one of the most memorable sound bites in NFL history.