Coughlin's Other Side

Rick Murray wishes everyone could see and experience the other side of Tom Coughlin – the only side he knows. The caring, compassionate and supportive friend; the friend Murray partially credits for helping keep himself alive.

You see the 65-year-old Murray has battled the dreaded disease ALS for the past nine years and is still going strong.

"He comes to see me whenever he's in town," Murray told TGI from his Jacksonville home last week. "It means the world to me. I've had ALS for nine years and was supposed to be dead five years ago."

Both Coughlin, the gruff, hard-nosed Giants coach, and Murray, the dedicated and driven fighter, derive motivation from each another.

"He's been such an inspiration to me," Murray said. "The inspiration I give him is a two-way street. His support of me makes me even more determined not to let him down. He makes me fight even harder than I would have."

The Coughlin/Murray friendship dates back to the year 2000, the same year that Coughlin and his family took Murray, his wife and his youngest son on a two-week trip to Ireland.

"It was wonderful," Murray recalled.

Murray's youngest son, Mark, and Coughlin's youngest daughter, Katie, went to high school together. A strong friendship and bond between the fathers formed immediately and has stayed strong even since.

"I'm excited to see him," Coughlin told TGI in anticipation of his Monday night homecoming. "I saw him at the Jay Fund function in May. Usually if I get down there for any length of time I'll figure out a way to get over and see him. He does the email thing about once a week and I get right back to him."

Coughlin gave Murray one of his greatest ever memories at last May's Jay Fund dinner. He surprised his buddy with two seats at the head table and announced he and his wife as the guests of honor. Not only did Murray get to meet such NFL dignitaries as Dick Vermeil, John Fox, Mark Brunell and Eli Manning, but he was the first topic Coughlin covered when he took the microphone. Coughlin announced to the crowd not only how inspirational Murray was to him, but how important and close a friend he was as well.

"I was emotionally overwhelmed and blown away," Murray said. "We sat at the head table with Tom and his wife. When he got up to talk, the first thing he did was recognize me and my wife for like four or five minutes."

Of course theirs is a friendship with football roots. Murray has been perhaps the biggest supporter of his hometown team in its history. He rattles off his own statistics without hesitation.

"There have been 121 games in Alltel Stadium and I've been to 116 of them," he said proudly. "And I've been to 47 of the last 48 in a wheelchair when I was supposed to be dead."

"He's the finest fan in the history of that franchise," Coughlin added. "I don't think he's missed more than a couple games."

That's why Coughlin knew it would be no easy feat to get Murray to don Giants apparel.

"Whenever he comes to my house he gets (ticked) off that all I have is Jaguars stuff on my walls," laughed Murray, who lives about 10 miles from Alltel Stadium.

When Murray finally offered to wear a Giants hat to last Monday night's matchup, Coughlin knew he better not hesitate.

"Three days later, the hat arrived with a nice note from Tom saying he can't wait to see me," Murray said.

Murray, who does a lot of inspirational speaking to other ALS patients, is working on a book for which Coughlin is going to write the foreword. The cover photo? A picture of the two buddies, of course.

Through it all Coughlin and Murray have stayed close. Murray estimated that in addition to their two-week vacation together, he and Coughlin have spent time together on at least 10 to 15 occasions.

"During '03 when he was unemployed he'd come over to see me about once a month," he said. "He was fantastic."

Of course, you couldn't blame Murray for believing that the Jags' firing of Coughlin was the biggest mistake in the history of the franchise.

"Look what he did in Jacksonville," he stated. "He almost single-handedly put the Jaguars on the map."

Like Coughlin, Murray couldn't wait for the game to come. He planned to be on the sideline and meet up with Coughlin sometime before kickoff. To say his loyalties were divided would be an understatement.

"I'll probably be the only guy on the Jaguars sideline wearing a New York hat," Murray laughed. "I hope the game goes into overtime and nobody scores. I'll be glad in a way once the game's over because I'm tired of answering questions about who I'm going to root for. This will be the first time in 12 years that if the Jaguars lose I won't be disappointed."

With a friend like Coughlin, Murray has rarely been disappointed. That's why he's so surprised with the negative image that follows Coughlin around.

"He takes a lot of heat for being hard to deal with," Murray said. "People really don't appreciate all that he does off the field for people."

At the end of the 30-minute interview, which was a struggle at times for Murray, I thanked him much for his insight and time.

"No, thank you," he replied. "I appreciate the offer to say good things about my buddy."

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