No one will ever consider Bill Parcells a touchy-feely type of guy.
If anything, the two-time Super Bowl-winning coach is known for his fiery, competitive spirit and whose wrath was unleashed on any player, be it a future Hall of Famer or someone on the taxi squad, whenever he believed it was warranted.
Yet if you ever want to see the soft side of Parcells, just mention John Tuggle and the emotion will pour out.
"John Tuggle was a brave kid, a good kid. I liked him very much," said the 77-year-old Parcells who races under the name of August Dawn Farm. "He was an amazing person."
Sadly, the feel-good story took an awful turn during training camp in 1984 when Tuggle was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, beginning what was to be heroic battle against the insidious disease in which the Giants' fullback became a source of inspiration for those who knew him.
"I don't know if I could have done what he did when he had cancer. He never gave up," Parcells said about his former player who died Aug. 30, 1986. "When he was sick, he went surfing a week before he died. He had all of the good qualities and had determination. I admired him a lot and think about him a lot."
Those thoughts were shared by a new generation when ESPN aired a 30 for 30 documentary on Tuggle's life and it led to trainer Chad Brown suggesting to Parcells that he name one of his August Dawn horses after his beloved player.
That opportunity presented itself in 2018 when Parcells attended The Saratoga Sale. On the advice of Robbie Medina, a friend and assistant trainer for Shug McGaughey, he purchased a son of Point of Entry for $160,000 from the James M. Herbener Jr. consignment at the Fasig-Tipton sale, and now bittersweet thoughts will once again come to the fore Aug. 10 when Parcells will watch Tuggle, a 2-year-old colt named after the late NFL player, make his second start in no less of a setting than the $200,000 Grade 2 Saratoga Special Presented by Miller Lite at Saratoga Race Course.
"It's a touching story and getting to know Coach over the last few years, it means a lot to him to have this horse do well," said Jeremiah Englehart, who trains Tuggle. "There's still a soft spot for him."
Only a week ago, McKinzie, named after the late Los Alamitos executive Brad McKinzie, captured the Grade 1 Whitney Stakes to ignite an outpouring of emotions in the winner's circle, and there will surely be similar heartfelt sentiments Saturday should Tuggle make it two wins in as many starts and prevail in the 6 1/2-furlong stakes for 2-year-olds.
"It was nice to see him win his first race and I can only hope he can do it again Saturday," the Hall of Fame coach said.
If Tuggle manages to win the Saratoga Special, it will be for a reason that makes him such a fitting namesake for the tragic NFL player. In morning drills, Tuggle never gave off a hint that he would be one of Englehart's best 2-year-olds, but when he made his debut June 21 in a race taken off the grass at Belmont Park, he went right to the front and scored a touchdown in the form of 1 3/4-length victory.
Bred by R. Keith Long out of the Awesome Again mare Satisfaction, Tuggle rushed to that debut win at five furlongs, but Englehart is confident longer distances will not pose a problem for him—especially after a recent work with stablemate Pat On the Back, a 5-year-old stakes winner with earnings of slightly more than $920,000.
"I think stretching out will be fine and I'm not sure he's all dirt but he has relaxed in his works and closed when you ask," Englehart said. "He had a really good work (Aug. 3, four furlongs in :49.04) for the race. I worked him with Pat on the Back and my goal was to sit him off 'Pat' and it worked out well. Tuggle came to him at the wire and they finished together and galloped out well."
Tuggle is one of seven 2-year-olds in the field of eight who are coming off a maiden win.
Heading the competition is Stronach Stables' Green Light Go, a 3 1/4-length winner of his July 4 career debut at Belmont Park, Joseph W. Sutton's Noose, a five-length winner of a June 28 maiden race at Churchill Downs, and Zayat Stables' Zyramid, a 2 3/4-length winner of a July 13 maiden race at Saratoga, making him the only starter with a race over the track.