For three years, they parked side by side, shared coffee and Danish in the morning, then watched film till their eyes turned square. They arrived at Giants Stadium early, stayed late, and explored every detail of the football operation.
It was almost 20 years ago, and no one could have predicted that assistant coaches Bill Belichick and Tom Coughlin would one day be coaching against one another in the Super Bowl.
Abbott and Costello they were not. More like Richard Nixon and Ralph Nader. Long before they became big-time NFL head coaches, Belichick and Coughlin were football lifers who did not suffer fools.
"They're serious-minded guys," says Bill Parcells, the man who brought Belichick and Coughlin together with the Giants from 1988-90. "But both of them have a good sense of humor. You don't always see it, but I've had quite a few laughs with both of 'em."
We believe him. We just haven't seen it. Belichick and Coughlin are all business when they are on the job.
A week from Sunday, they face one another in Super Bowl XLII, but in 1990, they were mere assistants on a staff that included Ron Erhardt, Charlie Weis, Al Groh, and Romeo Crennel. Not a bad roster of whistle-blowers.
"I don't think you should be penalized for hiring good coaches," says Parcells, back in the NFL as czar of the downtrodden Dolphins. "I was very fortunate.
"Bill and Tom have different personalities. Bill would be a little more reserved. His demeanor is much more laid-back. I would say you would have a lot harder time figuring out what Bill was thinking than what Tom was thinking. These guys are both serious-minded fellas. They're both serious about their job. They both really have a lot of passion for football.
"They both came up paying their dues. Bill was holding cards for [Baltimore Colts coach] Ted Marchibroda, driving him around when he was young, and Tom was lining the fields at Rochester Institute of Technology. He started the program up there, so both of them came up kind of the way I came up. I was at Hastings College doing the wash after practice. I think all of us that came up that way, usually you have a greater appreciation for what the game is about.
"What Bill has done there in New England is remarkable. There's no other word for it. And I was just happy to see Tom win because he'd been taking a bunch of crap here in New York. They're just not going to be able to say anything now."
Belichick, a Parcells protégé for more than a decade, was New York's defensive coordinator in the three seasons that Coughlin worked with the Giants' wide receivers.
"I probably dealt more with Bill because he was the coordinator and I'm a defense guy," says Parcells. "But Tom was very good at his job. He was efficient and demanding. We had young receivers there, a whole new group, and he did a very good job with them.
"We didn't have quite as large of a staff as they have now. We had about 10 guys, or 11. The office was not big. We only had two offices. Four cubicles in each. The weight coach was downstairs, and that was it."
Parcells dismisses the notion that one must be a "players' coach" to succeed in 2008.
"I never have agreed with that," he says. "I think players are interested in people that can help them perform. I think you just have to be yourself and I think both of these guys are themselves and I think it comes across. Their teams reflect what they are, and that's a sign of good coaching."
Parcells never let his assistants talk to the media.
"That's just the way it was," he says. "They have rules now where the assistants have to be available. I know the media kind of resents the fact that they can't talk to everyone in the organization from time to time, but if you really think about it - can you imagine the editor of The Boston Globe letting all of his guys talk about policy and why they're doing what they're doing? If you really think about it, it's not that outlandish a policy. I was an assistant for three years [1980 in New England under Erhardt, and '81 and '82 with the Giants under Ray Perkins]. We didn't talk to the media. We tried to stay as far off the radar as we could."
Belichick and Coughlin must not have watched Parcells's press briefings. Much more fun in front of the mikes, the Tuna has no opinion on the podium comportment of his protégés.
"I see two guys that are serious about their team and they're trying to complete their obligatory responsibilities with the media," says Parcells. "They really are, and I don't mean that in a negative way."
What about Belichick's astonishing ability to remain obtuse about the most benign of topics?
"That's the way he does things," says Parcells. "I certainly wouldn't pass judgment on any of that. Whatever the hell he's doing, somebody else ought to copy it, because he's doing pretty good.
"You want to see the people that you know well be successful. And you're happy when that happens.
"I think I'm at the age where I enjoy that more than I used to."
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com.