GOTHAM FANS are anotoriously fickle bunch, so it says something that when Camel cigarettes waslooking for a New York athlete to put on a Times Square billboard in the early1960s, it chose Dick Nolan, a Giants defensive back who was not flashy but whopersonified diligence and determination. "He made himself into not just agood player, he was an extraordinary player," former teammate Frank Giffordtold the New York Daily News earlier this year. "He didn't have thephysical talent to do it all. He just willed himself. He was tough—as good asthere comes in that respect."
It's a cliché tosay that a player is a "coach on the field," but with Nolan, who diedlast week at age 75, that was literally the case. In 1962 he was traded toDallas (Roger Maris took his place on the Camel billboard), where formerteammate Tom Landry used him as a player-coach. Injuries forced Nolan to stopplaying midway through the season; the secondary's loss was the coachingstaff's gain. Nolan took over the defense and molded it into a unit that foryears would remain one of the league's stingiest. In 1968, when he was 35,Nolan was hired away to be head coach of the 49ers, a wide-open team thatfilled the air with footballs but seldom won. Nolan didn't try to remold theteam into the Cowboys West; he played to its strengths, getting quarterbackJohn Brodie better receivers, and the team won three straight division titles(before losing in the playoffs each time to Landry). Nolan later led the Saintsto their first nonlosing record (8--8 in '79) and returned to the Cowboys as anassistant in the '80s.
Nolan's son Mike,predictably, was described by his college coach, Oregon's Rich Brooks, as being"a coach on the field." When Mike was hired as the 49ers' coach in2005, he successfully petitioned the NFL to let him wear a suit on thesidelines as his father had. "My father always projected an image ofauthority," said Mike, "and I wanted to honor him—the way he lived hislife and his whole career as a coach."
NEW WEST Nolan took over the Niners when he was 35.