with Michael Pope
One of the best tight-end coaches in the business, New York Giants coach Michael Pope has been to the Super Bowl five times, with three rings to show for it. And while he enjoys eating in other cities, he feels the best restaurants are right here in New York City.
I am a big fan of David Burke. The way David has grown his business is a great success story. I have witnessed firsthand how amazing it is to see what you can accomplish when you get everyone as close to their level of competence and direction as possible, and fuel that with enthusiasm. That is what David Burke does in both his kitchen and his dining room. I met Teddy Suric when I called to make a reservation one day, and we became fast friends. Teddy has an incredible memory for names and faces and events, and besides that is a wholesome, good person. We stay in touch through text and e-mail. I was able to repay his kindness when he brought his kids up to our training camp last year.
With David in the kitchen and Teddy in the front of the house, they make for a great team. We held my wife’s retirement party at Townhouse and it was memorable because of the quality of food and unbelievable service. You won’t find nicer people to work with. We had a large crowd and they were able to accommodate us with no problem. In fact, I’ve heard more compliments about how it was all handled that you could imagine! I really enjoy eating at Townhouse and Fishtail, and I have often done so with my sons. The first time I looked at that pretzel-crusted crab cake, I wasn’t sure what to think because I’m not a big pretzel guy. Boy, was I wrong! And just the presentation of the angry lobster alone is worth it! I find the scallops to be incredible.
GIVE US A BRIEF OVERVIEW OF YOUR CAREER.
I started coaching high school after a shoulder injury playing in the World Football League. I worked my way to becoming the freshman coach at Florida State, where I stayed for a while. There, I worked with a lot of the same people I ended up being with on the coaching staff at the NFL. I worked for the Giants from 1983 to 1991, went to Cincinnati for two years, New England for three, and then Washington D.C. for three. I came back to the Giants in 2000 and I’ve been with them ever since.
GROWING UP IN NORTH CAROLINA, DO YOU HAVE SOME GOOD FOOD MEMORIES?
Definitely. In the South, a lot of festivities take place around family gatherings, and it was a matter of pride to be known as the family member who always brought the best pies, corn bread, meatloaf, etc. I had one aunt who made the best coconut cake on the face of this earth. She would hand scratch and grate the coconut and when she was finished with it, it weighed like 20 pounds! A lot of things cooked in the South aren’t necessarily very healthy for you, but growing up as a young athlete I had a healthy appetite! Every spring in college, someone would cook a whole pig over charcoal in the ground. It was a decedent, daylong event. You could put your hands right over the coals and pull the meat off the carcass—it was that tender. I vividly remember pulling up to drive-through windows to get an order of coleslaw, a BBQ sandwich, a big cup of iced tea, and fries, if you could afford them. There is something magical about seeing the smoke in the air from those old 55-gallon drums that they used to cut in half and grill on. It made for incredible BBQ!
DO YOU COOK?
I’m usually at work from 6:15 a.m. to often 8 or 10:00 p.m. at night so, no, unfortunately I don’t have the time. My mother was a great cook, but she was one of those who could never quite tell you what was in the recipe. If the oven is on in my house, it is probably going to be followed by a 911 call!
DO YOU HAVE A PREGAME FOOD RITUAL?
Well, whether we play at home or are traveling, we always stay at a hotel the night before a game. So after check-in, we usually eat in. Since we eat four hours before kickoff, if it’s an afternoon game the meal is more like brunch. For the most part, meals are on the lighter side, like pastas. It’s a bit of a superstitious thing, but I avoid anything green before a game at all costs!
ON THE ROAD, ARE THERE CERTAIN CITIES YOU LOOK FORWARD TO EATING IN?
It’s challenging to eat out with our timetable. If we are in Boston in the fall, I have a few favorite places for clam chowder if time permits. If we’re in Florida in the winter, I look forward to fresh seafood. (I’m a big lobster and shrimp guy!) And I’ve never had a bad experience in San Francisco. But we have the best restaurants in the world right here!
WHO ARE SOME OF YOUR MENTORS, AND WHAT DID THEY TEACH YOU?
My high school coach was very demanding but I learned from him how to treat people. It’s one thing to be part of an organization, and another to run the entire thing. Both my college coaches were the same, much like Bill Parcells was and Tom Coughlin is here.
DO YOU THINK THERE ARE ANY SIMILARITIES BETWEEN THE WAY YOU WORK AND THE RESTAURANT BUSINESS?
Sure! If you can get the people around you to perform—not specific to the football industry—and raise their levels while realizing that everyone is different, then you are a real leader. A hands on, one-on-one way of learning has a memory and creates an excitement and exchange of ideas that you can’t get from a book or the Internet, just like in cooking, being there in the kitchen under the tutelage of a chef. There are as many personalities in the chef world as there are in our business. Tough love was part of our strategy before it had a name. Just like in a restaurant, you have an obligation to not have a bad day. It takes only one bad experience—you lose one game or you served one person something that wasn’t your best effort—and you hear about it. It’s human nature to find the smallest error in something.
WHAT IS YOUR FANTASY FOOD COMBINATION?
Corn bread, black-eyed peas, turnip greens with hot sauce on them, and smothered pork chops. Followed by banana pudding for dessert, and some Zantac an hour later!
ANY DESIRE TO BECOME A HEAD COACH?
No, thank you! I prefer the one-on-one teaching, watching the players grow and improve. I like to get my hands in the dirt and mold the guys and help them. That is where the joy in this is for me. I have no real ambition to get a job I wouldn’t have the same passion for.