A Christmas story: Parcells and the homeless man
Dolphins' czar talks almost daily with man down on his luck
Dave Hyde Sports Columnist, Sun-Sentinel
December 24, 2009

John Schoen   Near dawn, a homeless man in a Dolphins cap stands on the concrete median of a downtown intersection. It is cold outside. Dark. Quiet. Unshaven and ponytailed, he looks down the street for the coming headlights of a white Cadillac. Or maybe it will be the black one today? "You never know," John Schoen says. He inhales a cigarette. He waits. Nearly two years ago, Schoen was selling Sun Sentinel newspapers at this intersection of North Federal Highway and the 17th Street Causeway when the white Cadillac stopped at the red light for the first time. The window went down. The driver wanted a paper. "Hey, you're Bill Parcells," Schoen said. Parcells nodded, yep, he was. The Dolphins' football boss bought a paper that morning. Then the light turned green, Parcells drove off and that was that. Until the next morning's red light. "You know, I used to hate your teams," Schoen said when Parcells bought a paper that second day. "I'm an Eagles fan. I rooted against you with the Giants, the Patriots, the Cowboys " Parcells smiled. The light turned green. Thus began an unusual relationship, bounded by the timing of a street light, between one of sport's biggest names and one of society's invisible souls.

If the light is green on his morning drive to Dolphins camp, Parcells typically keeps moving in the flow of cars. If it's red, they talk for the available 20 or 60 or 90 seconds about Schoen's Eagles, Parcells' Dolphins, horses, baseball, sometimes even about themselves. "Some mornings we continue the previous day's conversation," says Schoen, 57. Parcells correctly predicted Dallas over unbeaten New Orleans to Schoen last week, gave him tickets to a few Dolphins games last year and passed along a tip on a horse running at Aqueduct in New York that Schoen made $55 on. He's introduced Schoen to a man in the passenger seat, former Green Bay executive Ron Wolf. He's had Schoen say hello over the phone to ESPN's Chris Mortensen. He's shown a text message from Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning. What'd it say? "I can't tell you that, " Schoen says. There's the kicker to the story: Parcells doesn't talk publicly in South Florida. He gave one news conference upon being hired two years ago and has gone Garbo since. Yet he talks with a lovable, homeless man on an almost-daily basis.

He told Schoen he was staying with the Dolphins before announcing it on ESPN. He said the Dolphins were signing free-agent safety Gibril Wilson a few hours before announcing it. "When they had the No. 1draft pick [in 2008], he asked if I'd take the quarterback or the offensive tackle," Schoen said. "I said, 'You don't have anyone to protect the quarterback. Take the tackle.' " No one's suggesting tackle Jake Long is a Dolphin because of a Chauncey the Gardener script? Uh, are they? Last year, when Schoen kept saying the Eagles needed to draft a receiver, Parcells drove up one day with an Eagles hat and shirt, as well as a handwritten note from Eagles coach Andy Reid. "Coach, tell my newspaper friend that we took a wide receiver in the second round, DeSean Jackson, and to wear that hat and shirt with pride we are playing the Dolphins in the [Super Bowl]! AReid." Schoen carries that note in a pouch with a few business cards. His other valuables are stashed in a tin JellyBelly's box in his sweatshirt pocket. The prized possession is the broken watch his 9-month-old son, George, gave him for Christmas in 1986.

He hasn't seen George since 1992. That's when Schoen followed a carnival from New Jersey to South Florida and soon began selling newspapers on this corner. Soon, his regular customers had names. Boat-man. Jets Fan. "Fixed," because the guy said he saw conspiracy in every game. One day last season, a regular with a real name, Roy, gave Schoen two Dolphins tickets for the Buffalo game. Schoen joked with Parcells about wearing his new Eagles garb to it. "I'll take care of that," Parcells told him. The next day, he handed Schoen the Dolphins hat he's worn since. As the weeks turned to months, and the months nearly to years, the parameters of their traffic-light relationship never changed, even as Schoen's situation did. He had a room to sleep in when they first met. Last spring, with three months' rent saved, he quit selling newspapers to find a better job. When one didn't come, he ran out of money and moved to the streets. Where does he sleep? "Anywhere,'' he says. What does he eat? "Some days, I don't," he says. How does he get out of the rain or cold? "I get on a bus, if I have the money," he says. "You can ride all day for $3.50."

Parcells evidently noticed some change. One morning he handed Schoen $100 and asked him to clean up. Schoen bought the jeans he now wears, as well as another pair and a couple of shirts he will wear for a proper job interview. "I need to get some proper identification before I can get a job," he says. "I'm working on it." He inhales a cigarette. He puts his hands in his sweatshirt. He looks at the newspaper crossword puzzle that he'll do later. "I'm intelligent," he says. "But I'm not smart. There's a difference." Even without newspapers to sell, he comes to the median in the morning to banter with his people. This morning, he arrived at 6 a.m. It's now 7:30. Parcells' Cadillac hasn't shown. "Some days we miss each other," he says. This seems one of them. "I don't know why he likes me, but you know why I liked him from that first day?" Schoen says. "He treated me like a real person. Most people ignore me. I'm above fungus but below a leper. He saw something else."

Today is Christmas, and it's a time of heart-warming fables about the Grinch and Tiny Tim and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. But here's a story, a real story, about someone using the time it takes for a red light to turn green to make someone else feel better. Like a real person. Consider that at the next intersection you drive up to. Or, if that doesn't touch your heart, consider this holiday gift from the only person known to talk with Parcells outside the Dolphins' compound: "From what I'm seeing this year, he's going to be staying next year," Schoen says. "There's work to be done." Merry Christmas, South Florida.


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