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Best sports memory? Beating Patriots to win Super Bowl, spoil undefeated season

Long-time football coach Chris Palmer will be one of five men to receive a Gold Key at the upcoming Gold Key banquet in Southington.

CHESHIRE, March 20 — Four men who will receive the prestigious Gold Key award from the Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance at the annual Gold Key banquet next month met with representatives from the state media on Wednesday.

Chris Palmer, who spent years coaching at the college and pro football, former UConn sharpshooter Chris Smith and Jere Quinn, the long-time boys basketball coach at St. Thomas Moore in Montville visited with the media at CIAC headquarters in Cheshire earlier this week. Bill Rasmussen, who founded ESPN in 1979, participated on phone from his home in Seattle. Former collegiate and NBA star John Bagley was unavailable due to a work commitment.

The five men will be honored at the 78th annual Gold Key banquet on Sunday, April 28, at the Aqua Turf Club in Southington. Tickets to the Gold Key Dinner are $75 apiece, and may be reserved by contacting CSWA President Tim Jensen of Patch Media Corp. at tim.jensen@patch.com or 860-394-5091.

Palmer was asked about his greatest sports memory. He said it was winning Super Bowl 42 when the New York Giants scored a touchdown pass from quarterback Eli Manning to Plaxico Burress with 35 seconds left in the game to beat the undefeated New England Patriots, 17-14, in January 2008.

That’s the same year the Giants went to Green Bay’s Lambeau Field and beat Brett Favre and the Packers in overtime in sub-zero temperatures to earn their trip to the Super Bowl

He spent 22 years as an assistant coach in the NFL along with two seasons as the head coach of the Cleveland Browns when they were resurrected in 1999 after the original Browns team left for Baltimore a few years earlier. He also coached in college – beginning his career at UConn – in the Canadian Football League, the USFL and the New Jersey Generals, and the short-lived United Football League where he was the head coach of the Hartford Colonials.

“Just being on the (field) and seeing the confetti come down and seeing my kids – we moved a lot – and the joy of being on the (field) and winning the Super Bowl (was memorable),” said Palmer, who was the offensive coordinator on that Giants’ championship team.

The Patriots led 14-10 late in Super Bowl 42 in Glendale, Arizona, when the Giants got the ball back. “We got down to the last (drive) and (the Patriots) revert to what we thought they were going to do and they are in man coverage,” Palmer said. “Plexico runs a quick slant and fade and we score.”

The 13-yard touchdown to Burress pass capped off a 12-play, 83-yard touchdown drive for the Giants. The most famous play was a 32-yard completion from Manning to New York’s David Tyree on a third down-and-five play from the Giants’ 44-yard line to keep the drive alive.

Manning scrambled to buy some time and found Tyree, who outjumped Patriots defender Rodney Harrison for the ball and maintained possession by pinning the football to the side of his helmet as he fell to the ground.

Chris Palmer, left, Chris Smith, center and Jere Quinn, right will each receive a Gold Key at the upcoming banquet in Southington. Ticket are still available.

“When you stop and think about there are probably only a thousand guys that are coaching who have a Super Bowl ring,” Palmer said. “You coach for 47 years and I am fortunate to have been there twice. All of that hard work to be able to wear a ring and they can’t take that ring away from you.”

Today, Palmer, who is 69, is the athletic director at the University of New Haven – where he was once the head football coach for two seasons. New Haven, which plays at the NCAA Division II level, has 15 varsity sports – six for men and nine for women.

“We just to give each sport an opportunity to play the best they can and try to give the kids an experience they will take with them for the rest of their lives,” Palmer said. “When I was coaching at Colgate, a player says to me, ‘Coach, I am not going to remember that chemistry test that I am taking today. But I will remember playing against Penn State for the rest of my life.’ That made an impact on me and what my responsibility is as a coach (and an athletic director).”

By the way, Manning was named Super Bowl MVP ten years ago when the Giants beat the Patriots to win the championship. Palmer said that Manning, now 39, can still be a successful quarterback in the NFL.

“I think Eli can still play,” Palmer said. “He is a very talented guy. I don’t know how talented the Giants are. I think if you look at Phillip Rivers and see what he is doing in (Los Angeles with the Chargers), Phillip has a bunch of guys around him that are pretty good. Eli Manning, if he has enough talent around him, can be very good. I still believe it is a team sport. There is no ‘I’ in team and there are some players that bring more attention to themselves than the team. It is (still) a team sport.”

The Giants were 5-11 last fall and 3-13 in 2017.

Palmer will join an impressive list of men and women have received Gold Keys since the Alliance began awarding them in 1940.

Golfing legend Julius Boros, Olympic track champion Lindy Remigino, softball superstar Joan Joyce, Yale football coach Carm Cozza, Hall of Fame hockey star Gordie Howe, marathon legend Bill Rodgers, women’s soccer star Kristine Lilly, Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma and player and television commentator Rebecca Lobo are just some of the men and women who have been recognized with a Gold Key.

“If you look at the group (of Gold Key winners), it spells excellence. They are all excellent people. They are all excellent coaches. They are all excellent players,” said Palmer. “Whatever they did, they were excellent at it. That is what I came away with when I looked at the list. It is a compliment to (the Alliance). You set the standards and you’ve picked special, special people (to receive Gold Keys).”

Proceeds from the Gold Key banquet benefit the Bo Kolinsky Journalism Scholarship, named after a longtime Hartford Courant sportswriter and past CSWA president who died unexpectedly in 2003.

Learn more about the Gold Key dinner at the Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance website.

Gerry deSimas, Jr., is the editor and founder of The Collinsville Press. He is an award-winning writer and has been covering sports in Connecticut and New England for more than 30 years. He was inducted into the New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018.

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