A person gets one chance to make a first impression.
Tom Tupa’s first impression on head coach Bill Parcells was couldn’t have gone much better, and eventually – 11 seasons and four teams later – led the quarterback/punter to join the Jets as a free agent in 1999.
“Coming out of (Ohio State in 1988), I took a few visits before the Draft, and one was to the Giants. That’s when Parcells was there and we hit it off pretty well,” Tupa said. “I ended up getting drafted to, at the time, the Phoenix Cardinals. They were in the same division as the Giants, so I would see him a couple times a year and we’d always talk before games.
“As I moved through my career (as a quarterback for the Cardinals and then play almost exclusively as a punter with the other teams, I became a free agent in 1996). Parcells was at New England and he signed me. We went to the Super Bowl that first year, and then he ended up leaving and went to the Jets.
“The following year when we played them, I was kind of giving him some crap about signing me and then leaving. He was laughing and said, ‘Well, maybe one of these days I’ll see you again.’ Sure enough, when I became a free agent from New England, I ended up signing back with him (and became a Jet).”
Much like with Parcells, Tupa made a good first impression with the Jets fans, when in his first game with the Green & White, the 1999 season opener against the Patriots, he was pressed into action at quarterback after Vinny Testaverde ruptured an Achilles tendon in the second quarter.
“A rule was in place back then where they could save a roster spot and add someone to it position-wise. So, I was always listed as the second (quarterback),” Tupa said. “When he went down, I didn’t realize I was going to be playing all that much. I thought I might go in for a few plays until they got the next guy ready, Rick Mirer.”
Although Tupa had taken snaps under center in practice running the scout team, he hadn’t attempted to throw a pass during a game in three years. Playing quarterback until Mirer was eligible to enter the game in the fourth quarter, Tupa completed 6 of 10 passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns.
“Yeah, I ended up going in and things went pretty well there for a while,” he said. “It was a little bit of a shock obviously; I’m not going to lie. But I think overall, it went pretty well.”
While that went “pretty well,” Tupa’s contribution as a punter went great. Averaging over 45 yards per punt, he was named first-team All-Pro and selected to play in the Pro Bowl.
“I had a year or two in New England where I thought I may have had a chance, but you come in second in the voting or whatnot. I just ended having a pretty good year. A lot goes into that, obviously,” Tupa said. “The long snapper, coverage teams, and all those sorts of things come into it. It was just one of those years where you kind of got on a hot streak and it just kept going game to game.”
With the Jets for three seasons, Tupa played for that many head coaches: Parcells, Al Groh and Herm Edwards. What are his fondest memories from those days?
“We had such a good group of guys there with Vinny (Testaverde) and Wayne (Chrebet), Curtis Martin, Kevin Mawae,” Tupa said. “Unfortunately, there were a couple bad instances. The worst one was we were there when 9/11 happened. That was one thing, our team going downtown and helping out with whatever we could.
“As far as playing, I think one of the most memorable moments was that ‘Monday Night Miracle’ game (in 2000) where we came all the way back against Miami. Basically, the whole stands had emptied out because it was such a deficit going into the fourth quarter, but we rallied back (by scoring 30 points and won in overtime, 40-37).”
As part of the NFL 100 celebration, Tupa was named to the Jets’ all-time team, which will be honored during a pregame ceremony when New York hosts the Dallas Cowboys on October 13.
“I think that’s special when the fans appreciate what you were able to do for the team,” Tupa said. “Coming from the fans, that’s pretty special. It’s a great honor. I’m glad that they acknowledged what I was able to do for the team and what the team did for me. I’m pretty proud of that.”
Tupa is also proud that he was able to play 17 seasons in the NFL from 1988-04; with the Jets, Cardinals, Colts, Browns, Patriots, Buccaneers and Redskins.
Whomever said, ‘You can’t go home again’ wasn’t talking to Tupa. Because following his playing days, he and his family made their way back to his hometown of Brecksville, Ohio, where he has been the city’s director of recreation since 2006.
“I always wanted to coach the kids as they were coming up through the little leagues and high school,” Tupa said. “So, when I moved back here, the mayor asked if I wanted this job. I told him my first thing was that I wanted to be able to coach my kids. And he said, ‘No problem.’
“That kind of sealed the deal right there. I was able to coach the kids all the way through high school. Those moments are obviously something we’ll never forget.”
Tupa and his wife, Beth, have four children. Tom, who works in the San Francisco 49ers scouting department. Tim, who works in the Los Angeles Chargers scouting department. Tyler, a redshirt junior wide receiver at Ohio University. And Emma, a sophomore at Ohio University, who plays on the volleyball team.