NEW ORLEANS - When the coaching bug finally bit Dick Vermeil again in 1997, the first call he made after becoming the St. Louis Rams' head coach was to Wilbert Montgomery.
"Wilbert and I had stayed close," Vermeil said. "He did so much for me and the Eagles. I always felt guilty that there was nothing I could do for him [after his playing career ended in 1985].
"When I went back into coaching, I knew there was something I could do for him. He had no idea the call was coming. I can still remember it like it was yesterday. I said, 'Wilbert, you're going into coaching. I just took the Rams job and you're coming with me.' "
That phone call changed Montgomery's life. Like a lot of former players, he struggled with civilian life after his playing career ended. He started several businesses, but none of them was very successful, and none of them gave the Eagles' all-time leading rusher the fulfillment that football did.
Vermeil retired for good 7 years ago, but the 58-year-old Montgomery is in his 16th season as an NFL assistant, coaching the Baltimore Ravens' running backs.
"That man, you just can't find the words to describe how I feel about him," Montgomery said of Vermeil Tuesday at Super Bowl XLVII Media Day. "Everyone that ever has come in contact with Coach V knows what he represents, and knows what he stands for. They know where his heart is at."
If the Ravens beat the 49ers Sunday night, the first person Montgomery will reach out to, after his wife, is Vermeil.
"I'm a texter now," Montgomery said proudly, pointing to the iPhone in his right hand. "I use the thumbs. I will shoot him a text. I know he will shoot me one.
"I will thank him again for what he's done for me and my family. I'll let him know how much I love him. How much I care about him. I'm very emotional when it comes to Coach V. We're kind of joined at the hip."
This is Montgomery's fourth Super Bowl - his third as a coach. He was with Vermeil in '99 when the Rams beat the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV in Atlanta, and was on Mike Martz' staff 2 years later when the Rams lost to the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVI.
The 20-17 loss to the Patriots was in the same place they'll be playing Sunday's game - the Superdome.
So was the Eagles' 27-10 loss to the Raiders 32 years ago in Super Bowl XV.
Montgomery is hoping his third Super Bowl in this ugly mausoleum will be the charm.
"Been to four Super Bowls and three of them have been here," he said as he leaned against a gate behind the end zone. "I said to coach [John] Harbaugh, 'This city probably has hosted more Super Bowls than any other stadium.' This will be the 47th Super Bowl and I think it's the 10th here. And I've been to three of them.
"The irony of getting here, though, is if you don't come out victorious, it feels like a throwaway season."
As we stood there chatting, Montgomery gazed out onto the field and still could see the ghosts of that loss to the Raiders 32 years earlier.
"I can see Jerry Robinson blitzing off of this corner right here," he said. "He got pulled to the ground, but they didn't throw a flag because they don't call penalties in the Super Bowl. [Jim] Plunkett got the ball away. Herm Edwards jumped up and barely missed it and Kenny King caught it and goes up the sideline.
"I can see Roynell Young down in the corner of the end zone over there and Cliff Branch going over and making the catch. That was a hard loss to swallow.
"When you're a player, you always feel you're going to be back [in the Super Bowl]. But coaches know how hard it is to get here, and what a small window you have, and the amount of work it takes to get here.
"As coaches, we wear it on our sleeve. The 16-, 17-hour days you put in at the office. The players want it, but I don't know that they want it any more than the coaches.
"That why I was so excited for Coach V when we won it with the Rams. Those are the moments in your life that give you goose bumps. To hear him say on the sideline with his hands up in the air, 'We are the champions,' that's when it hits you right there."
Aside from serving as a volunteer assistant at Overbrook High School in South Jersey for a couple of years, Montgomery had no coaching experience when Vermeil brought him to St. Louis as his running backs coach in '97.
"The offensive coaches and I all helped train him to become a running backs coach," Vermeil said. "I knew he had a great feel and understanding for the game as a player. I thought once he learned to teach, to go to the board and detail everything, he'd be a fine coach.
"He just needed some polishing. Now, he's considered one of the best running backs coaches in the league. He's much respected. I couldn't be happier for him. He's my third son."
Ray Rhodes actually offered Montgomery a job as his running backs coach when he was hired as the Eagles' head coach in '95. But Wilbert said thanks but no thanks.
"At that point, coaching at that level wasn't in my mindset," he said. "I put it on the back burner because of the mandated hours involved and everything else. That job can be big and tough on a family. It's a lot of work. But when Coach V called, I couldn't say no."
Montgomery spent nine seasons with the Rams. When Martz was fired after the '05 season, Rod Marinelli hired him as his running backs coach in Detroit.
When John Harbaugh became the Ravens' head coach in '08, Andy Reid called Harbaugh and recommended Montgomery. If I had to guess, Vermeil probably also was involved.
"John didn't waste a lot of time," Montgomery said. "He interviewed me and said the job was mine if I wanted it.
"It was a no-brainer. My wife is a Philly girl. It gave her an opportunity to get away from Detroit and come to Baltimore and be 96 miles from her front door."
Listening to Montgomery talk now, it's hard to believe this is the same introverted guy who barely spoke two words when he was a player.
"There's coaches and there's teachers," he said. "Coaches coach. Teacher teach, and then they coach. I like to see myself as a teacher because I like to talk [to players] about their techniques. I like to talk about their fundamentals. I like to talk about the things they don't do well and how they can improve and grow.
"Anyone can come out and say, 'This is the way we're going to do things.' It's about what you can get your guy to do; that little bit extra. When you can get him to do that little bit extra, that's when they become special."
Montgomery had a special running back in St. Louis when he coached Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk, and he has a special running back now in the Ravens' Ray Rice.
"Ray will be the first to admit that I'm on him daily about the things he's not doing right," Montgomery said. "But I also talk to him about the things he's doing well. If you can keep them balanced, you're going to get the best out of them."
Montgomery enjoys working for Harbaugh. Says he sees a lot of Vermeil in him.
"I've told him that he reminds me so much of coach Vermeil when I was playing for him," he said. "A young coach Vermeil when he started out. His mannerisms. The way he approaches things. I told him, 'When you've got to be hard, you can be hard. And when you need to ease up on them, you give them sugar.' "
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