EDITOR’S NOTE: This article appeared in the Journal-News on Oct. 21, 2005. Sean McVay is now the head coach of the Los Angeles Rams and will coach in the Super Bowl on Feb. 3.
They have football memories unlike any of those of their Miami University teammates.
"I remember when I was 5 and 6 years old and my dad would take me to the (San Francisco) 49ers' Saturday walk-throughs before Sunday games," said RedHawks receiver and kick returner Sean McVay. "I'd get to hang out and talk to the players. It might not seem like much, but it makes a big impact on a little kid when Steve Young and Jerry Rice come over and say, 'Hey.'
"And I remember riding the team bus to a game one Sunday and sitting next to center Jesse Sapolu, and he was joking around with me, making me feel like one of the guys."
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Linebacker Chris Shula has similar memories with the Cincinnati Bengals.
During training camps in the mid-1990s, he was one of the team's young ball boys, towel toters and all-around gophers for players such as Boomer Esiason, Tim Krumrie and Jeff Blake: "During the preseason, my brother and I could stand on the sidelines during games. Once the regular season started, we'd sit up in the stands during the games with Mom, but afterward we'd get in the Bengals dressing room."
For kicker Nathan Parseghian, the special link was with Notre Dame: Lifelong season tickets, meeting with Irish players after a game and getting hands-on access to some of the most cherished souvenirs of Irish lore — including some of the championship hardware from the 1964, '65 and '73 national championship teams — that are on display in his great uncle's basement museum.
Although all three of the players are just beginning their careers at Miami and have had little impact in the RedHawks' current 3-3 season, they all have relative greatness.
Shula is the son of former Bengals head coach Dave Shula, nephew of Mike Shula — coach of the unbeaten, fifth-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide — and the grandson of Hall of Fame legend Don Shula, winningest coach in NFL history.
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McVay is from a storied football family as well.
His grandfather is John McVay, whose Miami University Hall of Fame career — as an all-league player and the Redskins head coach — preceded his resurrection of the University of Dayton football program in the mid-1960s. After that, he coached the WFL's Memphis Southmen and the New York Giants before becoming the longtime front-office architect of the 49ers, who won five Super Bowls during his reign.
John's three sons — all Kettering Alter High graduates — followed the football path. Tim, Sean's dad, played college football at Indiana. John was an All-Mid-American Conference safety at Miami, and Jim is the executive director of Tampa's Outback Bowl.
Parseghian has storied roots, too. His great uncle is Ara Parseghian, an all-league player and head coach at Miami, whose real fame came with Notre Dame, where he won his three national crowns, was national coach of the year and ended up in the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame. Nathan's brother Jared, also a Miami kicker, is the RedHawks' career record holder for PATs and field-goal percentage.
"Each of these kids has been around football all his life, and they're all proud of their heritage and their family's place in football history," Miami head coach Shane Montgomery said. "But even though people recognize their names, they're not here playing for anyone else but themselves. They're here because they love the game and they're trying to make their own names. They all want their own identity at Miami."
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While Nathan Parseghian said having a well-known football name can be both a blessing and a burden — "mostly a blessing," he assured — it was Chris Shula who cut to the chase:
"Once you step out on the field, no one really cares what your name is."
All three were stars in high school - Nathan Parseghian at Toledo St. John's, Chris Shula in South Florida at St. Thomas Aquinas High and Sean McVay at Marist High in Marietta, Ga. - but they are paying their dues at Miami as second-year freshmen. Nathan Parseghian first spent a season at Hargrave Military Academy to brush up his academics, while the other two were both redshirted last season. Additionally, Sean McVay - an option quarterback who ran and passed for 5,100 yards and 58 touchdowns in his prep career and was Georgia's 4A Offensive Player of the Year - was turned into a receiver once he got to Oxford.
Since Miami has a senior-laden linebacker corps, the 5-foot-11, 213-pound Chris Shula has worked strictly on scout teams this season. Nathan Parseghian - playing behind senior kicker Todd Soderquist - has gotten just one kicking opportunity and made his extra-point attempt against Cincinnati.
Sean McVay was getting the most playing time. He caught a pass against Ohio State, had one rush and had returned four kicks before he severely injured his ankle on a return against Northern Illinois 16 days ago and required surgery.
"I was making a cut, but as I tried to spin, my foot caught on the ground, and it held just as I got hit," he said. "The force of his tackle and my spin opened up my right ankle, and the doctor had to put the tendon back in place."
Sean McVay gets his splint off today and said he can shed the crutches in a couple of weeks. Rehab will follow.
He said his parents - who now live in San Francisco, where Tim McVay is the sales manager of a television station - saw the hit while watching the ESPN broadcast. Sean McVay said it was the first time his dad wasn't in the stands this season.
Chris Shula said his father — now the president of the Shula Steak House chain — comes up from Florida for RedHawks games. And the Parseghians, who live in Sylvannia, Ohio, have been regulars in Oxford since 2001, when Jared Parseghian launched his career.
"When my brother played, I used to come to all the games, too, and I got to know the players, the coaches and the campus, and I loved it here," Nathan Parseghian said.
Sean McVay , who had several offers, including Georgia Tech, Duke, Tulane Ohio University and the U.S. Naval Academy, opted for Miami in part because of his family ties here.
Chris Shula, who lived in Cincinnati until he was 11, had no familial bond to Oxford. He did attend two years of youth basketball camps at Miami, but nothing football related because he said his parents wouldn't allow him to play the game until he was in the fifth grade. And when his football finally did blossom and colleges came bidding, he chose Miami over UMass and Northern Illinois.
"When you play football at Miami, one thing you learn pretty quickly is the football tradition, the football history," Nathan Parseghian said. "This is the Cradle of Coaches, and that's important here."
That point is driven home every day when he goes to practice: "I always walk past the stadium and go right beneath one those Cradle of Coaches murals. And every time I look up, there's Ara."
The ghosts are everywhere for the three.
Large portraits of Ara Parseghian and John McVay hang in the Miami Athletic Hall of Fame just inside Millett Hall. And then there are the All-MAC pictures in Yager Stadium.
"They're in the hallway outside the coaches' offices, and it's inevitable that I walk right past my grandpa and my uncle almost every day," Sean McVay said. "One day I hope I'm good enough to get on that wall, too."
But he said neither he nor Nathan Parseghian get the kind of name recognition that Chris Shula does: "When you hear the name Don Shula, everyone knows who that is. And you still see him on commercials on TV all the time. So guys might tease Chris a little more. Call him 'Don,' stuff like that. He gets a little more grief than us two."
That's usually true, but not always.
"When I show up somewhere, people may recognize my name, but not my face," Nathan Parseghian smiled. "I went one place (in town), and a guy asked who I was, and I told him, 'Nathan Parseghian.' He looked at me and said, 'No, you're not. I know Parseghian, and you're definitely not him.'
"He was thinking of Jared, and he wondered what I was up to. He thought I was trying to steal the name. I told him I was a Parseghian, too, but he wouldn't believe me."
To that guy, relative greatness just wasn't relative.