September 14, 2020
The TV was fortunate to survive fall Sundays. The tiny black-and-white set was about as big as a football and needed a human shield after Eagles’ losses, so none of the boys could kick it outside their Oakmont Street rowhome in the Tacony/Holmesburg section of Philadelphia.
The neighborhood didn’t need a radio to find an Eagles-Cowboys score. They could hear the screaming and hollering blocks away from the Judge home, where 14 were cooped up.
Last week, New York Giants’ rookie head coach Joe Judge blasted his team during a profanity-laced tirade and demanded they begin practice again — this time the right way. Reports come out daily, it seems, how the 38-year-old Judge, who’s a 2000 Lansdale Catholic graduate, with family roots deeply imbedded in southwest Philadelphia, is not afraid to get into the trenches and engage his players.
Maybe it’s because his family came from the trenches of Philly.
The Eagles could have a giant problem ahead, as if they don’t have enough already — and it could be the demanding new New York head coach Joe Judge.
His grandfather, Michael Judge, was a former Philadelphia police officer who stormed the Normandy beaches on D-Day. His uncle Michael served as a captain in Vietnam and was a former Philadelphia fireman. His uncles Jerry and Kerry were professional boxers. Jerry once fought George Foreman and Chuck Wepner, the “the real life Rocky,” and went six rounds with a broken jaw against all-time great Larry Holmes, before losing by split-decision. His uncle Kerry chalked up a 14-3 pro record.
“Joey is a lot like his old man,” said Jerry Judge, a retired Bensalem police officer, in reference to his nephew. “He’s a good kid, tough, and really, really intelligent. I was born and bred an Eagles’ fan. I’ve been an Eagles fan my whole life, but I hate to say, I’ll be wearing blue for now on.
“Blood is far thicker than water. Joey wouldn’t be where he is without his old man. From the time Joey could walk, my brother Joe had a football in his hands. My biggest regret is that Joe couldn’t be here to watch Joey’s success. He was raised on the Eagles, and now he’s the coach of the New York Giants. Joe would have loved to have seen all of this.”
Joe Judge died of cancer in July 2017, just before the Eagles’ Super Bowl season.
It seemed destined from the heavens when Joe Judge received the call from the Giants about the head coaching job on January 7th, his father Joseph’s birthday. Joe’s last call before any high school, college or pro game was always to his dad. When the game was over, Joe’s first call after the game was to his father.
Joe’s last call now is to his nephew Connor, his sister Jeanine’s son. All of Joe’s family is still in the Philadelphia area. Three of the four Judge boys graduated from Father Judge, while Kerry graduated St. Joseph’s Prep, where Joe went his freshman year before transferring to Lansdale Catholic.
Joe Judge knows Philadelphia fan mentality. He also knows how incredibly hard it is to distance yourself from a childhood passion that becomes a part of you. But there are roughly 200 ardent, hardened Eagles’ fans who comprise Judge’s family and friends that will be making the “Big Blue” conversion when the Eagles play the Giants.
“This is the closest I’ve been to home since I began coaching,” said Joe, the father of four who range in age from 6 to 14. “I think the more you get into this business, you find out that you really start rooting and pulling more for people than you do places.
“My kids all of the time ask me when the games come on, do we have friends there? They always want to know. A lot of guys on my staff my kids asked about all of the time, when Freddy Kitchens and Amos Jones were in Arizona, do we have friends there?
“Yeah, we’re rooting for the Cardinals. You pull for people, because you get attached to their families. To these coaches, it’s a job. I had to educate some good friends when we played the Eagles a few years back (in the Super Bowl) when you get a lot of joking texts that you’re going down, and this and that. You take it with a grain of salt and you understand."
When the Giants host the Pittsburgh Steelers Monday night at MetLife Stadium, Judge will be leading a team that has had one winning season in the last seven years, and hasn’t won a playoff game in nine years, since the Giants won the Super Bowl in 2011. Their meager Super Bowl odds, according to TheLines.com's consensus odds, are +8904, the fifth worst in the entire NFL.
There comes a point in some professions when the name on the back of the jersey outweighs the laundry that you once rooted for.
“We’re all proud of Joey,” Kerry Judge said. “So, we have to become Giants’ fans. It’s easy to see where Joey gets his intensity — from his father. I’ll never forget the night Jerry fought George Foreman. Joe shook the TV like he wanted to get at Foreman right then.
“Since Joey got hired by the Giants, my neighbors ask me all of the time if I’m a Giants’ fan. I am now, all of the time, even when they play the Eagles. It’s not exactly a homecoming for Joey, but in a lot of ways it is. We just need to get on the turnpike to see him now.
“I’ll tell you this — no one will outwork Joey. He’s a special, intelligent kid. I just have to watch when I call him ‘Joey.’ I certainly wouldn’t do it in front of his players. I’ll make sure I’ll be watching his game Monday night against the Steelers, yelling and screaming at the TV —for the Giants.”
Joe Judge enters this new phase of his life under the tutelage of some of the greatest football minds at every level of the game, beginning with the late, legendary Lansdale Catholic coach, Jim Algeo, to Alabama’s Nick Saban, to eventually six-time Super Bowl champion Bill Belichick in New England.
Each step, Joe took a chunk of that special coaching trinity with him.
Their lessons echo—as does those from a football-crazy family who would gather around the TV each autumn Sunday to watch the Eagles.
“We were lucky if the TV survived those games, especially from Joey’s father,” remembered Jerry Judge, laughing. “I’m sure if Joe couldn’t make it to one of Joey’s games he was coaching in, there was going to be some TVs that were broken.
“When they open the stadiums again, I’ll be smart. I won’t wear blue, but I won’t wear (Eagles’ midnight) green, either. But me and my family will be cheering like hell for Joey and the Giants. I just don’t think I can say that too loud around my friends.”
Dusk was descending. A chilly Mississippi air washed through the car port and brushed by Joe Judge’s face as he reached into his red sports car with the audible muffler and scooped up his baby boy.
Judge, then a second-year graduate assistant at Mississippi State, was greeted in his modest three-bedroom home by a cold darkness. Here, the electricity and gas had been turned off.
Judge had no real income — and had no heat in his house during the dead of winter with a one-year-old resting in his arms. The initial thought that coursed through his mind was what could he do to get the heat and electricity back on, what did he have to sell, what other jobs did he need to take on so this wouldn’t happen again.
Nothing resonates more than when Judge hit the coaching nadir before his career climb.
That winter night in 2006, standing in the doorway wondering why his lights wouldn’t turn on.
“That to me is a moment that goes through my head a lot,” Judge said. “When things get tough, and it’s hey, listen, everyone’s been through adversity, everyone has their own share, it’s what you need to do to push through your own and learn from that.
“One thing I never want to feel is my family not being provided for. That’s an awful feeling when you come home and you look at your wife and say, ‘Our kid is cold.’”
Judge was fortunate enough to be working with a giving, fantastic staff at Mississippi State who helped him out short term. Judge made sure he paid them back. Many of those coaches he’s still in touch with today, and some are even a part of his first Giants’ staff, like Amos Jones, a Giants’ assistant coach who falls under the title “special projects and situations.”
It was Jones who started Judge in the coaching field. He convinced then-Bulldogs’ coach Sylvester Croom to take Judge on as a graduate assistant, even though Croom wasn’t crazy about the idea of Judge coaching guys he recently played with.
“Joe and I had a unique situation and we have the same birthdate, along with our Philly connections,” said Jones, whose wife is from Southwest Philadelphia and who coached at Temple from 1983-88 under Bruce Arians. “I instantly had a fondness to Joe. He was an enthusiastic guy. He told me right off the bat that he wanted to coach. Joe’s a football guy. He was easy to talk to about football, and you could bounce ideas off of him as a player.
“And Joe was going to work hard.”
Those characteristics drew Jones to Judge.
“Joe wasn’t just any graduate assistant, he had a lot more responsibilities than grabbing coffee, he had a family to raise by the time I met at Mississippi State,” Jones recalled. “Joe and his wife, Amber, endured a hard road to get to where they are now—and he’s worked for every inch of that road.
“We could hear Joe coming from a mile away with that red sports car he drove down to Mississippi State. Our staff could see the sacrifices Joe was making. Joe is not the kind of ask who would ask for anything, he’s the kind who feels he has to earn it.”
Still, Judge would find boxes of diapers in the backseat of his car, courtesy of the Bulldogs staff.
In 1981, Jones was a first-year graduate assistant at Alabama, where he had just finished playing as part of consecutive national championship teams. There, Jones met Arians, who Crimson Tide legend Bear Bryant hired as his running backs coach.
In 1999, Jones took a job as special teams/running backs coach at the University of Cincinnati. The day Jones was hired, he later sat in an off-campus dive bar with Mike Tomlin drawing up gunner plays on napkins.
In 2004, Jones met Judge at Mississippi State.
“Those three people, I don’t care what job it is, they’re going to do a great job,” said Jones, now 60, who has a Super Bowl ring working under Tomlin with the Pittsburgh Steelers. “Joe is cut from the same cloth as Bruce and Mike. When Joe got the job, those guys called me to tell me I was right about him."
The coaching bug hit Judge immediately when he arrived at Mississippi State. He loved being around football. During idle time in class, Judge was the type who would design plays in copybooks.
When he tore his ACL in college, that convinced Judge coaching was his path. He began charting plays under then-Bulldogs’ coach Jackie Sherrill and that evolved into having input with some of the schemes. While finishing his graduate degree in instructional technology, Judge and Jones would break down film each morning.
Sherrill transitioned to Croom, the first African-American head football coach in SEC history, in 2004.
“Coach Croom built a very pro-centric staff that all day you were doing football, and that to me was appealing,” recalled Judge, who is close to completing his PhD in education from Mississippi State—when he finds some down time. “I was learning new levels of breaking down tape and game planning, and how to use personnel.”
When Amber first met Judge at Mississippi State, he was premed. That lasted a semester. “Little did she know she was marrying a lowly GA,” Judge says, laughing.
From Algeo, Judge says he learned a simple, though important mantra: Faith, family, football—in that order. Algeo stressed being tougher than the other guy.
“Coach Algeo was more than a coach, he was one of the more significant men in my life,” Judge said. “He taught me the importance of being tough. We had a few good players and a bunch of kids from the area who just wanted to be a part of something.
“I was under coach Saban for three years and there’s a lot of things that I got from him, but mostly, it was why; when you’re working with players, you have to teach ‘the why’ they’re doing what they’re doing. Players aren’t robots. We have to empower them to make decisions."
One time, Judge remembers with a wince, he went out to practice without his scout card. The Crimson Tide screwed up a play they were practicing. Saban blurted out, “Is there a scout card for that?” Saban darted Judge a look. After that, Judge never forgot his scout card again.
“You just know you didn’t do your job, and that’s a bad feeling,” Judge recalled. “All Coach Saban had to do was look at you.”
Judge has three Super Bowl rings in eight years under the grandmaster, Belichick.
And there seems to be an underlying theme here from Algeo, to Saban, to Belichick.
It’s an old-school vein.
“With Coach Belichick, the biggest lesson I took in was people, dealing with your players, really building the team and understanding what you have,” Judge said. “I can’t express the gratitude I have for all of these guys who helped me get here.
“Coach Belichick tied everyone and everything in the building together. He would say things, and you would think to yourself, ‘Boom, bank that, I’m going to use that for the rest of my life.’ I learned situational football, and whole lot more from Coach Belichick, but mostly knowing the importance of everyone in your building.”
In January, Judge signed a five-year contract with the Giants that will reportedly pay him in excess of $5 million annually.
No one will be putting the lights out on Joe Judge again.
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who has been writing for PhillyVoice since its inception in 2015 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on Twitter here: @JSantoliquito.