Fairfield, CT -- Every January America gets excited about one football game - The Super Bowl. Super Bowl Sunday spawns more celebrations and parties across the country than any one sporting event. Families and friends throughout the land will huddle around the television on February 1 to watch the spectacle.
A member of the Sacred Heart University community will be watching, too. He'll have a secret inner smile, though, because he sees it from a different perspective. He's seen the spectacle from the inside out. The pageantry, the hype, the media crush.
You see, Pioneer baseball coach Nick Giaquinto played in two Super Bowls with the Washington Redskins.
Giaquinto, who was a standout running back at the University of Connecticut for two seasons, began a brief four-year career with the Miami Dolphins in 1980. He played for the Dolphins in 1980 and most of 1981. Toward the end of the 1981 season, he was picked up by the Washington Redskins.
Dan Henning had left the Dolphins as offensive coordinator in 1980 to join new coach Joe Gibbs in Washington, and he had remembered the skills of the little running back from Miami. As it turned out it was a fortuitous move for Giaquinto.
After guiding the Redskins to an 8-8 record in his first year as coach, Gibbs and his staff took advantage of a strike-shortened season in 1982 and finished as the top seed in the NFC. The Skins bombed Detroit 31-7 in the first round of the playoffs, and beat Minnesota 21-7 in the second round. A 31-17 win over the Cowboys put Giaquinto and his teammates into Super Bowl XVII in Pasadena, CA against his former team, the Miami Dolphins.
"We didn't have the week off from the end of the playoffs to the Super Bowl that year," Giaquinto remembers. "So we were able to keep things pretty much the same. Coach Gibbs kept preaching that to us - to keep our normal routine."
As for the game itself, Giaquinto says that while a lot of it is a blur he does have specific memories. One of those was a key block he made that helped the Redskins score a clinching touchdown late in the fourth quarter that helped the Redskins escape the Rose Bowl with a 27-17 win.
"We were running a play we called 'Dash'," he remembers. "My job was to secure the corner on the quarterback roll out. Basically I was there to help out the tackle unless there was a blitz and then I had to pick up the person blitzing."
As it turned out, Dolphin linebacker Bob Brudzinski blitzed. Giaquinto went down low to block the charging defender and upended him, allowing QB Joe Theismann to throw a touchdown pass to Charlie Brown with less than two minutes to play in the game.
Giaquinto, who grew up in nearby Stratford, didn't run the ball or catch a pass in his first Super Bowl, but he remembers when he almost did. "Right before halftime, Joe threw me a pass across the middle and I got crushed by either Lyle or Glenn Blackwood before the pass got there and they called interference," he recalls.
The Redskins carried the momentum of the Super Bowl win into the 1983 season. Washington rolled through the regular season and finished with a league-best 14-2 record. For Giaquinto getting to the big game a second time was even more exciting than the first.
"I contributed a lot more during that season," he says. "In 1982 I was more of a role player. I caught a bunch of passes that second year, played on special teams, and also returned punts when our regular guy got hurt."
The Redskin opponent in Super Bowl XVIII in Tampa, FL was the Los Angeles Raiders, who had come out of the AFC with a 12-4 record. This game didn't go the way Giaquinto and his teammates hoped.
"That day they were a better team," he says. "I think the biggest play of the game came at the end of the first half. We were down 14-3 and we tried to run a screen pass in the final minute that Jack Squirek intercepted and returned for a touchdown. That really took the wind out of our sails."
The Raiders would go on to win the game easily, 38-9. For Giaquinto, it would be the final game of his career. He returned punts in the game and caught a couple of passes for 21 yards. For the first time in his young career, it looked like he would be going to training camp in the summer virtually assured of a job with the team. With all that going for him, Giaquinto walked away from football.
"Everyone thought I was nuts - from teammates, to family and friends," he chuckles. "I wanted to get out of the game in one piece. It was self-preservation. You see so many people limping around all the time. I didn't want to go out like that."
Giaquinto got completely away from sports for a year after leaving the NFL, even running his own travel agency. After awhile, the desire to get back into the athletic arena pulled at him. He always knew he wanted to coach, so he decided it was time. But the avenue he took was not what many would have thought.
"I loved football and every minute I spent in the game," Giaquinto says. "I always thought I would be a football coach and I could have continued down that road, but I wanted to try something different."
Instead of looking for a job in football, where his offensive coordinator Dan Henning in Washington always said he had a job, Giaquinto decided he wanted to coach baseball - his second love.
"Baseball is a different culture than football," Giaquinto says. "After being part of that for awhile I really wanted to try baseball." He called an old friend from Bridgeport who was at George Mason University in Virginia and got went down to work as an assistant coach with the baseball program. He spent two seasons with George Mason and got his Master's degree while working with the baseball team.
He came back home to Connecticut and Sacred Heart University in 1988 when he was hired as baseball coach. Now entering his 16th season with the Pioneers, Giaquinto is nearing the 300-win mark as a head coach. He helped transition the program from Division II to Division I in 1999 and his teams have made steady strides in the Northeast Conference.
While he makes his living with baseball these days, Nick Giaquinto will always be remembered by Washington Redskin fans as a member of a Super Bowl winner. And every January he can sit at home and smile that little smile to himself, because he knows just what every player standing on the sidelines on Super Bowl Sunday is going through.