Richard Justice: This column about Bengals coach Zac Taylor and his father-in-law Mike Sherman is really about John McClain

Richard Justice: This column about Bengals coach Zac Taylor and his father-in-law Mike Sherman is really about John McClain

   I telephoned Mike Sherman last year to ask about his son-in-law, Bengals coach Zac Taylor. He began with a story about John McClain, the Houston legend and co-worker.

   If you’ve been in journalism or radio or television or podcasting, or restaurants or furniture sales in or around Houston for more than 20 minutes, you’ve probably got your own John McClain story. If you’ve covered the NFL anywhere for more than five minutes in the last four decades, you definitely have a few John McClain stories.

   Like the bus driver that tells John how much he loves Warren Sapp, the Hall of Fame defensive tackle.

   “Really?” John says.

   He pulls out his iPhone, dials a number, and says, “Hey, Warren, talk to this guy. He’s your biggest fan.”

   My personal favorite is the day I walked into Charley Casserly’s office in Washington and asked: “So you sent the Oilers a letter drawing lines in the sand on this Wilber Marshall trade?”

   Charley looks stricken.

   “How did you find out about that?” he asks.

   At the time, I was covering the Washington team for the Washington Post while John was covering the Oilers for the Houston Chronicle.

   “John McClain told me.”

   Same stricken look from Charley.

   “I sent that letter 20 minutes ago,” Charley said. “Is McClain standing by the fax machine?”

   “I guess so,” I said.

   Charley might have forgotten that incident after he joined the Texans and got a phone call from John.

   “You’ve got Butch Davis in for an interview today?” John asked.

   “No,” Charley said.

   “OK, Charley,” John shot back, “I was hoping it wasn’t going to be this way, but OK.”

   John hung up, and within minutes got a call from Charley confirming, yes, Butch Davis was in town interviewing for the Texans head coaching job.

   “I’m used to being covered by writers,” Charley told me later. “I wasn’t ready for a civic icon.”

   As an aside, let’s point out that no one you’ll ever meet cared more about his city, website/newspaper, alma mater (Baylor, bless his heart) and coverage more than John McClain.

   Fast forward to my chat with Sherman, a former Texans assistant (and one-time Texas A&M head coach).

   I asked Mike if the story about Zac flying into Houston from Nebraska to ask for his blessing to marry Mike’s daughter Sarah was true.

   Only that’s not the best part of the story. Zac has a brief window to catch his flight back home as he dashes into the Texans cafeteria at NRG Stadium.

   There he sees his future father-in-law seated at a table with John. In retelling the story, Zac immediately understood his tight timetable might be a problem.

   “You have to understand, John McClain is a big deal in Houston,” Zac said.

   On Cris Collinsworth’s podcast, he said: “I only had an hour before my flight. He’s sitting there having a conversation with John McClain; I’m sitting at a table. Matt Schaub’s at the next table; Ahman Green—and I’m nervous as you can imagine.”

   And then Mike and John finished their chat.

   “All the players are around me, but him and I are at a little table,” Taylor said. “And I had to ask, ‘Hey, can I—can I marry your daughter? And I got a flight to catch in fifteen minutes, so I need a quick answer.’ ”

   Mike laughs about it now.

   “Did I know Zac was waiting?” Mike said. “I did. Did I maybe intentionally make him wait? I probably did.”

   John and Mike eventually finished their chat, and Zac approached, got Mike’s blessing, and dashed out the door to catch a flight home.

   He would join Mike’s staff at Texas A&M on his climb up the ladder that has taken him to this place among the NFL’s elite coaches, having taken the Bengals to a Super Bowl in his third season. The Bengals and Chiefs will play Sunday with a berth in a second straight Super Bowl on the line.

   Along the way, he has become a folk hero in Cincinnati, probably the second-most popular man in the city, behind only Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow.

   Among his genius touches: Bengals players and coaches make surprise visits to Cincinnati bars after victories to include fans in postgame celebrations.

   His father-in-law couldn’t be happier.

   “Obviously, he has done a great job with the Bengals,” Mike said. “He has put together a great staff, and those guys play with such purpose and composure. It’s not easy to do what they’ve done as quickly as they’ve done it.”

   After the Bengals had beaten the Bills in the divisional round of the playoffs, I texted John: “Are you going to be writing the Zac Taylor-John McClain-Mike Sherman story? Or can I have it?”

   “It’s all yours,” John wrote back.

   Consider it done.

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