Jan 252017
 
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New York Giants Defense (January 11, 1987)

New York Giants Defense (January 11, 1987)

Ghosts come in a variety of forms. By the early 1980’s, the New York Football Giants had been haunted by a cavalcade of specters for over two decades. They were known as Frank Gifford, Sam Huff and Charlie Conerly – echoes from the glorious Golden Age – memories of what-they’d-been.

The gloomy reminders of what-they’d-become appeared in the forms of Rocky Thompson, Craig Morton and Joe Pisarcik. Those apparitions periodically manifested themselves in the cruelest forms: deflected passes landing in the arms of opposing defensive linemen who return them for touchdowns and whiffed punts.

The most haunting, of course, were the personal ones. The memories of those who were lost before their time: Troy Archer, Bob Ledbetter and Doug Kotar.

The weight of these ghostly, yet at the same time all-too-tangible, phantoms had become unbearable. The 1986 New York Giants were a team in need of an exorcism.

Veteran defensive end George Martin, who joined the Giants in 1975, said, “I attempt to have a conversation every day with at least one of my teammates about the past. We were the laughingstock of the National Football League. I tell them what it’s like to be so low you have to look up to see the bottom, that the fans are burning tickets and you’re embarrassed to wear a Giants emblem anywhere. You’re trying to get through the season so you can go home and watch the playoffs on TV. That’s really a bad situation. I tell them sometimes how grateful they should be that it’s all turned around. And I want them to know that success is a fleeting thing, and that you’ve got to grab it while you can.”

The present hadn’t offered any relief. Only weeks after the playoff loss at Chicago, linebacker Lawrence Taylor was rumored to be seeking professional help for a substance problem. Team officials would neither confirm, nor deny, suggestions on Taylor’s whereabouts. When pressed on the issue in mid-February, General Manager George Young said, “I’ve got nothing to say. I don’t know where our players are most of the time.”

The response to a month of queries was received in March when Taylor acknowledged participation in an unspecified treatment program via a statement through the Giants. In it, Taylor stated: “I have just completed the first phase of what I know will be a difficult and ongoing battle to overcome these problems.”

What the “problems” were continued to be a source of speculation. Anonymous quotes mentioned alcohol and cocaine abuse, and that the treatment facility may have been in the proximity of Houston, Texas. Head Coach Bill Parcells did not partake in the guessing games, “I think the statement tells the story. I think he’s entitled to confidentiality.”

Taylor also initiated what would become a nearly year-long boycott of the press, which Parcells fully supported.

Unconventional

Parcells did obliquely broach the subject when discussing prospects for the draft in late April. It was reported that 53 of the 335 players who had participated in the Combine had tested positive for illegal drugs. Parcells said, “I would probably prefer not to draft any of them, but I wouldn’t have a concrete policy. I’m not interested in being consistent, but in being right…I think we’re more conscious of the drug problem than we were five years ago. We have tried to become better educated.”

General Manager George Young’s draft strategy stunned all observers. The defense rich team appeared to have pressing needs at wide receiver, running back and offensive line depth. Instead, Young selected defensive players with the team’s first six selections, five of which were in the first two rounds, having accumulated extra picks acquired in off season trades. Young said, “I’m not a trader, I don’t like to trade. But these situations developed.”

The first of those “situations” was offensive tackle Gary Zimmerman, whose rights the Giants owned after the USFL folded. Zimmerman had no reservations about playing for the Giants specifically, but he had no interest in living in a large, northeastern metropolis, and preferred to remain in the West. To that end, Young sent Zimmerman to Minnesota for two second-round picks. “I wasn’t trying to unload Zimmerman, but we had been talking to the Vikings for quite some time. They needed an offensive tackle. I finally told the Vikings there was no way I’d make the deal without getting two-second round choices. And they came up with the second choice for us.

The second “situation” had simmered since the 1985 season during a prolonged holdout by All-Pro cornerback Mark Haynes. Young said, “We worked long and hard on the Haynes deal. The Broncos were the team that always showed an interest. They didn’t have a first round choice, so we couldn’t make it that way, but we finally put it together with the three choices – two this year, one next year.” (Second and sixth round picks in 1986, second round pick in 1987).

“I know we took defensive players with all those picks, but we were just taking the best player there at the time. We were concerned about the order in which we took those players. We thought some of those players were being considered by other teams. But we got the four players in the second round we hoped to get.

“For example, we knew we had to take Collins before Howard because Washington picked in the middle of our first two picks and they had just taken a defensive lineman. If we took Howard first, Washington would have taken Collins, and we knew Washington was talking to another team to try to trade up.”

The coup turned out to be: Eric Dorsey, defensive end in the first round; Mark Collins, cornerback, Erik Howard, defensive tackle, Thomas “Pepper” Johnson, linebacker, and Greg Lasker, safety all in the second round, and John Washington, defensive end in the third round.

Young said, “We were fortunate for the Zimmerman and Haynes trades because we thought we could get good players in the second round. I think we wiped out the second round defensively. Someone on the Bears said, ‘We waited at the bottom of the second round for what you didn’t want, and you took them all.’”

Parcells said, “You’ve got to feel good now. I think the strength of the draft was where we got extra choices. We took three defensive linemen, and there weren’t many. If you don’t have a solid defense, it affects your offense. Look at the Chicago Bears. In the playoffs they’re ahead of us, 14-0, and it’s all over. With their defense, you can’t get them. They go in there and run handoffs to Walter Payton.”

Preparation and Distraction

Days before the opening of training camp, former Giant fan favorite Carl “Spider” Lockhart passed away at the age of 43 after a prolonged bout with cancer. Lockhart was a hard-hitting safety with good ball instincts. He played in two Pro Bowls and was a seen as a bright spot on teams that achieved little success, having his 11-year career take place during the Giants “Wilderness Years.” The Giants wore a patch with his #43 and nickname “Spider” on it beginning in the regular season. It would be the first time New York honored a former player in that manner.

Camp opened with seven of the fourteen draftees absent as their contracts were still being negotiated, but not many seemed to notice. The most discussed absentee was 1985 rushing leader Joe Morris who wanted a new contract. The holdout turned out to be a unique one, where Morris came into camp on the third day, but on a limited, non-contact basis. Coach Bill Parcells said, “He kind of asked me if he could do that, and I kind of thought it would be better if he was here…We came to an agreement on what he does.”

The one player present who drew the most critical eye was Lawrence Taylor. How did he look and how would he perform after rehabilitating for substance abuse? When asked, linebacker Harry Carson replied, “No comment.” Bill Parcells said, “There is no update. This is not the 6 o’clock news.”

Despite the hold up and holdouts, optimism was as high as anyone around the team could recall. Quarterback Phil Simms said, “Everywhere I go, people tell me how great we’re going to do. If it’s anything less, they’re going to be disappointed…It’s just speculation. Once the season starts, it all goes out the window.”

Carson said, “Last year was last year. You can’t just take up where you left off. You have to start over. You have to make improvements in camp…I think we have as good a shot as any other team. But a lot of other teams feel that way about themselves too.”

Parcells echoed that sentiment, “I don’t really know. Every year is a new year. You don’t know the kind of attitude your team is going to have. You don’t know who’s going to get hurt. That’s why preseason predictions are ludicrous.”

Parcells had proved to possess a masterful touch as he lifted his dispirited team immediately following their playoff loss in Chicago. Wide receiver Phil McConkey recalled: “Our [1986] season actually started in that locker room in Chicago in January. Coach Parcells told us after our defeat he would do anything and everything he could to get us to the next level. He expected us to, too. He told us George Martin and Harry Carson didn’t deserve what had happened. He said George and Harry deserved to be champions. He had us aiming at Super Bowl XXI before they even played Super Bowl XX.”

The 1986 season was the 30th anniversary of the Football Giants most recent championship. Hall-of-Famers Frank Gifford, Andy Robustelli, Sam Huff, their head coach Jim Lee Howell and about a dozen other players from that team gathered for a reunion to celebrate the occasion. Their quarterback Charlie Conerly succinctly summarized the significance, “Winning the World Championship. That was the whole thing.”

Winning the championship. It was what the Giants strove for and what their fans yearned for. It was also the one and only way to silence the ghosts.

Heading into the final preseason game, most of the unsigned rookies had their deals done and were fully participating in practices, but the Morris situation remained unresolved. Regardless, Morris would play in the game, and despite not having been in a full-contact session all summer, he played well enough, gaining 53 yards on 11 carries with a short touchdown run.

The day after the game, New York learned of the passing of another former player. John Tuggle, who played fullback for the Giants in 1983, passed away after a two-year battle with cancer. He learned of his ailment after a knee injury he suffered during the 1984 mini-camp required surgery. After undergoing treatments, Tuggle was cleared to play football for the 1985 season and participated in the mini-camp, but was unable to continue and left the team. The Giants continued to pay his salary until his contract expired after the conclusion of the 1985 season. The Giants wore Tuggle’s #38 on the back of their helmets beginning in Week 5.

The final cuts brought surprises. Veteran receiver and returner Phil McConkey was released, and kicker Ali Haji-Sheikh was placed on injured reserve. Eric Schubert had already been let go, so New York had no kicker on its roster less than a week before opening day. Veteran Bob Thomas was eventually signed and made the trip to Dallas for the Week 1 Monday Night Football Game. So did the six defensive draft picks. Defensive coordinator Bill Belichick said, “They all have the potential to be good, when they start making giant strides instead of short steps.”

Big Blue Roller Coaster

The Giants received a boost when Morris, who had traveled with the team but wasn’t going to dress for the game without a new contract, signed a deal less than three hours before kickoff. The momentum didn’t last long once the game started, as the Cowboys opened a 14-0 lead in the second quarter. Repeating a familiar pattern, the Giants fought back, tied the game, had the lead entering the fourth quarter, but again lost late to their division rivals, 31-28

Texas Stadium was a house of horrors for the Giants. Since the Cowboys moved into the building in 1971, New York’s record there was 3-12. Most surprising was the failure of the defense, which was supposed to be New York’s pillar of strength, that yielded 14 fourth-quarter points, including the decisive score during the Dallas two-minute drive. There were no freak plays attributed to the offense or special teams as in years past. The defense was simply beaten at the point-of-attack.

Defensive line coach Lamar Leachman said, “That was probably the poorest effort by the front three in my seven years here.”

Parcells said, “We didn’t play good against the run. I wasn’t pleased. We should be good. I don’t think anybody on defense played real well.”

Kicker Bob Thomas reported a sprained right ankle after the game. When it was determined he would be unavailable for the home opener against San Diego, Thomas was placed on injured reserve and replaced by Joe Cooper.

The defense rebounded against the explosive, Dan Fouts-led Chargers, who were coming off a 50-28 win at Miami, in a way that would have made Sam Huff and other Giants defensive legends envious. Fouts was 19-of-43, an uncharacteristically low 43% completion percentage, for 224 yards – a poor 5.2 yards-per-pass attempt with one touchdown against five interceptions. While Fouts was only sacked once, he was pressured on nearly every drop-back. New York had seven takeaways, the most in a single game since the Giants registered 10 against Washington in 1963. All six San Diego possessions in the second half ended with turnovers, and the Giants won 20-7. Fouts said, “It seemed wherever I wanted to throw the ball, the Giants were already there. I don’t think I was tipping anything off. I think they just have did a lot of homework and have a great defense.”

Nose tackle Jim Burt said, “We did a lot of soul searching all week. It was the toughest week of my life. We got knocked to our knees emotionally last week. The defense was supposed to be the backbone of this team and we were the weak link.”

Belichick said, “We took away their outside running game and their short passes. When Fouts tried to go deep, that’s when we got interceptions.”

Leonard Marshall (70), Harry Carson (53), New York Giants (September 21, 1986)

Leonard Marshall (70), Harry Carson (53), New York Giants (September 21, 1986)

Another NFL star was stymied by Belichick’s unit in the Week 3 contest in Los Angeles against the Raiders. Halfback Marcus Allen brought a league record 11-game streak with at least 100 rushing yards into the game, but left in the third quarter, having gained only 40 yards on 15 carries. Meanwhile, Morris enjoyed his first 100-yard game of the season for New York with 111 yards on 18 carries. Simms threw two, second half touchdown passes and the Giants earned a gritty 14-9 win.

Raiders coach Tom Flores said, “I don’t remember a defense playing us that physical. We had trouble making our reliable plays work, the ones that always do. I’ve got to feel that’s the best defense we’ll face all season.”

Four days later, Cooper was released and Raul Allegre was signed. Since Week 1 of the 1985 season, the Giants had played 21 games, including the post season. Allegre was their sixth place kicker in that span as they headed into their 22nd game. The revolving door began in the second week of 1985 when Ali Haji-Sheikh aggravated a hamstring injury during the game at Green Bay. Jess Atkinson served as his replacement for six weeks, but the Giants lost him in a waiver-claim move while shuffling their roster. Eric Schubert finished out the year but was released during the 1986 training camp and Haji-Sheikh went to injured reserve.

The Week 4 game at home against New Orleans began like a nightmare. The mistake-prone offense turned the ball over twice and the defense let the Saints into the end zone both times. Midway through the second quarter New York trailed 17-0 and Giants Stadium echoed with boos.

More alarming than the team’s wretched performance was the accumulation of injured players on the sideline. Wide Receiver Lionel Manuel suffered badly sprained knee ligaments, an injury that would keep him out the remainder of the regular season. Tight end Mark Bavaro suffered what was believed to be a broken jaw, but remarkably returned in the second half after having it wired shut. (X-Rays later revealed the injury to be a chipped tooth). Joe Morris was already out, not dressing for the game after suffering an allergic reaction to medication he had been taking for the fractured nose he suffered against the Raiders.

The injury that got everyone’s attention came early in the third quarter. Trailing 17-10, cornerback Mark Collins nearly had his skull fractured when he lost his helmet returning a punt and suffered a concussion. He lost consciousness on the bench while being tended to by doctors.

Jim Burt said, “They had him wrapped up and somebody took a shot.”

Parcells said, “When a guy loses his helmet eight guys shouldn’t pile up on him.”

Harry Carson said, “I think the guy who hit him, hit him on purpose. So I got rededicated to play harder, and so did the others. It was like something went through us. I know when something like that happens you want someone to know you care about him. You realize just how fragile a person is. I had tears in my eyes.

The Giants responded immediately with an 11-play drive for a field goal to reduce the deficit to 17-13. The aroused Carson and New York defense forced three consecutive three-and-outs, while the offense maintained the field position advantage.

That suddenly changed early in the fourth quarter when a Simms pass intended for Bavaro was tipped and intercepted at midfield. The Saints drove to New York’s 26 yard line, where safety Kenny Hill forced running back Reuben Mayes to fumble, and defensive end Leonard Marshall recovered for the Giants. Simms promptly drove the offense 72 yards – including a drive-starting 18-yard scramble – and connected with tight end Zeke Mowatt for the touchdown to give New York its first lead, 20-17, with 8:03 to play. The defense forced another Saints three-and-out and the Giants offense ground out the remaining 7:16 with a 14-play drive to ensure the victory. Burt said, “That was especially gratifying. We didn’t have to go back on the field.”

The comeback was somewhat remarkable in that it was a feat the Giants were not known for. The 17-point deficit was the largest overcome by New York since a 19-point comeback against the Redskins in 1970. Parcells was encouraged, “It tells me we think we’re supposed to win.”

New York Giants Comebacks

Over the 15 seasons between the two landmark comebacks, the Giants trailed entering the fourth quarter 119 times and lost 108 of them – a 92% losing percentage. Conversely, they led 101 times entering the fourth quarter and lost 23 times – a losing percentage of 23%. Simply put, the Giants could be counted on to lose nine of every 10 games they trailed in the last 15 minutes, while also blowing nearly one of every four fourth-quarter leads. They were not good finishers.

The week following the win saw recognition and praise for Bavaro, whose toughness was already approaching legendary status. Simms said, “The best thing Mark does for us is he runs with the ball after he catches it.”

That usually meant leaving a trail of failed tacklers behind him. Offensive coordinator Ron Erhardt said, “The guy is just determined to play the position as good as he can. He has great determination, great self-motivation…Out near the sideline, those defensive backs can push him out of bounds. He’s better in the middle of the field. He gets extra yardage there because it takes more than a push to stop him.”

Tight ends coach Mike Pope said, “If they hit (Bavaro) high, he’s got the strength to keep going.”

George Martin said, “In a quiet way, Mark Bavaro is as good a tight end as Lawrence Taylor is linebacker. He just isn’t as dramatic or spectacular.”

The most glowing praise came from out of town. Chicago Bears coach and former tight end Mike Ditka said, “(Bavaro) plays the position the way it’s meant to be played. Playing tight end is not just catching seventy or eighty passes, but playing in the trenches and always being in the play. And that’s what he does. He’s the only true tight end in football. He blocks. He catches. He punishes.”

One man was chosen to fill two needs after the injury carnage, and he had been cut by New York only four weeks earlier.

Phil McConkey had received very little playing time with Green Bay and was expendable. For the Giants, he’d be invaluable as both a receiver and returner, as well as locker room presence. While Parcells told McConkey a trade had been worked out with the compensation being “a blocking dummy and a couple of clipboards,” the price actually ended up being a 12th-round pick in the 1987 draft.

McConkey said, “A lot of teams wouldn’t have brought back a guy they’d cut. They would’ve been afraid it would be like admitting a mistake. Bringing me back showed me how serious the Giants were about winning in 1986. They weren’t worried about appearances. They were worried about results.”

The Giants were definitely worried about the results after their next game, an ugly 13-6 win at St. Louis. The defense and special teams were actually magnificent. McConkey already proved his worth – returning seven punts for 85 yards, a total greater than the team had accomplished in the first four games combined. By doing so, he helped maintain favorable field position for New York, while the defense sacked Cardinals quarterback Neil Lomax seven times and forced two takeaways.

The absence of starting talent at wide receiver for the Giants was gravely apparent – the only player on the roster with appreciable experience was Bobby Johnson. Simms struggled, completing 8-of-24 attempts, which made it easy for St. Louis to load up and stop the run. As a team, New York gained 61 yards on 25 attempts. Fortunately for them, Sean Landeta had a strong day, punting nine times with a gross of nearly 48 yards per punt.

Parcells said, “We have got a lot work to do. Thank God for my punter, my field goal kicker and my return man.”

Center Bart Oates said, “You take the win and enjoy it, but we’re not kidding ourselves. We know what it feels like to play a good football game. We just haven’t done it yet.”

To the surprise of many, the solution chosen as the elixir for the ailing offense wasn’t a receiver, it was another running back. George Young’s second trade in a week was for the Cardinals Ottis Anderson, in exchange for 2nd- and 7th-round 1987 draft picks. Many Giants players were pleased with the news. Guard Billy Ard said, “I think it’s great. It takes a lot of pressure off Joe Morris.” Carl Banks said, “(Anderson’s) biggest asset is power. He’s hard to bring down.”

Parcells told Anderson he would primarily play fullback, despite his having played tailback his entire seven-year career. Anderson said, “At this stage of my career it doesn’t matter what position I play. I just want to make the Giants a contender and a team to be reckoned with. Joe Morris is the number one back here, I’ll learn from him.”

Morris said, “Anderson’s presence is going to help this team. It’s going to help me every day.”

Young alluded to the motivation behind his atypical dealing, “If we’re trying to run for the roses, and we can get someone to help us…” Young left the sentence unfinished.

Anderson’s presence was intended to boost the offenses production, but it was the defense that was the dominating force in the 35-3 win over Philadelphia. That stat sheet told the story: nine first downs, 117 total yards, two turnovers, six sacks, and 20:27 time of possession. What gets lost on paper was the brutality with which they played. Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski said, “I can’t remember one game in 14 years when I had this many people around me. I was getting hit every time I had the ball. We played every scheme we had and they beat us.”

Carl Banks said, “The idea was to create confusion in blocking schemes. Sometimes L.T. and I ended up two-on-one. On one play near the goal line, a back had both of us. He took me, and L.T. got a sack.”

Taylor had his first four-sack game since 1984, and was also in on seven tackles. After this game, he led the NFL with seven and a half sacks. Carson said, “(Taylor’s) playing fine. He’s not playing better than last year. He’s just been more dominant. He’s not hurt like last year when he had a couple of nagging injuries. Otherwise, he’s the same Lawrence Taylor.”

While the 35 points was impressive, they were largely set up by the big-play defense giving the offense a short field to work with. Also, one touchdown came via special teams when Carson caught a touchdown pass on a fake field goal. The wide receiver position took another hit when Stacey Robinson left the game after pulling a hamstring. He would end up missing several weeks.

The win was the Giants largest margin of victory since a 32-0 win at Seattle in 1981 and gave New York its first five-game win streak since 1970. Anderson, who carried seven times for 32 yards, said, “It’s a different feeling here. These guys know what it takes to win.”

That winning feeling didn’t make the trip to the Pacific Northwest. The irony was that the offense, at least statistically, played its best game in weeks. The Giants had advantages over Seattle in first downs 22-13, rushing yards 162-72, passing yards 190-166 and time of possession 34:42-25:18. The difference was New York’s shoddy pass protection (Simms was sacked seven times for 45 yards in losses) and four interceptions. Even when Giants scored their lone touchdown, the point-after was missed on an errant snap where the kick never got off. The frustrating 17-12 loss left a bitter after taste.

Ron Erhardt said, “We did everything but score. Inside the 20 we stank.”

Parcells said, “We gave them a couple of opportunities and they capitalized. They gave us a couple of opportunities and we didn’t capitalize…I’m concerned. I’m just hoping we can get a little more consistency.”

The defense remained consistent and played up to expectations. Seattle halfback Curt Warner attested: “I was hit hard and often, and everything I got was extra difficult. That is the best, toughest defense I’ve seen in this league.”

The loss dropped the Giants to 5-2, tied for second place in the NFC East with Dallas, behind 6-1 Washington. There was also added local pressure to keep winning. The 6-1 New York Jets, who at times looked like the NFL’s best team, and the New York Mets, who were competing in the World Series, had elevated expectations of New York fans to an unprecedented level.

The Giants lost another former player on October 21 when John Del Isola passed away at the age of 74. Del Isola was a stalwart on the line for New York from 1934-1940, which included teams that won the Eastern Conference four times and won NFL titles in 1934 and 1938. Del Isola was named First-Team All-Pro in 1939 and was an assistant coach on Jim Lee Howell’s staff from 1957-1959.

New York had an extra day to reassess what went wrong in Seattle as their next game was a Monday Night showdown at Giants Stadium. As they prepared to face Washington for the first time, there was discussion on the ailing passing game as well as heightened pressure.

Erhardt: “I don’t think Phil is happy with the year he’s having. He’s had some real good games and some average ones. I don’t think he was happy with last week. “

Simms: “I feel like I’m a good quarterback. I know what’s going on out there. Offensively, we’re not playing well as a group out there. Sometimes the problems have been my fault. But it’s not time to panic, and I don’t think we’re going to panic. We might not get our offense going all year, but that doesn’t mean we won’t win.”

McConkey said, “People have high expectations, and rightfully so. But we’re playing this week for first place in our division at the halfway point of the season. I’ll take that.”

Burt said, “We’re playing hard, but people are waiting for something bad to happen. That’s what the Giants did in the past. I understand the frustration people have with the Giants, but we’re not like the Giants of the past. We’re better than we were in 1984, better than 1985.”

Even if the fans didn’t appreciate the Giants, there was no lack of respect from their upcoming opponents. Washington coach Joe Gibbs said, “We have been beaten badly by the Giants. That’s what’s in a player’s mind; that’s what builds up the lasting impression.”

Linebacker Neil Olkewicz said, “We respect the Giants…Even when they had bad teams, we respected the Giants. The Giants are more like us, blue-collar guys who worked their way up to what they are.”

Big Wins and Big Struggles

All that had ailed the Giants offense seemed cured for the first 30 minutes of the Redskins game – while seemingly half of the Giants Stadium patrons were watching or listening to the Mets Game 7 on their portable televisions and radios. Simms was 10-of-14 passing for 93 yards, while as a team New York rushed 21 times for 116 yards. Morris contributed 93 of those yards, including an 11-yard touchdown.

The Giants led 13-3 at halftime, and the only minor complaint would be the wide receivers were complete non-factors. Bobby Johnson was the only receiver with a catch – for nine yards – while the rest of the passing distribution went to the backs and a slowed tight end Bavaro, who was playing while managing a foot injury. Zeke Mowatt received his most playing time in two years as the Giants started and played from a two tight end set for much of the half.

The lead ballooned to 20-3 five minutes into the third quarter when Simms connected with Johnson on a 30-yard touchdown pass. Everything was tilted in New York’s favor, the Mets had clinched their Game 7 win while the Giants were blowing out Washington – seemingly poised to take over first place NFC East.

Redskins quarterback Jay Schroeder completed a 71-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Ricky Sanders three plays after the ensuing kickoff, as Giants cornerback Perry Williams fell down on the play. In a New York minute the momentum leveled and the uproarious Meadowlands quieted.

Washington’s defense repeatedly forced New York punts while their offense chipped away at the lead. An opportunity to increase a precarious 20-17 advantage early in the fourth quarter was squandered when Allegre missed a 29-yard field goal wide right. Following an exchange of punts, Schroeder led Washington on a nine-play drive – eight of them passes – to the tying field goal from 29 yards with 4:06 to play.

Simms attempted to answer for New York. He received assistance from the Redskins, who twice committed penalties resulting in first downs. Simms ended up only 1-of-5 passing on the drive, the lone completion being a 10-yarder to Bavaro. Bracketing the incomplete passes and penalties, Morris opened the drive with a 10-yard rush and carried off right tackle for 24 yards to set up the Giants at the Washington 22-yard line at the two minute warning.

Following the time out, Morris carried twice for nine yards, then on 3rd-and-1 finished off the drive with a 13-yard carry off right tackle for a dramatic touchdown that gave New York a 27-20 lead with 1:44 to play. The Redskins didn’t quit. Schroeder led Washington on a nine-play drive, all passes, which ultimately was stopped on downs at New York’s 35-yard line. Simms ended the game with a kneel-down, and the Giants and Redskins ended the evening in a three-way tie for first place with Dallas at 6-2.

The Giants defense was magnificent against the run, holding George Rogers to 30 yards on 16 carries, but the pass defense showed cracks. Schroeder completed 22-of-40 for 420 yards, despite being sacked three times by Taylor, who now had 10 on the season. Wide receiver Gary Clark set a Washington team record with 241 receiving yards on 11 catches.

Parcells said, “That’s the NFC East right there. It’s a battle. That finishes up the first half of the season. I guess there are three teams that kind of get to start over. Fortunately we’re one of them.”

Gibbs said, “We let it get away early. And then, when we came back, we couldn’t go all the way to take it from them.”

Morris carried the offense, and finished the night with 181 yards on 31 carries with two touchdowns. Parcells said, “I was very pleased with the offense. We ran the ball extremely well. The percentage of times we used two tight ends was quite a bit. We didn’t plan to use it that much. But once we got it going we were just going to make them stop it.”

Washington guard Russ Grimm said, “They’re tough up front. We got beat up on a few plays. They shut us down in the first half, and we were lucky to make the big plays in the second half to make it a game. They played hard and deserved to win.”

Lawrence Taylor was named the “NFC Defensive Player of the Month” for October. No doubt the nine sacks accrued over four games attracted much attention, but his overall dominance as a perpetual disruptive force was without question.

The 1986 season was the 10th anniversary of Giants Stadium. The New Jersey Sports and Exhibition Authority marked the field with a red circle at the 50-yard line that read “NEW JERSEY MEADOWLANDS” around a map of the state. It was the first occasion a Giants home field had any ornamentation outside of the end zones.

The Giants had a chance to put Dallas a game behind them in the standings, something they failed to do the previous year in the disastrous Week 15 loss in Dallas. Veteran George Martin had a unique outlook on the upcoming big game, “I remember the years when you would come to the stadium with a 3-7 record and know you’re going to be home for Christmas. Now it’s fun. I don’t mind coming to the stadium early and being the last one out of here at night.”

The fun for Martin was only getting started. The eleven-year Giant was a full time player for the first time since 1980, having been a pass rush specialist since the 1981 conversion to the 3-4 defense. In the Week 9 game versus Dallas at Giants Stadium, Martin showed no signs of age nor fatigue, as he was good to the very last snap.

Martin’s teammates were at their ferocious best. Cowboy backs Herschel Walker and Tony Dorsett both left the game at various points with minor ankle and knee injuries, respectively, and quarterback Danny White exited for good with a broken wrist caused by blitzing Carl Banks late in the first quarter.

The Cowboys defense, while not sending and New York players to the sideline, was actually the more effective unit. They smothered the feeble Giants passing attack to six completions on 18 attempts – a miserable 3.7 yards-per-attempt – and an interception. When three sacks of Simms with losses of 21 yards were factored in, New York netted a grand total of 46 yards in the air. The crowd booed lustily after every incompletion.

Thankfully for the Giants offense, Morris showed no signs of fatigue on the short week, as he was called upon to carry the offensive unit for the second time in six days. He ended with his second consecutive 181-yard game, this time on 29 attempts with two touchdowns.

A seemingly safe 17-7 New York lead fell into jeopardy as Dallas backup Steve Pelluer energized his team and led them on an eight-play, 80-yard drive for a touchdown that brought them within a field goal at 17-14 with 7:29 left in the fourth quarter.

The Giants did little after receiving the kickoff, though Simms did complete his first and only pass for a first down in the game with a 10-yard completion to Bavaro on 2nd-and-7. Sean Landeta punted the Cowboys back to their 16-yard line with 3:33 to play.

Pelluer started the drive with four consecutive completions, and moved Dallas to New York’s 47-yard line. On 2nd-and-5, Pelluer was chased toward the sideline by Leonard Marshall and was flagged for intentional grounding, giving Dallas a 3rd-and-15 from their own 43-yard line. At this moment, the Giants received help from the 12th man, their fans. The crowd noise became so resounding Pelluer had to abandon the shotgun – a staple of the Cowboys offense – so his linemen could hear the calls. Belichick said, “The crowd was a factor. It forced Pelluer to come up under the center, which he’s not used to in that situation. I think as a result, he might have dropped too deep.”

Setting under center proved little help and the officials granted a respite with an unofficial timeout when Pelluer complained about the noise. Marshall said, “The fans were great. The twelfth man worked today.”

On the next snap, Pelluer was chased from the pocket by Marshall but he completed a pass to wide receiver Mike Sherrard for 21-yards and a first down at the New York’s 36-yard line with 1:15 to play. The next play was a 30-yard gain by Dorsett on a screen pass that was negated by a hold on tackle Phil Pozderac. A short pass gave Dallas a 2nd-and-16 from the 42-yard line. Lawrence Taylor appeared to have saved the day with a 14-yard sack, but it was negated by a defensive holding penalty that gave the Cowboys a first down on the 37-yard line with 56 seconds left.

The frenetic sequence continued. Pelluer completed a second-down pass for a first down at the 27-yard line, and Martin pushed Dallas back with a sack for a loss of 14 yards at 0:44. Pelluer threw incomplete on 2nd-and-24 from the 41-yard line. On third down, Dallas was penalized for a false start on Pozderac, who was lined up across from Martin. Pozderac said, “With all the crowd noise once we got past the 50, it was totally impossible to hear the snap count. In all that noise, I had to watch (Martin) and the ball. I’m trying to watch the ball more than him, but it’s hard. As soon as I see movement, I go.”

Martin said, “I knew Pozderac couldn’t hear the count. That’s when I gave him the false move, and he went for it.”

Pelluer’s completion on 3rd-and-29 was good for only one yard. On 4th-and-28 from the 45-yard line, Cowboys kicker Rafael Septien’s 63-yard field goal attempt fell short at with 12 seconds left. Simms knelt on the ball and the exasperated Giants walked off of the field exhausted, but triumphant. The final drive by the Cowboys officially was recorded as 14 plays for 39 yards, but when penalties are taken into consideration, there were 18 snaps of the ball. For once, New York made the big plays late to beat the Cowboys. Dorsett said, “When you come up short because of mental errors, it hurts.”

Dallas had significant advantages in passing yards 306 to 46. Morris kept New York in the game; as a team, the Giants rushed 37 times for 199 yards. When asked of the imbalance of the offense’s output, Parcells said, “I’m not under the illusion that we can run for 200 yards every game.”

The Giants top two receivers Lionel Manuel and Stacey Robinson were still on injured reserve. To compensate, New York resorted to the two-tight end offense as their base personal set for the second consecutive week. The running game prospered while the passing game dwindled to near non-existence.

Parcells said, “We want to have the mentality that we’re going to run the ball and you can’t stop it.”

The pattern repeated itself the following week in Philadelphia against the Eagles. The Giants escaped with a rough 17-14 win after nearly blowing a 17-0 lead in the final quarter. The defense dominated (seven sacks, 237 total yards allowed), the passing offense was inefficient (Simms completed 8-of-18 for 130 yards and two interceptions) and the running game moved the chains (40 rushes for 153 yards with two touchdowns).

Despite having defeated division opponents in three consecutive games and having a share of first place in the middle of November with an 8-2 record, morale was low and tension was high. The output of the offense was not sustainable for success over the long haul.

Fullback Maurice Carthon said, “We can’t keep winning this way.”

Unconquerable

Simms took the offense’s struggles personally, and refused to put the blame on the injured and inexperienced receiving corps. “You hit one bad, then you start thinking about it and you hit another one bad. It’s hard when you get to throw only every other series. This is the first time I’ve felt frustrated like this in a good long while.”

Parcells sat his quarterback down for a heart-to-heart talk while preparing for the Week 11 contest at Minnesota. Parcells said, “I called him in and said, ‘Look, I think you’re a great quarterback, and the way you got to be great was by being fearless out there, and resilient. Don’t worry about the things you can’t control, like drops. Be yourself.”

Simms said, “(Parcells) pumped me up when I needed it.”

Teammates and assistant coaches offered support for their quarterback.

Burt: “(Simms) gives you everything he’s got. The media is tough on him. A lot of fans are tough on him. I don’t know if I could take that booing. He’s very dedicated to his job. It really gets me angry when fans boo him because they don’t know anything about it. He deserves all the credit in the world…Winning isn’t enough for him. He works hard at his job, so if he doesn’t do well it hurts him. What other quarterback stays until 7:30 or 8:00 four nights a week to lift weights? He’s the quarterback. He doesn’t have to do it. That says a lot about him.”

Guard Billy Ard: “(Simms) is very competitive. He’s very emotional. He believes in himself. He expects perfection. When things are going well, he’s pumped up. When they’re not, he clams up a bit. He fits the quarterback role well. He’s a leader.”

Ron Erhardt: “I like everything about (Simms). He’s got a good arm, he’s smart, he’s in the game and he knows in certain situations what he can do and what he can’t do…But he knows what should happen in the passing game, and when it doesn’t happen he becomes frustrated. It might be a protection problem or he might make a bad throw or a receiver might run a wrong route. Sometimes you don’t get it done physically, and that bothers him. But it happens to everyone.”

Simms also got some help as Stacey Robinson was activated for the game, giving the quarterback a viable downfield option. For the first time in four weeks New York opened the game with one tight end and two wide receivers on the field. Minnesota was apparently not impressed with the refurbished lineup, as they often aligned with eight or nine defenders near the line of scrimmage to defend the run on most downs. Morris was stymied with 28 yards on eight carries at the half, but the Giants led 9-6 as the teams exchanged field goals.

Following a New York three-and-out to open the third quarter, quarterback Tommy Kramer led the Vikings on an 11-play, 79-yard drive for the game’s first touchdown, an eight-yard completion to running back Allen Rice. The Giants next possession was greatly helped by two Minnesota defensive penalties, a 37-yard pass interference and a 15-yard flagrant facemask, but it came up empty when Simms was intercepted at the 2-yard line.

The Vikings went three-and-out, and New York’s ensuing possession was again aided by a pass interference penalty, this time 31 yards, and Raul Allegre kicked a 37-yard field goal. Minnesota lead 13-12 going into the fourth quarter.

After Kramer left the game with a thumb injury and Minnesota punted, Simms and the offense awakened. Four consecutive completions and a short Morris run gave the Giants a first down at the Vikings 47-yard line. Bobby Johnson gained 22-yards on a reverse, then Simms connected with Johnson on a 25-yard touchdown pass. The Giants led 19-13 with 9:30 on the clock. The Johnson reverse was New York’s longest rush of the day; the touchdown pass was the first for Simms in three weeks. Those back-to-back plays were the Giants longest plays of the second half not aided by defensive penalties.

Wade Wilson came in for Kramer and passed Minnesota to the lead with surprisingly little resistance from New York’s defense. Completions of 18 and 16 yards preceded the 33-yard touchdown to wide receiver Anthony Carter. The six-play drive covered 80 yards and gave the Vikings a 22-20 lead with 7:53 to play.

The Giants offense stalled on the ensuing possession. The Vikings pass rush harassed Simms who resorted to dump offs to Morris and Anderson. New York’s defense held after the punt and forced a Minnesota punt after three plays. Phil McConkey’s 17-yard return set up the Giants on their own 41-yard line with 2:14 left.

The first play nearly put the Giants ahead, but Simms’ perfect pass to the wide-open Robinson, who had gotten behind the defense, was bobbled and dropped. On second down, Simms, again under heavy pressure, connected with Johnson crossing over the middle for 14 yards to the Vikings 45-yard line and a new set of downs at the two-minute warning.

A short pass to Anderson followed by an incompletion gave the Giants a 3rd-and-8 with 1:18 on the clock. After a Minnesota time out, they came with a blitz. The pocket crumbled around Simms and he was called in the grasp by defensive end Doug Martin (brother of the Giants’ George Martin) for a loss of nine yards. The Giants called time out, facing a 4th-and-17 on their own 48-yard line with 1:12 left to play.

Simms said, “I went to the sidelines. Parcells and (wide receivers coach Pat) Hodgson were on the phone, talking with Erhardt, who was up in the press box. Ron suggested the play. Hodgson offered a modification, ‘Why not put McConkey in motion? That would make them change their formation and maybe make the safeties screw up.’ Parcells said, ‘Good idea, let’s do it.’ I went back to the huddle. ‘Half right, W-motion, 74. We need 17 yards. Just be sure it’s 17.’”

half right w motion 74

Normally this play would have had Simms in the shotgun, but he lined up under center because of the crowd noise. Minnesota was in a dime package with six defensive backs. After McConkey completed his motion across the formation, Simms received the snap, dropped back and surveyed the field.

Simms said, “Bavaro saw that Minnesota’s left tackle was trying to loop around the end to get to me, so Mark stayed in place and blocked. Mike Stensrud, playing right tackle for Minnesota, charged up the middle. When I looked at Stacey, he wasn’t open. I didn’t have time to look at him again. I saw Bobby go past the first down marker. I saw him stop and turn to me. I knew I had to get the ball over the defense back in front of him. Stensrud was about to hit me. I threw, and as I did, I went down, I knew I’d thrown the ball just the way I’d wanted to.”

Johnson found a soft spot in the zone coverage and waited for the high, arcing pass, which dropped right into his hands over the reaching defensive back. Johnson tapped both feet in bounds and went out to stop the clock at 1:10. The play was good for 22-yards and gave New York a first down on the Vikings 30-yard line.

Johnson said, “I wanted to step up and get it, but I was afraid that if I did I would lose the first down.”

Simms said, “The odds against us were enormous. If I threw that pass a hundred times, I’d get it to Bobby maybe five or six. This was one of those times.”

Parcells said, “I wouldn’t say making the play was luck, but it was pretty good fortune…We guessed they would be in a three-deep zone, and we were right.”

The sequence following the climactic play seemed routine by comparison. Even the game-winning field goal attempt felt ordinary. The deflated Minnesota defense jumped offside, Morris ran three times for 11 yards, and Allegre sent the 33-yard kick through the uprights with two seconds left, giving the Giants a stunning 23-22 victory.

Simms was 25-of-38 for 310 yards, his highest yardage total for the season to date. After the game, an elated Parcells boasted, “Anybody who doesn’t think Phil Simms is a great quarterback should be covering another sport.”

The Giants 9-2 record was their best mark this late in the season since 1962, and kept them tied in first place with Washington who also won. It was also New York’s second come-from-behind victory of the season, a sign that confidence was building. Instead of waiting for something bad to happen late, they were finding ways to win. Parcells said, “My players know the race is on, and it started today. But this schedule has made our team better. With this schedule, you’ve got to be competitive. You’ve got to go.”

Resiliency and coming through with game-changing plays at critical moments was beginning to emerge as a pattern. This new tendency shone brightly twice during the Week 12 game versus the AFC West leading 9-2 Denver Broncos.

The first moment came late in the second quarter with the Broncos leading 6-3, and looking to increase their lead before halftime. Denver had just driven to take the lead, but on the first play from scrimmage following the kick off, Tony Galbreath lost a fumble and the Broncos recovered on the Giants 41-yard line. The New York defense came back out on the field with little respite and 2:21 remaining in the half.

Broncos quarterback John Elway completed an 18-yard pass to advance to the 23-yard line at the 2-minute warning. An 8-yard pass completion and quarterback sneak gave Denver a first down at the Giants 13-yard line with one minute to go.

George Martin, New York Giants (November 23, 1986)

George Martin, New York Giants (November 23, 1986)

On the next play, Elway lofted a swing pass to fullback Sammy Winder that was tipped in the air by Martin at the 21-yard line. Martin had taken a wider rush than Elway had anticipated. Martin pulled the ball in at the 22-yard line, spun, and then chugged up-field with Elway, Winder and Denver linemen in pursuit. Martin faked a lateral to Lawrence Taylor while crossing the 35-yard line, broke through an Elway tackle attempt at the 48-yard line, and picked up a convoy of blockers as he crossed midfield. Martin then feigned another lateral to Taylor, and as he raced up the sideline, Harry Carson blocked a Denver lineman at the 25-yard line. Mark Collins dove and took out Winder at the 10-yard line, allowing Martin a free path to the end zone. As he scored, the entire Giants sideline erupted and raced toward the corner of the end zone where the exhausted Martin fell beneath a pile of celebratory teammates. The play covered 78 yards and took a remarkable 17 seconds to complete. It was the seventh career touchdown for Martin, an NFL record for a defensive player at the time. New York led 10-6 at the half.

Martin said, “The ball came and it surprised me. I knew it was a great distance to the end zone and I said to myself it would be wise if I give it to someone a little bit swifter afoot than myself. I wanted to give it to Lawrence, but Elway was coming at us so I just tried to fake him off. Then I stiff-armed him and he went down. I thought I’d take it down a little further until someone tackles me. One thing led to another and eventually there was the end zone.”

Elway said, “A great play by a great athlete…I was flabbergasted. I didn’t think I’d have any trouble getting the ball over his head.”

Parcells said it was, “one of the greatest plays I’ve seen in football.”

The teams went back and forth throughout the second half. Elway led the Broncos on a 73-yard touchdown drive that tied the game 16-16 with 1:50 left in regulation. This set up the second moment.

Overtime looked to be imminent after a second down sack gave New York a 3rd-and-21 at their own 18-yard line. Simms said, “Bill thought about it for a moment and almost called a running play. But at the last moment he said, ‘Nah, forget the run. Let’s try a Double Seam.’”

Parcells said, “On 3rd-and-21 you think of running the ball and making them take at least one timeout and then we punt. You got to go with your gut feeling.”

Simms and Johnson connected again, as they had done the week before. Simms found Johnson in the middle of the field for a 24-yard gain to the 42-yard line at 1:35. A short run and holding penalty gave the Giants 2nd-and-13 at their 39-yard line. Simms completed another deep pass on a Double Seam, this time for 46 yards to McConkey, who was tackled at Denver’s 15-yard line with 28 seconds left.

Phil Simms 1986 Season

McConkey made a sight-adjustment at the line of scrimmage when he read a safety faking a blitz, which allowed him to run straight up-field behind the coverage. It was the longest reception by a Giant for the season. Simms knelt down twice before Allegre sent the winning kick through the uprights with six seconds left.

Billy Ard said, “The old Giants were content to keep games close. This year, we’ve been going for it and getting it.”

There was a noticeable lack of euphoria in the post-game locker-room, contrary to the week before in Minnesota when it had been uproarious. Harry Carson was somewhat matter-of-fact when asked about the recent late game heroics, “It seems like it’s someone different every week. Everyone feels like we’re going to make the big play.”

That confidence would serve them well the next week in San Francisco where the 49ers jumped all over New York for a 17-0 halftime lead. The only adjustment required was for the attitude. Guard Chris Godfrey said, “The sense was we were very close to losing the game. It was slipping through our fingers. We told ourselves these guys were playing harder than us; we weren’t playing like we can. And we could blow it. We just had to play harder.”

To Godfrey’s point, San Francisco’s front seven, who switched from their typical 3-4 to a 4-3, completely smothered the Giants normally formidable rushing attack. Morris carried the ball six times for a total of two yards. Simms passed the ball well, but was intercepted twice.

New York’s defense forced a San Francisco punt to open the third quarter and the Giants took possession on the San Francisco 49-yard line. Simms’ first pass was incomplete. His second was another defining moment that lifted his team, and it personified the intensity Godfrey said the team needed.

Mark Bavaro, New York Giants (December 1, 1986)

Mark Bavaro, New York Giants (December 1, 1986)

Simms passed to Bavaro over the middle at the 49ers 40-yard line. Bavaro turned up field. The first contact came at the 36-yard line; linebacker Mike Walter bounced off Bavaro’s legs. Linebacker Riki Ellison dove at Bavaro from behind and barely grazed him. Safety Ronnie Lott came up and grabbed Bavaro high at the 32-yard line and hung onto his back. Linebacker Keena Turner raced up from behind and threw a shoulder at Bavaro, but bounced off as Bavaro kept driving his legs forward. Cornerback Don Griffin bounced off of Bavaro with a failed shoulder tackle, and two defensive backs, as well as Maurice Carthon, Bart Oates, and Lott all fell in a heap on top of Bavaro at San Francisco’s 18-yard line. The play covered 31 yards, 21 of which were after the catch and 18 after initial contact.

Godfrey said, “It was incredible. We came out playing harder and quit fooling around, watching them. That play got us going. It brought back memories of what our offense had been like. It was a big charge for us.”

After a one-yard run by Morris, Simms connected with Morris on a 17-yard touchdown pass, cutting the lead to 17-7. The defense forced another San Francisco three-and-out. Taking over on their own 29-yard line, Simms completed a 12-yard pass to Ottis Anderson for a first down at the 41-yard line. Morris lost three yards on first down, and Bavaro caught an 11-yard pass on second down. The 49ers stuffed Morris for no gain on third-and-two from the Giants 49-yard line. To this point, Morris had netted zero yards on nine carries. Parcells kept the offense on the field for fourth-and-two.

New York came out of the huddle into a goal-line set with their Jumbo Heavy personnel: two tight ends with William Roberts as an extra tackle. Carthon lined up behind Simms, who was under center, and Morris was strong left. At the snap, Godfrey pulled right, and Carthon trailed. Simms handed to Morris who and followed the interference. The right side of the line held their ground and opened a lane inside right tackle, where Morris cut up-field and accelerated through the hole. Griffin got a hand on Morris at the San Francisco 41-yard line and dragged him down on the sideline at the 34-yard line. The 17-yard gain was the Giants longest of the night.

Parcells said, “I was trying to do something to win the game. We were losing at the time. I wanted to do something aggressive. If it didn’t work, we would probably lose.”

Simms completed a deep pass to Robinson in the back corner of the end zone for a touchdown on the next play. It was a perfectly thrown ball that went over the outstretched hand of cornerback Tim McKyer, right into the hands of Robinson. The score was 17-14 and New York’s sideline was ebullient. Parcells said, “We haven’t really had that kind of momentum this year.”

New York’s defense forced their third three-and-out of the quarter and the Giants had the ball on their own 29-yard line after the punt. Simms passed to Carthon for seven yards and McConkey for 14. On first down on the 50-yard line, Anderson was stopped for no gain. On second down, Simms threw deep for Robinson down the middle, who attempted to make an over-the-shoulder basket catch at the four-yard line, but the ball popped off his shoulder pad as Griffin hit him from behind. As Robinson fell to the ground, he turned his body, kept his eyes on the ball, and pulled it in as he rolled over the goal line for an apparent touchdown. But the officials ruled him down at the one-yard line. Anderson plunged over right guard for the go-ahead score on the next play. The Giants had their first lead, 21-17, with 3:41 remaining in the third quarter.

Phil Simms and Karl Nelson, New York Giants (December 1, 1986)

Phil Simms and Karl Nelson, New York Giants (December 1, 1986)

All told, the New York offense needed only 15 plays to overcome the 17-0 deficit. Aside from the key 17-yard Morris rush on 4th-and-2, Simms was 8-of-9 passing for 175 yards and two touchdowns. Over that span, the defense held the 49ers to 14 yards on nine plays and three punts.

The first play from scrimmage was a big play by the defense to set up the red-hot Simms with a short field. Perry Williams intercepted quarterback Joe Montana’s pass at the 47-yard line and returned it to the 39-yard line. Simms completed a pass to Bavaro in the left seam at the 15-yard line. While fighting for extra yardage, Bavaro fumbled at the five-yard line and San Francisco recovered, preventing the Giants form taking a two-score lead.

Regardless, the Giants defense played bend-but-don’t-break through the fourth quarter and kept San Francisco off of the scoreboard for the remainder of the game. Two 49ers possessions ended on downs in New York territory and the Giants headed back to New York with a six-game win streak, their longest since 1970, and an 11-2 record, their most wins in a regular season since 1963. All that success was good enough for a first place tie with Washington, who had won the day before. The two were scheduled to meet in Washington in six days.

Parcells said, “To win on Monday night, on the road, being down 17-0. I’ll take it…My guys, they’re tough. They don’t quit. We haven’t been out of any game this year, not since 1984. They’re tough guys in that room.”

Morris, who finished the game with 14 yards on 13 carries, said, “Phil Simms was great today. He proved you can shut down Joe Morris, but then you have to deal with Phil Simms.”

A ghost from the past appeared in the post-game locker-room, YA Tittle. He said, “Overall, I think the Giants are physically the best team in the league. They have a good quarterback…Simms has a lot of courage, he’s come back from a lot of adversity. He’s a real pro. He comes back for more.”

Harry Carson said, “When we were behind, 17-0, at the half, we stayed calm, we kept our poise. We just believe that somebody is going to make the big play. And on Sunday we’re going to have to make the big plays again, because the Redskins are probably playing the best ball in the league.”

The win also clinched a playoff berth for the third consecutive year for the Giants, their first such streak since 1961-1963. Parcells tried to maintain an even keel, “I haven’t got too much time to celebrate. I’ll celebrate on the plane. We’ve got the OK Corral next week.”

Big Blue Steamroller

Joe Gibbs warned his team not to say anything inflammatory during the week. The normally loquacious and quotable defensive end Dexter Manley complied, and was even gracious when asked about the upcoming showdown, “I don’t dislike the Giants at all. It’s a great rivalry between two teams. So I don’t have a heck of a lot to say about those guys.”

The Redskins came into the game having won five straight, their last loss being to the Giants, and were 7-0 at home. The Giants hadn’t beaten Washington in RFK Stadium since 1981 and hadn’t swept them in a season series since 1977. Carl Banks said, “They match up to us physically better than any other team. They might outmatch us physically.”

Manley was also the NFL leader in sacks with 17.5, with Lawrence Taylor was right behind at 16.5. Brad Benson, who’d oppose Manley at left tackle, said, “They really need their defensive line to play well for them to win.” During preparations Parcells informed Benson there would be no two-tight end sets, he would be on Manley without help the majority of the game.

Simms said, “Benson gets (Manley) all by himself. That’s our style, and I’ll tell you something. I’m not worried.”

Benson said, “Sure, I’m nervous about facing Manley. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t. I’ve never gotten this much attention in my life. It’s like I was a quarterback or something.”

Gibbs said, “This is the kind of game you enjoy being part of. I think that’s why you coach and play. If you don’t enjoy a game like this you’re a loser.”

Simms said, “There’s no extra pressure on us. The pressure is getting to games like this. It’s always nice to play in a game like this. A lot of people in this league would like to be in this game.”

The start of this game was frustrating for Simms, as he threw an interception on New York’s first play from scrimmage, and missed several open receivers for what could have been touchdown passes. The Giants defense was stout against the run and the pass rush was at its relentless best, harassing and chasing Schroeder from the pocket routinely. Schroeder threw two interceptions himself in the first half.

Joe Morris, New York Giants (December 7, 1986)

Joe Morris, New York Giants (December 7, 1986)

The ascension of the Giants came late in the first half, moments after Washington had just tied the score 7-7. There was 1:50 remaining in the second quarter. New York swung the momentum of the game in their favor, and the 1986 Giants assumed control of their destiny.

After picking up a first down, the Giants were faced with a 3rd-and-7 on their own 40-yard line. During the timeout, an aggressive call was made on the sideline. Simms said, “(Parcells said) to heck with a first down. I want it all.”

Simms threw deep down the sideline for Bobby Johnson, who made a leaping catch over cornerback Barry Wilburn and went out of bounds at the 25-yard line to stop the clock with 53 seconds left. Two plays later, Simms found Johnson in the back of the end zone for a 7-yard touchdown pass. The Giants led 14-7 and never looked back.

Gibbs said, “We were in a prevent defense, they caught us short down the sideline. That was a big drive, no question about it.”

Washington safety Curtis Jordan said, “The long pass to the sidelines was the pivotal play of the game. That turned it around. We were pressing with our corners and had the safeties deep to take away the inside, and it didn’t work. Simms made a great throw, but, heck, he’s been doing that stuff all year; he just hasn’t been getting the credit for it.”

Simms said, “To be 7-7 at halftime would’ve been disappointing. Instead, we came into the locker room happy and went out and got it done.”

The defense brutalized and frustrated Schroeder, sacking him four times – three by Taylor, including a forced fumble – and forced him to throw a Redskins franchise-record six interceptions. The seven takeaways by the New York defense matched their season high from Week 2 against San Diego. The Giants won 24-14.

Leonard Marshall and Lawrence Taylor, New York Giants (December 7, 1986)

Leonard Marshall and Lawrence Taylor, New York Giants (December 7, 1986)

Schroeder said, “They ran a lot of very deep zones, dropping the linebackers 15 to 18 yards. We couldn’t go deep, so we had to throw underneath. It takes a lot of time to zone out; with the pass rush they had, you can’t do that.”

Carson said, “We took away the long pass, that’s what hurt us in the first game. We wanted to force them to throw to their backs and tight ends.”

Gibbs explained his offense’s struggles succinctly, “(The Giants are) the only team in football that doesn’t need a safety to help force on runs. They stop runs with seven guys, not eight. The safety can sit back there and never be out of position if you pass instead of run.”

Simms praised his offensive line: “The pass protection was terrific. For an old man, Brad did a good job on Dexter.” Benson was named the “NFC Offensive Player of the Week” for his performance against Manley. He was the first – and remains the only – offensive lineman to win the award since its inception in 1984.

Taylor’s three sacks of Schroeder moved him into first place in the NFL with 19.5 sacks on the season. Giants legend and Redskins radio broadcaster Sam Huff said, “Lawrence Taylor is the best defensive football player I have ever seen.”

Leonard Marshall said, “A guy as good as Dexter Manley shouldn’t have to mouth off all the time make excuses…(He) didn’t mention that Benson whipped him all day, did he? I didn’t think so.”

Manley said, “I’m not feeling very good right now. I feel like I’ve been sucking on a lot of raw eggs.”

The 12-2 Giants were in full control of the NFC East after sweeping 11-3 Washington. The only negative for New York was the loss of starting safety Terry Kinard with a knee injury that required season-ending surgery. Herb Welch was the next man up. Parcells said, “I think our team basically has that attitude now that there is a way to overcome things. I don’t think that anything that happens now can be devastating to us. For example, losing Terry Kinard was a big loss, but I think somebody will pick up the slack.”

New York clinched their first division title in 23 years a day before they even stepped onto the field to take on St. Louis. The Redskins lost on Saturday at Denver 31-30, with the difference being a missed point-after. George Martin put the division title in perspective: “It was twelve years of struggle and disappointment, and to see it finally pay off…I just can’t put in words how it feels. But it’s still too early to start celebrating.”

The Giants were an unstoppable force their final two home games, annihilating St. Louis 27-7 and Green Bay 55-24. The 14-2 record represented the most regular-season victories for the franchise since they had won 13 games in the 1929 and 1930 seasons. The Giants were also 8-0 at home, marking only the third unbeaten home record in Giants history along with the 1933 and 1939 teams.

New York ended the regular season with a nine-game winning streak, matching the franchise mark set by the 1927 and 1962 teams. The streak can be seen in two distinct parts. The first six games were closely fought struggles, where the Giants built resolve and confidence as they overcame adversity. The average margin of victory was 3.7 points, and in three of the six games the Giants overcome second-half deficits. The first game against Washington that began the steak was tied late and New York won with a touchdown drive to prevent overtime.

The next three games saw the Giants operate at peak efficiency. The average margin of victory was 20 points. New York learned to play from ahead and finish off opponents without letting them back into the contest. There was not one single blown lead.

Carson recalled the late-season surge years later: “We were so physical that we beat teams into submission. Our play reminded me of the same type of power football the Pittsburgh Steelers had exhibited when they beat teams in the seventies. We beat up some teams so badly physically that I actually felt sorry for them. The term smashmouth was used to describe out play on both sides of the football. It was appropriate because we didn’t care what the opposing teams ran against us. We took great pride in playing hard, tough, physical football against any teams we played against.”

Lawrence Taylor led the league in sacks with 20.5 and was named the “NFL’s Most Valuable Player,” becoming the first Giant to do so since Y.A. Tittle in 1963, and the first defensive player to win the award since defensive tackle Alan Page in 1971. Parcells was named the “NFL Coach of the Year,” New York’s first head coach to be so honored since Allie Sherman in 1962.

Joe Morris rushed for a team-record 1,516 yards with 14 touchdowns, and Mark Bavaro became New York’s first 1,000-yard receiver since Homer Jones in 1968, with 1,001 yards on 66 catches.

Although the current Giants stood tall with many of their predecessors, there was a lingering drive to see the season through and end New York’s championship drought to silence the ghosts once and for all.

“It’s a New York phenomenon, not only in football but all sports,” Parcells said. “In baseball they remember Joe DiMaggio and Duke Snider and Mickey Mantle and boo every outfielder that doesn’t measure up. Knick fans remember Willis Reed and boo every center that’s followed him. Phil generated a lot of excitement as a rookie, then there was a lull and the fans were disappointed. For a while it got to Phil, but I think he’s over it now.”

Simms: “The thing you have to understand about New York is that you have to learn to live with the ghosts of the past. You have to get used to hearing people say, ‘Well, the old Giants would have done this or that.’ I’ve gotten to the point where I can shut out the booing now, the constant nagging. I honestly don’t hear it. I think I’ve changed as a player, too.”

Carson: “This isn’t like baseball where you celebrate winning the division. In football, you celebrate once and that’s when you win the Super Bowl.”

Most significant for the Giants prospects was they had home field advantage though the playoffs.

Kenny Hill said, “We don’t want to go to the playoffs in a hostile city with the temperature near absolute zero, as we did last year in Chicago. That made a big impression on us. To stay here and play in front of our own folks in our own stadium in decent weather is incentive enough for us.”

Carson said, “We feel we can beat anybody in the NFL. I think losing to the Bears in the playoffs last season was a good experience for us. I’m hungry.”

Relentless

New York’s first opponent in the post season was a familiar one, San Francisco. Coach Bill Walsh had the upmost respect for his foe’s versatile and strong defense, “You just can’t do the same things time after time against the Giants. You have to keep them off balance and not get greedy. We have to be patient and play the game and let it run its course rather than try gimmick or low-percentage plays.”

On the other side, Parcells described his focus on fundamentals and containing the 49ers potent offense, “You try to put tight coverage on the receivers early, you try to jam them. That’s always big for us because we’re primarily a zone team on defense. (Montana’s) not going to take sacks early, but if he’s trying to catch up or make a first down, he’s got to hold the ball to do it.”

On the game’s pivotal play late it in the second quarter, Montana let go of the ball while absorbing a violent impact from Jim Burt. The pass fluttered into the waiting arms of Lawrence Taylor who ran it back 34-yards for a cementing 45-yard touchdown, the Giants second in 22 seconds that opened up a 28-3 lead. Montana’s helmet bounced on the turf, causing him to leave the game with a concussion.

Burt said, “I hit him from the front. I couldn’t pull up. He had no chance to get out of the way...I didn’t even know he was hurt until I looked back later. When we intercepted, I was looking for somebody to block…I as worried I’d hurt him badly.”

San Francisco receiver Dwight Clark said, “(Montana) was pretty groggy. He didn’t know what happened to the ball. He didn’t know they had scored. I think he was fine, but he was disoriented…I never thought it got to be hopeless until it got to be 28-3. Then I began to feel a little hopeless. Before then, I thought we could come back, things might change.”

San Francisco tackle Keith Fahnhorst said, “After Joe left, things didn’t look good. Until that time, I thought we could come back.”

Early on, the ball bounced New York’s way. It was perhaps only coincidence that Jerry Rice’s unforced fumble – he apparently lost control of the ball when it hit his thigh pad – occurred in very close proximity to the location of the 1978 Joe Pisarcik-Larry Csonka fumble. The Giants faithful could only feel that the football gods were finally atoning for nearly 30 years of disappointment and unfulfilled promise.

The game opened with a Giants three-and-out. On second down from the 50-yard line, Montana connected with Rice on a slant route that should have gone all the way for an early touchdown and 7-0 lead. Inexplicably, the ball popped out of Rice’s hand. In the wild scramble for the loose ball, it was knocked into the end zone where Kenny Hill recovered for a touchback. “Rice fell on it and it squirted out,” said Hill. “I kept running and fell on it. But I think the significance of that play is being blown out of proportion.”

Taylor said, “If they score on that one, they lose 49-10.”

Walsh said, “You can’t relate this to any one play. It would be an excuse of monumental proportions.”

Parcells said, “I guess it was pretty important, but the way we were playing, I don’t think it would have mattered.”

Simms immediately engineered a 10-play, 80-yard drive for a touchdown, capitalizing on the sudden momentum swing. The first play of the drive was a 15-yard run by Morris, more than he had in the entire game at San Francisco in December. On this possession, Morris carried five times for 40 yards to set up Simms’ 24-yard scoring strike to Bavaro to put the Giants up 7-0 at 7:29.

Mark Bavaro, New York Giants (January 4, 1987)

Mark Bavaro, New York Giants (January 4, 1987)

The teams exchanged punts before San Francisco drove to New York’s 9-yard line and kicked a 26-yard field goal at 1:20. Three more drives ending with punts led to the tide turning the Giants way for good. A blitzing Carl Banks hit Montana as he threw the ball. Herb Welch caught the underthrown pass at the New York 39-yard line, and lateraled to Kenny Hill who advanced the ball to the San Francisco 45-yard line. The first play from scrimmage was a pitch left to Morris, who cut through a huge hole inside left tackle, and sprinted untouched into the end zone, giving New York a 14-3 lead at 7:39.

New York’s defense clamped down on the 49ers. The Banks-led front seven stymied any rush attempt and the pass rush collapsed the pocket every time Montana dropped back. After forcing a three-and-out, Simms engineered a 13-play drive that began with 5:35 in the second quarter and ended with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Bobby Johnson with 55 seconds before the half. The highlight of the drive came right after the two-minute warning, when the Giants shifted out of a field-goal formation on 4th-and-6 from the 28-yard line and Jeff Rutledge connected with Bavaro on a 23-yard gain to the 5-yard line.

The 21-3 lead quickly became 28-3 with the Burt hit on Montana that gave Lawrence Taylor the interception return for a touchdown. The Giants outscored the 49ers 21-0 in the third quarter before emptying the bench and allowing the reserves to finish off the scoreless fourth quarter.

Billy Ard said, “I almost felt bad about it. I don’t know…you score so many times, you keep lining up and kicking extra points, you look over at the 49ers, at their faces. What the hell, they’re guys like us.”

The Giants ran the ball 44 times for 216 yards, including 24 carries for 159 yards and two touchdowns by Morris. Parcells was pleased with New York’s rushing attack, “The last time we played the 49ers, we got 13 yards rushing. We could’ve run 13 quarterback sneaks and done better than that.”

Joe Morris, New York Giants (January 4, 1987)

Joe Morris, New York Giants (January 4, 1987)

The 49ers were limited to 184 total yards and nine first downs by the Giants. Belichick believed it was New York’s best defensive performance of the year: “…the aggressiveness, the intensity, the effectiveness, not letting up for even one play. And the way we kept after them for 60 minutes…We were ready to play today. It was very noticeable. The level of intensity was above what it normally is. And that’s understandable. We waited a year for this game. It was January 5, 1986, in Chicago that we all remember.”

Pepper Johnson said, “We were just too relentless.”

Billy Ard said, “We wanted it bad.”

The 49 points scored by New York broke the franchise record of 47 they scored against the Bears in the 1956 NFL Championship Game. The 46-point margin of victory tied for the third largest in NFL post season history.

San Francisco guard Randy Cross said, “The Giants are capable of doing this to any team. They’re like Chicago last year or us the year before. Every year a team emerges that seems capable of crushing anybody, and that’s the level the Giants are at right now.”

Walsh said, “Shattered, we were simply shattered. They played a perfect game. They destroyed our offense, shattered our blocking angles. We were dealt with…The way they played, the only surprise would be if they don’t win the Super Bowl.

The Redskins defeated the Bears in Chicago, setting up a matchup between what many believed were the league’s two best teams in the NFC Championship Game at Giants Stadium.

Parcells said, “The Redskins are the best team we played this year…I thought they would have a good shot against the Bears, and they beat them. A month ago, Lawrence Taylor told me it would be us and the Redskins for the championship, and he was right.”

Washington offensive line coach Joe Bugel said, “You’ve got the league’s two most prolific pass rushers side-by-side, Taylor and Marshall. It’s going to take a great game plan and superhuman effort to beat the Giants. If we get into a throwing contest with them, we’ll be in trouble.”

The game would be the biggest hosted by the Giant since the 1962 NFL Championship Game. Fans were ecstatic, even if New York City Mayor Ed Koch said should the Giants win the Super Bowl, the city would not fund the traditional ticker-tape parade up Broadway since they played across the Hudson River in New Jersey.

George Martin, as he often did, put the present in context with the past, “It’s different now. (The fans) are cheering for us instead of against us. It used to be very disheartening when you were at home, but I’m going back a lot of years. I think it began to change in the Perkins’ era.”

Harry Carson said, “It was difficult in those days. Sometimes it felt like it was better being on the road than at home. I guess it changed when we started winning. It’s nicer now.”

Brad Benson believed the home crowd became an asset during the Week 9 game against the Cowboys, “A long time ago, that noise from the crowd wouldn’t have happened. They used to be pretty bad. They used to leave games early because we were losing. But they started to change this year about the time of the Dallas game. I think they realized they could help us.”

Practices throughout the week were palpably intense. Erik Howard said, “The last game we played against Washington was the biggest game I’ve been in so far. I didn’t think there could be anything more intense. Our intensity level all season has been high, and for the 49ers game last week it was up 50 percent. This week, it’s more. It keeps going up and up.”

Billy Ard said, “You can sense the anxiety. Fuses are shorter. There have been pushing and shoving matches in practice.”

The normally guarded Parcells exuded a quiet confidence, “We’re fine. We’re ready to play. Practices have gone fine. I think we’ve had good preparation.”

Meeting an opponent for a third time was a new experience for the current Giants, though it had occurred several times in their history. The three-game sweep was not an easy feat, but it was not an impossible one.

Three times in their history had the Giants faced a team in the post-season after defeating them twice in the regular season. In 1943, New York swept the Reskins in back-to-back games to close the regular season and force a playoff to determine the Eastern Conference champion. But Washington beat the Giants at the Polo Grounds 28-0 in that third contest.

Old Friends: Giants and Redskins Rivalry 1936-1946

In 1950, the Giants were the only team to defeat 10-2 Cleveland, including the first shut out in Browns history when Steve Owen unveiled the Umbrella Defense in their first ever meeting. However, New York lost the American Conference playoff 8-3 at Cleveland Stadium.

New York Giants – Cleveland Browns 1950-1959 (Part I)

In 1958, the Giants successfully completed the three-game sweep over the Browns. The season finale at snowy Yankee Stadium concluded with Pat Summerall’s famous 48-yard field goal that forced the Eastern Conference playoff, where New York’s defense shut down Cleveland 10-0.

New York Giants – Cleveland Browns 1950-1959 (Part II)

Once, the Giants found themselves in the reverse situation. New York entered the 1934 NFL Championship Game having been beaten by the Chicago Bears twice during the regular season, but pulled off the upset with the help of sneakers to win the NFL Title.

The 1934 New York Giants

Simms said, “As Giant football players, we have to live in the past. People remind us of that. Not that it bothers us, but we’d kind of like to wipe it out.”

Heading into the contest, Parcells acknowledged the Giants defense as the foundation of his confidence: “Defense keeps you in the game. There are going to be some days when the offense doesn’t play that well. If the defense plays well, that gives you a chance.”

Washington coach Joe Gibbs expressed the dilemma facing his defense, as in the first regular season game New York ran the ball at will, but in the second game big passing plays were the difference: “You may stop one phase, but they’re going to kill you in another.”

Blow Out

The weather forecast called for harsh playing conditions that included winds over 15 mph. Simms said, “I don’t care if it snows. But if it rains, that means cold winds, and that would cause problems for both teams. It’s windy every day we practice there, but once it gets past 20 miles an hour it gets to be a problem.”

Those conditions proved to influence one of the game’s significant decisions – the pregame coin toss. The officially-recorded condition at kickoff were sustained winds of 17-23 mph with gusts up to 30 mph. The Giants won the toss when Washington called tails and it came up heads. New York elected to defend the end zone with the wind at their backs to start the first quarter.

Parcells sought the council of New York’s punter during warmups. Sean Landeta said, “I told him the wind was going to be a bigger factor than Lawrence Taylor.”

Kicking with the wind at his back, Raul Allegre sent the ball over the end zone and beyond the end line to start the game with a touchback. Washington went three-and-out, and punter Steve Cox’s wind-opposed punt sailed out of bounds at the Redskins 47-yard line, for a net of just 23-yards.

Simms threw two incomplete passes on the first drive, but a 14-yard Morris rush put New York in position for a 47-yard field goal and 3-0 advantage at 11:44. Simms said, “I knew we had to score early. The wind’s velocity was horrendous. You could feel it on your face.”

Allegre’s kickoff was downed eight yards deep in the end zone. Linebacker Gary Reasons sacked Schroeder on the first play and the Redskins once again were forced to punt after three downs. This time Cox’s punt netted 27 yards into the wind, advancing the ball from the 11-yard line to the 38.

The Giants advanced to move the chains once. Then Simms threw an incomplete pass on 3rd-and-10 from the Washington 26-yard line. This set up a critical decision, as offensive holding was called on Bart Oates. Instead of declining and taking the down, Gibbs accepted the penalty, which gave New York a second chance with 3rd-and-20 from the 36-yard line. “I felt another 10 yards would force them into a long field goal and give us a chance for better field position,” said Gibbs. “It was a gamble there.”

That gamble backfired when Simms connected with Lionel Manuel for a 25-yard gain for a first down. Three plays later Simms found Manuel in the end zone for an 11-yard touchdown pass and a 10-0 Giants lead at 5:32 in the first quarter.

After another kickoff deep into the end zone, Washington attempted to end the quarter with a succession of rushes to keep the clock moving. The first two rushes were good for a first down. The next two netted seven yards. The next pivotal play came on 3rd-and-3 from the Washington 37-yard line. Schroeder launched a perfect spiral into the wind, deep down the right sideline to Gary Clark who had two steps on cornerback Elvis Patterson. The ball hit Clark’s outstretched hands, then hit the turf. The drop proved costly, as Washington lost not only field positon, but badly needed momentum.

Clark said, “I was running with it before I caught it. I wanted it all, and got none of it. I know nobody would have caught me. And it would have made the score 10-7 and changed the way the Giants were thinking. It hurt a lot.”

Gibbs said, “That could have made our day…I think the coin toss was the biggest play for them. As soon as we lost it, we knew we’d need a break to get out of the hole…We needed a play or break to get us going, and we couldn’t get it done.”

After the drop, Cox had another punt adversely affected by the wind, this time netting 24 yards to New York’s 39-yard line. Cox said, “I was trying to kick low and get a roll, but the ball kept coming back. Forcing us to kickoff and punt into the wind was a great strategy. It really cost us the game in the first quarter.”

The Giants tried to use the wind at their backs one last time, but two of Simms’ three passes were incomplete. Landeta launched his first punt of the game – 40 yards to the Redskins 18-yard line, and it was returned to the 27.

The Redskins got their first break when New York was called for pass interference on a third-down incompletion, giving Washington their initial first down of the game at their 40-yard line. A five-yard run ran out the first-quarter clock. The strategy of defending with the wind proved to be a sound decision. Parcells said, “It was the toughest wind we’ve played in since I’ve been here.”

Changing sides of the field did not change Washington’s fortunes, as the second quarter proved to be just as disastrous as the first. After trading punts, the Giants actually improved field position as Cox’s punt with the wind set New York up at their 24-yard line. Punting from midfield four plays later, Landeta – punting into the wind – set the ball down at the 4-yard line. Landeta received a standing ovation as he walked back to the sideline.

Schroeder moved the ball out quickly, connecting with Art Monk for 48 yards down the right sideline for a gain into New York’s territory for the first time. Another completion to Monk and a George Rogers’ rush moved the chains again before the advance stalled at the Giants 34-yard line. Former Giant Jess Atkinson lined up for a 51-yard field goal attempt with the wind at his back, but the low snap skittered through Schoeder’s hands and Carl Banks recovered the loose ball at Washington’s 49-yard line. Banks said, “I think that was the biggest play of the game.”

The beginning of the end for the Redskins came on a 2nd-and-7 pass completion from Simms to Bavaro, good for 30 yards to the Washington 17-yard line. Morris ran off right tackle for eight yards to the 9-yard line, Simms ran a naked bootleg around left tackle to the 1-yard line, and Morris closed the drive with a 1-yard slant off right tackle for a touchdown and a 17-0 lead at 7:56 in the second quarter.

Joe Morris said, “It wasn’t a pretty game for us. It was hard to pass in the wind. You have to run the ball and they know you’re going to run the ball, so it’s hard. They’re a tough team.”

The touchdown drive into the wind all but finished off the Redskins. Even with the wind at their backs and throwing on almost every play, Washington struggled to move the ball.

Schroeder said, “For 15 yards I could throw. Beyond that, for the receivers it was like catching a knuckleball…The game was decided in the first quarter, no doubt about it. We couldn’t get the ball out of our territory. We had some deep shots, but either the ball was dropped or I threw it too far or the wind took it too wide. We had to fight the elements and the Giants too. It turned out to be too much.

Meanwhile, the Giants played the clock as much as they played the Redskins, running the ball as often as possible to keep time ticking away. Simms said, “Once we got the lead we sort of choked down our offense.”

Washington’s final chance to get back into the game occurred just inside the 2-minute warning before halftime when Morris lost a fumble at the Giants 37-yard line. Schroeder’s first down pass was incomplete as he was hurried by Jim Burt. Two short completions gave Washington a 4th-and-1 on the 28-yard line with one minute to go. Gibbs gambled again, passing on the field goal attempt and choosing to go for the first down. New York’s defense rose to the occasion and made the stop, swarming over Rogers for no gain on a run off left tackle.

Simms knelt on the ball twice to end the first half. The Giants game plan was seemingly to kneel on the ball the entire second half. Over the final 30 minutes, the Giants ran 29 offensive plays, 27 of which were rush attempts. Playing catch-up, Schroeder threw the ball 50 times in total, but completed only 20. Schroeder was also sacked four times and intercepted once.

The Giants defense was impenetrable – stonewalling the Redskins to 0-of-14 on third down conversion attempts, and 0-of-4 on fourth downs. The Giants advanced to Super Bowl XXI with a 17-0 victory in front of a Giants Stadium record 76,663 delirious and celebratory fans, who filled the air with newspaper, pages torn out of programs and hot dog wrappers. Jim Burt said, “This was our ticker-tape parade.”

Parcells said, “When you hold a team in that department to 0-for-18, it’s not perfect, it’s a miracle…You get those three-downs-and-punt series, it’s artistic.”

Taylor missed much of the second half after suffering a thigh bruise early in the third quarter when he collided with teammate Harry Carson’s helmet. It made little difference, as Carl Banks moved into Taylor’s role and the unit did not miss a beat. Byron Hunt and Andy Headen assumed Banks’ spot with no appreciable drop off. Chris Godfrey said, “Our defense played like a school of piranha waiting for someone to stick their foot in the water. They chewed them up.”

Brad Benson, who had held Dexter Manley to two tackles in the previous meeting, had a shut out of his own, keeping Manley off the stat sheet – no tackles and no assists. Benson said, “In the second quarter we made a bet. (Manley) said, ‘I’ll bet you $500 I get a sack.’ I took it. After the game, when we shook hands, he said, ‘It’s not fair. It shouldn’t count. You only threw two passes in the second half.’ I said, ‘O.K., I’ll settle for a beer at the Pro Bowl.'”

Manley said, “I feel I was a non-factor. I felt I was invisible.”

In their two playoff games, the Giants outscored the NFC’s representatives in the Super Bowl four of the past five years 66-3. Carson maintained a broad mindset amid the celebration: “We have to keep things in perspective because we’ve got a job to do on the field. We’re going to Pasadena not just to show up, but to win. It ain’t over yet…You have Troy Archer, Bob Ledbetter, Emlen Tunnel, John Tuggle, Spider Lockhart, I wish they could have been here to take part in this.”

Joe Morris said, “Today the New York Giant marched out of the dark ages. The only thing we used to hear about was the good old days. Now they’re talking about us.”

Run For The Roses

During the first week of preparations for the Super Bowl, George Martin felt the experience was almost too good to be true, “The Super Bowl was always like a dream, like someone telling you a fairy tale. You always hoped you would be in it. I think now that we are, you have less of a euphoric feeling.”

The Giant who had seen it all, Wellington Mara, said, “I always said the Giants would make the Super Bowl, I just didn’t know if I’d still be around.”

Carl Banks received much recognition for his dominating performance in the post-season, yet he remained humble, “If there’s pressure on the defense anywhere, it’s opposite Lawrence because most offenses are geared to go away from him. So if you’re not ready, they’re going to have a field day on your side.”

The adulation also came from ghosts from the past. Former Giant defensive great Jim Katcavage said, “All their linebackers are great. And the backups would be starting on other teams.”

Andy Robustelli seemed ready to pass on the torch of being the standard bearer: “Why the old Giants? Talk about the new Giants. I see a lot of character in the new Giants, they exude confidence. But I don’t call them a throwback because this is a whole new era. They’re not boastful, they’re not ornery. They have an opportunity to establish a shining example of what this new era can be.”

Phil Simms also garnered attention for his late season resurgence and clutch performances. His coach Ron Erhardt never doubted him, “It’s a shame. I think most of the fans think he’s a pretty good quarterback. In the past, the boo-birds were wrong.”

George Young’s belief in Simms also had never wavered: “He had to work his can off all the time and fight to stay on the field. Just think of all the times he wanted to be The Guy. He couldn’t finish in the playoffs in ’81, and he couldn’t finish in ’82 or ’83. He had to fight through all those frustrations. He had to fight his way through all those things. That’s what impresses me. I don’t count up the completed passes. I don’t know those attempts and completion averages and quarterback ratings.”

Simms himself was typically humble and deflected praise saying, “The Super Bowl is only supposed to be for special people.” He displayed his humility despite enjoying a week of practices that were the best anyone could remember seeing. Bart Oates said, “Phil was phenomenal in that Friday practice. He hit everything he threw. The receivers were making some tough catches. Parcells said, ‘Hey, this is too much. Save something for the game.’ Phil had this strange sort of a glow. It was like he was in a perfect biorhythm stage or something.”

Simms said later, “Right from the first day of practice I felt that I was going to have a good game. I felt good about throwing the ball. Conditions were just perfect for passing. I could see that the ball was carrying better. The weather was great. I was used to throwing in the cold, but now I could grip the ball any way I wanted to. I could make it do anything I wanted…I was excited by the way I was throwing, and I was excited by the game plan. We wanted to surprise them. We were going to come out throwing, and we were going to keep on throwing. I couldn’t have been happier.”

Phil McConkey said, “We were so ready even before we left for California. The game plan was in, and when we got out there, we were absolutely on fire at practice. Those were the greatest practices I’ve ever been associated with. Phil’s confidence was sky-high coming out of those practices, and he didn’t miss anything.”

Zeke Mowatt said, “We knew all week (Simms) was going to have a big game.”

The relaxed confidence from the week of practices carried over to the pre-game warm ups. Simms said, “I felt so good warming up in the Rose Bowl. ‘Nervous?’ Benson asked me. ‘No. Not nervous. Excited. I feel great. I’m gonna be throwing some fastballs today. Give me time and I’ll rip ‘em.’”

John Elway started off as hot as Simms. On the game’s opening possession, Elway started off with a 10-yard run, then connected with wide receiver Mark Jackson for 24 yards on 3rd-and-7 to put Denver in field goal position and an early 3-0 lead.

Simms answered with aplomb. He was 6-for-6 for 69 yards on the 9-play drive. The Giants passed on all five first downs, including the 6-yard touchdown pass to Zeke Mowatt, completely catching the Broncos defense off guard. Denver linebacker Karl Mecklenburg said, “They changed their whole offensive attack. Pass first, run second. It surprised us.”

Phil Simms, New York Giants, Super Bowl XXI (January 25, 1987)

Phil Simms, New York Giants, Super Bowl XXI (January 25, 1987)

Elway again moved Denver quickly, completing his first three passes. The third completion had an additional 30 yards tacked onto it when Carson was penalized for a late hit out of bounds and Taylor for unsportsmanlike conduct when he threw the official’s flag. Two plays later, Elway scored a touchdown on a 4-yard draw up the middle. The Broncos led 10-7 at 3:21 in the first quarter.

The Giants ran three more plays before the quarter ended. The passing totals for both quarterbacks were perfect: 13-for-13 for 144 yards (just over 11 yards per attempts). The first pass to hit the ground came on a 3rd-and-3 for the Giants when Phil McConkey fell down at the 45-yrd line of Denver and the ball sailed over his head incomplete. Landeta punted into the end zone and the Broncos took over on their 20-yard line.

Elway skewered the Giants pass coverage for 54 yards on 3rd-and-2, when he was able to move outside of the pocket to his left to avoid pressure, and throw across the field diagonally to wide receiver Vance Johnson near the right boundary. Banks said, “The Broncos have a smart, experienced line and they forced us out of our lanes. We had an unbalanced rush, three guys on one side and only one on the other. Elway just rolled to the side where there was one guy.”

Carson said, “We were tentative. We let Elway make some big plays, some long passes. Our defense is designed to contain the big plays and give up the short ones. It just wasn’t like us.”

Denver had a first down at New York’s 28-yard line, but despite the relative ease Denver had moving the ball against the Giants normally stout defense, there was no sense of panic. Parcells said, “I told our defensive guys before the game not to worry about (Elway) getting completions early and making plays. Just keep wearing them down.”

Three more completions and a short rush set up the Broncos with a 1st-and-goal on the Giants 1-yard line. After moving 79 yards in nine plays, Denver was one yard away from a 10-point lead midway through the second quarter.

Lawrence Taylor, New York Giants (January 25, 1987)

Lawrence Taylor, New York Giants (January 25, 1987)

On first down, Elway rolled to his right with a pass-run option. New York’s defense flowed with him, flooding that half of the end-zone and eliminating receivers, while Taylor stayed with Elway until he ran out of room. Taylor tackled Elway on the sideline for a 1-yard loss. Elway said, “When you’re down there, the field gets telescoped real small. They have 11 guys in a small area, and it’s tough to throw.”

A trap play up the middle was stuffed by Harry Carson in the hole for no gain on second down. Third down was a pitch left to Sammy Winder, but New York’s goal-line front got penetration. Cornerback Perry Williams forced Winder back inside where Banks brought him to the turf for a loss of four yards. Banks said, “In New York they had scored on a pitchout from four yards out. I expected that play again, and that’s what they called.”

Denver failed to get any points from the once promising drive when Rich Karlis sent the 23-yard field goal attempt wide right. Elway said, “We were very disappointed. We had it going in the first half. That hurt us when it was 1st-and-goal and we didn’t get it in…At the point we needed the run, we couldn’t get it. The Giants are tough to run against.”

New York Giants Offense (January 25, 1987)

New York Giants Offense (January 25, 1987)

Taking over with 7:40 on the clock, the Giants advanced toward midfield before punting the Broncos to their own 15-yard line with 3:33 to play in the half. Leonard Marshall sacked Elway on a roll out for a 2-yard loss on first down. After a second-down incompletion, Elway was sacked in the end zone for a safety by Martin. The Giants now trailed 10-9 and had momentum on their side. Martin said, “I made a dummy call. I faked inside, he overset, and I went outside and he couldn’t get to me.”

The Giants received the free kick at 2:36 but went three-and-out and punted to Denver with 1:05 left in the half at their own 37-yard line. On second down, Elway scrambled out of the pocket and connected with wide receiver Steve Watson for a 31-yard gain to New York’s 32-yard line. A shovel pass for 11 yards preceded an offside penalty on the Giants and three consecutive incomplete passes.

Again, Denver came up empty when Karlis missed the 34-yard field goal attempt wide right. Reeves said, “I thought we should have scored about 10 more points in the first half. We knew going into the ballgame that if we didn’t take advantage of every opportunity we had, we’d be in tough shape…When you have an inadequate running game, it hurts you most inside ‘plus’ territory. To try to find a pass to use against the Giants is tough down there.”

Mark Collins said, “That missed field goal was huge, because you could feel the Broncos saying, ‘Damn, that was it.’”

Burt said, “We felt fortunate it was only 10-9 against us. We knew it was crucial to stop them early in the third quarter. We knew what we had to do. This is something you work for all your life. And we knew we were capable of coming back strong. We’ve been down at the half in other games this season, and won them.”

Carson said, “At halftime, we knew we had to contain (Elway) in the pocket, and get some three-and-outs.”

Martin said, “We were determined not to make any more dumb mistakes. We were a little bewildered in the first half, but you’ve gotta give credit to the Broncos…It was simply important to keep Elway in the pocket because when he gets out, he’s double dangerous. He can pass and he can run.”

The Giants defense began the second half on the sideline and the offense started off slowly. On 3rd-and-3 from their own 44-yard line, Morris was stopped after a pickup of two yards. New York’s punt team took the field, but quickly shifted to an offensive set with backup quarterback Jeff Rutledge under center. Rutledge checked with the sideline, then took the snap and burrowed into the line for a 2-yard gain and first down to maintain possession. This provided the spark the offense lacked since the game’s opening drive.

Parcells said, “Jeff could take a delay or run. He looked over at me, I nodded my head and he went for it. We went for it because we’re trying to win the game. This is for the world championship. I have a lot of confidence in our guys.”

Simms said, “After that play, things seemed to shift. I knew we could move the ball on these guys.”

Two of Simms’ passes had the Giants at the Denver 17-yard line. After two short runs, Simms connected with Bavaro up the right seam for a 13-yard touchdown and 16-10 lead at 10:08. New York’s revived defense held the Broncos to a three-and-out on three incomplete passes. Unlike the first half, Elway was contained to the pocket, unable to escape pressure.

New York Giants Defense (January 25, 1987)

New York Giants Defense (January 25, 1987)

The Giants took over on the Denver 36-yard line after McConkey returned the punt 25 yards. New York kept the ball on the ground. Three Morris rushes moved the chains. After a 1-yard run by Lee Rouson, Simms completed his only pass attempt for nine yards. The drive stalled at the Broncos 4-yard line after a scramble by Simms and two more runs by Carthon and Morris. Allegre kicked a 21-yard field goal and the Giants widened their lead to 19-10 at 4:18.

Another Bronco’s three-and-out gave the Giants the ball at their 32-yard line. A 17-yard completion to Manuel between two Morris rushes set the stage for the game’s climactic moment. On 2nd-and-6 from the Denver 45-yard line, Simms handed off to Morris, who took two steps toward the line, then pivoted and pitched back to Simms in the pocket. Simms surveyed the field and then passed deep down the left sideline to McConkey who caught the ball inside the 10-yard line. McConkey was upended by former Giant Mark Haynes and downed just inside the 1-yard line.

Simms said, “We’ve run the flea-flicker in practice for I don’t know how long and we’ve never hit on the damn thing. When I hit McConkey on the one, I thought ‘That’s it. We’ve won it.’” Morris went over from the one on the next play and New York lead 26-10 with 34 seconds left in the quarter.

Parcells said, “When we hit the flea-flicker, we really had a tremendous volume of momentum. We were dominating the third quarter pretty well. Once we hit that one and got the touchdown, I knew we would be hard to beat.”

Hard to beat quickly became near impossible. The third quarter ended with Marshall sacking Elway and the fourth quarter began with Elvis Patterson intercepting him. A 6-play drive ended with McConkey catching a deflected pass off of Bavaro’s shoulder for a touchdown and a 34-10 lead. It was the final pass Simms would throw. He finished the day 22-of-25 for 268 yards – nearly 11 yards per attempt – with three touchdowns. His 88% completion percentage was a post-season record and remains the standard for the Super Bowl.

The remainder of the game was anti-climactic, with New York allowing the bench players generous playing time and the defense playing soft to keep the clock moving. Simms was unanimously voted “Most Valuable Player” for the game after the 39-20 triumph.

“(Simms) quarterbacked as good a game as ever has been played,” said Parcells.

Ron Erhardt said, “Technically as close to a perfect game as I’ve seen a quarterback have.”

Reeves said, “The impressive thing about Simms is that when they put him in a pressure situation, he came through.”

Simms said, “In my wildest dreams, I couldn’t have hoped it would work out this way. It’s like when you’re playing golf, and you know every putt’s going to go in. I didn’t throw one ball where I felt, ‘Damn! I want that one back.’…This makes up for all the crap I’ve taken over the years.”

The Giants defense also received praise. Elway said, “That defense just seems to know what I want to do and how I’m going to try to do it. There’s more quickness up front than we’ve seen.”

Denver center Billy Brian said, “They line up and say, ‘We’re going to come at you. Try to knock us off the ball.’ Their front seven is the strongest I can remember playing against.

Lawrence Taylor said, “Now, no matter what people say about our team, whether the Giants don’t look good anymore or whatever, as long as I live I’ll always have a Super Bowl ring. One time in my career, we are considered the best in the world. That was the most important thing.”

Carson said, “This has been a long time coming. I just wish I didn’t have to wait so long.”

The New Standard

Not only were the 1986 Giants the best team in pro football for the season, they rated well against teams of the past as well. They outscored their opposition 105-23 in the post-season. The record differential of 82 points was one better than the 1985 Chicago Bears who had outscored their playoff opponents 91-10.

New York overcame their own history as well. They played in their first championship game since 1963 and won their first championship since 1956.

New York Giants Super Bowl XXI Ring

New York Giants Super Bowl XXI Ring – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Bart Oates said, “Not only did we have to overcome the people we played for 16 games and the playoffs, but there was a lot of history involved. There’s a long history of losing in this organization, and we were able to overcome all that losing by overcoming choking in the big game.”

Carson said, “For so many years, to think we would win a Super Bowl would be to question our sanity.”

Wellington Mara said, “(Winning the Super Bowl) was great, but I tried to be professional about it and remember it was great to win our other championships too. (Charlie) Conerly and Y.A. Tittle had big games for us, but maybe not in that big a game. I wouldn’t trade Simms for any quarterback in the game. For our ream, in our environment, he’s the perfect quarterback. He’s tough, maybe strong is the better word. He’s strong mentally, physically and spiritually.”

Simms said, “We won the Super Bowl, the Giants. They can’t take that away from us.”

The ghosts had finally been buried.

**********************************************************************

Sources:

“Reaching For Respect”
Paul Zimmerman, Sep 29. 1986, Sports Illustrated

“Point of Attack: The Defense Strikes Back”
Harry Carson & Jim Smith, 1986, McGraw Hill Book Co.

“A Giant Step Forward”
Paul Zimmerman, Dec 15, 1986, Sports Illustrated

“Deep Sixing The Niners”
Paul Zimmerman, Jan 12, 1987, Sports Illustrated

“Just A Breeze For The Giants”
Paul Zimmerman, Jan 19, 1987, Sports Illustrated

Official Game Program Super Bowl XXI
John Wiebusch, Jan 25, 1987, National Football League Properties, Inc.

“Closing In On The Big One”
Paul Zimmerman, Jan. 26, 1987, Sports Illustrated

“Killer Giants”
Paul Zimmerman, Feb 2, 1987, Sports Illustrated

“Giants 1987 World Championship Yearbook”
Laura A. Thorpe, 1987, Woodward Publishing

“Illustrated History of the New York Giants: From The Polo Grounds To Super Bowl XXI”
Richard Whittingham, 1987, HarperCollins

“The Giants Super Bowl Season”
Jerry Pinkus & Frank Gifford, 1987, William Morrow and Co.

“Giants: The Unforgettable Season”
Kevin Lamb, 1987, Macmillan Publishing Co.

“Simms To McConkey: Blood, Sweat and Gatorade”
Phil Simms, Phil McConkey with Dick Schapp, 1987, Crown Publishers, Inc.

“Captain For Life”
Harry Carson, 2011, St. Martin’s Press

2016 New York Football Giants Information Guide
Micheal Eisen, Dandre Phillips, Corey Rush, 2016, New York Football Giants, Inc.

Official 2016 NFL Record & Fact Book
2016, NFL Communications Dept.

Giants vs Rams Game Program London Game 16
Colin Hubbuck, Oct. 23, 2016, Haymarket Network

Going Back Through the VCR Archives: Looking Back at 25 Years of Giants Games on Tape
Giants-Vikings November 16, 1986 edition
Giants-49ers December 1, 1986 edition
Giants-Redskins December 7, 1986 edition

Historical New York Times searchable archive (via ProQuest)

Historical Washington Post searchable archive (via ProQuest)

Pro Football Reference
New York Giants Franchise Encyclopedia

Nov 172016
 
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Leonard Marshall and Bill Parcells, New York Giants (December 23, 1984)

Leonard Marshall and Bill Parcells, New York Giants (December 23, 1984)

By Larry Schmitt, with contributions from Matt Michelman

The day after the close of the 1978 season, and 29 days after The Fumble, December 18, 1978, John McVay was released as head coach of the New York Giants and Andy Robustelli resigned as director of football operations, pending the acquisition of his successor. The once proud franchise, last place finishers in five of the previous six football season, were the league punch line. The co-owners, Wellington and Tim Mara, had not spoken to one another in almost a full calendar year.

The two leading candidates for the new coaching position were from the college ranks: Joe Paterno of Penn State and Bill Walsh of Stanford. Both men were involved in preparation of their programs’ respective bowl games and would not interview until after January 1. Dan Reeves, an assistant coach on Dallas was also in the running, and would not become available until the Cowboys post season had concluded.

Robustelli’s recommendations for the director of football operations position were Bobby Beathard, personnel director of the Miami Dolphins, and Jan Van Duser, head of the NFL’s personnel office. Regarding his five year tenure with the New York Giants, which involved a major restructuring of the scouting department, Robustelli said, “It was tough trying to tear down the old building and attempt to build it again while people were living in it. It meant catching a lot of hell and maybe losing a couple of friends.”

Veteran player Jack Gregory said of the changes, “The Maras are great people. I think they’re kinda fed up with the fans getting on them. I guess it was their only choice left. I don’t know it its entirely justified, but what else can you do?”

Robustelli felt optimistic on what he was leaving behind. The organizational structure, while imperfect, had been modernized and reorganized. Player prospects were now seen by multiple scouts, who all reported up to a chief scout. Coaches were able to operate without interference from ownership. Wellington Mara said, “I told Andy all I just would like to have is veto power over trades, and I think we all should agree on the head coach.”

Getting “all” to agree was going to prove to be the most elusive of ideals.

Robustelli, fed up with the infighting, walked away from the Giants on December 31, leaving the quarrelsome Maras on their own. He wrote years later, “During my five seasons as director of operations, the games played behind the games played on Sunday were far tougher and costlier to the franchise than anything that happened on the field. Like the games on the field, there were soon two teams in our office.”

The New Year was filled with rumors and innuendo. Press conferences were called and little substance was revealed, consternation abounded, and potential candidates vanished. Paterno, who wanted full control of the football organization, ultimately refuted the Giants courting, while Walsh went to San Francisco. Reeves felt uncomfortable with the feuding owners and chose to remain in Dallas. The frustration boiled over. Tim Mara said of Paterno, “I don’t know what job or jobs my uncle offered him. My gut reaction is that Joe Paterno never was going to come to the Giants anyway.”

All the elder Mara would say is, “We don’t always agree.”

Rumors from unnamed sources suggested the two owners were conducting their own searches in solitary.

Wellington declared, “I am the president of the Giants. The office was given me by election. Even though the shareholding is equal, having been made president, I’m chief operating officer. It’s my responsibility, when there is a deadlock, to make the final decision…I want to get a man who can run this franchise the next 10 or 20 years, a good man whom I can trust.”

Tim Mara, who was titled as vice president and treasurer, retorted, “No. No. Nobody can make that final decision. We’ve had 15 years of losing, six straight years of being in the cellar. If he picks the man it will be the same old story. Business as usual.”

Wellington said, “I think there is a difference between an equal voice and the ability to immobilize an organization.”

Don Smith, the Giants former press director said, “The inviolate Mara bond has come apart. Blood was always thicker than water. The sense of family is being disrupted, shattered in the press.”

Tim Mara said, “Of course, there’s some strain. It’s been going on for some time now, and now it’s out. Now we have to go from here.”

John Mara, Wellington’s eldest son and law student at Fordham said, “The most disturbing thing is that we’ve prided ourselves as being a family. We’ve always been able to work things out and now we can’t. It’s pretty much torn the families apart. It’s unlikely that we’ll ever be able to live together peacefully again.”

The state of stasis became a stare-down contest over the potential appointment of Assistant Director of Operations Terry Bledsoe, who Wellington Mara preferred as Robustelli’s successor. Tim Mara countered with Gill Brandt from Dallas.

On February 9th, following back-to-back press conferences by the two Maras, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle stepped in to arbitrate what had become a public embarrassment to the league. Rozelle told the two owners to each draw up a list of their preferred candidates. Two names that appeared on each were Van Dueser and former San Diego coach Tommy Prothro. Van Dueser, however, chose not to get involved in the dysfunctional situation and withdrew his name from consideration after interviewing, “It was partly for personal reasons and partly for professional reasons.” Prothro declined outright, choosing to remain in retirement.

Wellington Mara said, “Some people who were prime candidates did not want to become referees.”

Tim Mara conceded that the franchise was beginning to be perceived as “foolish and ridiculous.” Wellington announced that since the two could not agree on a director of operations, that he would find the team a head coach, which incensed Tim.

Wellington: “It’s like taking an exam. When you can’t answer the second question, you go ahead and answer the third and fourth.”

An incredulous Tim said, “This was unexpected. Well just told me an hour ago. Naturally, I’m going to take this up with the commissioner. I think the coach is only one part of a football organization. The D.O. is the one who’s going to have to pull it all together…I want to have a winner. Well wants to have a winner, his way. Well’s way has had us in the cellar the last 15 years. I think the people he wants have only been linked to failure.”

On February 10th, the embarrassment reached its zenith. New Jersey Governor Brendan Byrne spoke on behalf of his populace and proposed a solution while at the NJSEA: “I have not excluded the possibility of a public or private buyout of the Giants to solve their ridiculous disputes. The sports complex is a first-class, professional operation and New Jersey had expected a similarly professional performance from the Giants.”

Tim Mara told reporters that former Washington coach George Allen inquired about the vacant coaching position, but that very well may have been in response to Tim’s learning of Wellington having had a clandestine meeting with Reeves. Tim said, “It seems we’ve been growing farther apart.”

The only thing the two seemed to agree upon was mediation from Rozelle.

Wellington: “(I) would prefer the commissioner come over and run the team, I could prefer that to just sitting here and doing nothing.”

Tim: “The only person who has that power is the commissioner.”

A disgusted Rozelle had also grown tired of the feuding in public: “I’m going to continue working with both of (the Maras), but the less said, the better.”

A Great Compromise

Wellington Mara had received a recommendation from Bobby Beathard about his director of scouting, George Young. Wellington was familiar with Young’s detailed reports on college and pro players, and told Rozelle that he wanted Young, but that he couldn’t suggest anyone to Tim because it would be automatically rejected. Wellington told Rozelle that the Young recommendation had to come from him.

Rozelle told Tim Mara that he needed to choose between Young and Yale Athletic Director and former Cleveland Browns quarterback Frank Ryan. Tim said, “I had Frank Gifford check out Young for me. He called Bobby Beathard and got a glowing report, and he told me that he was definitely the man.”

On the 58th day of the bitter impasse, Young, showing the attributes of both Paul Brown and Henry Kissinger, came to Rozelle’s office in New York to meet with the Maras. The way the meeting unfolded spoke volumes to how desperate Rozelle was to have this saga finished forever.

Tim Mara recalled: “…we go on Wednesday to the Drake Hotel and we interview Young for two hours. We’re impressed and we go to Rozelle’s office. We’re sitting there and we have to go over the new resolutions about how the club shall be governed and who has right of first refusal in the event of a stockholder’s death and things like that. It also placed the football operation in the hands of whoever would get the general manager’s job.

“George wants to go home and talk it over with his wife but Pete wants it settled tonight. So George is in the other room and we’re dotting i’s and crossing t’s…Now it’s like 7:00 p.m. and nobody is in the league office, so Pete walks over to the typewriter and he starts to type out the press release for that night. It’s probably the first one he wrote in 25 years and the last one he ever wrote. While he’s writing, he suddenly looks up and says, ‘This is a great way to spend today. It’s my wedding anniversary.’”

A hastily scheduled news conference was called to get the word out immediately. An exhausted, horse-voiced Wellington Mara proudly boasted in front of the cameras and reporters, “It’s a sign the Giants are conforming with the rest of the league.”

The fallout from the Wellington-Tim Mara feud is forever be remembered in a document residing at the NFL’s office. In it are guidelines on ownership, drawn up by Rozelle, that decree any changes in the ownership of an existing franchise, or a new charter being drawn up for an expansion franchise, must have a majority owner. There will never be another 50-50 split ownership. Wellington said, “I regard it as a personal tragedy that our club provided the wisdom for that rule.”

Tim Mara said, “Sure, there were differences. But I always said that once we solved this problem, it would be behind us.”

Young came to the Giants with universal approval. Don Shula called Young, “A walking encyclopedia of information,” and added, “We went into games well-prepared basically because of George. He was my right-hand man.” Former Kansas City coach Hank Stram said, “George is in the good position of coming to a team that needs his kind of help. He knows football inside and out. He comes to the Giants well prepared.”

Regarding what promised to be a sometimes precarious man-in-the-middle between the often ornery owners, Young was appropriately diplomatic: “(I am) very happy to be with the Giants. I read the New York papers…But I know a good job when I see one. This is a wonderful opportunity and the Maras are one of the greatest families in pro football.”

On his credentials, Young said, “My experience is in personnel, waivers, things I can help a coach with. Some head coaches are excellent coaches, but are not good evaluators of personnel. Others are not good at talking to other people about trades. I don’t care who gets credit for anything, as long as we’re going in the same direction. That’s more important than any ego trip.”

The bruised egos of the two owners, however, would never completely heal. Wellington and Tim would remain on non-speaking terms for the remainder of Tim’s ownership (he sold his interest to Bob Tisch in March 1991), and one of Young’s responsibilities was to serve as their intermediary. While unease permeated the Giants offices with little respite, the feuding in public was over for good.

Establishing Order

While it took the owners 58 days to find their man, it took Young only eight days to find his. This bold and decisive move exemplified Young’s conviction and underscored his authority.

Ray Perkins was named the 11th head coach of the Giants, but was only the second to come from outside the organization (Bill Arnsparger being the first). Young was acquainted with Perkins when they were both in Baltimore with the Colts in the late 1960’s. The always quotable Young said, “Always hire a guy you know.”

Perkins had gained a strong reputation as a hardworking and studious wide receiver with the Colts, as a position coach with New England and as the offensive coordinator with San Diego. That his name had little resonance with the general public did not faze the owners, who were thrilled with the addition to their staff.

Wellington Mara: “Ray Perkins is very impressive in an unimpressive way.”

Tim Mara: “We have two people who I feel have credibility. They may not be that well-known by the man in the street, but the people in football, the people whose life is football, the people from the other 27 teams, know about them.”

One of the Giants rival executives, Gil Brandt of Dallas, ironically had given The New York Times a very candid and detailed analysis on his thoughts of the Giants a month earlier, during the Mara’s standoff. In it, he cited New York’s three chief failings:

(1) Organizational stability – the Giants were looking for their fifth head coach in 10 years. “When you pick a coach, you’ve got to pick the right man. If you pick somebody and he stays for two years and you’re not satisfied and then go to someone else, you’re back starting from scratch again.”

(2) Player acquisition and development – “When you draft top choices like Rocky Thompson, Eldridge Small, Al Simpson, guys who should be playing for you now and are no longer there, you get wiped out….Sometimes poor choices are not entirely on the scouting department. We’ve made some choices that we were high on that never improved. You have to find a way to make players compete so that they’re not just satisfied with what they’ve done but want to improve all the time.”

(3) Find the long term answer at quarterback – “Number one, they have to improve the quarterback situation, and they have to strengthen the wide receivers. Their running backs are adequate, the offensive line is coming together. Defensively, they’re pretty well set. They have the nucleus of doing well. I would try to trade or draft a quarterback. When you draft a quarterback, he’s usually not ready to play, but you can build with him. If you trade for one, it’s harder because nobody wants to give up a player like Danny White, our backup.”

In the short time since that interview was published the organization had become remarkably stabilized by Young’s presence, and a demanding coach was in place who would make players accountable. The third piece of the puzzle, that had proved to be elusive for the previous regime, was still missing.

Robustelli said as he exited his post, “When I came here, we were two years behind any expansion team. We had to tear down an organization and we had nothing to trade. If you add seven players a year, in five years you should have 35 players. Right now I would say the Giants are in a position for the first time to draft for depth. There’s only about four positions where we really need help at.”

The most critical of those positions was quarterback, which had been a revolving door since the departure of Fran Tarkenton after the 1971 season. Norm Snead, Randy Johnson, Craig Morton, Jim Del Gaizo, Joe Pisarcik, Jerry Golsteyn and Randy Dean all took their turns as starters over the ensuing seven seasons; results were routinely inconsistent and usually disappointing. The man on Young’s and Perkins’ radar would be another name the public was not familiar with, yet had the people in the know in the football world enamored. He was a strong-armed quarterback at a small school in Kentucky with a losing record (10-27 the past four seasons) that ran the ball more than they threw it.

Phil Simms’ final semester at Morehead State was a hectic one. He was continuously visited by NFL scouts and coaches.

Simms recalled: “There was no combine then, so the coaches and scouts who wanted to see me came to Morehead…I had worked out for about nine teams, and every single person who came to Morehead wanted to see how hard I could throw. In fact, when I asked Ray Perkins, the Giants coach at the time, how he wanted me to throw the ball, he said, ‘Son, I want you to throw that ball as hard as you can every time.’ ‘Even short passes?,’ I asked. ‘I want you to knock ‘em down.’

“Then Bill Walsh came along. I started working out, throwing hard as usual, and Bill said, ‘Oh that’s wayyy to hard. Throw a little softer. Throw with a little more rhythm. I want you to drop back gracefully. Be light on your feet. And I want you to throw with beautiful rhythm. I want your passes to be really pretty. I want nice spirals.’…After about 10 minutes I finally got it. I finally got to a speed that he liked. For the next 30 minutes I threw just the way he wanted me to. The results were awesome. That was one of the most enjoyable days I’ve ever had as a quarterback.”

“Bill came back to Morehead to work me out a second time. Afterward, he said, ‘Phil, if we draft you you’re going to lead the league in passing every year.’ The Forty-Niners didn’t have a first round pick that year. They had the first pick of the second round, and Bill told me he was confident I would be there. He was wrong. I wound up being a first round pick of the Giants.”

The most familiar name to football fans hoping for a quarterback in the spring of 1979 was Jack Thompson of Washington State. When Rozelle called the Giants first pick – the seventh overall – the boisterous reaction of the approximately 200 fans on hand at the Waldorf-Astoria ballroom surprised everyone in the room. The New York press was so amazed, that they pleaded with the commissioner for a second-take. Rozelle obliged, and as he stepped up to re-announce the Giants pick with a wry smile, anticipating another lively response, he got that and more.

The riled Giants fans jeered before Rozelle even said Simms’ name, and the commissioner chuckled his way off the stage while they howled defiantly. That group of Giants fans left an indelible impression on Rozelle, and he looked to capitalize on their passion. The next year, Rozelle had the draft moved to the New York Sheraton hotel, which possessed a gallery that could accommodate up to 750 people. Also, for the first time, fans could watch the selection process from home as the draft was broadcast live on television.

Despite what the fans thought, everyone in the Giants organization was thrilled to have Simms.

Perkins said, “I think Phil Simms, at some point in time, has a chance to be a great quarterback… We had good reason to believe he would not be there in the second round.”

Ray Perkins and Phil Simms, New York Giants (1979)

Ray Perkins and Phil Simms, New York Giants (1979)

Former Giants coach John McVay, who was now the director of player personnel for San Francisco, told Perkins, “You guys made one hell of a pick.”

Young said, “Once in a while you get to get a guy with a great arm and great potential and you darn better take it. Names, that’s just feeding Pablum to the fans.”

Just weeks following the draft, tragedy struck the Giants. On June 22nd, defensive tackle Troy Archer was killed when his pickup truck struck a telephone pole in North Bergen, New Jersey. Archer died from severe head trauma. Another passenger was also killed and a third went to the hospital with critical injuries. Archer lost control of the vehicle on a rain-slicked road, alcohol and drug involvement were ruled out by investigators. The loss of the young, talented player was a harbinger of personal loss that was going to linger with the franchise.

Welcome to the Big Time

The Giants brought five quarterbacks to camp and the three who made the opening day roster were Simms, Pisarcik and Dean. Pisarcik was a sub-50% passer with two touchdowns and four interceptions as the Giants began the campaign 0-2. Perkins sat Pisarcik and started Dean after the Week 3 27-0 disaster at Washington on Monday Night Football. While the stat sheet was ugly – 7-of-24 with two more interceptions – it was believed that Pisarcik’s confidence was shot as the line was not protecting him. He’d been sacked 17 times over the first three games and the physical beating was becoming overwhelming. Dean didn’t fare much better in Week 4, he was 10-of-22 and two interceptions in a home loss to Philadelphia.

Pisarcik got the start for the Week 5 game at New Orleans, and Giants fans got a glimpse of the future.

The game did not appear to be anything out of the ordinary at first. New Orleans led 7-0 midway through the second quarter. Pisarcik, who had entered the game with a sore knee, struggled going to 3-of-9 for 39 yards. After he took a hard hit and bruised his shoulder, Perkins sent in Simms.

Immediately there was a noticeable lift in New York’s energy. Simms connected on two deep throws to Johnny Perkins and had the Giants in position to tie the game, but an underthrown pass toward the end zone was intercepted. New Orleans kicked a field goal and led 10-0 at the half. Simms said, “I underthrew the ball. Instead of going ahead and throwing it, I tried to make it perfect.”

The Saints widened the margin to 17-0 to start the third quarter, but the Giants matched that with Simms’ first touchdown drive for the Giants. The defense held and Simms brought New York downfield for a field goal attempt that would’ve made it a one-score game at 17-10, but Joe Danelo’s 43-yard kick missed the mark.

A linebacker Harry Carson interception gave the Giants the ball right back and this time Simms delivered with his first NFL touchdown pass, an 11-yarder to running back Ken Johnson. With 11:00 left in the game, Brian Kelley recovered a New Orleans fumble, and again Simms drove the Giants into scoring territory. Running back Doug Kotar caught a pass at the Saints 15-yard line, but the ball was jarred loose on the tackle and the Saints recovered and ultimately held on for a 24-14 victory.

Although New York was 0-5, the locker room was not despondent. Perkins was initially non-committal, but Simms was given the start the next week at Giants Stadium against 5-0 Tampa Bay. Despite failing to score more than 17 points for the 17th straight game, the Giants upset the Buccaneers 17-14. Simms statistics were not impressive, 6-of-12 for 37 yards, as Billy Taylor ran the ball 33 times for 148 yards and both Giant touchdowns.

The following week Simms aired it out for 300 yards and two touchdowns against San Francisco in a 32-14 win. Two more wins at Kansas City and Los Angeles saw the Giants at 4-5 and thinking about the possibility of the playoffs. The four-game win streak for Simms set an NFL standard for rookie quarterbacks that would stand for 25 years.

The streak nearly reached five. A Giants Stadium record crowd of 76,490 erupted joyously with 8:33 to play in the fourth quarter when Simms hit Taylor for a 23-yard touchdown and 14-6 led over heavily-favored Dallas. However, the Cowboys, led by Giant nemesis Roger Staubach, led Dallas to 10 points in the last three minutes to pull out the victory, with the winning points coming on a 22-yard field goal with three seconds to play. Linebacker Brad Van Pelt said, “I don’t want to say it was our Super Bowl, but we treated it like it was a Super Bowl.”

The Giants won two of their next three before falling out of contention after a second loss to Dallas and ended the year 6-10, their seventh consecutive losing record. Simms finished second in Rookie of the Year voting to the St. Louis Cardinals Ottis Anderson. The decade of despair ended with a sense of optimism heading into 1980.

Another brush with personal loss put a scare into the Giants in March when linebacker Dan Lloyd was diagnosed with lymphoma. The Giants maintained his locker during his treatment and recovery in anticipation of his return the following year. Ultimately, Lloyd also sat out the 1981 season, and was declared cured of cancer by his doctors in 1982. A knee injury forced him to miss the 1982 season, after which he was released by the Giants. Lloyd retired from football after playing in the USFL during the 1983 season.

Simms opened the 1980 season with a five-touchdown, 280-yard performance at St. Louis in a 41-35 victory, the best passing day for a Giant since Fran Tarkenton in 1970. A last-second loss at home to the Redskins sent the Giants into a tailspin that nearly cost them their team captain.

Phil Simms, New York Giants (October 26, 1980)

Phil Simms, New York Giants (October 26, 1980)

Harry Carson recalled: “When I played badly in our third game of the season in 1980, a 35-3 loss at Philadelphia on a Monday night, I considered retiring. At the time football wasn’t much fun. I was tired of doing the same thing day after day for a losing team (New York’s record at that point since Carson had joined the team in 1976 was 21-43). Then I spent 10 minutes closeted alone with Perkins. I suggested that the Giants donate my game check to charity because I had played so badly. I told him I wanted to quit, to go home and get away from football for a while. He told me to wait and come see him the next morning at the stadium…Perk did not try to talk me out of quitting. He just told me to make sure of what I was doing. I know he cared for me as a person, not just as a player. I’ll always respect him for that.”

Carson remained a Giant but had a frustrating, injury-marred season that included two stays on the injured reserve list. An eight-game losing streak ended with a thrilling 38-35 upset of heavily favored Dallas at home, the Giants first win over the Cowboys since 1974. Simms had a 300-yard passing day in that victory and the next week as well over Green Bay. However, his season ended abruptly in a loss to St. Louis with a bruised collar bone. Rookie Scott Brunner quarterbacked the Giants the rest of the way to their woeful 4-12 record. It seemed like the languishing from 1970’s would never end.

Sudden Impact

Ironically, the rancor surrounding the Giants number one pick – and second overall – in the 1981 draft came from within the organization rather than outside it. Specifically, the veterans of the defensive unit, several of which had All-Pro credentials, were displeased with the notion of a rookie coming in as the team’s highest paid player.

Young seemed unmoved, and made no public statements to quell the rumors: “Our approach will be to try to get as many quality players as we can and not be dictated to by the need-for-position board. It’s my experience when you bring the position board into the draft room, you’re in trouble.”

Young never hesitated with the selection after New Orleans took George Rogers first overall, but he deflected praise when asked about taking linebacker Lawrence Taylor, who was regarded by most as the best athlete in the draft, “Today we are all just as smart or just as dumb as one another.”

Perkins reminisced years later: “I’ve never looked at game films and been as totally impressed as I was with (Taylor). I stayed up all night before the draft hoping and praying and crossing my legs, fingers, and everything else, that (New Orleans coach) Bum Phillips would take George Rogers. And he did.”

Taylor had been uneasy on becoming a focal point of distraction: “I heard the talk that some of the Giants would walk out if I got a lot of money. I didn’t want people to be mad at me. So I sent the Giants a telegram Monday saying I would rather not be drafted by them. Monday night I got calls from some of the players, on offense and defense and some coaches. They said there was nothing to the story, and there would be no walkout. They said they wanted me here.”

He also discussed the move from his college position of defensive end to outside linebacker: “I feel at home in that position. I know what’s going on there. The block can only come from one direction.” Veteran Brian Kelley was expected to vacate his outside position and move to one of the inside spots as the Giants converted full-time to the 3-4 defense under new defensive coordinator Bill Parcells.

To say Taylor’s transition to a new position and gaining acceptance from the veterans went smoothly would be an understatement of the grandest proportions.

Carson: “When we arrived at training camp, it didn’t take us long to see what the guys in scouting and personnel already knew. Once we took the field, you couldn’t help but watch him as he went through drills. He made some agility drills look easy…I had never seen a player so big, so fast and so strong move the way Lawrence Taylor moved on the football field. He would make plays that would make players turn to one another and ask, ‘Man, did you see that shit?’ Lawrence Taylor was something special.”

Simms: “From what I saw in person, I can’t think of another player that compares with Lawrence Taylor. My gosh! Even if you knew nothing about football, you could see that he was different from anybody else that you had ever practiced or played with. He had skill that was unique and new to the NFL…When you played us, you actually had to change your offensive philosophy, just because you had to find a different way to deal with him…Lawrence was a ferocious competitor. He loved to win and he never turned that off.”

New York started the 1981 season unevenly at 2-2. Clearly, the defense was the strength of the team and largely responsible for the two wins, where a combined 14 points were allowed, and had kept the Giants close in two tough losses to division powerhouses Philadelphia and Dallas.

Lawrence Taylor, New York Giants (September 13, 1981)

Lawrence Taylor, New York Giants (September 13, 1981)

Carson: “With each game we players that 1981 season, we could all see Lawrence Taylor was the real deal. We saw week in and week out an athlete with superb mental and physical abilities will himself, like an artist, to be better than most other players on the same field…I remember thinking, ‘Damn, I’m glad he’s on my side!’”

Perkins: “(Taylor) makes the offenses study how they’ll attack him and how they’ll try to keep him from attacking them. When you do that you have to put two men on him, which starts to restrict their offensive schemes.”

Brian Kelley said, “Looking at it on paper, you wouldn’t believe a weak-side linebacker could affect a defense so much. Watching it on film, it’s obvious. With Lawrence out there, he completely changes the whole offense.”

Simms: “(Taylor) was not only good. He was frightening.”

That week Young traded for Rob Carpenter, a big, versatile fullback who suddenly became available from the Houston Oilers. Young said, “Ray asked me last spring about getting him. We talked to the Oilers as soon as they named their new coach, but he wanted to look over his team first. He’s a real all-round back. He’s a good blocker, has good running moves and excellent hands.”

Carpenter sat on the bench as New York lost to Green Bay at home, as well as the first half the following week against St. Louis. Perkins sent Carpenter out with the first team to start the third quarter and the lift he gave the offense was not unlike the one Taylor had given the defense. Suddenly, the Giants rushing attack was consistent and reliable. Big gains on first down were followed-up with crucial pick-ups in short yardage. The Giants controlled the clock, gave the defense much needed rest, and energized the Giants Stadium crowd who cheered every time the chains moved. In 30 minutes of action, Carpenter totaled 104 yards on 14 carries and caught two passes for 23 yards as the Giants rolled to a confidence-boosting 34-14 victory.

The next week was even better. On the road in Seattle, Carpenter started and had a 122-yard rushing day on 21 carries, the first a Giant had consecutive 100-yard rushing games since Ron Johnson in 1972. The defense smothered the Seahawks and registered five sacks and four takeaways, giving New York its first shutout in three years. Taylor said, “It’s hard to complete a lot of passes if someone’s in your face all the time.”

The next week, New York won on the road against heavily-favored Atlanta. The victory was the franchise’s first in overtime. All this newfound success proved to be fleeting however, as the Giants lost three in a row. The first setback was a physical beating by the Jets where Simms was injured while enduring a nine-sack barrage. The second was a late loss following a Brunner-led comeback in Green Bay, and the third an overtime loss set up by a botched squib kick at home to Washington. The Giants also lost Simms for the second season in a row in the Washington game with a separated shoulder.

Now 5-6, many felt this was the same old Giants team on the verge of another late-season collapse as they had done so many times before. Next up was 9-2 Philadelphia, owners of a 12-game win streak over New York.

Character and Guts

The first three quarters at Philadelphia’s Veterans Stadium saw the defenses dominate a gritty 10-10 stalemate. The Giants front seven made life miserable for Philadelphia quarterback Ron Jaworski, who was sacked three times en route to a 20-of-45 passing day. New York played it close to the vest and relied on the running of Carpenter, who would finish the day with 111 yards on 24 carries.

The tipping point came early in the fourth quarter. On 3rd-and-1 for Philadelphia on their own 23-yard line, running back Wilbert Montgomery was stopped inches short of the yard marker. Eagles coach Dick Vermeil expectedly sent out his punting unit, but result turned out to be puzzling. Vermeil called for a snap to the up-back for a run, but the center misinterpreted the call and snapped the ball to a very surprised punter Max Runnager, who then shanked the kick for a net gain of nine yards.

New York took over on the Eagles 32-yard line and sent Carpenter into the line five successive times. After an incomplete third down pass, Joe Danelo kicked a 30-yard field goal for a 13-10 New York advantage. Philadelphia advanced the ball as far as their 45-yard line on their next possession, then the Giants defense took over the game.

Scott Brunner (12), Jim Clack (58), New York Giants (November 22, 1981)

Scott Brunner (12), Jim Clack (58), New York Giants (November 22, 1981)

Back-to-back holding penalties and a Brad Van Pelt sack of Jaworski set up a third-and-39 for the Eagles from their own 16-yard line. On the next snap, cornerback Terry Jackson jumped an out-route, picked the ball cleanly, and raced down the sideline 32 yards untouched for a touchdown and 20-10 lead. Jackson said, “They put two guys in my deep zone. He had to throw the ball across the field, and when he let it go I knew I had it. I also knew I would score because all the other Eagles were blocking on the other side of the field.”

The Eagles mustered up one last desperation drive that ended with a missed field goal. The Giants then ran off most of the final three minutes from the clock with Carpenter plunges and a prevent defense.

This game was almost three years to the date after “The Fumble.” It was quite ironic that the Veterans Stadium crowd began to chant “WE WANT JOE! WE WANT JOE!” as Jaworski dumped off short passes against New York’s soft zone defense. The Joe they called for was none other than Joe Pisarcik, who had been Philadelphia’s backup quarterback after a trade with the Giants during the 1980 draft.

After the game, the New York locker room was buoyant:

Taylor: “The defensive game plan was take it to them. If we lost this game, we had no chance for the playoffs.”

Van Pelt: “We started slow, but we should be proud of our performance.”

Perkins: “I don’t think the score indicates just how bad we beat them. We showed a lot of character and guts. We could have bit the dust and played the last five games and gone home for Christmas. I told our guys Monday we were going to shock the world today.”

Ironically, in the midst of New York’s most prosperous season in over a decade, hard feelings over an old grudge surfaced, when Wellington Mara sent a letter to Commissioner Rozelle, stating that the state of the franchise was being compromised by the divided ownership. In the letter, Mara wrote, “I am convinced that the absence of acknowledgement of authority will not change, and that under the circumstances, the 50%-50% ownership balance is a fatal blow to the ability of the Giants to cope with the demands of the future.”

Essentially, Wellington was asking that his title of President be officially recognized in a hierarchical manner over Tim’s titles of Vice President and Treasurer. Rozelle took no action. Prior to this, Frank Gifford attempted to mediate the situation between the owners. Tim Mara said, “Just before Thanksgiving, Frank Gifford talked to Well, he wanted to patch things up…He spent three hours with Well, and he told me that Well listened. He didn’t commit himself one way or the other…It turned out he had already written that letter to Rozelle before he spoke to Gifford. Except neither Gifford nor I knew that until I got ‘copied’ with the letter. I think Pete was great, he was diplomatic, he just let it ride.”

Ultimately, the Giants ownership situation was settled. Wellington would make one final plea to Rozelle late in the 1983 season, only to have Rozelle decree with full certainty that the agreement made in 1979 during the hiring of George Young would be upheld in perpetuity.

After a tough 17-10 loss at San Francisco, the Giants won two more defensive struggles to enter the final week of the season 8-7. A Saturday win at home against 12-3 Dallas guaranteed a winning record, but nothing more. New York also needed the Jets to defeat Green Bay on Sunday, as the Packers owned a tie breaker over the Giants.

The lead-up to Week 16 was unlike anything New York had ever seen. Both franchises had been absent from the post season since the 1960s and combined for two winning season during the abysmal decade of the 1970s (both by the Giants, in 1970 and 1972). Newspapers and local news broadcasts gleefully speculated on the possibility of a Giants-Jets Super Bowl.

The legend of “Giants Stadium Weather” was born on December 19, 1981. Kick-off temperatures in the upper 20s dropped steadily throughout the contest. Winds in the 15-23 mph range gusted to 40 mph with a chill factor registered in the low single digits. New York’s squad, whose strength was defense and power running, would be largely unaffected. Over the 3-1 stretch after Simms was lost for the season, the Giants offense averaged 2.5 turnovers per game while scoring 15 points. But the defense only allowed 11 points per game. The Cowboys potent passing offense would be challenged by the elements. Perkins said his approach for the pivotal contest was, “…just like a playoff game. You win or you go home for Christmas.”

An unnamed member of the New York defense told Sports Illustrated’s Paul Zimmerman, “When you hit the Cowboys early, and keep hitting them, they’ll lose interest – particularly if it’s a game they’re not totally committed to.”

The game started with the Giants blowing Dallas off the ball on both sides of the line of scrimmage. New York drove deep into Dallas territory twice in the first quarter but came up empty both times. After Johnny Perkins dropped a sure touchdown pass in the end zone, Danelo sliced a 21-yard field goal attempt wide left. On the next possession he missed twice, first from 32 yards, and then from 27 yards after a Dallas offsides penalty. Danelo said, “I just blew that first one (first possession), no excuses. I jumped at the ball instead of kicking it. I tried to guide that one through (third miss), steer it.”  Most disheartening for New York was those kicks were attempted with the wind at Danelo’s back.

The Giants defense, however kept the Dallas offense in check. George Martin and Taylor combined for three first half sacks and the teams entered the second half tied 0-0. The Giants broke the stalemate with just under five minutes left in the third quarter on a 62-yard drive that featured a good break when a flea-flicker pass from Brunner was tipped by Ed “Too Tall” Jones and landed in the arms of running back Leon Perry, who advanced for a 16-yard gain. Two plays later, Brunner hit tight end Tom Mullady for a 20-yard touchdown pass at the pylon for a 7-0 lead.

The raucousness at Giants Stadium was short lived however, as immediately Dallas responded with an 80-yard drive that was completed with a three-yard touchdown pass from White to tight end Doug Cosbie. The Giants seemed rattled, as on the kickoff, the return man muffed, bobbled and eventually fell on the ball on the one-yard line. Two plays later Dallas intercepted a Brunner pass and converted it into three points and a 10-7 lead with 9:12 on the clock.

New York drove into Dallas territory, but a third down sack forced a punt and the Cowboys took over on their own five-yard line. Running back Tony Dorsett ran the ball on first and second down before White completed a third down pass to move the chains. The next three downs repeated the pattern, and New York took a time out with 2:14 on the clock with Dallas on their own 45-yard line. Another first down would all but doom the Giants.

Dire circumstances notwithstanding, the following sequence of plays hinted that for the first time in 18 years, the football gods were about to smile upon the Giants.

New York Giants Defense (December 19, 1981)

New York Giants Defense (December 19, 1981)

On 1st-and-10, Dorsett bobbled a pitch out that Martin recovered for the Giants on the Dallas 45-yard line with 2:08 to go in the game. A holding penalty and incompletions on first and second down preceded a seven yard pass from Brunner to wide receiver John Mistler on third down. On f4th-and-13 from the Cowboys 48-yard line, Brunner stepped up under heavy pressure and completed a pass to Mistler late crossing the field. Mistler ran out of bounds at the Dallas 27-yard line to stop the clock at 1:35.

Two runs and an incomplete pass set New York up with a fourth-and-three on the Dallas 20-yard line. Danelo had his first chance at redemption with 0:30 on the clock and the fierce wind blowing in his face. Defying history, Danelo sent the ball cleanly through the uprights and Giants Stadium into a state of pandemonium as the score was tied 10-10 at 0:25.

The Cowboys won the overtime coin toss and strategically chose to defend the East end zone with the wind at their backs. New York went three and out, and Dave Jennings’ punt into the wind was short and gave Dallas the ball at their 40-yard line.

On 2nd-and-three from their own 47-yard line, Dorsett again mishandled a pitchout. This time he nearly recovered it, but Lawrence Taylor hit him while on the ground and freed the ball for Taylor himself to recover at the Cowboys 39-yard line.

New York ran the ball five consecutive plays, including a surprise naked bootleg for 19 yards by Brunner on third down, to set Danelo up for a 33-yard field goal. The attempt to give the Giants their first winning season in nine years and maintain their playoff dreams another 24 hours came on third down. Brunner said, “There really was little choice, the wind had become too much of a factor.”

The ball was spotted on the left hash and Danelo’s kick seemed headed toward center most of its flight, but at the very last moment sliced to the right, and clanged off the upright. The game remained tied and the Cowboys took over possession of the ball.

Danelo said, “I saw the Cowboys jumping around like they just won the Super Bowl, but Coach Perkins came over to me on the sideline and said, ‘Don’t be down, you’re going to get another chance.’…All I was doing was praying that I’d get another shot. It was killing me that I was letting down my teammates.”

The Giants defense made certain that was the case. On first down, White was sacked and fumbled, but Dallas recovered. On second down, White hurried a pass from a collapsing pocket and Byron Hunt intercepted for New York and gave the Giants possession on the Cowboys 24-yard line. After two short rushes and an incomplete pass, Perkins sent Danelo out to win the game from 35 yards out.

This time, set up on the right hash mark, Danelo drove the ball with authority toward center and it stayed true. The Giants won 13-10 and bedlam reigned in Giants Stadium. Teammates mobbed Danelo and Perkins carried him off the field on his shoulders. Perkins said, “I felt like I had to carry him off the field.”

Danelo said, “I just kept my head down and kicked it through. I knew if I got under the ball too much, it would hang up in the air like the first one in overtime did.”

Aside from the kicking drama, the story of the Giants success again was centered on their defense. Dorsett came into the game leading the NFL with 1,607 yards rushing, but was held to 39 yards on 21 carries with two lost fumbles. Perkins said, “We knew we had to stop Dorsett. If you don’t stop their running game, you don’t have to worry about their passing game.”

The final three Cowboys possessions all ended with turnovers. Safety Beasley Reece said, “Tony Hill, Drew Pearson, a couple of the others, they all made mention of how we had been hitting, ‘You guys are flying all over the field,’ and, ‘You guys are hitting everything that moves,’ those kinds of things. It’s an image we’re proud of.”

Bill Parcells said, “We’re not even close to the way I’d like us to be, either.”

Encore

The next afternoon at Shea Stadium the Jets punched the Giants first ticket to the post season since 1963 with a 28-3 win over Green Bay. Dave Jennings said, “I’m glad it wasn’t thrilling. I wasn’t ready for two in a row like that. You don’t know how many years I’ve gone home and watched the first round of the playoffs on TV and been sick to my stomach…When it was over I let out a yell, a small one.”

Lawrence Taylor said, “This is something that hasn’t gone on around here in a long time. I can’t really comprehend what it means to the veterans. My happiness couldn’t be one-tenth of the other players’ happiness.”

After winning four of their last five games, the Giants were a confident group heading to Philadelphia to face the reigning NFC Champions in the Wild Card Game. The wave of momentum New York had ridden during the end of the Dallas game swelled to a tsunami during the first quarter against the Eagles.

After having the opening drive of the game stall at their own 40-yard line, New York punted. Eagles returner Wally Henry fumbled and the Giants recovered at the Eagles 25-yard line. Carpenter carried five times for 21 yards before Brunner threw a touchdown pass to Mistler for a 6-0 lead (the hold on the extra point was fumbled) less than five minutes into the game.

Following a Philadelphia three-and-out, Brunner engineered a 12-play, 62-yard drive that consumed almost the remainder of the first quarter clock. A 10-yard touchdown pass to Mistler increased the lead to 13-0. It only took the Giants six seconds to add to it. Henry fumbled the kickoff on the Philadelphia three-yard line, and while attempting to recover at the five-yard line, he was crashed into by Mike Dennis. Mark Haynes recovered the free ball just inside the pylon at the corner of the end zone for a touchdown and 20-0 New York advantage.

Rob Carpenter, New York Giants (December 27, 1981)

Rob Carpenter, New York Giants (December 27, 1981)

The statistics told the story. At the end of the first quarter the Eagles had run three offensive plays for a gross of 10 yards, but lost nine on a George Martin sack of Ron Jaworski, and had two turnovers by their special teams. After trading touchdowns just before halftime New York led 27-7 and held advantages over Philadelphia in first downs (11 to 4), net yards (188-74), and time of possession (19:07 – 10:53). The Eagles also fumbled three more times in the second quarter, but recovered them all.

Philadelphia scored early in the third quarter and again late in the fourth but New York was able to hold on, as the game plan was apparently to run out the clock for the final 30 minutes. The Giants ran 18 offensive plays in the second half (not including punts and kneel downs), 16 of which were Carpenter rushes. The other two plays were a rush by Leon Perry and a Brunner pass to Carpenter.

Carpenter registered 33 carries for 161, both Giants post-season records. Not only was Carpenter’s 100-yard rushing day a franchise first in the post season, but the 27-21 victory was also the Giants first on the road in their history, and first overall since 1958. Between the years 1933 and 1963, New York had gone 0-8 away as post season visitors.

The following week the Giants saw their season come to an end with a 38-24 setback to the eventual Super Bowl champion 49ers in San Francisco. New York was actually hanging in the game at 24-17 midway through the fourth quarter, but a pair of quick touchdowns by the 49ers sealed their fate. Regardless, the 1981 season was considered an unqualified success by all.

Bumps in the Road

It is not at all an exaggeration to suggest that if the Giants 1982 season wasn’t over before it even began, there were a number of underlying circumstances conspiring against it.

  • Phil Simms was lost for the year with torn knee ligaments suffered in the preseason game against the Jets.
  • Rob Carpenter held out for a new contract, and wouldn’t return to the playing field until December.
  • The NFL Players Association staged a 57-day, eight-week strike that obliterated seven games from the league schedule.
  • Ray Perkins resigned as head coach on December 15, with three weeks left to play, effective after the conclusion of the Giants season to take over as the head coach of the University of Alabama.

The Giants began the season losing their first two home games in frustrating fashion, with late-game collapses in contests where they had statistically dominated their opponents. After the players strike, New York was beaten badly at Giants Stadium by Washington and was buried in a 0-3 hole.

Lawrence Taylor, New York Giants (December 5, 1982)

Lawrence Taylor, New York Giants (December 5, 1982)

A win on Thanksgiving at Detroit and a home victory over the Eagles had the Giants hopeful at 2-3, but four days later Perkins announced his intention to leave after the season. He said, “I’m leaving the Giants with mixed emotions… This new job does me great honor for many reasons, being my alma mater and a great university in the part of the country where I was raised…Deep down, it was what I wanted to do more than anything in the world. This is simply something that’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me. If it was any other place, college or pro, it would not have lured me away. I’ve always told my players to do something you enjoy. Don’t do something because it will be rewarded with money. This is something I want do.”

New York released Perkins from his contract, which included a three-year extension that was given after the 1981 season and which had bound his services to New York through the 1985 season.

Young immediately named defensive coordinator Bill Parcells as New York’s head coach in-waiting.

Young said, “Bill Parcells was first on my list, and it was a short list…I didn’t want to run the risk losing (Parcells). Somehow people always think a stranger is a better guy. In Baltimore, we had a guy named Chuck Noll sitting on our staff and we let him get away…Continuity is important, but you want to get the best guy. If he contributes to the continuity, fine, but you want to get the best guy. You don’t get the continuity first; you get the best guy first.”

A New Jersey native, and acknowledged Giant fan during his youth, Parcells said, “Coaching the New York Giants for Bill Parcells is what Alabama is for Ray Perkins.”

After climbing back to 3-3, New York dropped two more late decisions before winning at Philadelphia in the finale. The Giants finished 4-5 and just missed out on a playoff berth in the one-season-only expanded format where divisions had been eliminated.

The Longest Season

The 1982 season was seen as something of a fluke and expectations were high heading into 1983. After a 2-2 September, the Giants went 1-10-1 over the remained of the schedule. As bad as the football was at times, an accumulation of off-field losses and behind-the-scenes chicanery probably made Sunday afternoons seem like a refuge from the tumult.

Taylor said, “Sunday is a different world. It’s like a fantasy world, which I’d rather live in. Then I go back to the rest of the world and that’s when the trouble starts.”

The streak of personal misfortune continued for the Giants as backfield coach Bob Ledbetter passed away on October 9, at the age of 49, from complications resulting from a stroke he had suffered on September 24th. Players and coaches were distraught at the news. Beginning with the Week 6 game the following day against the Eagles, New York wore a black stripe over the right shoulder as a symbol of mourning, which remained throughout season.

The biggest on-field loss was of Phil Simms, again with a season ending injury. Brunner, who had begun the season as the starter, was benched in the third quarter of the Philadelphia game. After leading a touchdown drive to get the Giants back in the game, Simms had New York on the move again. But after throwing an incompletion, he knew something was wrong: “As I followed through, I brought my hand down and Dennis Harrison brought his arm up. My hand and his arm collided, and I said, ‘Damn, that hurt,’ and then looked down and saw the bone sticking out of my right thumb, and I said, ‘Holy shit, oh my God,’ and I started screaming.”

While the losses piled up through October and November, few outside the organization were aware that Parcells mother Ida was terminally ill. She passed away at the age of 71 from a form of bone cancer in mid-November, only weeks after being diagnosed. At the same time, Parcells’ father Charles was undergoing treatment for a blood infection incurred after bypass surgery.

None of this was reported in the New York sports pages at the time, but Parcells recalled years later, “I had the feeling that the world was crashing down on my head. It was one thing after another, and I didn’t handle it well. But what are you going to do? They’re not going to cancel the football games. In this business you don’t ever stop. You can’t stop. You’ve just got to keep going…You’ve got to be able to deal with it. The poor-me syndrome is very damaging psychologically, and it loves company.” Charles Parcells passed away in February 1984.

1983 New York Giants Media Guide

1983 New York Giants Media Guide

Giants fans found themselves making NFL history on December 4, when 51,589 ticket holders decided to stay home instead of watching the Giants and Cardinals play in person. While the miserable weather, that included driving rain and temperatures dropping from the low 40’s into the upper 30’s, was certainly a factor, the memory of the infamous 20-20 tie the two teams were involved in on Monday Night Football six week earlier couldn’t have helped. Brad Van Pelt said, “If I was a fan and my seats weren’t covered, I wouldn’t have shown up either.” In the post-game locker room, Harry Carson told reporters he wanted to be traded, “As far as I’m concerned, next week’s game will be my last at Giants Stadium. I don’t deserve this. I don’t think anybody does.”

With morale at an all-time low, Parcells had his confidence shaken by a tip from his agent, Robert Frahley, the week after the Cardinal game. Frahley told Parcells that George Young had inquired with former Miami Dolphin acquaintance and current University of Miami Head Coach Howard Schellenberger on his possible interest in the Giants head coaching position if it were to become available after the season.

The news was leaked to the popular CBS pre-game show The NFL Today, and was broadcast in a segment by Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder. After an ugly 17-12 loss to Seattle, in which the dissatisfied Giants Stadium crowd chanted for broadcaster John Madden (who was in the CBS booth providing color analysis of the game), the press peppered Young on the rumor. A visibly perturbed Young said, “Bill is the coach. I don’t want to comment on anything that is speculative.”

Schellenberger was also mentioned as a potential coaching candidate for the New Jersey Generals of the USFL, but ultimately declined both offers and stayed with the University of Miami. Parcells recalled in his biography: “I never met Howard Schellenberger, but to his credit, he told my agent, ‘These guys are offering me the job, and I’m not going to take it. You need to tell Bill that’s what they’re doing.’ So he was really a coach’s coach, and I’ve admired him for that.”

Another member of the Giants family was lost on December 17th, the day of the season finale. Recently retired back Doug Kotar passed away, 16 months after being diagnosed with a malignant, inoperable brain tumor. Kotar had played for the Giants from 1974 through 1981, and retired early during the 1982 training camp as he struggled to return from shoulder and knee injuries. Shortly thereafter he had complained of persistent headaches, which led to his diagnosis.

When the melancholy 1983 campaign mercifully came to a close, those who were left standing – which weren’t many as New York ended the year with a league-high 25 players on injured reserve – likely entered the offseason with a sense of relief.

Makeover

The first change Parcells made was within. He recalled years later: “I think in ’83, I was trying to be a head coach. In ’84, I decided to be Bill Parcells. And I kind of made a little promise with myself that I would try to do things my way, and I gave my best effort in that regard. And I really dispensed with the feelings of doing what a head coach was supposed to do.”

The next change was the roster. Nearly 50% of the previous season’s team was gone by Week 1 of the 1984 season, with many of the missing faces having been familiar ones like Brad Van Pelt and Brian Kelley. In their place were young, untested players with great potential like Carl Banks and Gary Reasons.

Carson said, “I could definitely sense a change in the attitude of the coaching staff, but I also saw a shift in the player’s personalities…The competition for jobs had gotten more intense with younger players vying for a spot on the roster.”

Despite the pressure to win now, growing pains were not unexpected. It would take some time for the mental toughness and discipline to match the physical talent. To that end, Parcells leaned heavily on his staff of assistants.

Simms said, “I tell people all the time that the hardest part of playing under that coaching staff wasn’t Bill Parcells. It was his assistants: Al Groh, Bill Belichick, Romeo Crennel, Mike Pope, Ron Erhardt. They were all vocal. They were all rough. They all could generate some fear. Ron Erhardt, man he was old school. He would call your ass out on the field. He would call your ass out in the meeting room in front of the whole team.

“We watched more films than I ever had watched before. There was a real sense of urgency for everybody involved, for me, for Ron, for Parcells. Our jobs were at stake. If we didn’t go out and get it done, we knew there would were going to be new people around.”

The work paid tremendous dividends early for Simms and the Giants. Employing a new vertical-attack passing game, Simms threw for nearly 600 yards and seven touchdowns and no interceptions against Philadelphia and Dallas to open the season 2-0, New York’s best start in sixteen years.

Phil Simms, Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants (September 2, 1984)

Phil Simms, Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants (September 2, 1984)

Simms said, “There were times I thought I’d never have the chance to show what I thought I could do. There were other times I began to wonder if I was really as good as I thought I was, that I might not have what it takes to play in this league.”

The NFL initiated a new recognition program for players in 1984, where four players who had noteworthy games – one each on offense and defense from each conference – were given a “Player of the Week” award. Lawrence Taylor was the first Giant to be named the “NFC Defensive Player of the Week” for his three sack, two-forced fumble effort against the Cowboys in Week 2.

Paul Zimmerman, who covered the game for Sports Illustrated, described Taylor’s play that afternoon eloquently: “There are blitzes and there are blitzes. There are safety blitzes and maniac blitzes, single linebacker blitzes and delayed blitzes; there are blitzes that look like blintzes because they’re so ineffective. Then there are Lawrence Taylor blitzes. They are like nothing else in the NFL, or any other FL. They are like messages from Thor, or as Taylor’s former New York Giant teammate Beasley Reece once said, ‘When Lawrence is coming, you can hear sirens going off.’ Random House’s unabridged dictionary defines a blitz this way: ‘War waged by surprise, swiftly and violently, as by the use of aircraft, tanks, etc.’ Etcetera stands for Lawrence Taylor.”

A portent of an arising ritual was also noted by Zimmerman: “With 52 seconds left Sunday, the Cowboys got the ball on their 26-yard line. They had their regulars in, and they were throwing passes out of the shotgun and calling time-outs to stop the clock, but on the sideline the Giants had already begun celebrating. Carson went around with a bucket of water and a sponge, anointing teammates, coaches, everyone. He gave Parcells a dousing. The coach laughed. Carson laughed. The bitterness of last month was forgotten.”

The Giants eventually found themselves at 4-4 midway through the season and in the thick of the postseason hunt. The turning point of the 1984 season, and the Parcells-era Giants, is looked upon as the October 28 meeting with Washington at Giants Stadium.

The week leading up to the game, Parcells rode nose tackle Jim Burt particularly hard. Burt said the coach had been, “using me like a tool to get to the team.”

Carson: “Bill told Burt that if he wasn’t ready to play, (Redskins center Jeff) Bostic was going to embarrass him on the field…This back-and-forth went on all week. While Jim tried to play it off, I could tell it was getting to him. At one point Jim was coming out of his stance using dumbbells to improve his quickness on the snap. Parcells; was getting into Burt’s head and Bill knew it.”

Simms: “Bill’s always looking for your hot button, whatever it takes to get to you. There are a lot of buttons for him to push. The most important one is always the one that makes you play better. And he’ll always find it. He knew what my hot button was before I knew it. He figured me out before I figured myself out. That’s one of his gifts.”

Burt: “It was brutal. (Parcells) screamed at me every minute. I knew why he did it, but I didn’t like it.”

The tactic worked, and then some. The Giants led 23-0 late in the second quarter and 37-6 one play into the fourth quarter. New York not only handily defeated the Redskins 37-13, they physically punished them. New York dominated every statistical category, and according to plan, stuffed the Washington rush. John Riggins was held to 51 yards on 16 carries and the Redskins for 79 yards as a team. They also held Washington to 4-of-17 on third down conversions. Parcells said, “It was our best performance of the year, and I thought our defense was magnificent.”

The win broke a six-game losing streak to the Redskins and the 37 points were the most a Giants team had scored in a game in four years. New York broke from its usual tendencies and employed a new offense, running from the three-wide receiver set the entire game. Simms said, “We tried to spread things out to make their defense cover the whole field.”

Simms was the first Giant to be named the “NFC Offensive Player of the Week” with his 18-29-338-2-0 performance, despite being sacked seven times. Parcells said, “I thought Phil Simms showed outstanding courage under quite a bit of pressure.”

Halfback Joe Morris also tied a club record with three rushing touchdowns, being the first to do so since 1971. Erhardt said, “The pass opened up the running game for us. We picked our spots.”

As the game clock was expiring and most of the Giants sideline was celebrating, Burt felt an unsettled urge that required closure. He stood near Parcells on the sideline, “He gave me a big smile and said, ‘I got you ready, didn’t I?’ I didn’t say anything. I just gave him a halfway smile and looked for a water bucket.”

Burt sought assistance. According to Carson, “(Burt) said, ‘We should get him.’ I said, ‘What do you mean, we?’ Jim said, ‘C’mon Harry, you know you’re one of Parcells’ guys. If I did something by myself, he would have my ass! But if you did it with me, he wouldn’t do anything to us.’”

Burt told the press several days later, “It was cold. There was a lot of ice.”

Parcells said: “And without looking, I knew it was Jim Burt.” When asked after the game if he expected to be dunked after every victory, the coach replied, “I hope so.”

Bill Parcells, Harry Carson, Lawrence Taylor; New York Giants (November 11, 1984)

Bill Parcells, Harry Carson, Lawrence Taylor; New York Giants (November 11, 1984)

He received his wish four of the next five weeks, a run that had New York in the three-way tie for first place with Washington and Dallas at 9-5, and 8-6 St. Louis right behind, with two games left to play. A Week 15 loss at St. Louis all but eliminated the Giants from an NFC East title, but with help they could qualify as a Wild Card entry.

The Giants sleep-walked their way through a dreary 10-3 loss to New Orleans at home on a cold, wet Saturday afternoon in a game that meant nothing in the playoff chase. The 9-7 record would get New York into the post season if Washington defeated St. Louis on Sunday and Miami defeated Dallas Monday night.

The Sunday afternoon game looked to be a one-sided affair in New York’s favor as Washington dominated the first half and led 23-7 at halftime. It could have been 24-7 if not for a missed point-after in the first quarter. That missing point proved critical during the Cardinals’ come-back bid in the second half.

St. Louis chipped away at the lead, cutting the deficit to 23-17 late in the third quarter, before moving ahead 27-26 with 6:15 to play. Washington responded with a long drive that ended with a 33-yard field goal for a 29-27 lead with 1:33 on the clock. St. Louis was not yet finished, however. A nine-play, 47-yard desperation drive moved them into Redskins territory and a 50-yard field goal attempt as the clock expired missed wide left. Washington locked up first place, St. Louis was eliminated, and the Giants chances were extended another day.

The Monday night game in Miami was no less exasperating for those with outside interests, although it took a while before it got going. The Dolphins led 7-0 at halftime and 14-7 at the end of the third period. After intercepting a Dan Marino pass deep in Miami territory, Dallas tied the game 14-14 with 7:28 to play. Marino responded with a nine-play drive to put Miami back ahead 21-14 with 2:31 left to play.

The Cowboys first play after the two-minute warning was a 66-yard touchdown pass on a tipped ball to Tony Hill, tying the game 21-21. The Dolphins seemed to be playing for overtime with two short passes that kept the clock moving, but on third-and-one Marino connected with Mark Clayton on a 63-yard touchdown pass that vaulted Miami to the lead 28-21 for good. Dallas missed the playoffs for the first time in ten years and the Giants were back in for the second time in four years.

The Giants traveled to Los Angeles to face the Rams, who had beaten New York badly in early October. That had been before the Giants had galvanized, and the hardened New York team upset the favored Rams 16-13.

Phil Simms and Zeke Mowatt, New York Giants (December 23, 1984)

Phil Simms and Zeke Mowatt, New York Giants (December 23, 1984)

Harry Carson, who had demanded to be traded in 1983 and walked out of camp in July, was all-in with his team of underdogs. After the game he proclaimed, “We don’t care who gives up on us. We didn’t give up on ourselves. We can’t worry about what people think. We’re more together and have more talent than any team I’ve been associated with. We’re going to stick together.”

The Giants did stick together, and they gave the 15-1 49ers all they could handle in the NFC Divisional Playoff. After San Francisco jumped out to a fast 14-0 lead, the game settled into a plodding slugfest on Candlestick Park’s soft sod. The 49ers moved on toward their Super Bowl title with a 21-10 victory over New York, but the Giants exit wasn’t without merit. Simms said, “The 49ers are a good team and deserved to win today, but I still think we can play with them. I wish we had put more offensive pressure on them.”

San Francisco coach Bill Walsh said, “The Giants are a team of the future.”

A Giant Leap Forward

Not unlike the year before, the 1985 Giants started fast in September. The season opener, in a hot and muggy Giants Stadium, saw the ferocious New York defense terrorize Philadelphia quarterbacks with eight sacks in a 21-0 win. Carson christened the new season and his coach with douse of water from a Gatorade bucket – a ritual that still had gone largely unnoticed excepting the fans at the home games.

Although the Giants seemed mediocre at 3-3 in mid-October, this team felt different than any in recent memory. The victories were convincing, the losses were close, usually decided late with a gaffe or mental error. Nobody in the NFL took the Giants lightly any longer. The days of New York being a doormat were in the rear view mirror.

The biggest difference from 1984 to 1985 were three players: defensive end Leonard Marshall, who was leading the NFL in sacks and had been named the “NFC Defensive Player of the Month” for September; halfback Joe Morris, who had become a consistent ground gainer who possessed cutting ability and speed to give New York explosiveness on the rush; and rookie tight end Mark Bavaro, who was pressed into service when starter Zeke Mowatt injured his knee in the final preseason game and was out for the season. Bavaro impressed coaches with his toughness and blocking ability, but surprised them with his knack for getting open and soft hands to give Simms a safe option in the passing game.

Leonard Marshall, Lawrence Taylor, Jim Burt; New York Giants (November 10, 1985)

Leonard Marshall, Lawrence Taylor, Jim Burt; New York Giants (November 10, 1985)

A four-game win streak – the Giants longest since 1970 – put New York at 7-3 in November. That streak ended on a Monday night at Washington’s RFK Stadium in a game mostly remembered for Taylor’s career ending sack of Redskin quarterback Joe Theisman. Morris had another three-touchdown game, including one from 51 yards and another 41 yards, but the difference was Washington coach Joe Gibbs willingness to gamble and swing momentum his team’s direction when they needed it most. The Redskins converted two onside kicks and a fake punt, all of which led to touchdown drives in their 23-21 win. Parcells was measured in post-game comments, “I don’t think we were horrendous. I don’t think anyone was outstanding. I think we got outplayed. We had our chances to win the game and we couldn’t do it.”

New York rebounded and won two of their next three, and scored over 30 points in all three games (the first such scoring streak for the Giants since 1968), and headed to Dallas with the opportunity to win their first NFC East Division title. (The only other non-expansion teams not to have won their division since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 at that time were the Houston Oilers, New York Jets and New Orleans Saints.)

The entire saga of game can be encapsulated in a maddening sequence of plays that took place in the fourteenth minute of the second quarter.

The Giants had opened a 14-7 lead just over five minutes into the quarter. The defense forced a Dallas punt that resulted in a touchback. Simms then engineered an eight-play drive that had New York with a 1st-and-10 at the Dallas 22-yard line with two minutes to go before halftime. The ninth play of the drive initiated the nightmarish descent. Defensive end Ed “Too Tall” Jones batted a Simms pass up into the air that defensive end Jim Jeffcoat caught on the rebound and rumbled 64 yards for the tying touchdown.

The Giants three-and-out after the kickoff involved two sacks of Simms, one each by Jones and Jeffcoat. From the New York 12-yard line, punter Sean Landetta was pressured after a high snap threw off his timing, and a desperation shovel pass fell incomplete. The Cowboys took over on downs and scored on their first play, a 12-yard strike from Danny White to wide receiver Mike Renfro. In just 59 seconds the Giants went from being on the verge of a two score lead to trailing 21-14. Defensive end Casey Merrill said, “We were dominating them in every phase of the game, and then wham, bam, and we’re behind.”

The emotional toll of the scoring splurge was far greater than the seven point deficit. The Giants played unconfidently the majority of the final 30 minutes, until a late surge with Dallas ahead 28-21. A Simms pass toward the end zone was intercepted and the Cowboys won the division, despite the fact that starting quarterback White and his backup Gary Hogeboom both left the game with injuries. The fourth and decisive Dallas touchdown drive came with third stringer Steve Pelluer under center, who had never appeared in a regular season game before.

The New York locker room was mostly despondent afterward.

Taylor: “Every time we play those guys we beat ourselves.”

George Martin: “It was the toughest loss of my career.”

Carson: “It was the toughest loss since I’ve been here. I feel so bad because those cheap touchdowns beat us.”

Simms was refreshingly defiant: “I’m proud of myself and the team. I’m tired of hearing the Giants can’t win the big game.”

Parcells put the outcome into perspective succinctly: “We’re not through yet.”

Giants Again

Not all was lost for New York. Although they had lost out on the division title, a win in the season finale against Pittsburgh would send the Giants to the playoffs as a Wild Card. It would be the first time New York qualified for the post season in consecutive seasons since the three-year run of 1961-1963. It would also give the Giants a 10-6 record, their first double digit total in the win column since 1963. A loss for the Giants would open the door for Washington and San Francisco, who were also 9-6 and vying for Wild Card status.

Recalling the 1981 season finale, “Giants Stadium Weather” arrived in full force. At kickoff the temperature was 28 degrees with sustained winds at 12 mph. The team that was built for those conditions played with the same brutality as the unforgiving wind chill.

The Giants received the opening kickoff and pounded their way up and down field on a 71-yard, 11-play drive, nine of which were runs. Morris closed the drive with his 19th rushing touchdown of the season.

The teams exchanged punts twice and the Steelers put together a drive that ended with a field goal early in the second quarter. After the kickoff, New York looked to be headed for a three-and-out, but a third down pass interference penalty on Pittsburgh gave the Giants a second chance, and Morris made them pay. On first-and-10 from the Giants 35-yard line, Morris ran behind right guard, cut left, and while sprinting past a diving tackler, had his shoe knocked off and ran the remaining 52 yards on his sock.

Joe Morris, New York Giants (December 21, 1985)

Joe Morris, New York Giants (December 21, 1985)

The next time New York had the ball, Rob Carpenter’s 46-yard run set up a short dive for Morris’ third touchdown of the half and 21st of the year. The Giants added another touchdown before halftime and won the game comfortably 28-10.

Morris rushed for 202 yards on the day, second most in team history behind Gene Roberts’ 218 set in 1950, and 1,336 for the season, a new team record. He was the first Giant to reach the 1,000 plateau since Ron Johnson in 1972. As a team, New York ran the ball 53 times for 289 yards and held the ball for 38:04. The final game of the regular season finished just like the first one, with Parcells receiving a Gatorade dunk, though this time Lawrence Taylor was the one with the bucket.

Simms: “The whole game was a tribute to our line blocking.”

Morris: “I just did what I’m supposed to do when I get that kind of blocking.”

Jim Burt: “We played a total game offensively and defensively. It shows what we can do when we’re on.”

Parcells: “We’ve had some tough times this year, but more good times than tough. I’m happy for the older guys – Harry Carson, George Martin, Brad Benson. It’s nice to see them smile.”

San Francisco and Washington both won their final games as well, and the three-way tie of 10-6 teams meant the Giants would host San Francisco in the NFC Wild Card Game the next week. It would be the first home post-season contest for New York since the 1962 NFL Championship Game at Yankee Stadium.

The jubilation was short lived, and the Giants adopted the motto “Strictly Business” which they had printed on hats that also read “New York Giants Playoffs 1985” to prove they were not just happy to be a participant. Rob Carpenter said, “I think we’re going to find out how good we are, and there’s no better way than playing the 49ers because of what they’ve done to us in the past. This will be a test of how much we’ve progressed.”

Harry Carson said, “The last couple of times we played them we sat back to see what they were going to do, and then we would adjust. By the time we adjusted they were up 14 or 21 points. This time, I don’t think we’ll sit back.”

Bill Walsh said, “The Giants have a dramatically different offense this year. They have a great runner and they’re taking advantage of it. It’ll be our job to corral Joe.”

While not quite as cold as the previous week, the game time temperature of 32 degrees with a nine mph wind ensured the 49ers were likely to see plenty of Morris. The greeting that welcomed the Giants was something that had not been heard at a Giant game in two decades. Simms said, “I knew what Tittle and Gifford and Huff must’ve felt like. When we came out of the tunnel at Giants Stadium, the crowd greeted us with the loudest roar I’d ever heard. I knew there was no way we were going to lose.”

The defense set the tone early. They sent the 49ers off of the field after a rare three-and-out to start the game, and the fans behind the Giants bench gave the defense a standing ovation. The Giants took over on their own 36-yard line. Two Morris rushes gained 14 yards and Giants Stadium again roared as the chains moved. Four plays later Eric Schubert kicked a 47-yard field goal and New York had a 3-0 advantage less than five minutes into the game. Carson said, “I couldn’t remember the last time we had a lead against the 49ers.”

Leonard Marshall (70) and Jim Burt (64), New York Giants (December 29, 1985)

Leonard Marshall (70) and Jim Burt (64), New York Giants (December 29, 1985)

San Francisco gained two first downs during their next possession, and pinned New York on their own two-yard line after a punt. The Giants ran 13 plays and crossed mid-field, but punted the ball back. The pass rush began getting to quarterback Joe Montana. After completing a pass while being hit by linebacker Andy Headen, Montana was sacked by Burt. Two plays later, now in the second quarter, Montana’s third down pass was batted down by George Martin who was crashing the pocket. San Francisco punted, and New York drove from their 20-yard line to the 49ers 26-yard line, largely on the legs of Morris, but Schubert’s 43-yard field goal missed wide left.

Montana’s second pass of the next possession was tipped by Gary Reasons and intercepted by Terry Kinard, who advanced the ball to San Francisco’s 38-yard line. Four plays later, the Giants struck pay dirt when Simms led Mark Bavaro down the right seam for a one-handed catch over safety Ronnie Lott in the end zone, sending Giants Stadium into a state of near bedlam. The Giants led 10-0 with 8:11 to play in the half.

Bavaro said, “I thought it was over my head. It hit my forearm and started rolling down to my wrist…Phil just threw the ball over Lott’s head and that was it.”

San Francisco received the kickoff and took over at their own 12-yard line. On the first play, Montana completed a pass for eight yards that had 15 more tacked on as Leonard Marshall was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct when he threw a punch at a San Francisco lineman.

Three plays later the drive seemed to come to a halt when Marshall sacked Montana. But defensive end Casey Merrill was flagged for unnecessary roughness for a late hit when he also hit Montana, which gave the 49ers a first down on their own 41-yard line. The 49ers converted their next third down without the aid of a penalty and advanced into New York territory. The Giants defense seemed to be tiring as they allowed back-to-back 10-yard runs by Wendell Tyler.

Two more Tyler rushes gained one-yard each, and the clock stopped at the two minute warning. Montana’s third-and-eight pass was high and went through the back of the end, but the 49ers received a new set of downs for the third time on the drive via penalty as cornerback Ted Watts was called for defensive holding. San Francisco took over first-and-goal on the nine-yard line.

On first down Roger Craig rushed for two yards and a second down pass intended for Craig was incomplete. A false start penalty on the 49ers moved the ball back to the Giants 12-yard line, and Montana completed a pass to wide receiver Dwight Clark at the three-yard line on third down. New York managed to keep San Francisco out of the end zone and Ray Wersching kicked a 21-yard field goal with 0:25 on the clock.

The 49ers ran 16 plays (not including penalties), advanced the ball 85 yards and possessed the ball for 7:58. But he Giants defense felt rejuvenated as they headed to the locker room. Burt said, “That was the biggest mental boost of the game. We stopped them for three points. They had eight cracks at us inside the 20. It was exhausting and it was getting chaotic.”

The emotional boost carried over to the offense after the intermission. Simms engineered an eight play, 77-yard drive to start the second half, and finished it with a three-yard touchdown pass to tight end Don Hasselbeck. The 17-3 lead ended up being the final score, despite sustained drives by both teams. Schubert missed two more field goals for the Giants, and all three 49er drives in the fourth quarter ended on downs in New York territory.

The Giants first home post-season game since 1962 was also their first home post-season win since 1958. Parcells received a double-dunk from Carson and Casey Merrill as the final seconds ticked off of the clock.

Bill Parcells, New York Giants (December 29, 1985)

Bill Parcells, New York Giants (December 29, 1985)

Despite the 49ers intent to control the Giants rushing attack, Morris had a big day with 141 yards rushing yards, which surpassed the game totals of 13 of San Francisco’s 16 regular season opponents.

Simms: “It was a big win. We beat a team a lot of people didn’t think we could beat. There’s no question the difference is our offensive line. Last year we couldn’t do anything. This year we beat ‘em up front physically.”

The other side of the coin was the defense, which held the 49ers without a touchdown for only the second time since Walsh became their coach in 1979.

Parcells: “I thought our defense did as good as it ever did. Those were the World Champions. Somebody had to get rid of them. I’m glad we did.”

Bill Belichick: “There were people in Montana’s face. We got good pressure up the middle from Burt and Marshall and Martin, something we had a problem with in the past.”

Carson: “We had confidence. We put pressure on (Montana). We tried to tag him, to rattle him.”

Martin: “(Montana) was more concerned about me than he was about throwing the ball. We just kept coming.”

Simms: “That was the best I’ve ever seen our defense play, the most aggressive. Our defense was so aggressive the 49ers were looking over their shoulders.”

Taylor: “We were awesome. We kicked their ass. That’s all there is to it.”

A Hard Lesson

The Giants reward for their victory over the 49ers was a trip to Chicago to face the ferocious 15-1 Bears. They were a juggernaut that recalled the legendary Monsters of the Midway teams of the 1940’s that physically whipped the opposition. Wellington Mara said, “(The Late Bears owner George) Halas would have beaming at this Bears team. It’s his kind of team and Mike Ditka is his kind of coach.”

Ditka was also complimentary of the Giants, “They got a lot of good athletes on that football team. They’ve got a great offense. They’ve got good balance in throwing and running the football. They play defense the way it’s supposed to be played. They come after you and they take no prisoners.”

The Bears were the team that took no prisoners on a frigid day at Soldier Field. The temperature was 14 degrees at kickoff with a 13 mph wind that sent the chill factor below zero. The Giants received the kickoff and seemed to gain some momentum after two Morris rushes gave New York a first down at their 40-yard line. On second down Carpenter fumbled after catching a pass. Chicago recovered the ball and New York never recaptured that initial burst.

The teams exchanged three three-and-outs, with the field position tipped in Chicago’s favor. The Giants had a 4th-and-20 from their own 12-yard line after Simms had been sacked. Punter Sean Landetta’s drop was affected by the wind and the ball grazed the side of his foot. The Bears Shaun Gayle scooped up the loose ball and returned it five yards into the end zone for a 7-0 lead that was as improbable as it was sudden.

Landetta said, “The wind just blew it. I did everything normal, but when I dropped the ball, I saw it moving. I tried to swing my leg into it. I missed it, or maybe I grazed it with my foot. That’s something that not only never happened to me before, but I never thought it could happen.”

The defenses and wind continued to dominate the first half. A Chicago drive to New York’s eight-yard line ended with a 26-yard Kevin Butler field goal attempt sailing wide left. A Giants drive just before halftime, set up by a 25-yard Bears punt giving New York the ball on the Chicago 45-yard line, ended with Schubert’s 19-yard attempt striking the left upright.

The Bears 7-0 lead held thought he third quarter and Chicago put the Giants away with two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter. The game summed up the 1985 Giants when they were not at their best: the defense played hard but the offense and special teams were undone by a few untimely errors.

The difference in the contest jumped off of the stat sheet. Chicago, with the benefit of the early lead, ran the ball 44 times while New York passed the ball 53 times, including six sacks of Simms. The Bears were 7-of-16 on third down attempts while the Giants combined to go 0-of-14 on third and fourth down attempts, skewing the time of possession 37:14 – 22:46 in Chicago’s favor. Essentially, the Bears beat the Giants at their own game.

Tackle Karl Nelson: “We were hoping to run the ball more on them, and we wanted to give Phil more time. We didn’t do either.”

Center Bart Oates: “Our protection was a disappointment, we made too many mental breakdowns.”

Ditka: “It wasn’t easy winning. We beat a good football team today.”

The day after the game the Giants got their start on the 1986 season. For the third time in in five years, they ended their season against the team that ultimately went on to win the Super Bowl.

Parcells: “Riding home on the plane last night, you think it’s another offseason, another training camp, another preseason schedule, another 16 games just to stand where you were standing yesterday. You never know when that opportunity is going to come again.”

Guard Billy Ard: “I think it was a good season. Next season, we definitely will go further.”

Tackle Brad Benson: “We’re close to having it all together. We need a little bit of time. We placed higher expectations on ourselves this year, so losing was a disappointment. But that doesn’t spoil the year, and to think that would be a big mistake. This has given us an idea of what we have to do.”

Wellington Mara: “Go back to last year. The Bears lost to the 49ers for the NFC title 23-0. If they can improve that much, we can, too. You’re certainly not satisfied unless you’re number one. But let’s face it. Only four teams went further than we did. And a lot of our young players haven’t reached their potential.”

Parcells: “You don’t get any satisfaction out of winning Wild Card games. I just want to get into a championship game, and I’m not going to rest ‘til I get there.”

The Giants had come a long way since the ownership feud was brokered almost seven earlier. The hardest part of climbing a mountain is when one nears the summit – when one first sees the peak, but it feels just out of reach. The 1986 offseason was the Giants opportunity to pause, take a deep breath, and recharge for one final surge.

************************************************************************

Sources:

“It’s Just One Man’s Family”
Robert H. Boyle, Sep. 25, 1972, Sports Illustrated

“New York Giants 1979 Media Guide”
New York Football Giants, Inc., 1979

“Awww C’Mon, Ray, The Giants Won! Give Us A Smile”
Paul Zimmerman, Oct. 15, 1979, Sports Illustrated

“New York Giants 1980 Media Guide”
New York Football Giants, Inc., 1980

“New York Giants 1981 Media Guide”
New York Football Giants, Inc., 1981

“What’s New? New York, New York”
Paul Zimmerman, Dec. 28, 1981, Sports Illustrated

“New York Giants 1981 Media Guide”
New York Football Giants, Inc., 1981

“Giants Again!”
Dave Klein, 1982, Signet

“New York Giants 1982 Media Guide”
New York Football Giants, Inc., 1982

“Pro Football’s Great Moments”
Jack Clary, 1982, Bonanza Books

“New York Giants 1983 Media Guide”
New York Football Giants, Inc., 1983

“New York Giants 1984 Media Guide”
New York Football Giants, Inc., 1984

“They Lowered The Boom On Hogeboom”
Paul Zimmerman, Sep. 17, 1984, Sports Illustrated

“A Former High School Teacher Has Made The New York Giants Winners
Frank Deford, Dec. 16, 1985, Sports Illustrated

“Up And Over, Down And Out”
Paul Zimmerman, Jan. 6, 1986, Sports Illustrated

“Giants 1986 Official Yearbook”
Laura A. Thorpe, 1986, Woodward Publishing

“Point of Attack: The Defense Strikes Back”
Harry Carson & Jim Smith, 1986, McGraw Hill Book Co.

“Up, Down And Up Again”
Ron Fimrite, Jan. 26, 1987, Sports Illustrated

“Illustrated History of the New York Giants: From The Polo Grounds To Super Bowl XXI”
Richard Whittingham, 1987, Harper Collins

“Giants: The Unforgettable Season”
Kevin Lamb, 1987, Macmillan Publishing Co.

“Simms To McConkey: Blood, Sweat and Gatorade”
Phil Simms, Phil McConkey with Dick Schapp, 1987, Crown Publishers, Inc.

“Once A Giant, Always…”
Andy Robustelli with Jack Clary, 1987, Quinlan Press

“Tuff Stuff”
Sam Huff, 1988, St. Martin’s Press

“The Pro Football Chronicle”
Dan Daly & Bob O’Donnell, 1990, Collier Books

“No Medals for Trying: A Week in the Life of a Pro Football Team”
Jerry Izenberg, 1990, Macmillan Pub Co

“Lawrence Taylor: What the Coachers Said”
Dan Herbst, Gameday, Dec. 19, 1992, Giants vs Kansas City edition

“Wellington: The Maras, the Giants, and the City of New York”
Carlo DeVito, 2006, Triumph Books

“Captain For Life”
Harry Carson, 2011, St. Martin’s Press

“2016 New York Football Giants Information Guide”
Michael Eisen, Dandre Phillips, Corey Rush; 2016; New York Football Giants, Inc.

“Official 2016 NFL Record & Fact Book”
2016, NFL Communications Dept.

Historical New York Times searchable archive (via ProQuest)

Pro Football Reference
New York Giants Franchise Encyclopedia

Going Back Through the VCR Archives: Looking Back at 25 Years of Giants Games on Tape
Giants-Dallas, December 19, 1981

Jan 052016
 
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MARA, REESE, AND COUGHLIN ADDRESS THE MEDIA…
New York Giants team officials, including President/CEO John Mara, General Manager Jerry Reese, and departing Head Coach Tom Coughlin, addressed the media on Tuesday morning. Transcripts and video clips are available in The Corner Forum and at Giants.com:

One key item to note is that the Giants have offered Coughlin a position within the organization. “I asked him would he consider staying on in some capacity,” said Mara. “I don’t want to let all that knowledge walk out the door. I asked him to think about over the next few days ways that he might be able to help us going forward. He agreed to do that. I don’t think either one of us have an idea yet exactly what form that could take. Let’s face it, he brings a unique perspective. He knows our team as well as anybody. He knows the league as well as anybody. There may be some capacity in which he could help us. This is not a situation where we wanted to see him walk out the door. We want him to stay involved because of everything he has brought to this organization, everything he could still possibly do at some point in the future.”

BEN MCADOO AND STEVE SPAGNUOLO AND WILL INTERVIEW FOR GIANTS JOB…
Team President/CEO John Mara confirmed on Tuesday that New York Giants Offensive Coordinator Ben McAdoo and Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo will interview for the team’s head coaching vacancy sometime this week. “I’m not going to talk about specific candidates other than to say both our coordinators, both Ben and Steve, will be interviewed,” said Mara.

GIANTS REQUEST TO INTERVIEW ADAM GASE…
According to NFL.com, the New York  Giants have requested to interview Chicago Bears Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase for the team’s head coaching vacancy. Gase was also the offensive coordinator in Denver from 2013-14.

MARC ROSS TO INTERVIEW WITH TITANS…
According to CBS Sports, New York Giants Vice President of Player Evaluation Marc Ross will interview for the general manager position of the Tennessee Titans. Ross, who runs the team’s draft, has received interest from the Bears, Buccaneers, and Dolphins in recent years.

REPORT – CHIP KELLY NOT A CANDIDATE FOR GIANTS JOB…
According to NJ.com, ex-Eagles Head Coach Chip Kelly is not a candidate for the Giants head coaching vacancy, contradicting an earlier report from Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia.

GIANTS SIGN SIX PLAYERS TO RESERVE/FUTURE DEALS…
As is always the case once the season ends, the New York Giants have begun to prepare for the next season by signing players to reserve/future contracts. The Giants have signed the following players:

  • QB/WR/S S G.J. Kinne
  • WR Tavarres King
  • OC Shane McDermott
  • OT Jake Rodgers
  • CB Leon McFadden
  • PK Tom Obarski

All of the players except for Obarski were on the Giants’ Practice Squad. Obarski was originally signed by the Cincinnati Bengals as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2015 NFL Draft, but he did not make the team. Obarski has a strong leg for field goals but does not kickoff as well for distance.

ELI MANNING ON WFAN
The audio of Monday’s WFAN Radio interview with quarterback Eli Manning is available on CBS New York’s website.

ARTICLES…

As I sit back and reflect on Coach Tom Coughlin, I remember all the one on ones in your office talking football, game plan, etc. I think back to when I was named captain and I used to try and beat you to the facility. I would get there at 6, you where there. I got there at 530 and you were there. 5 am… I knew I would beat you then.. NOPE YOU WERE THERE. I remember feeling the hood of your car and it was cold. Come to find out there were nights you slept in the office. No one worked harder, no one demanded more and I LOVE YOU for it. I chose this picture for one reason and one reason only. Everyone knows you for your dedication to your team and how intense you are on the football field. But I will remember you for helping me become a man and challenging all of us to be better husbands and fathers and men. You did it the right way Coach. And you might be retiring from coaching but I'm sure this isn't a goodbye. That's not in your nature. #halloffame #5minutesearly #areyoush*ttingme

A photo posted by THEREALJUSTINTUCK91 (@therealjustintuck91) on

Oct 032015
 
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Daniel Fells, New York Giants (September 13, 2015)

Daniel Fells – © USA TODAY Sports Images

GIANTS SIGN WILL TYE TO ROSTER, CUT KENRICK ELLIS…
The New York Giants have signed tight end Will Tye to the 53-man roster from the team’s Practice Squad. To make room for Tye, the Giants terminated the contract of defensive tackle Kenrick Ellis. The reason for the moves is that the Giants will be without tight ends Daniel Fells (ankle) and Jerome Cunningham (knee) on Sunday in the game against the Buffalo Bills. Neither made the trip to Buffalo. Larry Donnell is the only other tight end on the 53-man roster.

Tye is a rookie free agent who the Giants signed after the rookie mini-camp. Ellis, an unrestricted free agent signed by the Giants from the Jets, has now been cut twice by the Giants. He was also cut in early September and then re-signed to the roster on September 22.

In addition to Fells and Cunningham, the other players who did not travel to Buffalo are wide receiver Victor Cruz (calf), defensive end Robert Ayers (hamstring), and defensive tackle Markus Kuhn (knee).

REPORT – JASON PIERRE-PAUL TO REPORT TO GIANTS SOON…
According to BleacherReport.com, maimed defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul is expected to report to the New York Giants within the next two weeks, either before or after the team’s game against the San Francisco 49ers on October 11th. Pierre-Paul supposedly believes he is ready to play football. BleacherReport.com raises the issue that Pierre-Paul still may not pass the team’s physical and that a potential impasse over his health status could lead to a dispute. Pierre-Paul is looking to be paid for the remainder of the season and ultimately become an unrestricted free agent in 2016.

ARTICLES…

Jan 152015
 
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Steve Spagnuolo, Baltimore Ravens (January 3, 2015)

Steve Spagnuolo – © USA TODAY Sports Images

The New York Giants have hired Steve Spagnuolo as the team’s new defensive coordinator. Spagnuolo replaces Perry Fewell who was fired by the Giants on January 7th. Spagnulo was an assistant head coach and defensive backs coach for the Baltimore Ravens in 2014. He was the Giants’ defensive coordinator in 2007-08 before becoming the head coach of the St. Louis Rams in 2009.

The Giants’ defense was ranked 7th (2007) and 5th (2008) the two years Spagnuolo was with the team.

“We spoke to a lot of very good candidates,” said Head Coach Tom Coughlin. “The energy, enthusiasm and strong personality that we saw before in Steve Spagnuolo, all of that was very evident again. His desire to be a Giant again was very, very obvious.

“Steve has so much enthusiasm in front of the room. His defense has changed since he was last here. He worked in Baltimore with John Harbaugh and Dean Pees, and they are outstanding defensive coaches. He has studied defenses. Steve visited colleges and talked to college coaches, including Urban Meyer (coach of national champion Ohio State) to learn how to defend the spread offenses that have become so popular.”

“Maria (his wife) and I are very happy to be returning to the Giants,” Spagnuolo said. “This is both new and familiar at the same time. I was hoping to take the next step, God willing, and be a coordinator again. I’m ecstatic that it’s with Tom Coughlin. Tom is the highest character guy I know. The feeling I have is one of excitement. We’re going to work our butts off, and hopefully we will do great things together.”

Spagnuolo fondly remembers the 2007 season that resulted in an NFL Championship for the Giants.

“That really was a special time,” Spagnuolo said. “What I remember most are the relationships we made with the players and coaches and everyone else in the organization. We’ve always felt like the Giants are a big part of our lives.”

Spagnuolo’s coaching bio:

  • 2014: Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Backs Coach, Baltimore Ravens
  • 2013: Senior Defensive Assistant, Baltimore Ravens
  • 2012: Defensive Coordinator, New Orleans Saints
  • 2009-2011: Head Coach, St. Louis Rams
  • 2007-2008: Defensive Coordinator, New York Giants
  • 2004-2006: Linebackers Coach, Philadelphia Eagles
  • 2001-2003: Defensive Backs Coach, Philadelphia Eagles
  • 1999-2000: Defensive Assistant/Quality Control Coach, Philadelphia Eagles
  • 1998: Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers Coach, Frankfurt Galaxy
  • 1996-1997: Defensive Backs Coach, Bowling Green State University
  • 1994-1995: Defensive Backs Coach, Rutgers University
  • 1994: Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers Coach, University of Maine
  • 1993: Defensive Backs Coach, University of Maine
  • 1992: Defensive Line/Special Teams Coach, Barcelona Dragons
  • 1990-1991: Defensive Coordinator/Defensive Backs Coach, University of Connecticut
  • 1987-1989: Defensive Backs Coach, University of Connecticut
  • 1984-1986: Defensive Line/Special Teams Coach, Lafayette College
  • 1983: Player Personnel Department Intern, Washington Redskins
  • 1981-1982: Graduate Assistant, University of Massachusetts

Spagnuolo was one of four candidates interviewed for the position. The others were Washington Redskins Defensive Backs Coach Raheem Morris, ex-Buffalo Bills Defensive Line Coach Pepper Johnson, and ex-Oakland Raiders Head Coach Dennis Allen.

The Giants also confirmed that they have hired Tim Walton as the team’s new cornerbacks coach, replacing Peter Giunta who was also fired on January 7th. Walton was the defensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams under Head Coach Jeff Fisher in 2013. He was replaced by Gregg Williams in 2014.

Walton’s coaching bio:

  • 2013: Defensive Coordinator, St. Louis Rams
  • 2009-2012: Defensive Backs Coach, Detroit Lions
  • 2008: Defensive Coordinator, University of Memphis
  • 2007: Defensive Coordinator, University of Miami
  • 2004-2006: Defensive Backs Coach, University of Miami
  • 2003: Defensive Backs Coach, Louisiana State University
  • 2002: Defensive Backs Coach, Syracuse University
  • 2000-2001: Defensive Backs Coach, University of Memphis
  • 1999: Defensive Backs Coach, Bowling Green State University
  • 1996-1998: Running Backs Coach, Bowling Green State University
  • 1995: Graduate Assistant, Bowling Green State University

A complete listing of the team’s staff is available in the New York Giants Coaching Staff section of the website.

Article on New York Giants Defensive Coordinator Candidate Pepper Johnson: Frustrated Pepper Johnson denied again as Tom Coughlin, Giants look elsewhere for a new defensive coordinator  by Ralph Vacchiano of The New York Daily News

Article on Former Giants Head Coach Bill Parcells: Giants were seconds away from bringing Bill Parcells back in 1997 by Dan Salomone of Giants.com

Nov 202014
 
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Shake Up on the Offensive Line?: According to NJ.com, offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz will start at right tackle this weekend against the Dallas Cowboys for the ailing Justin Pugh (quadriceps). Schwartz was activated off of short-term injured reserve on Monday after missing the first 10 games of the season with a toe injury he suffered in the preseason.

More surprisingly is that left guard Weston Richburg has reportedly been benched for ex-49er Adam Snyder. Richburg was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Giants.

Snyder was signed by the Giants in September 2014. He was originally drafted in the 3rd round of the 2005 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers. During his career, he’s played eight seasons with the 49ers (2005-11, 2013) and one with the Arizona Cardinals (2012). Snyder is extremely versatile, having starting experience at all five offensive line positions. He’s started 87 regular-season games in nine seasons. However, despite having very good size, Snyder was considered the weak link of the starting units in San Francisco and Arizona in recent years.

November 20, 2014 New York Giants Injury Report: RT Justin Pugh (quadriceps), DE Mathias Kiwanuka (knee), DT Cullen Jenkins (calf), and LB Jacquian Williams (concussion) did not practice on Thursday.

OG Geoff Schwartz (toe) and CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (back/hamstring) fully practiced.

November 20, 2014 New York Giants Coach Media Sessions: Transcripts and video of Thursday’s media sessions with the following coaches are available at Giants.com and BigBlueInteractive.com:

November 20, 2014 New York Giants Player Media Q&As: Video clips of Thursday’s media Q&A sessions with the following players are available at Giants.com:

  • WR Rueben Randle (Video)
  • OG Geoff Schwartz (Video)
  • DT Cullen Jenkins (Video)
  • CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Video)
  • S Antrel Rolle (Video)

Article on QB Eli Manning: Why Giants have to pay Eli Manning big bucks again by Steve Serby of The New York Post

Article on OG John Jerry: Changes on the horizon? Giants guard John Jerry hopes to rebound from ‘horrible’ game by Jordan Raanan for NJ.com

Article on Former Giants Head Coach Bill Parcells: Bill Parcells: Tom Coughlin can still coach by David Rieder for ESPN.com

Giants Online – Giants vs. Cowboys Preview: The video of this week’s Giants Online is available at Giants.com.

Nov 152014
 
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Peyton Hillis, New York Giants (November 3, 2014)

Peyton Hillis – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Giants Place Peyton Hillis on IR; Sign Justin Anderson to 53-Man Roster: The New York Giants placed running back Peyton Hillis on season-ending Injured Reserve on Saturday. Hillis suffered a concussion in the Giants-Seahawks game last Sunday. Hillis also suffered a concussion against Seattle last season.

Hillis is the 14th Giant to end up on season-ending Injured Reserve.

To fill that vacant roster spot, the Giants signed linebacker Justin Anderson to the 53-man roster from the team’s Practice Squad. Anderson was originally signed by the Giants as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2014 NFL Draft. The Giants waived/injured him with a hamstring issue in August but signed him to the Practice Squad in October.

Because of these moves, we have updated the TransactionsRoster, and Depth Chart sections of the website.

Giants.com Q&A With Head Coach Tom Coughlin: The video of a Giants.com interview with Head Coach Tom Coughlin is available at Giants.com.

Article on Giants CEO/President John Mara: John Mara must decide if Giants are headed in right direction by Bob Glauber of Newsday

Article on the New York Giants Defense: Giants defensive coaches make major changes ahead of 49ers game by Jordan Raanan for NJ.com

Article on DE Jason Pierre-Paul: Giants need more from Jason Pierre-Paul by Art Stapleton of The Bergen Record

Article on LB Spencer Paysinger: Four downs with Spencer Paysinger: Linebacker talks of his increased role vs. 49ers by Jordan Raanan for NJ.com

Article on PK Josh Brown: In Flawed Giants’ Season, a Bit of Perfection by Bill Pennington of The New York Times

Article on Former New York Giants Head Coach Bill Parcells: Bill Parcells rips Giants lack of effort against the Seattle Seahawks, questions team’s talent by Nick Powell for NJ.com

Jun 112014
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (October 21, 2012)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Eli Manning Energized by New Offense: New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning was interviewed on SiriusXM NFL Radio on Wednesday. Manning spoke about the impact the new offense under Offensive Coordinator Ben McAdoo is having on him.

“It is tough, it’s not easy, but it has definitely re-energized me and brought an urgency to this time of year,” Manning said. “It’s definitely challenging. Each night, I’m staying up and preparing, and I feel like I’m in season right now with the amount of preparation I’m trying to put in to get ready for each practice.”

“Each practice is draining on you mentally, you’re thinking so much about everything that has to go on and the different calls,” said Manning. “But it is also exciting. As a football player, as a competitor, you like to be challenged.”

Manning underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left ankle in April. It was originally feared he would miss all of the offseason workouts until training camp. But Manning has been a full participant during the Organized Team Activity (OTA) practices that began in late May.

“This has been huge, just getting in the offense,” Manning said. “It’s one thing to listen to a play being called or watch plays being run — you may think you have a good grasp of it, until you’re out there and you gotta pull the trigger, you gotta make a call, you gotta change a play and you’re doing it live, and with the defense, and make all those little decisions. It was huge.”

Manning suffered the ankle injury during the regular-season finale against the Washington Redskins on December 29. Despite the fact that the injury required him to wear a protective boot for several weeks and did later require surgery, Manning said he might have played if there was another game following the 20-6 win over Washington.

“I was having the conversation with the trainers a little bit,” Manning said. “It would’ve been my instincts to say ‘Yeah, I can play.’ I could’ve muscled through it. It would’ve been a lot of shotgun, I think. The good thing it was my left ankle, it wasn’t my right ankle where you’re planting and pushing off and stuff. But it would’ve been a challenge. It would’ve been interesting to see how it would’ve worked out if we had a game the next week.”

LB Jamal Merrell Works Out for Giants: According to The Star-Ledger, undrafted rookie free agent Jamal Merrell (Rutgers) was scheduled to work out for the New York Giants on Wednesday. The Giants had also worked out Merrell before the 2014 NFL Draft. Merrell was signed by the Tennessee Titans on May 12 after the Draft, but the Titans waived him a week later.

According to The Star-Ledger and NJ.com, the Giants worked out at least 10 free agents on Wednesday, including TE Tom Crabtree (ex-Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and rookie free agent WR Denzell Jones (Central Connecticut State). None of these players have been signed.

CB Victor Hampton Signs with Bengals: As previously reported, rookie free agent CB Victor Hampton (South Carolina) had been scheduled to work out with the Giants this week. However, Hampton signed with the Cincinnati Bengals on Tuesday. NJ.com is reporting that Hampton was schedule to meet with the Giants on Wednesday.

Giants.com Q&A With Safety Nat Berhe: The video of a Giants.com Q&A session with safety Nat Berhe is available at Giants.com.

Articles on QB Eli Manning:

Article on WR Victor Cruz: Victor Cruz prepared for role as one of Giants’ leaders by Tom Rock of Newsday

Article on LB Mark Herzlich: Giants LB Mark Herzlich continues to use his magic touch by Jordan Raanan of NJ.com

Giants.com Videos from New York Giants OTA Practices:

Quotes: WR Victor Cruz on former New York Giants head coach Bill Parcells addressing the team last Tuesday: “It was dope, man. It was cool to see him. I’ve met him on the field briefly but never in that kind of setting to hear what he has to say and talk to him…Just his presence alone, what he brings to the table, it was pretty inspirational to see him and have him there. He still brings the fire. He still has it. It’s pretty cool to see.”

Jun 102014
 
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Bill Parcells, New York Giants (September 15, 2013)

Bill Parcells – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Bill Parcells Addresses New York Giants at Eighth OTA Practice: The New York Giants held their eighth of 10 Organized Team Activity (OTA) practices on Tuesday. Former Giants Head Coach Bill Parcells (1983-1990) attended practice and addressed the team.

The media was not allowed to view Tuesday’s practice, but the Giants released the following details through their website, Giants.com, from Dan Salomone:

  • In a pass-heavy practice, QB Eli Manning looked sharp, completing consecutive throws to WR Jerrel Jernigan, TE Kellen Davis, and two more to Jernigan on the opening series. Later in 7-on-7 drills, the ball was spread around with TE Adrien Robinson, RB Rashad Jennings, and WR Preston Parker all making catches. Quarterbacks Ryan Nassib and Curtis Painter also made quality throws throughout the practice.
  • TE Kellen Davis caught a ball down the seam early in team drills, and TE Daniel Fells grabbed a touchdown later on from inside the 5-yard line. However, the tight ends also dropped a few passes.
  • LB Spencer Paysinger made a nice jump on a pass from QB Ryan Nassib but couldn’t quite hold onto the ball.
  • CB Prince Amukamara was very active, including breaking up a pass intended for WR Jerrel Jernigan late in practice. But his best play was disrupting a fade pass to WR Victor Cruz in the back left-hand corner of the end zone.
  • WR Jerrel Jernigan found a rhythm early with Manning, catching three of his four straight completions to begin the team portion of practice. He made a nice grab of another Manning throw later on down the left sideline, where he managed to get a hand on the ball in traffic and tip it to himself for a catch.

Photos from today’s OTA are also available from Giants.com.

The remaining New York Giants OTA practices are this week on Thursday and Friday. Thursday’s practice will be open to the media. The offseason program will culminate on June 17-19 with a mandatory, full-team mini-camp.

Eli Manning Talks About Adjusting to New Offense: Quarterback Eli Manning talked to the press on Monday at a charity event. He was asked about the adjustment to new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo’s offense.

“It’s different,” said Manning. “When you’ve been in the same offense for 10 years you’re not always grinding over the installation of what play or had to think about, ‘Hey, what’s the back doing on this route or what route can I maybe change it to to get a better route?’ You’ve gone through all those thinking processes.’’

“I think it’s good. With the new offense, everyone is learning. Every day is a challenge. You’re not going in there to have practice and go through the motions. It’s a lot of preparation and study just go through the practice and have an idea of what might happen and how its going to work out. It’s been a lot of work for the quarterbacks, the wide receivers and everybody. I think it’s good to get that urgency now and get things going. It should set the tempo, the way its going to go, for this upcoming season.

“Only seven practices, so no, we haven’t gotten everything down. I’m not 100 percent on everything going on,” Manning said. “There are still some learning curves and things I gotta digest and think through. But the more reps you get at, the more looks you get, the better you’re getting.

“Our defense is giving us a number of different looks, so each day I’m coming up with some new questions I have for Ben (McAdoo) and our offense. We see things the same way, and we’re making strides. I’m feeling more comfortable throughout the practice. But there’s always a few things where we have some questions after it happens maybe I hadn’t thought of beforehand…I feel good about what our offense can do and the potential of it. It’s just getting to the point where we have a great mastery of it from the mental capacity.”

Three Working Out for Giants This Week: As previously reported, TE Tom Crabtree (ex-Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and rookie free agent CB Victor Hampton (South Carolina) will work out with the Giants this week. NJ.com is also reporting that rookie free agent WR Denzell Jones (Central Connecticut State) will also work out for the Giants on Wednesday.

Article on the New York Giants Offensive Line: For Giants, it’s still all about the O-line by Dan Graziano of ESPN.com

Dec 052013
 
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Brandon Myers, New York Giants (December 1, 2013)

Brandon Myers – © USA TODAY Sports Images

December 5, 2013 New York Giants Injury Report: Not practicing on Thursday were TE Brandon Myers (groin), RB Brandon Jacobs (knee), and DE Jason Pierre-Paul (shoulder).

Myers was new addition to the injury report, but Head Coach Tom Coughlin and Myers both said they expect Myers to practice on Friday.

“Yeah, I came back yesterday and I was just a little sore,” said Myers. “Just giving it a little bit of rest and I’ll be back at practice tomorrow.”

On the other hand, it sounds like Pierre-Paul will miss his second game in a row. “I think Brandon Jacobs hopefully can do some things tomorrow,” said Coughlin. “Don’t expect JPP to do anything tomorrow.”

CB Terrell Thomas (knee), CB Trumaine McBride (groin), and CB Corey Webster (ankle) practiced on a limited basis.

“(McBride) worked a little bit today,” said Coughlin. “He worked 50 percent today.”

“I need (to see Webster) to be healthy and can consistently run full speed,” said Coughlin.

December 5, 2013 New York Giants Coach Media Sessions: Transcripts and video clips of Thursday’s media sessions with the following coaches are available at Giants.com:

December 5, 2013 New York Giants Player Media Sessions: Transcripts and video of Thursday’s media sessions with the following players are available at Giants.com:

Article on Head Coach Tom Coughlin: Parcells believes Coughlin will return to sidelines in 2014 by Bob Glauber of Newsday

Article on the New York Giants Passing Game: Not a lot the Giants’ passing game can do by Dan Graziano of ESPN.com

Articles on QB Eli Manning:

Article on TE Brandon Myers: TE Brandon Myers showing signs of life by Matt Ehalt of ESPNNewYork.com

Article on OT Justin Pugh: Justin Pugh impressing on O-line by Matt Ehalt of ESPNNewYork.com

Article on LB Jon Beason: Beason could answer long-term LB questions for Giants by Paul Schwartz of The New York Post

Article on CB Jayron Hosley: Jayron Hosley gets chance to make impact by Dan Salomone of Giants.com