Sep 012023

Lawrence Taylor

Through their first ninety-nine seasons, the New York Football Giants have participated in some of the most famous games in professional football history: “The Sneakers Game” in 1934, “The Greatest Game Ever Played” in 1958, and the 2007 Giants upsetting the 18-0 New England Patriots bid for perfection among them. Perhaps because it preceded Super Bowl XXV, known as “Wide Right,” the 1990 NFC Championship Game against the two-time defending Super Bowl Champion San Francisco 49ers is often overlooked, despite the fact that it is likely the finest performance this venerable franchise has ever put forth.

The common denominator this game shared with those previously mentioned is the Giants were the decided underdogs. The 1990 49ers were not chasing perfection as the 1934 Chicago Bears or 2007 Patriots, but they were quarterbacked by a near mythical legend in Joe Montana, as were the 1958 Baltimore Colts. They were also striving to win an unprecedented third consecutive Super Bowl title.

Despite boasting a 13-3 record, New York was seen as little more than a speed bump on San Francisco’s superhighway to immortality. The Giants were injured, heading into the contest with backups at quarterback and halfback; they were past their prime, star linebacker Lawrence Taylor surrendered his once unquestioned throne as the league’s best defensive player to Buffalo’s Bruce Smith; they had peaked too early, having limped through a 3-3 finish after a 10-0 start to the season; they were simply not good enough.

What the slighted Giants may have lacked in panache, they more than made up for it with resolve. They had exited the 1989 playoffs with a startling and distasteful overtime loss to the Los Angeles Rams on their home field in a game they had felt they should have won. Since winning the Super Bowl in 1986, San Francisco had New York’s number, sweeping them in excruciating fashion in three non-strike games. Each and every time the Giants lamented the would’ves, could’ves, and should’ves. They were always this-close to defeating their nemesis, before the unspeakable transpired: defensive backs colliding in the waning moments allowing a long-distance touchdown, a freakishly close offsides flag on a 4th-quarter field goal that extended a drive leading to a decisive touchdown, or a supreme defensive effort going for naught as a frustrated offense only managed a field goal.

The 1988 loss at Giants Stadium in Week 2 was particularly galling, and ultimately cost New York a playoff berth. After Phil Simms engineered a late drive to put New York ahead of San Francisco 17-13 with 1:21 to play, Joe Montana, who came off the bench for Steve Young at the start of the second half, connected with Jerry Rice for a 78-yard touchdown pass. It was mostly the run after the catch that did the damage though, as safety Kenny Hill inadvertently collided with the cornerback Mark Collins, who had otherwise done a stellar job blanketing Rice on the day (his three other catches totaled just 31 yards).

Collins said, “The guy made one play all day. We had him covered all day. It was a perfect ball and a perfect route.”

Parcells could only concede, “Great players make great plays, and those guys are great players.”

While it may have been an embarrassment for Collins, the big play was a moment of atonement for Rice: “When I caught the ball, I knew Collins had made an effort to get the ball. I knew I had an open field. My mind flashed to 1986 when I had an open field in front of me and the ball popped out.”

The ramifications of that one play reverberated late in the evening of Week 16 when the Giants, at 10-6 needed the 10-5 49ers to defeat the 9-6 Los Angeles Rams to enter the Wild Card round of the playoffs. During halftime of the Sunday night contest between NFC West rivals, Simms infamously said to a reporter, “I’m sitting here staring now, watching the 49ers lie down like dogs.” San Francisco ignominiously went down 38-16 on their home field, leaving New York out in the cold.

All of these and more left the Giants gnashing their teeth and wanting to pull their hair out. The 49ers were the darlings of the NFL, the Bentley that rolled up to the red carpet at a Hollywood gala; the Giants were an afterthought, an SUV in the parking lot of a 7-Eleven.

When would this abominable hex, and disrespect, finally be put to rest?

As is often the case, when it is least expected.

The Prelude

The Giants and 49ers looked to be on a collision course for an unprecedented match-up in Week 12, boasting unblemished records after 10 games. The potential twenty-two combined wins between the teams, should they meet at 11-0, would eclipse the mark of 21 set by the 1934 Chicago Bears (11-0) and Detroit Lions (10-1) and 1969 Los Angeles Rams (11-0) and Minnesota Vikings (10-1).

However, respective division rivals Philadelphia and Los Angeles cancelled those plans in Week 11 with surprising upsets over their favored rivals. The hype did not wane with New York and San Francisco each charged with a loss. The intrigue simply shifted toward questions like: “Were those losses flukes? Were they looking ahead? Did they peak too early? Who was going to rebound?”

Both teams displayed sterling defensive efforts in a hard-hitting contest with San Francisco holding off a last second desperation drive by New York for a 7-3 victory. Most memorable to viewers though, was the heated jaw-to-jaw verbal exchange between Giants quarterback Phil Simms and 49ers safety Ronnie Lott.

What nobody knew at the time was that San Francisco nose tackle Jim Burt, who had played for New York from 1981-1988, was the instigator of this confrontation.

Burt later confessed, “It was my fault. Phil Simms is a very good friend, and I like him a lot, but we were out to win a football game and I will do whatever it takes within the rules. When I was with the Giants and we used to play the 49ers, Phil always thought he could throw against them if he had the time. I thought I’d spring it on Ronnie and fire him up a bit. I didn’t tell a lie or anything out of the ordinary. I thought Ronnie would have a great game if I told him, and he did. It worked. Great players have a lot of emotion, and he’s a great player. I told Simms, ‘It was nothing against you.’ I was hoping that would fire Ronnie up… I didn’t want anything to happen at the end of the game. I told [Phil] what happened. He laughed and I laughed and that was it. It wasn’t that big a deal. They got it squared away.”

Another former Giant teammate, Joe Morris, also offered some perspective on Simms underlying angst, “Phil feels like he doesn’t get the respect he deserves. Look at the people Montana has had around him and look at the people Phil had. Phil produced miracles with what he had. Montana had more talent… It’s like Phil was saying, ‘This guy’s good, but I’m pretty good too.’ Everyone wants to be respected by your peers.”

The pregame hype and fervent competition, augmented by post-game drama, made for a big night for the NFL and its broadcast partner ABC. The production boasted the second-highest Nielsen rating for a Monday Night Football game, after the famous 1985 contest between Miami and Chicago.

San Francisco finished off the regular season 14-2, losing only another game to division rival New Orleans, a strong defensive team featuring a multi-talented linebacking corps. The Giants, however, now on a two-game losing streak, appeared shaken in the wake of the loss. They stumbled their way to a 13-3 record, good enough for a division title and post-season bye, but were unimpressive in their wins and lost starting quarterback Simms for the remainder of the season with a broken bone in his foot.

With Hostetler at the helm the Giants managed three-point victories on the road against two of the league’s worst teams. Offensively, the Giants did just enough to stay ahead of the Cardinals in Arizona for a 24-21 win. The balanced offense bailed out the uncharacteristically leaky defense, which gave up nearly 400 passing yards to the Timm Rosenbach led, five-win Cardinals.

“It wasn’t letter perfect; it wasn’t a Picasso, but we’ll take it,” Parcells said.

The following week in New England, the only thing drearier than New York’s lackluster 13-10 win over the 1-14 Patriots was the weather. It rained all afternoon on the aluminum bleachers in the half-empty stadium.

“Other than a win, there really wasn’t very much we got out of this game,” linebacker Pepper Johnson said. “But it definitely could have been worse. If we had lost it would have taken a couple of weeks to get over the embarrassment.”

The only positive was that New York finished the regular season without any further injuries to key personnel and having a bye for the Wild Card round would give the team a needed opportunity to step away from the grind of the season.

“I’m concerned that we should be playing better,” nose tackle Erik Howard said. “We just haven’t been putting forth our best efforts. We just haven’t been playing consistently. I don’t think we’ve played our best in the last five or six weeks, probably going back to the Detroit game [Week 11].”

Most expected an early exit for New York come playoff time.

The Anticipation

There’s no better elixir for the doldrums than a big playoff win on your home field. Giants football remerged in their 31-3 stomping of the Bears. Strong, opportunistic defense, a dominant running game, and fourth-down excellence, hallmarks of the team that started the season 10-0, overwhelmed the visitors from Chicago.

Giants head coach Bill Parcells said, “Two weeks ago, I took a different approach to my team than I took the first 16 weeks. I was a little more aggressive with them as far as pointing out mistakes I couldn’t live with in the playoffs. I don’t necessarily think they liked it, but it got their attention.”

Their confidence boosted, the Giants looked forward to a rematch in San Francisco. The 49ers had dispatched the Washington Redskins 28-10 in their playoff opener.

Immediately, all thoughts dialed back six weeks to the intense Monday night clash.

“We felt they were the best in the West. We felt we were the best in the East,” said Giants defensive end Leonard Marshall. “It’s a familiar type of feeling to ’86. In ’86, we came off a big win against the Niners going into a championship game against the Redskins, who we had beaten twice. Now we’re coming off a big win against Chicago going against the 49ers, a team we felt we should have beaten Monday night. More than having to prove something to someone else, we have to prove something to ourselves.”

“It was a physical game,” recalled 49ers defensive end Kevin Fagan, “We were sore around here for several days. It felt like a season-ending game. Guys knew they were in a football game.”

Giants halfback Ottis Anderson, thrust into a starting role after Rodney Hampton broke his leg in the Bears playoff game, discussed the Giants offensive frustration, “The intensity of this game will be higher than the first game. That day, we didn’t execute well. Running and passing success, short-yardage, goal-line, none of it was there. Everything we did, they had an answer for.”

New York’s offensive coordinator Ron Erhardt echoed the rued missed opportunities, “The game worked out the way Bill likes to play. We were down 7-3 going into the red area. If we do our job and score, we win 10-7. If we’d done our job, that’s the way the game would’ve gone.”

Contrastingly, New York’s defense oozed confidence, as they felt they had played their best game of the season that Monday night. In fact, much of the week’s chatter leading up to Championship Sunday was centered around how the Giants were able to hold San Francisco to a meager seven points, and were they capable of repeating that performance?

“We played well enough last time to go into this game with a lot of confidence. I left the field with a very good feeling about how we played. We just ran out of time,” said linebacker Gary Reasons. “We’ve got another 60 minutes to get going again. So, we’re gonna rock and roll.”

Safety Greg Jackson felt similarly, “There’s no doubt we’re confident. We know we can win the game. It’s just a matter of eliminating mistakes, getting the breaks. We’ve been just one play away.”

Linebacker Pepper Johnson was focused on the opportunity for redemption, “It’s been more than just a rivalry. Those guys have been finding a way to beat us in the waning moments in the last four games. You can only get knocked down so much. You have to fight back.”

Putting emotion aside, there was detailed analysis on how the Giants defense was able to accomplish a near total shutdown of the 49ers offense.

San Francisco receiver Jerry Rice noted the physicality of the Giants defense and how they operated incongruously to the rest of the league: “The only thing about the Giants is they get a different scheme almost. They’re really going to be physical. The majority of the teams whenever they play nickel, they’re not going to bump you as physical. They’re not going to try to throw the timing off. They’re just going to try to disguise everything. The Giants did the opposite… Every time Joe dropped back, he had a lot of pursuit. Everything was completely off. If Joe doesn’t get the time, he can’t pass the ball.”

New York’s defensive coordinator Bill Belichick marveled at the maturity of San Francisco’s scheme: “We tried to take away [Montana’s] first read, and we did it pretty well. That gave more time for the rush to get to him… With the 49ers, they have been in their system so long they’ve seen just about everything they are going to see. They know how to deal with just about any problem they face without having to make major changes in that offense. You are not going to chase them out of their offense by putting another defensive back in the game. They have a philosophy on offense just like we have on defense. You’re not going to get us to change the things we do by putting an extra tight end in there.”

Belichick’s players expressed utmost confidence their coach and praised his diligence as being a major factor in their success.

“I learned so much from Bill Belichick,” safety Greg Jackson later said, “He always prepared you for each and every game and gave you tip sheets and everything… We wanted [Montana] to check the ball down a lot and try to cover their receivers on curl routes and take those things away. We knew if we could pass rush, we could definitely get to Montana and make him uncomfortable. We tried to close the middle up on them, the deep middle, and make them check the ball down a lot. We just made the looks a little bit different for him than he was used to seeing.”

Linebacker Steve DeOssie described the insight the players received, “For our defensive game plan, we were told that two-thirds of the catches their receivers made, whether it was the tight ends, running backs, receivers, whatever, would occur in a certain, easily defined area and that they got that receiver there through a thousand different formations. There were a hundred different personal groups and fifty types of motion. They told us that we shouldn’t get overwhelmed by all the different looks that we were going to see on the field every single time, the 49ers just want you to think about a thousand different things before they do it. They want you to sit there and think about what’s the formation. Once we saw film that week, we knew they were absolutely right.”

San Francisco head coach George Seifert spoke glowingly of New York’s defense, “They’re extremely well-coached and as fundamentally-sound as any defense I’ve seen play. I am kind of in awe of the technique of their players – how specific it is and how well-coached it is.”

The Motivation

The incentive of the Giants and 49ers was as different as the coasts they represented. The Giants strived for respect and redemption. Despite playing well enough to win in recent meetings with their rival, they came up short every time. They were also sick and tired of the inescapable catch phrase of the 1990 season – “three-peat.” The two-time defending champion 49ers desired immortality.

“Everybody is talking about us scoring a lot of points against the Giants, but I’d take another 7-3 win any day instead of us scoring 30 points and losing,” Montana said. “If they want to take Jerry Rice out of the game, then it’s up to everyone else to look around and take advantage of that. We really are a team here and not a collection of individuals. We are very close to a goal and dream that we set last year after the Super Bowl; that is very exciting. To win three straight Super Bowls would be a tremendous achievement.”

The earnestness because of the previous meeting was addressed by 49ers defensive end Pierce Holt: “There is a rivalry here [with the Giants]. In the last game, it was as intense as it gets. Every play was a battle. You had to play solidly on every down. Now the stakes are even higher.”

Belichick expressed a bigger picture view of the impending showdown: “These are the kinds of games you live for. It’s taken us four years to get back to the championship game. All the seasons of work, all those hard-fought games were just for the opportunity to play in this game. It’s not just another game.”

New York’s nose tackle Erik Howard had his own a personal take, “I grew up out there in the Bay Area. That was a big deal for me to play in my hometown.”

Giants’ cornerback Perry Williams noted the physical challenge of facing the 49ers, “It was always a dog fight. You knew it was going to be a long, drawn-out, hard-fought battle. With them, it was always survival of the fittest.”

San Francisco linebacker Bill Romanowski agreed, “You knew it was gonna be a who-was-going-to-beat-the-crap-out-of-who? kind of game. Every time we played [the Giants], that’s what it was like.”

New York defensive end Leonard Marshall spoke for all his teammates, “We wanted to go out and prove to the 49ers that we were just as good if not better than they were. And we knew we were a better team than the team they beat on Monday night. We just had to go out and prove it to them.”

For 49ers linebacker Charles Haley the game wasn’t as personal, “We are following a dream, to three-peat. We can capture a part of history. If we win the Super Bowl, even if I never play another down of football, I know I will have been part of a history-making achievement.”

Howard felt impelled to derail that dream, “I feel it’s my obligation to history not to let these guys three-peat. It’s like they’re walking six inches above the rest of us. Their feet never touch the ground.”

Giants defensive end Eric Dorsey felt there was an inequity in the perception of the two teams, “I’d like to think the Giants have some mystique too. We’re not playing for a three-peat, but we’ve been to the Super Bowl before. They’ve got to fear us as much as any team around. Why go out there if you think you’re going to lose?”

New York linebacker Carl Banks relished playing the underdog role, “We’re coming to play, regardless of what people expect. We have our own expectations. It doesn’t really matter what’s said in the paper or what the point spread is.”

Lawrence Taylor respected his opponent without putting them up on a pedestal, “They’re still the best team in football until they’re beaten. We feel if we play our game, play intense football, we can beat the 49ers.”

Teammate Gary Reasons saw a potential thread in the post-season tree, “I like this game because there are three teams that beat us this year. Philadelphia, and we beat them. The 49ers, and we have a chance to beat them. And, unless I see it differently, we’ve got a chance to see Buffalo in the Super Bowl. If we put all of those together, it would be a very satisfying championship for us. Not that I’m looking down the road. But I’m just trying to put this in perspective. This is our next opponent. The road to making it goes through San Francisco.”

The Strategy

Both defenses disrupted the opposing offenses during the Week 13 contest. What would change and what would stay the same in the rematch? Insiders and outsiders offered a variety of thoughts.

Seifert discussed a recurring theme, that the 49ers played against type and limited themselves by staying too close-to-the-vest, “We went into that game with somewhat of a conservative attitude and the idea ‘Don’t make any mistakes.’ [The Giants] were a very good team on capitalizing on mistakes and coming up with big plays defensively and controlling the ball. So, we went into that game with a certain mindset. It may or may not be the same going into this game.”

Belichick said past success has no effect on the upcoming game, “It’s like a division game. We’ve played them each of the past three years and now twice this year. They know our personnel; they know our system. We know their personnel; we know their system. Sometimes it’s a plus, sometimes you can’t stop them. I’m not worried about what we did last time. What we’ve got to do is more than they do, however much that is. Whatever they do, we have to do better than that. That’s how you win football games.”

Giants safety Dave Duerson felt similarly as his coach, “[Montana] never really got into a rhythm. We were able to upset some of the timing between Joe and his receivers. That’s what football is, it’s chess. The problem is, we can go in with the exact same game plan, they can do the exact same thing, and it still may not be the same game. That’s why they say, ‘On any given Sunday.’”

Reasons detailed the challenges of facing San Francisco, “Joe reads defenses very well. He reads the blitz very well. He knows where his receivers are going to be. He doesn’t waste any time. As soon as he drops back, on his third, fourth or fifth step when he plants that back foot, the ball’s coming out of there. Very rarely are you going to catch him off guard and surprise him with a rush. The best way to contain Joe Montana is to have tight coverage on his receivers as they come off the line, whether you’re playing them man or zone, and have a coordinated pass rush where you’re putting pressure on him, and you don’t give him a lane to step up and throw. If you take away his first and second receivers, he’s gonna check his third and fourth receivers. But by then, hopefully your pass rush will have penetrated and pushed the pocket enough to make a play on him. It’s not easy to do.”

Howard added, “You have to pressure [Montana], put some hits on him. He doesn’t like to get hit. He’ll throw the ball before he wants to sometimes, even if there’s nobody to throw to.”

Belichick expressed, however, it was more than just design that made San Francisco dangerous, they possessed a wealth of individual skill, “They have so much talent across the board… there isn’t much margin for error against them. You have to win every match-up because just one or two breakdowns will result in a completion or good run.”

San Francisco offensive coordinator Mike Holmgren praised a particular position group on New York’s defensive unit, “Their linebackers have maybe more the size, speed and talent than any group in the league. So, they are able to use them so many ways that you never know what to expect. Every time you think you what they’ll do, they surprise you.”

San Francisco guard Harris Barton was confident in facing anything New York might throw at them and looked forward to the challenge, “We see so many different types of blitzes and so many different types of schemes to try to get to him quick. We did a pretty good job of adjusting to it. We didn’t give up as many sacks as last year; we threw the ball a little more, and what suffered is our running game. But the most important thing is protecting the quarterback. Last time, [the Giants] defense really stuffed us. They’re a hard-nosed team to play. It’s always a violent game with them, but it’s a good type of game to play.”

Rice mentioned a single player who gave him problems, “I caught one pass [in the Monday night game], and they defended me really well. So, this weekend is going to be a test for me. I’m a little ticked off right now. When I went back and watched the films and everything, there were some things I didn’t do. I pride myself on doing my best job when I’m out there, and in that particular game I didn’t play well… I think we came out a little too conservative. This time we’re going to come out and be a little more aggressive and really give the receivers a chance to get downfield and make some plays… [Mark Collins] is really physical. He knocked me around a little the last time, and I got to do something to really counteract that and make plays.”

Parcells agreed with Rice on the possible strategy the 49ers could deploy to score more points, “If anything, they’ll try to spread us out a little more because they have access to more wide receivers [Mike Sherrard came off IR]. Their horizontal passing game philosophy works so well only because you have to respect their deep threats in Rice and Taylor. You have to be careful about that.”

Holmgren even hinted as much, particularly in the much talked about red zone, “If you can’t stretch them vertically, you try to stretch them horizontally to create holes between people instead of behind them. When it gets down in there, it gets harder. The defense can use the back line.”

Offensively, there was a significant change for the Giants. Simms was officially placed on the injured reserve list during the week, ending any speculation that he may return during the playoffs. For better or worse, New York was riding with Jeff Hostetler at quarterback. Additionally, Hampton’s broken leg created more flux regarding the Giants backfield. Presumably, Anderson would start, but others would also have to bear an increased workload.

“The problem is to enhance things to make the most of [Hostetler’s] ability,” said Parcells. “If he can roll out, you don’t just tell him to roll out. You design a couple of plays to take advantage of that ability. The big thing is to be mentally prepared and know your game plan. Then you let things fall into place. I wouldn’t say we’re brand new on offense, but I would say we have some things we didn’t have the first time that the 49ers have to worry about.”

Seifert offered his assessment, “It’s a different style of game now. I consider us a disciplined defense, but we’re going to have to be even more so in this particular game because of the style quarterback we’re facing. They have used [Hostetler] to attack the corners more. That’s because of his ability to run. But his ability to run doesn’t have to be attacking the corner with a play-action pass. He can drop back and find a crease and run up field after that.”

Meanwhile, with a playoff victory under his belt, Hostetler sounded confident, “I think I’m more relaxed. I’m really focused on what we’re trying to do. I feel really comfortable with some of the things we’ve put in for this game.”

Lott noted there did not appear to be any drop off with a backup running the offense, “[The Giants] offense has moved the ball regardless of who is at quarterback. [Hostetler] runs the offense as well as Simms.”

Giants guard William Roberts wasn’t concerned about who he was blocking for, “All year long we’ve been rotating backs in and out. It’s not a surprise that those guys will have to carry a bigger load. Hampton’s a big loss for us, just like Phil is, but we can’t dwell on that. You have to look forward and the ones that are filling in have to come through.”

Parcells agreed, “I think you’ll see some kind of mixture with the backs. What gives us the best chance to move the ball… I think we have an opportunity to move the ball against them. We moved the ball pretty decently against them last time. We just didn’t produce in the red area. We just need to score more points than we did last time. We want to keep the ball away from them as much as possible, but not at the expense of scoring ourselves.”

Anderson chimed in on the workload balance for the backs, “The burden hasn’t always been on me, not really. It’s been collectively on all the running backs. I think we’ve all responded well so far. I have good memories of last year when I had to carry a lot. I always look for an opportunity to run. But we have so many good backs that we can run them all.”

New York fullback Maurice Carthon preferred Anderson as the featured back, rather than backfield by committee, “O.J.’s best when he’s in a lot. He gets better the longer he keeps going. I’ve noticed every time Ottis was in the game, and he played two or three series and stayed out two or three series he wasn’t as effective… He’s ready for the challenge. You’ve got a guy like Rodney, he’s a No. 1 draft pick. Everyone knows Rodney was going to come in and play. But O.J.’s been a valuable player for us. If anyone’s going to take us there, O.J. will.”

Romanowski reflected on the 49ers preparation years later, “We didn’t know a lot about Jeff Hostetler. There wasn’t a ton of film on him. We couldn’t study a whole season of game tape on him. So, we approached it like we were playing a Giants team that was manned by Phil Simms. We thought they would pound the football. They weren’t going to have the quarterback try and win the game for them.”

The Predictions

Recent history favored San Francisco.

The 49ers entered the game not having allowed a TD in their last three NFC Championship Games [1984 defeated Chicago 24-0, 1988 defeated Chicago 28-3, 1989 defeated Los Angeles 30-3]. In fact, their defensive excellence spanned 13 consecutive quarters of championship football. The last touchdown San Francisco surrendered came in the third quarter of the 1983 championship game at Washington.

Overall, the 49ers had won seven consecutive post season games by a combined score of 236-64. The average margin of victory was an astounding 34-9.

The high-profile contest with multiple story lines drew opinions from everywhere. Not surprisingly, most favored San Francisco to further their bid to three-peat, but there were those who gave New York at least a chance.

Former 49ers head coach and current television analyst Bill Walsh was objective, “It’s going to be tough. The Giants are a physical, strong team and will come out and play with a lot of confidence. Both teams have a better feel for each other and what the other team can do. I think the 49ers are going to have a much better game plan. I think they’re going to come out throwing right away and not play around. They’ll throw the short, quick passes before the Giants can get to them. The Giants have to control the ball on the ground with their running game and at least get good field position before they have to punt or score. Hostetler is a fine runner and I think he can make some plays that Phil probably could not have made. An extra first down here or there is what can keep an important drive alive. I’ve always had great respect for Phil Simms, but the Giants haven’t lost a beat with Hostetler.”

Washington head coach Joe Gibbs, whose Redskins went a combined 0-4 against the NFC Championship combatants, gave the edge to San Francisco’s home-field advantage, “[The 49ers] are awful good. They have a lot of people to get to you with. But the Giants are capable of beating them. The Giants can beat anybody because their defense is dominating. I think these teams are so evenly matched that if they played on a neutral field, they would come out dead even. But in a championship game, the crowd is going to be cranked up. It was tough for us to hear. It’s tough to play in those conditions and beat somebody at their place.”

Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur highlighted the diversity of San Francisco’s offensive arsenal, “[The 49ers] have always had plenty of weapons, but what they’re doing now with their tight ends is special. Everybody knows about Jerry Rice and John Taylor and Roger Craig and the others as receivers. But now they’ve got those two tight ends who they rotate. Sometimes they play them together. When you’ve got two tight ends like they have and one of them is always fresh, and then you throw them into your mix, well, it’s another dimension for them. They complement everything in that offense and makes them even tougher.”

Chicago head coach Mike Ditka gave the impression of bitterness after his Bears recent loss to the Giants the previous week, “No one’s going to beat the 49ers. The Giants, first of all, they didn’t sack our quarterback. I don’t think their pass rush is good enough, and I don’t think they can cover well enough. Put [Giants cornerback Everson Walls] in man situations, which he’ll have to be in Sunday, they’re going to chew him up. They’ll find out he’s not what he used to be. They’ll break him with the counter routes.”

Walls, however, had bigger things on his mind than what Ditka thought of him, “Each time I play [the 49ers] I think about that play [“The Catch” in the 1981 NFC Championship Game], no doubt about it. Stepping in Candlestick gives me a feeling of alertness and intensity because I never want to be caught in that position again.”

“Nobody thinks we’re going to win,” Carthon said. “You’ve got a chance to redeem yourself, to prove a lot of people wrong. And you’ve got a chance to go to the Super Bowl. What more could you want in a game like this, especially if the deck is stacked against you?”

“We were riding house money,” Giants center Bart Oates later recalled. “We were going up against a team that was coming off back-to-back Super Bowls. We’ve got a backup quarterback and the oldest starting running back in the league. What are we supposed to do? We got no respect at all.”

Parcells liked his teams’ mindset, “I think the attitude of the team is simple – if we play our game, we can beat them. But until someone beats them, they are still the champions. They have a sophisticated passing game. They have one of the best, if not the best, quarterbacks to have played the game and one of the best receivers to have played the game. They’ve got other people doing well. But if we play Giants football, which is intense football, and if we can run the football, we will beat them.”

Lawrence Taylor believed his team was ready for the challenge, “The guys practiced what they preached all week. It’s gratifying when you find out that when you put your mind to it and act on it, you can play well. This week, we’re looking for quality defense again. A couple of years ago we got into a shootout with the 49ers and lost. This year, when it was a low scoring game, we lost. They find a way to win games. The Giants have to find a way to win games.”

The Game

The intense interest in the game was evident by the standing-room-only crowd of 65,750 that packed Candlestick Park. The voracious gathering, second largest in 49ers history, was unanimously in favor of the home team, as nary a hint of blue was to be seen in the grandstands.

After the 49ers won the coin toss and received the kickoff, the first change in Belichick’s plan was revealed. Having previously radically changed the Giants defensive front to a 4-3 to control the run-heavy Bears, the front seven returned to the familiar 3-4, but with a few twists.

Looking to maintain size in the three-man line, Howard was shifted to left end with Mike Fox starting at nose tackle; Marshall remained at his normal right end spot. Behind the line, Gary Reasons received the starting nod over DeOssie, as Reasons was more adept in coverage than the run-plugging DeOssie. In addition, strong side linebacker Carl Banks would start and play the whole game. In the Week 13 match-up, he played sparingly in his first game back from a lengthy absence recovering from a broken wrist.

CBS broadcaster John Madden explained what was going to be different about the two teams’ approaches, “The last time they played, the 49ers thought they were too conservative. Mike Holmgren said what he did is if Montana was throwing in rhythm and there wasn’t anyone there right now, he would have him just throw the ball away. Today, he said they’re gonna open it up, spread it out, and he just told Joe, even though he hasn’t practiced in the last two days [because of the flu], ‘just do what you do best.’… Last time, what the Giants did on defense, is they used five defensive backs, they were in nickel the whole time. This time they’re playing Carl Banks here [over the TE], this is where they played [Greg] Jackson last time. So, now they’re playing their regular three linemen and they’re playing Gary Reasons because he’s a better pass defender. They’re not playing nickel on regular downs.”

Inside Linebacker Gary Reasons

The 49ers intention of spreading the Giants defense horizontally to create more passing lanes appeared to work as they moved the ball 44 yards over 10 plays, seven of which were passes and all three first downs were achieved through the air. Tellingly, Rice caught only one pass and it was for a loss of one yard.

Madden elaborated between plays, “The Giants defense, they all tackle well… Mark Collins is a very confident guy. He believes the way you play Jerry Rice is you play against him physical; you make everything physical. If you catch it, OK, but you’re not gonna make any yards. Mark Collins is a very good corner, a very good cover guy, but he’s a very strong player, a very physical corner.”

The tenth play of the drive was a 47-yard field goal by Mike Cofer to give San Francisco a 3-0 lead at 9:59. Despite surrendering yardage and points, New York’s defense adjusted quickly to the 49ers scheme by pressuring Montana with new-look blitzes that forced errant throws and check-downs for minimal gains.

The Giants offense answered with three points of their own, but how they did it was quite different than what many expected from their normally plodding attack. Over the 15-play advance that consumed nearly half the quarter (7:18), the Giants passed the ball eight times versus six runs. Dave Meggett was the featured back on the first three rushes, highlighting his elusiveness and speed over Anderson’s straight-line power. Carthon ran the ball once, before he and Meggett combined for the first half’s most startling play.

Jeff Hostetler

Once inside the much-discussed red zone, which had begun to take on the mythos of the Bermuda Triangle for the Giants against the 49ers, New York’s solution to reach the end zone was to go deep into the playbook for the unexpected. On first down at the San Francisco 11-yard line, Hostetler pitched right to Meggett, who ran toward the boundary and then pulled up and floated a perfect spiral into the waiting hands of an open Carthon in the back of the end zone. But Carthon let the ball drop to the turf.

“It was a good pass and it just dropped,” Carthon said, “There’s nothing you can do about it… You have to take it one play at a time.”

Two more incompletions preceded kicker Matt Bahr’s first field goal of the contest, making the score 3-3 at 2:41. Despite failing to solve the 49ers red-zone defense, New York achieved other goals. They moved the ball well by mixing in a variety of passes and wide runs and kept Montana and the San Francisco offense on the sideline for an extended period of time.

The Giants defense quickly dispatched San Francisco’s ensuing possession, forcing a punt in three plays as the first quarter quickly ended. Madden said, “We were talking to Bill Belichick last night and he says that you have to take away Rice, you have to take away [John] Taylor, and if Montana’s gonna beat you then he’s gonna beat us with a guy like [Tom] Rathman catching it. He doesn’t feel that Rathman and [Brent] Jones catching the ball can beat you. He feels that guys like Rice and Taylor are the ones you have to take out of the game.”

Pepper Johnson and Myron Guyton attack Tom Rathman

Duerson noticed Montana looking shaky early, “After the second series, when he left from under center, he was already passive, you could see it. He was expecting to get hit. Even when he handed off, he was flinching.”

New York opened the second quarter with a three-and-out of their own, but not without a moment of drama as Madden and broadcast partner Pat Summerall pondered the possibility of the Giants going for it on fourth-and-one near midfield. A week earlier the Giants stunned the Bears four times on fourth down. Instead, Parcells played it safe and elected to punt, showing trust in his defense.

Prior to the punt, Madden showed his appreciation for the style of play being demonstrated by both teams, “We are seeing very good defensive football here. We’re seeing crisp football, we’re seeing hard hitting, good tackling…this isn’t one of those things that is just conservative offense, it’s the defenses making the offenses look conservative.”

Two quick completions moved the 49ers to midfield before the drive was stymied, and the compelling game-within-the-game between Rice and Collins was on full display. Following a deep-ball pass breakup by Collins, Madden excitedly professed, “There is one confident corner back. He loves to play against Jerry Rice, and he’s tough on Jerry Rice. He likes to play him physical; he feels that he can get up there and bump him around, and then if he does get by him that he has enough speed to run with him.”

San Francisco punted away without attempting a single rush. Conversely, New York’s second drive of the game saw them return to form as they employed their familiar, bruising ground attack.

While incorporating a couple of wide runs by Meggett and a deft scramble under pressure by Hostetler, New York leaned more into the inside power runs by Anderson. Three of the Giants first downs on the time-consuming drive were on the ground as New York hogged the ball for 8:32 while traversing 56 yards over 14 plays.

More of the familiar also came by another name well known to San Francisco. Mark Bavaro, who made his first two catches on the drive, was highlighted by Summerall and Madden after making a nifty move to avoid a tackle. Summerall said, “When you ask Ronnie Lott what you have to do to stop the Giants, the first thing out of his mouth is ‘we have to stop [Bavaro].’” Madden followed, “Lott has a lot of respect for Mark Bavaro… Bavaro was a very physical player who’s turned into an intelligent player.”

Mark Bavaro

After Bahr kicked the Giants to a 6-3 advantage with exactly 1:00 remaining in the half, Montana led a quick-strike offensive that knotted the score 6-6, seconds before intermission.

Notably, Rice’s first big catch of the day, 19 yards to kickstart the drive, saw him beat zone coverage by Reasons. The Giants did manage their first sack of day, and it could not have come at a better time. After Dorsey’s personal foul penalty gave the 49ers a first down at New York’s 21-yard line with 21 seconds on the clock, Marshall threw Montana for an eight-yard loss. Montana had been forced to take the sack as Lawrence Taylor had also rushed from the opposite side, hemming the quarterback in the pocket without an opportunity to escape or throw the ball away.

Leonard Marshall and Joe Montana

During the hectic action, Madden again delighted in the high level of the competition. “You think of the last time they played on the Monday night, with the 49ers winning it 7-3. This is the same type of game, a very intense game and excellent defense by both sides. You know they say, ‘bend a little but don’t break’? They’re just bending very little and not breaking at all on either defensive side… I think the last time they played we talk about the intensity and what it meant. This game’s for a championship. This is sudden death, there’s no tomorrow. The winner goes on to the Super Bowl and the loser’s forgotten.”

Although possibly being disappointed by not going into halftime with the lead, one major trend in New York’s favor over the course of the first half jumped off the page. Despite holding the ball for only three possessions [discounting the half-closing kneel-down at 0:03] to San Francisco’s four, the Giants time of possession showed a wide advantage of 17:42 to 12:18. New York controlled the pace of the first 30 minutes, both offensively with their controlled blend of run and short passing, and defensively by disrupting the 49ers timing with tight coverage and pocket pressure.

During the halftime intermission, studio analyst Terry Bradshaw graphically illustrated how the Giants defense successfully accomplished slowing down the 49ers normally explosive offense. The tight coverage on outside receivers Rice and Taylor combined with pressure on Montana, forced him to check down to the third option; deep passes were a near impossibility unless there was a defensive breakdown. Thus far, New York’s execution had been near perfection save for a handful of plays.

The second half started frustratingly enough, as after back-to-back first downs, the once-promising drive was stalled by an offensive holding penalty that couldn’t be overcome. One misstep is all it takes to dramatically alter the course of a contest between two closely-matched teams. A mistimed gamble proved catastrophic after the Giants punted the ball to the 49ers.

Portending a reversal in 49ers fortunes, returner John Taylor swung the momentum to the home team’s side on the punt. After he caught the ball on the San Francisco 8-yard line, Taylor counter-stepped right, drawing New York’s coverage out of their lanes, then sprinted up field to his left behind a wall of interference before being pushed out of bounds at the 39-yard line. The 31-yard return electrified the crowd and fired up his teammates. Particularly damaging to New York, Taylor’s advance resulted in a meager 24-yard net in field position change.

San Francisco instantly capitalized.

Montana dropped back, and for perhaps the first time all day, had a clean pocket to throw from. John Taylor caught the high pass near the left sideline over the outstretched hands of the leaping defender Walls, and traversed the sideline unimpeded to the end zone as there was no safety help in the vicinity. The diving tackle attempt by Guyton was too little, too late as Taylor hopped on one foot to stay inbounds and cross the goal line for the game first touchdown at 10:28.

John Taylor accounted for 92 yards on two successive plays. Madden said, “Joe Montana had a little time, John Taylor is equally as dangerous as anyone in this league. Everson Walls, who’s been a heck of a cornerback over the years, took a gamble, took an angle, and when he did Taylor caught it, it was a touchdown.” And added, “And of course, John Taylor started it all off, and it’s usually a special teams play that will start it off… that punt return really gave the 49ers life.”

Walls said, “I went for the ball. I got one hand on it, but he had two. My break was good, my execution was bad. I just said, ‘Oh shit,’ I knew he was gone. But the guys on this team believe in me and when we came back on the field it was business as usual.”

Unfazed, the Giants offense returned to work at settling the game and quieting the crowd.

A first-down pass, good for 19 yards to Mark Ingram, put New York close to midfield. Breaking from tendencies, New York frequented the air as seven of the drive’s nine plays from scrimmage were passes, including all of the first downs [one via a pass interference penalty]. Covering 49 yards over 6:03, Bahr closed the gap on the scoreboard with a 46-yard field goal.

Ottis Anderson

Madden noted how, despite the 49ers defense adjusting by double-covering Meggett and forcing Hosteler to find other options, the overall flow of the game was unfolding as the Giants desired, “This is where the Giants are so tough. They just get the ball, even though the 49ers scored on one play, and methodically drive it down on you and take everything out of you.” Summerall added, “Bill Parcells said, ‘we like to make the game shorter.’”

San Francisco struggled to pick up where they had left off when they got the ball back. Montana opened the drive with a 10-yard completion to the heavily covered Rice on first down, but a false start penalty disrupted their rhythm. A short dump-off and ugly overthrew were sandwiched around a shared sack between Lawrence Taylor and Erik Howard. The 49ers punted the ball to Meggett who attempted to duplicate John Taylor’s heroics with an 18-yard return to the Giants 45-yard line.

Anderson seized the moment as well, as his 27-yard run around right end on third-and-one placed the Giants, yet again, inside the red zone at San Francisco’s 19-yard line. He had the opportunity to take the ball inside the 10-yard line but was dragged down by a desperate Lott who withstood a stiff-arm by Anderson.

The third quarter closed with the Niners ahead 13-9, but the Giant’s grinding attack was beginning to take its toll on San Francisco’s fatiguing defense. The gap in time of possession had widened to 30:31 for the Giants and 14:29 for the 49ers, who had the ball for only five plays in the quarter.

The Big Players and Big Moments

The decisive period commenced with New York again failing in the red zone. Two incomplete passes preceded an incomprehensible missed field goal by Bahr, who pushed the ball outside the left goal post from the right hash. “I rushed that one,” Bahr said, “The footing was good. I had no excuse for missing it.”

The demoralizing moment appeared to snowball. New York’s defense sagged as Montana connected on a first down pass for 14 yards to Rice, which Craig followed up with a seven-yard rush through right tackle. The respite of a false start penalty allowed the Giants defense to regroup. Lawrence Taylor forced a third-down incompletion with a hurried throw where he inadvertently kicked Montana in the knee as he lunged for the ball during its release.

Lawrence Taylor pressuring Joe Montana

Seemingly going tit-for-tat, on the second play of the Giants possession that followed the punt, Burt dove heavily into Hostetler’s knee as he followed through on a pass attempt. Hostetler left the game for the rest of the series, which ended quickly as backup quarterback Matt Cavanaugh was ineffective, throwing two ugly incompletions. As doctors, trainers, and coaches huddled about Hostetler on New York’s bench, their defense seethed.

Marshall said, “I’m not going to lie to you. That Burt hit motivated the hell out of me. I wanted to be a guy Jeff could count on. The guys were upset because Jimmy Burt used to be one of ours. When I say it was a dirty hit, it could have been one of the cleanest hits in football. We kind of took personal offense to it because Jimmy was one of our own. If it had been another guy on the team, maybe it would have been a different deal.”

Burt said, “I was just following through on the play. I wouldn’t want to hurt him. I was hoping he was OK. He’s tough. I always knew he was tough.”

Hostetler said, “Coach Parcells asked me how the knee felt, if I could go several times. Finally, I told him I was going. As long as it was stable, I was going back in. This was a huge game and I’ve waited a long time for the opportunity.”

The heat-of-the-moment outrage fired up the Giants defense, who took the field at the Niners 23-yard line at 10:50 after the exchange on the punt. San Francisco called time out before snapping the ball, as Montana did not like the look of New York’s defensive formation.

Madden articulated the importance of the series during the pause, “This is where the defense of the Giants really has to come through. They led the league in turnovers, and if ever you’re going to make something happen, if you’re ever gonna come up with a defensive play that’s gonna be a turnover, it’s a tackle, it’s a tip, a bounce, it’s something, the Giant defense may have to be the one to do it.”

A Craig run to the right for no gain and pass break up by Johnson on John Taylor set up third-and-10, and the transformational moment that significantly altered the course of both franchises for years to come.

Madden again anticipated an impending big moment upcoming before the snap, “Now this is a good situation to get that turnover, third-and-long. That’s usually when you get them. You usually get them on third-and-long when they have to force the ball down the field. Now Montana’s smart enough, he’s not gonna give you one. You might get one, but he’s not gonna give you an easy one. And if the defense doesn’t get it here, they have to stop them and hope to get a big punt return from Dave Meggett.”

One of Madden’s most well-known sayings was, “big players make big plays in big games.” It was at this point that the biggest names of both teams converged.

Under center in the standard Pro-T formation (the 49ers had long abandoned their desired three-receiver set after Montana had requested two backs for additional support against the Giants pass rush), Montana overlooked the Giants unique nickel formation. The three down linemen were shifted left with Lawrence Taylor on his opposite side over the tight end in a two-point stance, showing rush. Safety Greg Jackson momentarily occupied the spot of a fourth linebacker before dropping back, giving Montana different reads to consider.

Leonard Marshall dislodging the ball from Joe Montana

Off the snap, the Giants corners pressed Rice and John Taylor while Taylor and the linemen crashed the forming pocket. The remaining five defenders dropped into a layered zone coverage that blanketed the middle of the field. San Francisco’s guards and center formed a wall that stalemated the middle of the rush, but the ends were pierced by Lawrence Taylor and Leonard Marshall. Taylor was blocked one-on-one by tackle Steve Wallace; Marshall contended with a double-team by Bubba Paris and Tom Rathman. Initially cut by Paris then cracked-back by Rathman, Marshall’s motor never sputtered. Initially crawling, then gaining momentum once back on his feet, he relentlessly pursued Montana while Taylor deked his way around Wallace. Montana rolled to his right way from Marshall’s pressure, Taylor sprinted across Montana’s face as he pulled up to heave a pass downfield in Rice’s direction. During his windup, Montana was violently upended from behind by Marshall, face-first, into the turf, separated from the ball which floated toward the chaotic maelstrom still taking place at the line of scrimmage. Somehow the ball bounced through the awaiting hands of Collins and was recovered by Wallace. No one seemed to notice the conclusion of the play however, as all eyes were on the crumpled body of Montana, agonizingly writhing on the grass.

Leonard Marshall and Joe Montana

The broadcast team in the booth seemed as bewildered as the fans as the game came to a halt for over four minutes of real time. The tandem alternated between analyzing replays from different angles while speculating on Montana’s well being. Meanwhile support staff administered to Montana on the field.

Summerall: “Montana is still on his hands and knees.”
Madden: “I’ll tell you that is the one thing we know about Joe Montana, we know about his back, and he really took a shot in that back. Although he was rolling to his right it was still his back side.”
Summerall: “Montana with all kinds of time early.”
Madden: “It was good defense downfield, he had no one to throw to, they knocked him out of the rhythm. Then you see Taylor miss and right there is the hit, Leonard Marshall coming from the back side.”
Summerall: “Boy.”
Madden: “George Seifert I think, right now, is more concerned about his quarterback because that is a real shot. Joe Montana missed practice on Friday and Saturday with the flu so he’s a little weakened, but even if he hadn’t missed practice, you can’t take shots like that. He is still down.”
Summerall: “Usually he has that sense of when someone is coming from the other side. In this case, there’s no way he could have seen Marshall.”
Madden: “I think he was trying to get away from Taylor. Remember Lawrence Taylor was the first guy there, he was trying to avoid him. Then in doing so, Leonard Marshall got him from behind.”

Marshall said, “I was blocked. I’d been cut at my feet. I was crawling. Joe Montana rolled off to the right, telling Jerry Rice to keep running. As he pulled up, I dove, trying to strip the football… I heard him cringe, but it was a clean hit. I never go after people to hurt them.”

Leonard Marshall

Walls said, “You could hear the hit. It was scary.”

Once Montana was helped to the sideline, play resumed with San Francisco punting the ball to the Giants at 9:17. To the surprise of many, Hostetler was back under center for New York. Even more of a surprise was his second-down scramble through traffic for a gain of six yards. He deftly evaded would-tacklers on his way to the sideline, as if he never took that hit to the knee minutes earlier.

The scramble wasn’t good enough for a first down, however. After Anderson was stuffed for a one-yard loss on third-and-one, the Giants punt team took the field while the 49ers defense celebrated. Having already absorbed one devastating blow from Marshall on Montana, the next strike on San Francisco was delivered by Reasons.

Fake punts were not all that out of the ordinary for the Parcells’ coached Giants. One of the better known plays from Super Bowl XXI was the momentum-turning sneak by Jeff Rutledge, who shifted under center from a punt formation protector early in the third quarter. This initiated the decisive surge over the Denver Broncos. This time, there was no backup quarterback on the field and there was no shift tipping intentions. Reasons, calling signals as the protector in the punt formation, had the green light to call the fake any time he saw the opportunity.

He received the direct snap from center and barreled through a hole wide enough to accommodate a bulldozer. Chugging up field with the ball tucked under his arm and only return man John Taylor between him and the elusive goal line, Reasons was cut down short of pay dirt, but not before advancing 30 yards of precious real estate.

Gary Reasons running the ball on a fake punt

Reasons said of the call, “They were getting ready to get their wall going to Taylor, and I noticed an opening on the right. We had the play on all game, and I had the go-ahead to call it when I saw it,” and on attempting to elude Taylor downfield, “I was trying to set him up. I have no moves and he cut me down. I just didn’t want to fumble.”

Suddenly it was New York that was celebrating, as they found themselves within striking range and the lead with under seven minutes to play. If only they could conquer the confounding red zone.

New York’s hopes for a go-ahead touchdown were quickly extinguished by the Niners resolved defense. A short Anderson run, and two incompletions preceded Bahr’s 38-yard field goal to trim San Francisco’s lead to a single point at 5:47 of the final quarter.

Madden noted the elevation in tension of the decisive moments of not only the game, but of the season for one of the teams, “This is what you call fighting to get to a Super Bowl. Everyone is down there for every yard, the offense, the defense, the quarterback is fighting to get well. Knowing that at the end of this game the winner flies to Tampa, Florida. The losers, they forget ‘em.

“You can’t ask for a better championship game than this. You can’t think about the ‘what ifs’, you can’t think about the one that Bahr missed had he made it they’d be ahead now, you can’t think about Carthon doin’ that, you can’t think about Joe Montana… you have to think that ‘this is it’. There’s five minutes forty-seven seconds left to go… you’re one point down on one side or you’re one point up on the other side and you have five minutes and-a-half to do something about it.”

Marshall and the Giants defense picked up exactly where they left off, forcing a fumble. As Craig approached the line with a first-down handoff, the hard-hitting Marshall battered him full-force from the side, knocking the ball loose before the ball carrier’s knee touched the ground. As with Montana’s fumble, the 49ers maintained possession as Paris fell on the loose ball.

Watching the replay, Madden exclaimed while reviewing the tenacity of New York’s defenders who crashed toward Craig from all angles, “That’s real defense!”

The next play stunned the Giants and revived the crowd, which had been silent since Reasons’ fake. Eschewing the run, the 49ers went back to what they do best, moving the chains through the air. Provided with good protection, Young found Jones in the Cover-2 zone’s deep middle – behind the linebackers on the hash and in front of the safeties. The lightning-fast pickup advanced the ball 25 yards to the Niners own 49-yard line with the clock running under 4:30.

Seifert said, “I thought we had the game won, to be honest with you.”

“I even spiked the ball, because I pretty much thought it was over,” said Jones. “That’s what I was yelling and that’s what I felt. At the time, [the Giants] thought it was over too.”

Back-to-back rushes by Craig totaled 11 yards and a first down – the 49ers only rushing first down of the game – with just under three minutes to go.

Parcells paced the sidelines, choosing to retain New York’s three timeouts, as the Candlestick crowd stood and cheered the seemingly imminent trip to a third consecutive Super Bowl.

The next carry by Craig was his last as a 49er.

“Going into that series, the feeling was we’ve got to stop them and let our offense do something with the ball,” Pepper Johnson said. “Then, after [Young] completed that big play, all 11 guys started yelling, ‘Turnover, we need a turnover real bad.’”

The Giants countered the 49ers Pro T set on first down with five men on the line of scrimmage – three linemen plus Taylor and Banks up on the edges in two-point stances. The two inside linebackers were only two yards off the line, obviously prepared to plug any inside gaps. Both corners were in bump position on Rice and Taylor but had their eyes on the backfield anticipating run.

Off the snap, Young handed to Craig on an inside run, where there appeared to be a crease. The middle of the defense held stoutly for a moment, then Craig turned sideways and in the blink of an eye the ball squirted backward into the hands of a lunging Lawrence Taylor.

Lawrence Taylor recovers a fumble late in the 4th quarter

The play happened so quickly that Summerall’s normally timely call was a beat behind the action, “…and the Giants have the ball!” he exclaimed as Pepper Johnson had already signaled the change of possession amongst the group of jumping, fist-pumping, white-jerseyed defenders.

The game’s first turnover occurred during its 57th minute.

Craig said, “All I know is I hit the hole and the ball was gone. I guess someone’s helmet knocked it out. It’s hard to say what happened.”

Johnson said, “All day long he had been bobbling the ball.”

During the brief pause for the sides to change, slow-motion replay revealed the catalyst for the game’s dramatic shift. In the morass at the point-of-attack, Erik Howard fought off his block and knocked the ball out of Craig’s hand with his helmet. “Late in the game, this time of the last game, they went with the inside run,” Howard said. “We were in a ‘Stack D,’ I was over (center Jesse) Sapolu. They gave me a double-team, so I dropped down and split the seam. I can’t say I went specifically for the ball, I just went for his mid-section.”

Burt said, “Craig didn’t even get hit. He was fumbling before he got hit. On the series before, he almost fumbled because he was a little tight.”

Lott noted the auspiciousness of Lawrence Taylor, who was in the right place at the right time for the recovery, “Great players have a certain magnetism about them, and they make plays like that. That’s why he is considered the greatest [defensive] player of all time. It couldn’t happen to a better person.”

Erik Howard and Lawrence Taylor’s combined efforts put the ball in New York’s hands at their own 43-yard line with 2:36 to play and all three of their timeouts.

Hostetler made a remarkable play under pressure on first down. The fierce pass rush up the middle, almost immediately after the snap, barely allowed Hostetler to escape the grasp of two defenders, let alone set his feet and look downfield. Sprinting toward the right sideline and gesturing downfield with his left hand, he launched the ball as Burt dove at his legs. The deep pass found Bavaro, who found an open spot in front of a 49ers safety just inside the numbers, at San Francisco’s 41-yard line. Three tacklers eventually dragged him down at the 38-yard line for a gain of 19 yards, right on the precipice of field goal range as the clock ran to the two-minute warning.

Hostetler said, “The pass to Bavaro was supposed to be a drop-back pass. But when the rush got heavy, I moved to the right and the flow went with me. Mark made a great move against the grain to get open.”

A potentially disastrous four-yard loss on an Anderson run was quickly rectified by a 13-yard sideline catch by Stephen Baker, who emphatically planted both feet in bounds.

Stephen said, “When they called the play, I said, ‘You know what, this is it. This is gonna be the best route I run in my life. This is what I worked all my life for, this one moment right here to get our team to the Super Bowl. I ran that route so hard…It was a ten-yard out and then I bursted up field for 18 yards, acting like I’m running deep and then stop on a dime, and Hostetler’s rolling outside to my side fires it in there for the sticks.”

The Giants took their first timeout at 1:10 to contemplate the best option for the critical third-and-one.

Despite being stymied by San Francisco’s stout front – Andersons’ fourth quarter rushing totals to this point were four carries netting zero yards – New York’s staff did not waiver in their confidence. Erhardt said, “We let Ottis take it and hit it up in there, we felt we could always make a yard. We had that mentality.”

The 49ers lined up in a 4-4 front with a Lott cheating up to linebacker depth creating a nine-man box, while the Giants had only seven men – the five interior linemen plus two tight ends – for interference. The two wideouts split left and their respective corners would be uninvolved in the upcoming pivotal scrum.

Should San Francisco hold the line here, New York would be faced with either a field goal attempt of no less than least 46-yards, the edge of Bahr’s range on grass, or going for a fourth-down conversion. With approximately one minute on the clock after the upcoming play, and the Giants having only two timeouts at their disposal, the game and the trip to the Super Bowl would almost certainly belong to the 49ers if the Giants failed to convert.

All nine San Francisco defenders in the front stormed the line of scrimmage at the snap. New York’s out-manned line forged enough of a crease between left guard William Roberts and left tackle Jumbo Elliott for Anderson to slip between them and use his powerful leg drive to fight through the first tackler and lunge beyond the sticks to the 27-yard line for the first down. He landed on the turf with three defenders piled on top of him.

The two-yard gain may not look all that impressive on paper, but it may have been the most significant carry of Anderson’s career.

There was a brief stoppage at 0:51 that caused confusion over timeouts, which referee Jerry Markbreit ultimately ruled an officials’ timeout to spot the ball. Both teams were content to allow the clock to run – the 49ers, hoping to minimize the number of plays they needed to defend; the Giants, wanting to end the game with the ball in their hands.

To that end, the Giants took their wide receivers off of the field and presented a three tight end, goal-line formation with Anderson as the only player in the backfield. San Francisco came to the line with a 10-man front and again, Lott cheating toward the line of scrimmage creating an 11-man box. The closing moment of the NFC’s championship, and the right to participate in the biggest stage of modern professional sports, had taken on the look and feel of early 1920’s football where all 22 men would engage in hand-to-hand combat over the line of scrimmage. Leather helmets and a bloated rugby-style ball would have been all too appropriate.

The first-down rush by Anderson, behind right guard Bob Kratch this time, again saw him evade the gap-shooting Lott and power for two yards after contact. For good measure, Anderson absorbed a blow from behind by his own diving teammate, tackle Doug Reisenberg.

The Giants took their second timeout at 0:12 with the ball on the 25-yard line. The next play, again, was contested as if on the goal line. Every precious inch of field was being bitterly fought over. The play was the simplest, most basic call in any team’s playbook, the quarterback sneak. Hostetler dove off the left shoulder of Oates into the foray for a meager, yet not so insignificant, gain of a single yard.

New York stopped the clock at 0:04 with their final timeout to allow the field goal unit time to set up, after which San Francisco called the obligatory timeout to “ice the kicker.”

Once the ball was set at the 24-yard line, just a hair to the left from dead center of the goal posts, and the play clock activated, the teams came to the line of scrimmage. The 49ers aligned strong to the left of the Giants formation, seven of their defenders bunched tightly, with the other four widely spaced to the right. The overload was a decoy, designed to pull New York’s blockers over and allow the end man on the far right a lane to sprint toward the flight of the ball.

Matt Bahr

The brilliant tactical concept nearly succeeded. As Hosteler flawlessly received the snap from center and placed the ball and Bahr approached with his leg cocked – the lone 49er flashed unimpeded from his end position through a wide gap in the protection, just as it had been drawn up. However, Bahr’s kick proved to be perfectly imperfect. He pulled the ball ever so slightly left, getting it just beyond the extended fingertips of the leaping Spencer Tillman, and its flight straightened out just enough to pass inside the left upright as the clock reached 0:00.

Tillman said, “I just tried to get to it. IU didn’t come from the outside, my normal alignment. I went right behind the line of scrimmage and tried to dive over about three or four guys. I almost got it.”

Jubilant Giants jumped off the sideline and mobbed their kicker, while dejected fans and 49ers trudged off the field, their dream of a three-peat having been vanquished by inches and seconds.

The Analysis

At first glance, what the Giants had just accomplished seemed utterly remarkable.

Consider: New York dethroned the two-time defending Super Bowl champions without reaching the end zone. In fact, over the course of the two games the teams played that season, New York crossed San Francisco’s 30-yard line nine separate times and never scored a single touchdown, managing only six field goals. The other three possessions ended with a failed 4th-down attempt, a sack as time expired, and a missed field goal.

Giants celebrate Matt Bahr’s game-winning field goal

How they pulled off that feat was more-or-less winning the battle of attrition – the Giants totaled 68 plays from scrimmage to the Niners 41. Looking at those plays reveals much about the two teams. New York’s offense was balanced: 36 rushes vs 32 passes. San Francisco’s was heavily skewed: 30 passes vs 11 rushes – even though they played with the lead almost the entire second half. Underscoring their ground game’s absence, Reasons 30-yard fake punt run equaled the combined output of Craig and Rathman on nine total rushes.

Wallace said, “By us not running the ball, [the Giants] could lay their ears back and use their talent. It was guys having the freedom to rush and not worry about the run.”

This disparity points to the game’s most telling statistic, time of possession. The Giants had the ball almost two-thirds of the game: 38:59 to 21:01. (This ball control philosophy would be taken to its zenith a week later against the Bills in the Super Bowl.)

“I’ll tell you how we did it,” said Parcells. “We did it by not turning the ball over. We set a record for fewest turnovers in a 16-game season. We don’t make it easy for people. Yeah, I know, we’ve been called a conservative team, but you’ll notice this conservative team is still playing.”

The Giants feat was also historic. They were just the second team to advance to the Super Bowl without scoring a touchdown, after the Rams defeated Tampa Bay 9-0 in 1979 on three field goals. They were also only the second NFC team in 11 years to win the conference title as the visitor, the 49ers being the only other team to do so when they took down Chicago at Soldier Field in 1988.

Parcells told the press, “Any time you accomplished what we did, when you win on the road against this organization, you have to feel great. I feel great.”

Myron Guyton, Pepper Johnson and William Roberts celebrate

Niners linebacker Mike Walter said, “You think because you keep a team out of the end zone, you’re going to be OK. But it wasn’t enough today. We needed to have a three-downs-and-out with a punt, and we didn’t do that today. We needed to get our offense back on their filed. We didn’t do that.”

Although San Francisco had boasted a seven-game, playoff-winning streak entering the contest, the streak bracketing that run of success was ugly. This was the third consecutive post-season loss for San Francisco to end without Montana on the field. The 1986 Divisional Playoff saw Montana leaving the game in the second quarter with a concussion, and in the 1987 Divisional Playoff loss to Minnesota, Montana was benched at halftime in favor of Young.

Plaudits abounded for another stellar Giants defensive performance against the 49ers offense. Many cited the pressure generated by the pass rush and the effect it had on San Francisco’s timing.

Johnson said, “We wanted to hit [Montana]. We knew he’d get rid of the ball fast, but we wanted to shake the guy up and I think we did.”

Lawrence Taylor said, “I could tell Joe was getting frustrated. Any time you hit a guy like that and put pressure on him and not let him do the things he’s used to doing, you’ve done a good job.”

Parcells said, “We were able to hit Montana a few times early in the game, very hard. That was a big factor in the game. We hit their guy, they hit ours, both went down. That’s championship football.”

Wallace said, “When you have the talent they do and rush the passer on almost every down, they’re going to do some damage. We never did get the old running game established. It eventually hurt us. If you never get it going, eventually it will come back to haunt you.”

Seifert said, “The Giants did a great job of pass rushing, of mixing up their blitzes and four-man rushes. Obviously, that was a problem during the course of the game. There’s no question about that… They were relentless in what they did.”

Holmgren mentioned the 49ers early shift in approach to deal with New York’s rush, “They were blitzing us a little bit more than in the past, so Joe felt more comfortable with two backs in the game. It did take us out of our game plan a little bit [featuring 3-WR sets].”

Collins discussed covering Rice most of the game, who was limited to 5 catches for 54 yards, “I played a lot of mind games with him. I never said anything to him. I just stared him in the eyes.”

The Aftermath

Immediately after the game, there was much discussion of the biggest and most controversial plays that had taken place. Remarkably, all had been compressed within the final 10 minutes of playing time.

The most talked about were the two hits on the opposing teams’ quarterbacks.

Burt said of his hit on Hostetler’s knee that riled up the Giants, “Bart [Oates] was blocking me on that play. He lunged forward a little bit. When he lunged forward, I got around him. He missed the block and I think the guard was fanning out. When Eric Moore came to fan back out, he was late. I knew he was going to come back and cut me. I stayed low. I had to get myself down low, otherwise he’d take out my knees. So, I came in almost like a submarine because Bart was going to cut my legs. He had to do that or grab me. These guards were going to do the same. They tried to cut me the series before that, so I knew I had to stay low once I got past them. So, I came in low, and I hit Hostetler low. I had to protect myself. They made a big deal about it.”

Oates took his share of responsibility, “[Burt] got around the edge and I ended up pushing him into Jeff where it hurt Jeff’s knee. That was my fault, it wasn’t Jim’s fault. He got blamed for it – people thought it was a cheap shot. But he got my edge, and I was trying to do what I could, and I pushed him. I wound up pushing him right into Jeff’s knee.”

Hostetler held no grudges, “I don’t know if it was a cheap shot. I know him. I don’t think he was trying to hurt me. After the game he said, ‘Good job.’”

No one accused Marshall of laying a dirty hit on Montana, but that was clearly the most violent of all the impacts delivered that day.

Marshall recounted the sequence of events, “I slipped past Bubba (Paris), got cut, got up and had a chance to hit Montana. I wasn’t trying to put him out of the game or end his career…I could have easily stayed down after I was blocked. But this is big-time football, and big-time players make those plays.”

Rathman said, “[Marshall] was kind of stumbling, then I pushed him, and he went down. I laid on him for a second, then I got up and he started to chase. Great effort on his part… The Giants played great defense.”

Paris said, “I thought [Montana] would get rid of it. I didn’t even think of [Marshall].”

Montana was able to make his way to the post-game podium after the contest to speak to the press, “I still don’t know what happened. I don’t want to sound like a coach, but I have to look at the video. I don’t think it was the initial hit; I think it was the ground. I’m still having a tough time breathing deeply. Even if we had won, I wouldn’t have been able to play next week. The doctors will know more when they see the X-rays tomorrow.”

While not as controversial as a hit on a quarterback, there was a behind-the-scenes story that went mostly unnoticed on Reasons’ momentum-seizing fake punt. San Francisco only had 10 players on the field.

Niner’s special teams coach Lynn Stiles explained, “[Romanowski] got hurt on the previous play. I’m in the process of getting a guy on the field and they snapped the ball. It could have been an automatic. They came right off the field and lined up and our defense was coming off the field. Bill doesn’t normally come out because he’s on the punt team. The trainer came to me and said Bill was out. I turned to one of our players to get him in and he didn’t respond quickly enough, and they snapped it.”

Tillman said, “We were not anticipating the fake. It was a great call. They are a very conservative ball club. You have to realize their tendencies. We didn’t expect that they would gamble. We thought that they would punt the ball and let their defense work for them.”

“Well, we should’ve expected that too,” Walter said. “A couple of years ago [in the 1986 Divisional Playoff] I remember they lined up against us in field goal formation. Then they spread out and completed a pass to Mark Bavaro. What was kind of unnerving this time was watching a big linebacker run down the field pointing to where he was going.”

Siefert additionally cited the exuberance of the previous play, “You get in that situation, and you’re euphoric because you stopped them [on 3rd down]. I think that’s what happened.”

Lott appreciated the boldness of the call, “When you play a team like this, you can’t make a mistake. You’ve got to play heads-up, solid football. They capitalized. I said before the game that Coach Parcells is one guy who’s gonna roll the dice. You have to have guts and character to pull a fake. It takes more than understanding Xs and Os to win a championship. It takes guys that are willing to take chances.”

Reasons understood the significance of the moment, “I consider that the same as a turnover. We were about to give the ball to them; we kept it and we scored.”

Often unheralded, a kicker stepped into the spotlight with his tremendous contribution under pressure. Teammates and coaches lauded Bahr with praise after the game.

Hostetler relished the anticipation during the game-winning FG drive, “Everybody knew it was right out there on our fingertips. (The huddle) was intense, and everybody was focused. You could tell. It’s a look, it’s a feeling. You can sense it.”

Lawrence Taylor described the huddle before the kick, “I told the guys we have played 18 weeks and had come a long way. Blood, sweat, tears, everything. This is what we came here for – to win. To go to the Super Bowl. It was up to everyone to make sure he made his block.”

Lawrence Taylor

Bahr discussed trying to keep things simple, “I told myself to just take a good swing at it and hope for the best. The wind was swirling here, but I’ll tell you what, it was nowhere swirling as much as it usually does. Once it’s away, there’s nothing you can do. When I first hit the ball, it started drifting left, but I hit it cleanly. I had to wait until the ball got through the uprights until I knew it was good. It did seem to take a while, like an accident when everything seems to go in slow motion.”

Many of the Giants on the sidelines couldn’t watch the deciding play. Johnson said, “We knew it was good when the crowd stopped cheering. All of a sudden, we started hearing chairs folding up. That’s how quiet it was.”

Parcells, who normally was reluctant to extol praise, said, “It was the kick of his life, and that’s why I gave him the game ball.”

Johnson was giddy enough to joke with his kicker in the locker room, “I was telling Matt that he set this whole thing up by missing the first kick, just to make himself look good at the end, when it counted most.”

For the 49ers, there was little left but to lament the lost opportunity to make history.

Jones said, “We came close to doing something that nobody had ever done before. That is something to be proud of. I felt very strongly that we were going to win the Super Bowl this year, but we let it slip away.”

Meanwhile, members of the Giants took personal satisfaction in being the team to stop them.

Erhardt said of the 49ers drive to “three-peat,” “That was starting to get on my nerves. Now, we don’t have to hear it anymore.”

Howard said, “It was our obligation to prevent them from making history. Let some other team set the record, just don’t let the 49ers do it.”

Marshall said, “We left our heart out here last time. We knew we’d be back to recapture it.”

New York danced out of Candlestick Park champions of the NFC with a 15-13 victory and went on to win their second Super Bowl in four years. That game was no less dramatic, only this time it was the Giants desperately attempting to stave off the comeback attempt. Fortunately for New York, Buffalo’s kicker Scott Norwood sent the ball “wide right” of the mark. The debate over which game was more thrilling continues over 30 years later.

But the significance of the NFC Championship reverberated through the decade of the 90s.

Montana never stepped on the playing field in the post-season in a 49er uniform again. He spent the entire 1991 season and all but the final 30 minutes of the 1992 season on injured reserve or the bench as Young was entrenched in the starting quarterback role. Montana then spent the final two seasons of his career with Kansas City.

Two other San Francisco legends also saw their fates change this day. Lott and Craig both headed south to Los Angeles to play for the Raiders in 1991. Craig lasted one season there before spending two seasons as a part-time player in Minnesota. Lott still had a lot in the tank. He was an All Pro his first year in silver and black and remained a full-time starter three more seasons, one with the Raiders and two with the Jets.

The biggest changes for the Giants took place on the sidelines. The masterminds of the 1990 post-season run were both gone before training camp the following summer. Belichick accepted the head coaching job in Cleveland ten days after Super Bowl XXV and Parcells abandoned his post on the sidelines in the middle of May for NBC’s broadcasting booth, citing health concerns.

Those changes went unnoticed for one night at least. Opening the season on Monday Night Football, New York and San Francisco did their absolute best to reenact the previous season’s championship game. The Giants gritty defense held the 49ers in check long enough for Jeff Hostetler to lead another desperation drive to a game-winning Bahr field goal. The final score of 16-14 was poetically similar.

From there, however, both teams’ fortunes sank. The Giants flubbed their way to an 8-8 disappointment . While San Francisco’s 10-6 record was respectable enough, they were on the outside looking in when the playoffs came around.

Regardless of what followed, for most of those who participated in or witnessed that championship game, the memories are vivid and unblemished.

Former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle said, “[The game] was one of the top half-dozen championship games I’ve witnessed.”

Dolphins Coach Don Shula said, “It was great to watch. As dramatic as could be. Purists couldn’t find one better. There was only one touchdown because the defenses were so excellent. I was moved by Jeff Hostetler’s determination and courage, coming back after being hurt to lead the drive to the winning field goal. Matt Bahr’s pressure kick made for one of the best endings ever.”

Former Cowboys Coach Tom Landry said, “It was refreshing to see a close game in the playoffs, but injuries played a crucial part. Joe Montana was hurt so bad he couldn’t get back into action, but when Jeff Hostetler returned, he gave the Giants a big psychological lift at a critical time. The Giants deserve credit. They hung tough until they got the break they needed, the fumble. They deserved to win.”

Oates, who like former teammate Burt finished his career in San Francisco, gleefully remembered, “I was treated pretty good [with the 49ers] because any time they started busting my chops I’d say, ‘do you remember a game back in January of ’91?’. It was the ’94 season but it was amazing, four or five years later, it stung like it happened a month ago. They had their struggles with the Cowboys but that one just killed them.”

Lott said, “It’s by far the toughest loss I’ve ever had.”

Parcells recalled years later, “That’s probably the greatest game I ever coached in. There were a lot of great players in that game. Some on our side and certainly quite a number on San Francisco. I think everyone who played in that game realized that was a very special game. It certainly was for me… Jerry Markbreit was the referee of that game. He told me years later that he was the head referee for [437] games. He told me that was the greatest game he ever officiated.”



“1991 Giants Media Guide”
Ed Croke, 1991, New York Football Giants, Inc.

“1991 Giants Official World Championship Yearbook”
Laura Thorpe, 1991, Woodford Publishing

“The Most Memorable Games In Giants History”
Jim Baker & Bernard M. Corbett, 2010, Bloomsbury

“Super Bowl Monday”
Adam Lazarus, 2011, Taylor Trade Publishing

“Sports Illustrated”
Paul Zimmerman, Rick Riley, 1/28/1991, The Time Inc. Magazine Co.

Historical New York Times and Washington Post searchable archives (via ProQuest)

Historical New York Daily News, Newsday, Bergen Record, The Reporter Dispatch, Oakland Tribune, San Francisco Examiner, Santa Cruz Sentinel and Santa Rosa Press Democrat searchable archives (via

Pro Football Reference
New York Giants Franchise Encyclopedia (

Nov 012017
, New York Giants (August 14, 2015)Justin Pugh

Justin Pugh – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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Center Weston Richburg (concussion), offensive lineman Justin Pugh (back), defensive end Olivier Vernon (ankle), defensive end Kerry Wynn (knee), linebacker B.J. Goodson (ankle), and safety Nat Berhe (calf) did not practice on Wednesday.

Tight end Rhett Ellison (not injury related) was an excused absence.

Wide receiver Sterling Shepard (ankle), defensive tackle Robert Thomas (calf), linebacker Jonathan Casillas (neck), and linebacker Calvin Munson (quad) practiced on a limited basis.

Running back Paul Perkins (ribs) fully practiced.

The New York Giants have signed defensive end Jordan Williams to the 53-man roster from the team’s Practice Squad. The available roster spot was created when cornerback Janoris Jenkins was placed on the Reserve/Suspended List for violating team rules. Williams was originally signed by the New York Jets as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2015 NFL Draft. He has spent time with the Jets (2015) and Miami Dolphins (2015-2016). The Giants signed Williams to the Practice Squad in December 2016.

To fill Williams’ spot on the Practice Squad, the Giants re-signed wide receiver Kalif Raymond to the Practice Squad, one day after they had terminated his Practice Squad contract. The 5’9”, 160-pound Raymond was originally signed by the Denver Broncos after the 2016 NFL Draft. He has spent time with both the Broncos (2016) and New York Jets (2017). Raymond has played in six NFL games. The diminutive Raymond has not caught a pass, but he has returned nine kickoffs (24.7 yards per return) and 16 punts (9.3 yards per return). Raymond was signed to the Giants’ Practice Squad in October 2017.

The transcript of Ben McAdoo’s press conference on Wednesday is available in The Corner Forum while the video is available at

Transcripts and video clips of the media sessions with the following players are available in The Corner Forum and at


The Giants practice on Thursday at 11:20AM. The team’s coordinators and select players will also address the media after practice.

Sep 152017
Steve Spagnuolo, New York Giants (September 10, 2017)

Steve Spagnuolo – © USA TODAY Sports

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Wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. (ankle), right tackle Bobby Hart (ankle), and linebacker Keenan Robinson (concussion) practiced on a limited basis on Friday.

“(Beckham) responded well to treatment,” said Head Coach Ben McAdoo. “He responded well to his work yesterday. Got a little bit more today, but he’s still limited.”

“We’ll take it day to day,” McAdoo said of Hart.

“(Robinson) took the next step in the protocol,” McAdoo said, “and was out here in a yellow jersey, and had a non-contact practice.”

Wide receiver Tavarres King (ankle), defensive tackle Jay Bromley (knee), and cornerback Janoris Jenkins (ankle/hand) fully practiced.

Transcripts and video clips of the media sessions with the following coaches are available in The Corner Forum and at

Transcripts and video clips of the media sessions with the following players are available in The Corner Forum and at


Head Coach Ben McAdoo and select position coaches and players will address the media on Saturday. There is no media availability on Sunday. The Giants play the Detroit Lions at home on Monday night.

Jan 252017

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.


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)

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.”


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)

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)

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)

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)

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.

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.”


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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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 – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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.



“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 102015
Montori Hughes, Indianapolis Colts (November 23, 2014)

Montori Hughes – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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The New York Giants have signed defensive tackle Montori Hughes to the 53-man roster from the team’s Practice Squad. Hughes fills a vacancy created when the Giants put defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins on season-ending Injured Reserve on Tuesday with a torn pectoral muscle that will require surgery.

The Giants signed Hughes to the Practice Squad in September 2015. Hughes was originally drafted in the 5th round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Indianapolis Colts. In his two seasons with the Colts, he played in 16 games with one start. Hughes is a strong, mammoth (6’4”, 350lbs) nose tackle-type lineman who can hold his ground against the double team. He is a decent athlete for his size with some quickness to his game.

The New York Giants have signed defensive Louis Nix and linebacker Nico Johnson to the Practice Squad. Nix and Johnson fill the Practice Squad vacancies created when the team promoted cornerback Tramain Jacobs and and defensive tackle Montori Hughes to the 53-man roster. Jacobs was signed to the 53-man roster last Saturday.

Nix was signed by the Giants after he was waived by the Houston Texans in September 2015. The Giants waived Nix on Saturday to make room for cornerback Tramain Jacobs on the 53-man roster. Nix was originally drafted in the 3rd round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Texans.

Johnson was originally drafted in the 4th round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs waived him in August 2014 and signed him to their Practice Squad. The Bengals signed Johnson to their 53-man roster in October 2014, but waived him in August 2015. The Redskins signed Johnson to their Practice Squad in September, but terminated his contract a month later. Johnson has played in 17 regular-season games with three starts, accruing 22 tackles. Johnson is a big linebacker (6’2”, 249lbs) who plays the run well, but isn’t as adept in pass coverage. He is a hard worker.

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

The audio of Tuesday’s WFAN Radio interview with running back Rashad Jenning’s is available on CBS New York’s website.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Giants’ nine sacks is their lowest total through nine games since team sacks were first compiled in 1963.

The Giants have three rushing touchdowns this season, their lowest total through nine games since they had two in 1996.

The Giants lead the NFL with 21 takeaways, 13 interceptions (tied with two teams), and a plus-12 turnover differential.


The players return to practice on Wednesday to start preparing for Sunday’s game against the New England Patriots.

May 082009
Q&A: Linebacker Carl Banks

Question from Britt in VA: What’s your take on the Giants WR situation? Are we good or do you feel they need to make a move for Braylon Edwards?

Carl Banks: I don’t think one WR is going to make the difference Plaxico Burress made. I think the offense as a collective group of receivers will have to pick up the slack. From there, I would say they have enough talent, especially with the guys they drafted to have a lot of production at the WR position.

Question from Jay in Saratoga: At what point did you know Super Bowl XXI was over? And how did it feel to know you guys did it? Did the magnitude of the accomplishment hit you right away, or did it not really sink in until after the game?

Carl Banks: I would say probably midway through the 3rd quarter we really got the feeling that we were in control of the game and it hit you right away.

Question from chris r & jarrodbunch (combined): How difficult will it be for Sintim to make the transition from SSLB in the 3-4 to SSLB in the 4-3? General thoughts on Sintim? And how much do you expect him to contribute this year?

Carl Banks: It’s a lot easier to go from a 3-4 to a 4-3. The transition should be good because to play a 4-3 doesn’t necessarily require to be on the line of scrimmage every down. The 3-4 you’re on the line with a guy in your face all the time. I don’t give too much in terms of expectations in terms of a rookie coming in. The #1 expectations of any rookie, especially a linebacker is to become a hell of a special teams player out the box. Until I see pads on, it’s hard to really tell. That would be the only thing in terms of expectations I have for now until training camp. Keep in mind, the Giants drafted 2 linebackers last year that should be developing as well.

Question from bxgiants: Eli or Phil Simms in their prime? Why?

Carl Banks: Wow – different time, different era. Love Phil Simms, he’s my guy. That’s who I won with. Love ‘em both, love Eli but Phil Simms is my guy.

Question from Stu: Of these three, who don’t you think makes the final roster this year – Wilkinson, DeOssie, and Blackburn? What’s your take on how Goff is going to do?

Carl Banks: If I had to answer that question today I’d say Wilkinson because he’s yet to fulfill any of his abilities. He’s the most athletic linebacker they have and he fits in their system but he hasn’t showed up in 3 years. Once you have a guy on the roster for 3 years and he hasn’t made an impact, 2 out of the 3 years he had openings and couldn’t make anything of it. Plus he’s hurt all the time so he doesn’t even contribute on special teams. He’ll need training camp to prove otherwise. He’s more athletic and versatile then other 2 but he needs to be on the field to prove it. Goff is a guy who should show more progress in year 2.

Question from Brandon Walsh: What is the biggest hurdle for rookie wide receivers transitioning into the NFL? With the Giants current cast of wide receivers, what do you envision each of their roles being?

Carl Banks: The biggest challenge for a rookie is how to beat press coverage. That’s lesson #1. They’ll see more of that then they did in college. Lesson #2 – they’ll need to learn to run better routes because the timing of the NFL is something most guys haven’t experienced in college on a week in week out basis. What I like about the Giants in the way they develop players is they seem to get better year to year and I see Domenik Hixon becoming an even bigger threat in the offense because he has the ability to get behind defenders. If you look at the Eagles playoff game, he was beating them every time they just couldn’t get him the ball. The other guy who happens to be a personal favorite is Sinorice Moss because he has such deadly speed. He made some great plays in preseason and he gives them another dimension with speed. Steve Smith should take the role of vintage Amani Toomer, great possession receiver and two rookies who knows what their roles will be. Manningham, from all indications, is a guy that’s gonna contribute prominently at WR. They’ll be loaded at WR, maybe overloaded, depending on what a guy like Manningham does.

Question from j_rud: Thanks a lot for taking few minutes to do this. As a rookie linebacker what is the most important thing for Sintim to learn? What could ease or complicate his transition?

Carl Banks: The #1 thing Sintim has to learn as a rookie is he has to be a major contributor on special teams. From there he has to learn to use his hands, the speed of the NFL is so fast. Injury will be the thing that complicates his progression. He’s got to stay healthy.

Question from Dave in Hoboken: You’ve had many great performances in your career. Which game would you say was your favorite when your own personal performance wise?

Carl Banks: Super Bowl XXI

Question from jcn56: Do you think that if Parcells hadn’t bolted after 90 that the Giant roster had another Super Bowl left in it?

Carl Banks: It’s hard to say but I know for a fact we would have an excellent chance to be in the running. I think Ray Handley was a total disaster. He totally disrupted the chemistry and flow of what our team was. We had a defensive coordinator who just thought what we did was OK and wanted to change everything we were doing.

Question from BoldRuler: With Spags leaving and with his departure, he’s taking with him his fiery, excited attitude that the players really loved and responded to. How do you feel the defense will react to Sheridan, who while familiar to them, is a lot more quiet and not nearly as demonstrative?

Carl Banks: Most of the players I speak to on defense really respect Bill Sheridan because he’s a really bright coach. Personally I don’t think they’re gonna lose any creativity on blitz packages and stuff that the fans have gotten used to. Not only was he a big contributor to that under Spags he was a big guy learning under Nick Saban, who dreams blitzes in his sleep. They won’t lack creativity when it comes to bringing pressure.

Question from SwirlingEddie: How is the role of the linebacker different in today’s NFL, if at all, from when you were playing?

Carl Banks: Not much – it depends on the defensive system and what the demands are. When you look at a 3-4 team like the Steelers or pats, it’s almost identical to the type of defense we played.

Question from Danny Kanell: Who is your favorite teammate you ever played with?

Carl Banks: We were a very close knit defense, a close knit team. It’s pretty hard to pick favorites. Pepper Johnson was probably my closest friend, obviously I loved playing with LT who wouldn’t? Jim Burt was probably my partner in crime. If you had a fight you’d want Jim Burt standing by your side.

Question from D Student17: Who is one player on this defense that would have fit right in with the ’86 D?

Carl Banks: Justin Tuck would fit in the 86 defense. Corey Webster. Barry Cofield. Osi. Antonio Pierce.

Question from micky: Who was the toughest, or one you had rough time against, opposing player you faced in your career?

Carl Banks: Barry Sanders.

Question from LT56: What are your thoughts on Eli Manning and his ability to complete passes in the winds at Giants Stadium ?

Carl Banks: All of that was a bit overrated. I think Eli has a strong arm and he’ll function well at Giants Stadium. The conditions in the playoffs were a little unique but I don’t think he’ll have that big of a problem. Learning experience.

Question from Phil in LA: Ever get tired of hearing Joe Theisman whine about what you guys did to him? He blames you for a whole separate injury than the Monday night misfortune.

Carl Banks: I think it’s a compliment to our defense. That means we were doing our job!

Question from AFNavy: Regarding your career, do you have one regret that if you could, you would go back and change and why?

Carl Banks: No regrets because it wasn’t my choice to leave the Giants.

Question from Randy in CT: Love hearing you on Sirius (kiss-ass). Is there any benefit to having your Defensive Coordinator on the sideline versus up in the booth. Some here are worried that Sheridan will be up in the booth. My take is do whatever works best for you.

Carl Banks: I think it’s a benefit to have your coordinator on the sideline because he gets to hear directly from the players and vice versa and he can draw up the adjustments. I’ve never been a big fan of defensive coordinators being up in the press box.

Question from Justin in PA: Who’s was the toughest player you ever played against? Who was your favorite quarterback to sack?

Carl Banks: Probably Ron Jaworski or Troy Aikman were my favorite QB’s to sack.

Question from Big Blue ’56: What was the reaction on the sideline to Burt’s less than classy hit on Hostetler during the ’91 NFC Championship game? As a fan, I was incensed.

Carl Banks: It was clean. We weren’t overly angry, we knew Jim Burt was a tough guy he was going to be a fighter for whatever team he was on.

Question from Vin_R: Do you think Pierce gets the recognition he deserves and is there a LB on this team you see taking his place when he’s gone?

Carl Banks: I think Antonio gets the recognition he deserves amongst his peers. I don’t think the fans have a great enough appreciation for his football IQ.

Question from cobaltdap: How do you feel about the league not giving the Giants the last regular season home game for Giants Stadium?

Carl Banks: Really never thought about it, I guess that’s just how the schedule played out.

Question from KP: What team was the toughest to compete against during your era? I know you faced a lot of great offensive teams during your career but just curious on who was the most challenging in terms of scheme and talent?

Carl Banks: The Eagles were our toughest opponent but the Redskins were probably the bigger challenge.

Question from G_V_P 4 MVP: Have you ever witnessed an O-line that stayed and played together for so many seasons like the one Coughlin has now? And what are the secrets for them being intact together for so long? And how unusual is it to have two Pro Powl DE’s together at the same time as Osi and Tuck. I can remember going nearly a decade just trying to get someone on the other side of Strahan.

Carl Banks: The Redskins o-line and Giants o-line when I played were together. The secrets are they’re staying healthy and the contracts were in place. It took a while to build that offensive line.  As far as two pro bowl DE’s, it’s unusual for a team to have that much talent at the DE position. It’s a tribute to both the players and the coaches.

Question from johnn48: Do you think the Giants defense is better with Kiwi at DE or OLB?

Carl Banks: I think he’s a better fit at DE, that’s where he’s a natural fit.

Question from trainmaster: You had the most dominant game I can recall as a strongside linebacker versus the 49ers in the playoffs during the 1986 season. Can a strongside linebacker in a 4-3 be as dominant, especially against the run as in a 3-4? Thoughts on Clint Sintim?

Carl Banks: Linebackers can be very dominant out of a 4-3 because often times they’re not blocked, so I think it’s up to the individual to how dominant they are in any defensive scheme.

Question from lono81: You’ve been through a Bill Parcells camp and watched a Coughlin camp. Which one is/was harder?

Carl Banks: Not much difference. I think more than the physical aspect, what’s tough is the mental aspects of the training camps. They’re very demanding of your mental alertness.

Question from BBI4Life: With all the talk about steroids in baseball, to your knowledge was it a big problem in football when you played? Is it still a big problem today?

Carl Banks: Steroids were very present when I played. I knew most of the players used steroids. They were very prevalent in the era I played but I don’t think it’s as much a problem now because of the testing methods in place. For those who want to know if I ever took steroids, the answer is no. I played at 245 lbs and the most I ever benched was 365, which was very light. They had defensive backs that lifted more than I did.

Question from bigbluefan92: When you watch the old games from the 80′s, the game seemed a lot more physical than it does today as far as what you could get away with. How do you think the physicality of today’s game compares to the physicality in your era?

Carl Banks: I think it’s all relative the physicality of the game. The biggest change is how they protect the QB. Other than that, players adjust to the rule changes. I played up to 1996, so most of the rules in place today pretty much started back then. You can still play a physical game you just have to know how to work the rules.

Question from chris r: How different (and more difficult) are the coverage responsibilities going to be for Sintim switching to a 4-3?

Carl Banks: I would say first of all, lower your expectations. Let’s not put him in the starting lineup day 1. He’s coming into a defense totally different then what he played at in college. If he comes in with an open mind he’ll learn it, if he doesn’t he’ll have a problem. NFL coverages are always different then what you play in college anyway.

Question from mort chrisenson: You made the team of the decade for the 1980′s and you were the best 3/4 strongside LB that most people ever saw yet you have never received any consideration for the Hall of Fame. Do you think you ever will get any consideration and do you feel you belong?

Carl Banks: I really don’t think about the Hall of Fame that much. I know I had a career, I won a lot of football games and I know I was the best that I did. I played alongside the greatest player to ever play linebacker and lived up to his standards, my career has been fulfilled.

Question from Wonderphil11: In your opinion what played the biggest factor in the playoff loss to Philly? Was it the lack of Plaxico or the defense being a bit banged up and not having the same rotation up front as in the ’07 Super Bowl run?

Carl Banks: The biggest problem was lack of execution. The Giants had many opportunities to take control of the game and they really didn’t execute.

Question from adam XLII: Who is the present day Carl Banks? In other words, what current NFL player do you think compares the most to you in style and attitude?

Carl Banks: I’m not sure – I have a lot of linebackers I love to watch play. Patrick Willis, all of the Ravens linebackers, Mike Vrabel had a similar style to me. Love the Chargers linebackers but I don’t know if there’s a linebacker, not a knock on the guys today, but a guy who can line up over a TE who a coach can say don’t let him gain a yard. You have to have a certain mentality to be a run stopper and play the pass. What I did, I think I was the best ever outside of Jack Ham and Jack Ham taught me.

Question from Motley Blue: Did you get a chance to speak with Bill Belichick after Super Bowl 42? Did he give you any insight or reaction about the game that he normally wouldn’t share through the media channels? Also, did you or any of your former teammates have any mixed emotions about Super Bowl 42?

Carl Banks: I got a chance to speak to him the night before the game and he was very concerned about all the things the Giants can do defensively. He said if the Pats play the way they did last game of the regular season, he didn’t think that would be good enough to beat the Giants in the Super Bowl.

Question from Paulie Walnuts: When you got drafted, I was excited because here was a guy my same age getting drafted by the Giants. You were a one man gang over there in the 86 playoffs. My question is, you were incredible against the run, but what set you apart was your ability to take on and take away the tight end?  Can you describe how you did this and what techniques that you used that set you apart?

Carl Banks: I think being able to take a TE out of the passing game it really comes down to studying what they do best and knowing what moves they like so you can counter those. I studied hard I was a student of the game which is why I was able to have success against the run and the pass.

Question from PetesHereNow: A three-part question if you could: What’s the hardest you’ve ever been hit in the NFL? Who was the recipient of the hardest hit you’ve ever delivered? If you could strap it on one more time, what team would you like to face and what player would you like to face the most?

Carl Banks: Hardest hit and hardest I been hit was one player, Hershel Walker. He was like a building to run into.  If I could play one more time, probably Dallas.

Question from Anakim: Carl, how often do you keep in touch with the other 1986 and 1990 Giants players, especially the Linebackers like Harry Carson, Gary Reasons, and Pepper Johnson?

Carl Banks: I talk to Harry probably every other week, I talk to Pepper every other day and I seldom speak to Gary Reasons.

Question from Umenyiora72: XXV wide right – did you think he would make it? 47-yarder on grass to win a Super Bowl is no chippie. Was that feeling different than XXI where you had it wrapped up in the 3rd quarter?

Carl Banks: Definitely a different feeling. I was too exhausted to know whether I thought he could make it, I just hoped that he didn’t.

Carl Banks: I have to run. Thanks it’s been a lot of fun. I’ll try to do another one in a month or two. Thanks!