Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Thirty Years Ago Today, the Giants Won Super Bowl XXI

Super Bowl XXI - New York Giants 39, Denver Broncos 20. Played on January 25, 1987 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. Phil Simms 22 25 268 3 0, Joe Morris 20 67 1, Mark Bavaro 4 51 1, Phil McConkey 2 50 1, John Elway 22 37 304 1 1, Vance Johnson 5 121 1, Gerald Willhite 4 19, Eric Dorsey 1.0, Leonard Marshall 2.0, George Martin 1.0, Freddie Gilbert 0.5, Ken Woodard 0.5, Stadium Rose Bowl, MVP Phil Simms, Favorite Giants by 9.5, National anthem Neil Diamond, Halftime show "Salute to Hollywood's 100th Anniversary" with Southern California high school drill teams and dancers, Attendance 101,063, Network CBS, Announcers Pat Summerall and John Madden, Nielsen ratings 45.8, est. 87.2 million viewers, Market share 66, Cost of 30-second commercial US$600,000

Finally, I was pulling for a winner. And it was not just my favorite of the two Super Bowl participants, but my favorite team winning the Super Bowl, period. I had been waiting for this one for a long, long time. The Giants had been getting better and better for years, and by the 1985 season, they had received a lot of attention as one of the up and coming teams. They got blow out in the playoffs by the Chicago Bears, although nobody fared particularly well against Chicago in those playoffs that year. But the Giants fought, and were planting seeds for the championship year that was to come.

In 1986, the Giants would finally have their turn on top. It did not start out very well, as the Giants lost on the road in Dallas, before righting the ship with a convincing win against explosive San Diego. They then had to pound out wins on the road against the Raiders (still considered an elite team at the time), a win at home against the Saints after spotting New Orleans a 17-0 lead, and then a tough road win at St. Louis, which was still at that time the home of the football Cardinals. New York got their fifth straight win with a blowout victory against the Eagles, but then suffered their second defeat in Seattle. That was to be their last loss of the season, as it turned out.

It was not obvious at that point that the Giants were going to be as successful as they would end up being. After losing on the road in Seattle, they returned back to Giants Stadium to take on Washington, who happened to be in first place in the NFC East at that point. Dallas was tied with New York for second place, and after the Giants beat Washington on the same night that the Amazing Mets won the 1986 World Series, there was a three way tie for the top spot in the NFC East. New York and Washington would go on massive winning streaks the rest of the way, but the second meeting between them would be in Washington. Dallas, in the meantime, would fade away, although that was not obvious at the time.

The Giants would help to make it happen by beating the Cowboys, 17-14, at the Meadowlands, and then followed that up with a victory over the Eagles in Philadelphia by that same 17-14 score. The G-Men were 8-2, when they came to what many feel was the turning point of that season. It happened in Minnesota, and the Giants looked destined to lose their third game of the season. Down 20-19, the Giants were desperately trying to keep their drive alive, hoping to get into field goal range, but the Vikings should have stopped them and iced the game. But somehow, the Giants kept the drive alive, converting on 4th down and 17, finding ways to keep things going and, yes, eventually getting that field goal to win it on the last play of the game, keeping pace with Washington in the first place tie.

By this point, the Giants were again beginning to get attention, although they still had some very tough games ahead of them. Yes, they were 9-2, but that was not even good enough to have sole possession of first place in the NFC East. Hell, the Giants did not even have the best record of teams who called Giants Stadium home, as the Jets had the best record in the league at that point at 10-1. A New York, New York Super Bowl did not seem like such a laughable notion. In fact, the Giants were still tied with Washington, Chicago, and Denver for the second best record in the league, and the Broncos were up next! In a tough contest at the Meadowlands, the G-Men squeaked by Denver for a 19-16 victory, and were on their way to California to face another elite team in the 49ers on Monday Night Football. Once again, New York spotted an opponent a 17-0 lead, and NFL fans surely had to be wondering why the Giants had received so much attention. But they proved their worth by mounting a strong comeback in the second half, eventually earning a 21- 17 win.

That set up the big NFC East divisional showdown between the Giants and Washington at RFK Stadium, with the winner likely taking the division title. The Giants had not lost since the Seattle game, while Washington had not lost since that Giants game the following week. New York had a six game winning streak, and Washington had a five game winning streak. To this point, New York had basically won games by slim margins, but this was the game where that changed. Despite being on the road, the Giants won a tough, physical game at Washington, and they did it convincingly, holding a 24-7 lead in the final quarter before allowing a touchdown that made the 24-14 final score look closer than the game actually had been.

Now at 12-2, the Giants were in the driver's seat. Win out their remaining two games, both against losing teams, and the road to the Super Bowl would go through the Meadowlands. And the Giants left no doubt, soundly beating the St. Louis Cardinals 27-7 to clinch the NFC East, then going on a scoring blitz to beat the Packers, 55-24, to earn home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Their first test came against their old rivals, the San Francisco 49ers. Many NFL experts expected the 49ers to win, despite the brilliance of New York's season. And for one brief moment, when Montana completed a long pass to a wide open Jerry Rice, who had nobody between him and the end zone, it looked like that just might be the case. But inexplicably, he fumbled the ball, and the Giants recovered. From that point on, it was all New York, as they buried San Francisco under an avalanche of points. it was 28-3 at halftime, and the Giants stopped trying to put points on the board after making it 49-3 in the third quarter. That also happened to be the final score, and the Giants prepared to host Washington in the NFC Championship. They were not able to score quite as many points, but they won by shut out anyway, 17-0, to earn their first ever trip to the Super Bowl as a franchise.

As with each opponent in the playoffs, the Giants faced a familiar opponent in the playoffs: the Denver Broncos, with their hot young quarterback, John Elway. Early on, Denver was up and running, scoring on their first drive to take a 3-0 lead. When Phil Simms found Zeke Mowatt in the end zone to give the Giants a 7-3 lead, the Broncos quickly answered, as Elway led his team down the field, and ran it in for a touchdown and a 10-7 lead. It was one of the most entertaining first quarters in Super Bowl history.

In the second quarter, the Broncos missed opportunities to more or less take control of the game. They were stopped after the Giants defense had a goal line stand, and missed two field goals. When the New York defense caught Elway in the end zone for a safety, cutting the Broncos lead to 10-9 by halftime. There was a sense that things were about to completely fall apart for Denver.

And indeed, that was exactly what happened. The Giants took the ball in their first drive and were stopped by Denver, and then set up for a punt. But it was a fake, and backup quarterback Jeff Rutledge completed the pass to keep the drive alive. Not much later, Simms found Mark Bavaro in the end zone, and the Giants had a 16-10 lead. They added to it later in the third with a field goal for a 19-10 lead, and when star running back Joe Morris ran into the end zone late in the third quarter for a 26-10 lead, the game was starting to fall out of reach for Denver.

In the end, the Giants scored 30 points in the second half, a Super Bowl record. The game was decided long before it was officially over, with the final score of 39-20 in favor of the Giants, who won their first championship since 1956 - a full 30 years! It would not be the last Super Bowl title for the Giants, and in fact, it was far from the most exciting, in terms of suspense. Yet still, this was the first time that this franchise had won a Super Bowl, and so it continues to hold a special place in the hearts of Giants fans, like myself. And this was the team that started the now traditional Gatorade baths for championship winning coaches, making them memorable in yet another way, as well. An incredible year!

I was in junior high school at the time, a big 7th grader. Little by little, my childhood was starting to be a thing of the past, as my peers moved towards more adult interests. Boys and girls were noticing one another, and music figured much more prominently. So did clothes and hair styles, while toys and cartoons and such suffered diminishing attention by us. Junior high school was closer to being like high school than elementary school, and we clearly were well on our way to the latter stages of what could still pass for childhood.

Here are some of the major events that took place in 1987, the year this Super Bowl was played. The world's population was 5.018 billion people. An Iraqi missile killed 37 Americans on the US frigate Stark. Klaus Barbie, aged 73, the chief of the Gestapo, was convicted to a life sentence in France. Rudolf Hess, the former third man in Nazi Germany, died. Prime Minister Thatcher won a third term in Great Britain.


This is how the field would have looked had Washington and Cleveland been successful in the Championship Games:

Super Bowl XXI logo and team helmets:

Super Bowl Rings:

Super Bowl rings
Image courtesy of Ryan Schreiber Flickr page - Super Bowl rings:

Creative Commons License:

New York Giants Super Bowl XXI Championship Ring Presentation Box

Denver Broncos AFC Championship Ring Presentation Box

1 comment: