Golden Football Magazine
NFL Championship Games
This series covers the history of the NFL through the prism of its yearly championship games.
Note: The gray boxes contain asides that provide interesting material but could be skipped without losing the continuity of the article.
Super Bowl XXI - New York Giants vs Denver Broncos: 2nd Half
The Giants were drained from the heat, but that would be less of a problem as the sun set during the second half.
Simms: "We had a nasty, ugly, old locker room, and I went in and got a drink of water and thought how hot it was. I found a little bench and laid down for about a minute or two and then sat up. I don't remember coaches telling us anything. We weren't a big halftime team. Our coaches never yelled at us or gave us pep talks."
Lawrence Taylor recalled that the defense was doing too much thinking. "We were worried about the heat, about the kind of shoes we were wearing. We were playing finesse defense. In the second half, we just went out and knocked their heads off."
DE Leonard Marshall: "We were trailing at halftime, 10-9, and yet we felt really good because the Broncos had played their best half of the season, doing almost everything right, and they were only winning by one point. We had played pretty badly, letting their offense get away with too many things. And still all they were ahead was just one point."
G Brad Benson: "Even though we were behind at the half, there wasn't a feeling in the locker room that we needed to make major changes. More than anything, we had to take charge of the game, as we had done in the playoff wins against the Niners and Redskins. We just came out as a team and said, 'If we want this game, let's take control right now.'"
Meanwhile, the Broncos were not down after their missed opportunities in the first half. Rather, they were angry that they weren't further ahead. Unfortunately they would be without injured LB Tom Jackson in the second half of what would be his last game before retiring.
Broncos LB Karl Mecklenburg: "We were pretty confident. Things were going okay, and we felt the Giants would settle into their normal pattern, and we'd be right there waiting for them. So we did not make any major adjustments at halftime. It was interesting because we were going, 'Well, a tiger is till going to have his stripes'–the Giants are going to to back and do what they did all year [run first]. They never did."
DB Louis Wright recalled: "We usually got 15 minutes in the locker room, but in the Super Bowl we got 30. Only no one told us. We did our routine-met with our position coaches, got a talk from Coach, then charged out toward the tunnel. But the security guards held us back saying: 'You have another 15 minutes.' That killed our vibe. We sat in the locker room and waited and waited. ... It was the longest 15 minutes of my life."
As the teams came back onto the field for the second half, the PA system played "New York, New York." "I got goose pimples," says McConkey. Meanwhile, Dan Reeves seethed even more after the mixup on the player introductions before the game favored the Giants.

The Giants took control of the game in the third quarter.

Quarter 3

Rouson returned Karlis's kick 22y to the NY 37. The Giants moved smartly from there to their second touchdown as Simms went five-for-five. Morris ran for three, then two. In between, Simms threw to Carthon in the right flat for four, which made it 4th-and-one. When Phil reached the sideline, Parcells told him, "Stay close." The punt team came on the field. "That's what it looked like from their sideline," said C Bart Oates. "But instead of the punt team, we ran out a bunch of big backup offensive linemen." Instead of a blocking back, they sent out backup QB Jeff Rutledge. Landetta went back in punt formation with Rutledge as his protector. John Madden told the TV audience to watch for a fake punt. After surveying the defense, Rutledge moved under center. One of his options was to take a delay-of-game penalty. He could also try to draw the Broncos offside. Even Oates wasn't sure what he would do. "I waited and waited and waited. I kept looking up at the clock. All they had over the middle were a couple of linebackers. We had two guards and a center to block them." When the Broncos didn't shift out of their base 3-4 defense, Rutledge took the snap and went through the center-right guard gap for 2y to keep the drive alive.
Reeves on the fake punt: "They faked a punt against us the first time we played this season. So we kept our defense on the field this time expecting something like that. But he still got the first down. It was a calculated gamble by Parcells. We had worked on it all week, too, yet they executed it and made a first down."
"That was a big play," said Simms. "It gave us a chance to move down the field and score a touchdown right at the start of the second half, and we played with extreme confidence after that–offensively, of course, but defensively even more so. We really started putting a lot of pressure on their offense, and that's where the game turned. Looking back, if Jeff had been stopped in our territory, that could have been a tremen­dous, tremen­dous turning point in the game, no doubt. I didn't at all question the decision to go for the first down. The rap on us was that we were a conservative team, but that was only because we were one of the few teams that could actually run the football. In truth, we were an aggressive team, and our coach was not afraid to take chances. Parcells would always say, 'This game is not for those who are faint of heart. You can't be worried about failure. If you fail, all right, there'll be another chance.'"
Simms returned and completed passes to Morris for 12 and Rouson for 23. On 1st-and-10 from the 17, Morris ran around the right side for 3y. Simms tossed to Carthon for one, then hit Bavaro down the middle just before he ran into the end zone for a 13y touchdown. Allegre converted. Giants 16 Broncos 10 (10:08)
S Dennis Smith had Bavaro well covered. "I probably shouldn't have thrown it," admitted Simms, "but I saw this little opening."

Joe Morris carries.
Denver started from the 14 after Lang's 13y return. Martin deflected Elway's pass, but John came back with a 5y throw retreating from pressure to Johnson in the right flat. When the third down pass to Willhite was underthrown, Horan punted 42y to McConk­ey, who zipped 25y to the Denver 36. The Giants' game plan said to throw the ball early to loosen up the defense, then run Morris in the second half. So he carried three straight plays for a net gain of 14 to the 22. Following Rouson's 1y carry, Simms threw over the middle to Manuel for a first down at the 12. Carthon ran for two, and Simms gained five evading the pass rush. After a Giants timeout, Morris gained just one. So Allegre banged through a 21y field goal. Giants 19 Broncos 10 (3:54) Denver had come from behind in their last four wins, including the miracle 95y drive against Cleveland. Could they make it five in a row? From the 20, Elway threw three straight passes, completing just one for 8y to Willhite. So the Giants were right back in business on their 32 after the punt.
It took only five plays for the Giants to extend their lead to 16. After Morris gained two, Simms hit Manuel for 17 to the Denver 49.

Lionel Manuel down right sideline after catching Simms's pass.
After Morris's 4y gain, Simms called for a flea-flicker. He pitched back to Morris, who ran forward and lateraled back to Phil for a throw to McConkey running wide open across the field from right to left. CB Mark Haynes made the touchdown-saving tackle as re­ceiver Phil landed head over heels at the one. That simply delayed the inevitable as Morris ran around the right side untouched into the end zone. Giants 26 Broncos 10 (0:24)
Simms on the flea flicker: "The play comes in, and I think to myself, 'My God, we're gonna win the Super Bowl!' It was the perfect time and situation to call it." It was Phil's last completion in an eight-for-eight third period. Simms said later, "When we com­pleted the pass, and I saw him get tackled, I knew the game was over. I knew we'd get the touchdown, and they weren't going to score three times against our defense."
McConkey had an interesting story. He played football for the Naval Academy. After completing his mandatory five-year career as a helicopter pilot, he decided to try pro football despite weighing only 160lbs. He contacted Steve Belichick, Navy's backfield coach, who timed him at 4.4 seconds in the 40y dash. Belichick contacted his son, Bill, the defensive coordinator of the Giants. The team signed him as a 27-year-old rookie–the first Navy Midshipman to enter the NFL after his military service since Roger Staubach in 1969. After two seasons as a receiver and kick returner, Phil was released by the Giants before the '86 season and signed with Green Bay. After four games, the Giants gave the Packers a fourth-round draft choice to get Phil back. He played in the remaining 12 games and playoffs. "It was a great feeling to be wanted by a team that had let you go," said McConkey. "It was so satisfying to be able to come back to the Giants and contribute and be with my buddies where it started." On the completion to the one, he said: "We practiced it (the flea flicker) a lot. Bobby Johnson would go down the middle of the field, and I'd cut across coming in motion from left to right. And I'd run right to left as Simms handed to Morris. I will never forget the Denver secon­dary. I never felt such helter-skelter. They were caught completely off guard, totally going for the run, which was our normal nature. It was bedlam in the secondary and too late for them to recover. I was wide open the second I headed upfield. As I caught the ball and turned up, I saw a wide open field. I thought I was going to get in. I saw the goal line and thought, 'My God, I'm going to get a touchdown in the Super Bowl.'" Then he saw Haynes coming in low. "I tried to hurdle him, but he got enough of me to send me into a somersault. When I landed, I knew I was on the one. I wanted the score. It was something I had dreamed about since I was a kid." It wouldn't take long for Mc­Conkey to bury his disappointment at not scoring on the play.
Parcells warned his defense to stay fired up and not start celebrating too soon. They heeded his words. After a touchback on the kickoff, Martin knocked the ball out of Elway's hand. John recovered and tried to escape only to be dropped by Marshall for a loss of 11. The Broncos gained only 2y during the third quarter with nary a first down. End Q3: Giants 26 Broncos 10

Leonard Marshall reaches for Elway.
Quarter 4

A false start moved the Broncos back half the distance to the four. Elway then threw from the end zone deep down the middle for Mark Jackson only to have Patterson intercept at the Denver 35. He was tackled back on the 42 and another 10y was tacked on for an illegal block on the return.

Elway throws from his end zone.
The Giants offense continued to be unstoppable, driving 52y in six plays. DE Rulon Jones dropped Morris for no gain before Simms fired to Robinson down the left sideline for 36y to the 16.

Stacy Robinson runs to the Denver 16.
Joe found the going tough again, gaining only one. So Simms threw to Bavaro in the end zone. Louis Wright, running with his back to the quarterback, grabbed the receiver and was called for interference to put the ball on the one. Wright came back and stopped Morris for no gain. Then Gilbert and LB Ken Woodard sacked Simms for a loss of five. Then Phil got a break when his pass to Bavaro in a crowd in the end zone bounced off Bavaro's hands into the anxious arms of McConkey running behind him for six points. Giants 33 Broncos 10 (10:56)

Phil McConkey catches the deflection off Mark Bavaro.
It was fitting that McConkey caught the deflected pass from Bavaro. Mark, "the silent strong man," and Phil, "who was definitely the most emotional player on the offense" according to Simms, "were the best of friends. They were the perfect match because McConkey did enough talking for two people."
McConkey recalled the play. "The play was called 'Flood Left, 83 Divide.' Bavaro was supposed to go upfield, and I'd come underneath him, going across the field. I remember lining up, and without Simms motioning me, I was thinking to myself, 'What the hell do I do here? So when the ball is snapped, I just make a diagonal route to go under Mark. Phil got rid of it quickly, and I think Mark was double covered. Frankly, it was so quick I don't think he was ready for it. I hadn't even come across yet. Every other time we ran that, I was clear of him to the other wide. Turns out I was lucky to be where I was at just the right time. It deflected off him when he got sandwiched between two defenders. I'll never forget the sensation of that ball tumbling end over end. It was like I was a little boy back in Buffalo catching snowflakes in my mouth. The sense memory to this day is so acute that I can see the grains on the football, and the logo is clear as day."
McConkey leaped into the arms of Bavaro, who told him, "I've got to take care of my friends."The navy veteran, who had fallen short of a touchdown earlier by one yard, took the touchdown ball to the sideline with him. Phil recalled, "I was pretty much out of my mind at that point. I was somewhere else. It was all an absolute white, light blur after it had happened. All you can think about is every ball you've ever caught, every pushup you've ever done. You've done it for one goal: To be the best."
Oates: "What I liked was we didn't sit on the ball. At times during the season, we had gone conservative when we got ahead, but that day everybody was thinking the same way: Let's carry it through to the end."
Bell fumbled Allegre's kickoff hit Bell on the foot at the 10 and bounced to the 16 where Joey Hackett fell on the ball. Running his no-huddle offense, Elway led a scoring drive, starting with five straight completions: Johnson for 10, Willhite on a middle screen for four, 16 to Jackson on a scramble, five to Willhite, and 11 more to Jackson on a forward deflection. On 1st-and-10 from the NY 38, Sewell gained 12 around left end on Denver's first running play of the half, and Willhite got six. After an incompletion, Elway ran a draw for five and a first down at the 15. But Banks tackled Sewell for a 5y loss before Elway scrambled for eight and then one. On 4th-and-six, Reeves inexplicably settled for Karlis's 28y field goal. Giants 33 Broncos 13 (6:01)
The Giants were ready for the onside kick, Bobby Johnson covering it at the Denver 46. Rouson scampered around the right side for 18, then gained three to the left. After Carthon gained one, Simms ran a bootleg around the left side for 22y to the two. Ottis Anderson, an eight-year veteran who came to Giants from the Cardinals during the season, took it in from there. Allegre missed the extra point. Giants 39 Broncos 13 (3:18)
Simms finished the game without calling a single audible.
Denver made the final score more respectable with a 69y touchdown that started with Willhite gaining 11 on a draw play to the 31. Then John threw three straight times to Willhite, completing only the first one for 11y to the NY 47. Sidestepping the rush, Elway connected with Johnson down the middle for the touchdown. Giants 39 Broncos 20
Johnson: "I was really frustrated because I wish I had gotten the ball more. When I scored the touchdown, there was no excitement. I walked off the field with my head down. There really was no cheering in the stands. I did hold onto the ball because I knew this was a moment I would never forget, but I knew it was too late for us to come back."
After Mowatt recovered the onside kick at the Denver 44, Parcells sent in Rutledge at quarterback and 11-year veteran Tony Galbreath at running back. Tony gained six and after the two-minute warning, six more for a first down. Rutledge knelt down for a loss, but Denver called its first timeout. So Parcells went back to straight football. Galbreath gained seven. Timeout Denver. Fletcher dropped Tony for a loss of two. Timeout Denver. With the ball on the 28, the Giants passed up a chance to kick a field goal as Rutledge ran a bootleg for a loss of one to turn the ball over on downs.
Giants NG Jim Burt had started the tradition during the season of dumping Gatorade on Parcells in the last minutes of each victory. As the minutes ticked down in the Super Bowl, Jim finagled his five-year-old son onto the sideline, where he planned to hoist him on his shoulders at the final gun. Since Parcells would be wary of Burt, Harry Carson borrowed a security guard's yellow jacket to disguise himself so that he could sneak up on Bill with the Gatorade.
Eventually, both Parcells and Simms got ice bucket baths.
"I actually got Coach twice with the Gatorade," recalled Carson. "In most clips of the game, you see Coach standing there on the sideline as I dunk him from behind. But if you look closely, you can see that he is already shivering a bit and his sweater is already wet. I had actually gotten him about two minutes earlier. ... Little did I know that on the television broadcast, John Madden was diagramming the whole thing like it was a play with X's and O's."
Ted Kubiak came in at quarterback and threw four straight hurry-up completions: 9y to WR Clint Sampson down the middle, then five to Sewell, 23 to Watson, and 11 to Sampson with the receiver stepping out of bounds each time. From the NY 23, Kubiak tried to pass again, but rookie DE Eric Dorsey sacked him for a loss of six.
The Giants could finally celebrate the franchise's first NFL Championship since 1956.

Harry Carson in security guard's jacket douses Coach Parcells.
The Super Bowl MVP award went to Phil Simms for his incredible performance: 22 of 25 for 268y and three touchdowns, including 10 of 10 in the second half.
G Brad Benson: "I was glad Phil was named MVP, and I was proud when he shared the award with the offensive line."
Simms: "Looking back at a lot of games that year and at the Super Bowl, I realize that nothing bothered me. I was so confident and focused. If the bigness of the Super Bowl helped me, it was that in the week leading up to it, I was so strong-willed that I allowed nothing to get in the way of football. The other thing is that I was not afraid of making a mistake or being intercepted even though it was a big game. Under Bill, we had been taught to play hard, not worry about mistakes, and talk about winning only in the last couple of minutes."
Denver Defensive Coordinator Joe Collier said years later: "(Simms) was a hot quarterback that day. He just couldn't miss. We were a big zone team. Always had been. Ron Erhardt devised a real good game plan against our type of defense. They found the holes and executed very well. He was the big difference in the game. It was one of the best performances I have ever seen."
Mecklenburg: "We went into the Super Bowl with the book on New York being that they were going to be very situational when it came time as to running or throwing the ball. We got into the Super Bowl, and they turned their plans upside down. It was amazing that they get all the way to the Super Bowl doing things one way, and once there they change. It was a brilliant coaching job by Parcells to convince his players to take advantage of our tendency to overplay. Whatever your tendency was, we were going to adjust and overload that tendency. And anytime you overload, you give up something. So we played that whole game out of position."
Watch the game ...

Brad Benson

Karl Mecklenburg

Louis Wright

Jeff Rutledge

Raul Allegre

Mark Bavaro after this TD reception.

Elway and Taylor

Maurice Carthon blocks for Joe Morris.

Haynes upends McConkey at the one

George Martin

McConkey celebrates his touchdown with his friend Bavaro.

McConkey runs to the sideline with the ball.

Mark Jackson

Vance Johnson

Lee Rouson

Ken Woodard

Drenched Parcells carried off.

Reeves greets Parcells.

Joe Collier

Final statistics
  • Time of possession: Giants34:39 Broncos 25:21
  • First downs: Giants 24 Broncos 23
  • Rushing: Giants 38-136 Broncos 19-52
  • Passing: Giants 25-22-0 Broncos 41-26-1
  • Return yardage: Giants 6-71 Broncos 6-93
  • Fumbles-Lost: Giants 0-0 Broncos 2-0
  • Penalties: Giants 6-48 Broncos 4-28
  • Punting average: Giants 3-46.0 Broncos 2-41.0
  • Attendance: 101,063


GiantsLocker Room

  • Coach Parcells: "I think this dispels all myths about Phil Simms for the last time. He quarterbacked as good a game as ever has been played." He continued, "I know one thing. We buried all those ghosts today. They are all gone. This is a good young team, and if they don't get big-headed, they can be just as good in the future. ... My guys got good work ethics and are reliable. I hope this will separate them from all the good teams before. I think we will be competitive for a while."
  • Phil Simms trotted off the field holding one finger in the air. "I told everybody, 'I got it today.' I was throwing the ball real well. We had something to prove. People thought our receivers couldn't be a part of this game. We talked about it all week. We were going to come out running, and we were going to see if they could cover us. The game plan was terrific. In the first half, we moved it every time. We just had a breakdown a couple of times. We stayed with the same stuff, and we just got it going. When you get it going, it's just hard to stop." He continued, "When people talked about us this week, they usually mentioned our defense or Joe Morris. When they talked about Denver, they talked about John Elway. No, it didn't bother me. I didn't have that much pressure on me." He did say in the rush of victory, "This makes everything worth all the crap I've taken over the years."
    The next day, when he accepted the MVP award, Simms added: "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 in. I didn't throw one ball where I felt, 'Damn, I want that one back.' It's a good feeling being out there and when they call a play, you know you'll probably complete it. You don't know who to, butyou know you will."
    Years later, Phil added: "As the game was going on, I didn't realize I was having that great a game. I was just thinking about the game itself, the next play. When it was all over and I saw the statistics, then I realized I did have a really good game. I didn't realize I went ten-for-ten in the second half until I heard it after the game."
    On the hype surrounding the two quarterbacks: "I didn't see anybody [in the media] shying away from me that whole week. I'd had a big year myself. Maybe John was more of a marquee name, but I never felt any animosity, like I was getting slighted at all. Not for one second."
    On trying to silence his critics: "I wasn't trying to silence anybody or show people or anything like that. I think motivation to show other people is not very good motivation."
  • No one was more elated than 11-year Giant veteran Harry Carson. "It has been a long time coming. I just wish I didn't have to wait so long. It was a hell of an experience. I loved every minute of this week."
  • During the week, Denver CB Mike Harden boasted that the Giant receivers were going to be hit harder than they had ever been hit before. S Tony Lilly said that Giant pass catchers could be intimidated. When asked about those comments after the game, WR Stacy Robinson answered, "Hit hard? Do I look like I'm hurt? And I certainly wasn't intimidated. There was some talking going on out there, but we were the ones doing most of it this time. Talking during the week is fine. We talk on Sunday. I remebered what they had said, and I guess I went after them a little harder on some of the downfield blocks. But that's what they get for throwing gasoline on the fire. It was a stupid thing to do."
  • Phil McConkey: "They (the Broncos) were the guys who were going to do this and going to do that, but they didn't. People have been talking all year about our shortcomings, but we stayed together. We believed in ourselves enough not to listen to all the garbage. We're just five guys who go over the middle and get our heads ripped off. We don't have any pretty boys who only run sideline routes and never take a good hit. It's a tribute to the five of us that we were able to overcome so much by being competitors and by playing with enthusiasm. We're used to hearing, 'You're not good enough.' But I'm sitting here, and I'm getting a Super Bowl ring."

Broncos Locker Room

  • Coach Reeves felt that the third quarter was the turning point of the game. "We still felt pretty good at halftime. We were up by one, and we had played them pretty well. But the third quarter just killed us. We had the ball backed up at about our 15-yard line the first three times we had the ball in that quarter, and every time the Giants got the ball, they scored. All of a sudden, we had to go into our two-minute drill all the time."
  • John Elway: "They hadn't stopped us all first half except on the goal line. We had no trouble moving the football. We had a golden opportunity and against that defense, you're not going to get a lot of opportunities." He especially rued the failure to score in the second quarter despite first-and-goal at the one. "We had a chance to go up 17-7. That hurt us. No question." Despite admitting his "great disappoinbtment," he said, "It's still a great experience. Win, lose, or draw. I wouldn't trade it. ... I felt like I did everything I could. I gave 110 percent. That's all you can ask."
  • C Billy Bryan had an interesting analysis of the game. "It was like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It seemed like two different games. We came in with a slight advantage at halftime, and it just evaporated in the third quarter. We wanted to mix up the offense like we had all season, and it just didn't work in the second half."
  • WR Vance Johnson: "We came out in the second half wanting to keep up the same momentum, keep making big plays, but when they took it down for the touchdown on their first drive, they gained a lot of momentum. After that, they just kept the ball rolling." Johnson sympathized with his quarterback. "I could tell the second half how tired he was, and he would still run the quar­terback draw to get the first down." Vance also sympathized with his coaches. "They called the right plays. We just didn't execute."