NFL Network ran a marathon of their America’s Game series over the Memorial Day weekend, giving us a chance to relive the Giants four Super Bowl victories through the sight and sounds of NFL Films and memories of key players that brought us the four Lombardi trophies. Experiencing these games again in a short period of time, combined with going through a personal period of reflection in life has had me in deep through about these season, and how their high and low points experiencing them in real time. Each was it’s own roller coaster of a season, ending on the ultimate high. Today we will take a look at the 1986 season, and some reflections on the Giants first Super Bowl run.
I grew up a Giants fan thanks to a family loyalty to the team. My father, older brother, older sister, and uncle were all Giants fans, and Sundays were filled with Giants football as far back as I can remember. My father and uncle has season tickets, along with their friend, the O’Connor brothers, Bob and Dave. When someone could not attend, we were invited, and I was asked to go to a game in November 1978. You may remember it as the Joe Pisarcik fumble game. I was too young, and inexperienced in an understanding of the game to understand what transpired, but I was there, as Herman Edwards ran the ball to our end zone seats, ushering in the era of George Young and Bill Parcells.
As time passed, more tickets were acquired, and I was given the seat of honor between my father and uncle. Section 123, Row 21, Seat 6, between my father and Uncle Bob. The people in the section rarely changed, and each season opener was like a homecoming, renewing friendships, and sharing news from the last December. Children grew before your eyes, people aged, and some left us. That feeling of Stadium family has not been recaptured in Metlife Stadium and it gone forever.
The 1986 season was filled with spectacular last minute victories, none more memorable that a Monday night in October, when the Giants played the Washington Redskins, while the New York Mets faced the Boston Red Sox in the 7th game of the world series. Spontaneous cheers from the crowd as the Mets scored runs unnerved the Redskins, and outspoken defensive end Dexter Manley, creating penalties benefiting the Giants as Washington player jumped at the untimely outbursts. Their 27-20 victory giving them an early edge in the NFC East.
The turning point of the season took place on November 16th in Minnesota, as the Giants trailed 20-19 and faced a 4th and 17 near as time was winding down. Phil Simms, who is revered in Giants lore today, had been struggling mightily at that point in the 1986 season, had his coming of age moment. Standing in the pocket and absorbing a huge shot from the Viking defensive line, Simms fired a pass to Bobby Johnson, the unheralded starting wide receiver, who caught just 112 passes in three Giants season, for 18 yards and a first down. It lead to a Raul Allegre field goal, and a 22-20 Giants victory. Team confidence surged, and it felt as if the season was turning into something special.
The very next week, John Elway and the Denver Broncos visited Giants Stadium, in what would be a Super Bowl preview. Denver appeared to have the Giants number that day, but as happened so often that season, the defense stepped up to make a game changing play. Late in the second quarter, Denver was driving deep into Giants territory, and Elway dropped back to pass. He threw into the left flat, and Giants defensive end George Martin appeared out of nowhere to intercept it and started rumbling down the Giants sideline. Uncle Bob, seated to my left, as always, started pounding on my shoulder and yelling “GEORGE MARTIN” over and over into my ear, as Martin, then a twelve year veteran who could be timed with a sun dial, made his way toward the Broncos end zone. As he scored and collapsed, Uncle Bob pounded my shoulder one more time for emphasis and said “TOUCHDOWN, George Martin,” and the high fives and body slams started in Section 123. It was still early in a hard fought 19-16 Giants victory, but the magic continued.
Lawrence Taylor was still the mythical player with magical powers in 1986, before his personal demons caught up with him and tarnished his image in the eyes of many Giants fans. This is the player I choose to remember, separating him from the all too human man who has struggle with a lifetime of addictions and human failings. Taylor is still the greatest defensive player I have ever personally had the pleasure to see play, and on December 7, 1986, he played one of his greatest games as the Giants clinched the NFC East with a sweep of the Washington Redskins.
Taylor had three sacks that day, and was at his most disruptive, harassing Redskins quarterback Jay Schroeder into six interceptions. Simms threw three touchdown passes, and the Giants cruised to a 24-14 victory. It was their first division title, their first playoff bye, and heralded their arrival as a legitimate Super Bowl contender for the first time. Subsequent victories over the lowly St. Louis Cardinals and Green Bay Packers would clinch home field advantage for the NFC playoffs, and we made plans to attend playoff games for the second straight year.
First up were the hated San Francisco Forty-Niners, who had knocked the Giants out of the tournament in 1981 and 1984. They were a team in transition from the cardiac teams that out maneuvered team for their first two Super Bowls, to the ultra talented squads that would run roughshod over the NFL in 1988 and 1989. Jerry Rice was in just his second season, and appeared to break free for a touchdown early in the game, until he mysteriously fumbled with no one within 10 yards of him. The lore of Giants stadium as Jimmy Hoffa’s final resting place came into play, as many joked that the former Teamster’s boss reached up from the beyond to knock the ball loose. It wouldn’t have mattered as this was the Giants day.
Simms threw four touchdown passes, and Joe Morris ran for two more, while the defense dominated, knocking Joe Montana out for the day on a clean, but vicious hit by nose tackle Jim Burt. Morris was the key to the Giants offense, gaining 159 yards on 24 carries, and a 49-3 drubbing of San Francisco. the NFC Championship game beckoned, and another date with Division rival Washington.
The first NFC Championship game at Giants Stadium, on January 11, 1987, was a brutally cold and windy northeastern day. Before the additions were put on the top of the stadium, the wind could be most disruptive, and on that day, it was the Giants ally, thanks to the brilliant tactical mind of Giants head coach Bill Parcells. Winning the coin toss, Parcells took the 22 mile-per-hour wind at his back, forced the Redskins to start off facing it, and their offense never recovered. All the scoring was done in the first half, and the Giants were coronated NFC champions with a 17-0 victory. A rematch with the Broncos awaited in Super Bowl 21.
The story of this Super Bowl is well documented, the Giants coming from behind after trailing 10-9 at halftime, on the strength of Phil Simms 22 of 25 day passing for 288 yards and 3 touchdowns. My dad and Uncle Bob were at the game, thanks to a Christmas night 1986 trip that my dad and I took to the East Rutherford, NJ post office to mail in the ticket application. My father’s theory was that the first applications would get preferential treatment, and mailing it on the first day, from East Rutherford, would give him a better chance of getting tickets.He also thought it was best that his son get out of the car into the freezing cold to mail it, leaving me with the instructions, “Make sure it’s far enough down that no one can pull it out.” This was not an easy trick given the mailbox’s overstuffed state. It worked, he got two tickets to the game.
After the NFC Championship game, we all gathered at the house, and the O’Connor’s and my brother, now holder of a fifth season ticket, deferred to the senior statesmen, who were willing to draw names from a hat, and “George Martin and Harry Carson” were on their way to Pasadena. I still have the seat cushion from the game, having rescued it from my mom’s multiple efforts to clean it out of the house as “Unnecessary and taking up space.” It’s a lifetime memento and memory of this magical season that I spent with my dad and Uncle Bob at Giants stadium. Your first is always special, and this Super Bowl will always be a precious memory.
Over the next few weeks, we will share memories of the Giants other Super Bowl runs. In the comments section below, please share your memories of the 1986 season, everyone loves hearing about them, and in discussing the America’s Game shows on the Giants360 Twitter account, a few of us veteran fans found that the younger generation wants to know about the first two Super Bowls. Let’s give them our memories as a foundation to the next two Giants Super Bowls. Number five could come as soon as February 2016.
Epilogue: Almost twenty years later, we arrived early for a Saturday Game against the Kansas City Chiefs. Walking around during the pregame, someone says they are looking for contestants on the WFAN pregame “Name that Giant” contest to win an iPod and a station duffel bag. I’ve heard it on the drive in dozens of times and am more often right that not. I get picked and asked if I want a current or former Giant, “Former,” I exclaim confidently. Asked to bid on clues, my opponent says, “Four,” and I up the ante by boldly saying, “ONE!” The crowd gasps, and Bob Papa says he admires my confidence as he reads the clue, “An 11th round draft pick in 1975.” I think I feel a pound on my shoulder as my mind flashed back to crisp November day in 1986. This name is forever emblazoned on my brain, “GEORGE MARTIN,” I say proudly, pounding a fist in the air for emphasis. I had an iPod already, so I donated the one that I won, anonymously, to a long term care resident at a local children’s hospital. I still have the duffel and another great memory inspired by that magical 1986 season.