When it comes to All Star games, generally speaking most observers agree that the NFL's Pro Bowl is probably the worst of all the major sports. And there are a number of reasons for that, not the least of which, it is the only one which takes place after the regular season is over while the other sports have their All Star game in midseason and serves as a "break" of sorts. In my own opinion I rate the 4 sports All Star games thusly:
- Major League Baseball
- Major League Baseball
But back in 1985, we did still get players who did care to win because the money was significant. And that led us to the 1985 Pro Bowl. Coming on the heels of the Bears' dominant Super Bowl win, who as part of their Super Bowl run played the Giants at Soldier Field in the NFC Divisional Round. As Coach Bill Parcells would say afterwards, if the Giants played the Bears 10 times in 1985, the Bears probably win 9 of them. But for that cold January game in 1986, that was the one time the Giants could have beaten them. A gust of wind and a botched Sean Landeta punt got in the way of that chance as the Giants fell 21-0. But that loss served as motivation for the Giants to come back in 1986 and step up their game towards their own dominant Super Bowl run. A few weeks after that loss however, there was another Giant who was setting himself up a break out in 1986. Phil Simms, the often injured former first round draft pick, who was benched for Scott Brunner in 1983, started to turn the corner in his career. Parcells named him the starter in 1984, and Simms responded with a 9-7 season, 4000+ yards passing, and a playoff berth which included a win in Los Angeles vs. the Rams in the Wild Card. In 1985, Simms would continue to improve, leading the Giants to a 10-6 record, a home playoff win vs. the defending Super Bowl champion 49ers in the Wild Card. This would result in Simms' first Pro Bowl selection. As fate would have it, due to injuries Simms would end up more or less playing the entire Pro Bowl in 1985, and it would end with an MVP trophy thanks to an outstanding performance against the best in the game. This would be a precursor to 1986 in the Rose Bowl against the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXI where he would claim another much more prestigious MVP award.
The Game Highlights
Post Mortem/ Interesting Tidbits
Giants sent 5 Pro Bowlers that year
Simms (first Pro Bowl and he would make it in 1993, his final season but he did not play)
Joe Morris (first Pro Bowl and he would go one more time in 1986)
Leonard Marshall (Started in first Pro Bowl and he would go one more time in 1986)
Harry Carson (Started in his 7th Pro Bowl, he would go 2 more times in 1986 and 1987)
Lawrence Taylor (Started in the Pro Bowl for the Giants- It was his 5th straight Pro Bowl and he would make it 10 straight years from 1981-1990).
- LT wore number 58 in the Pro Bowl because the numbers went by seniority. The Rams’ center, Doug Smith also wore #56, so he would get the nod. In 1985, Smith would get named to the Pro Bowl but miss it due to injury. He was replaced by the Niners’ Fred Quillan, who also had seniority, so he got to wear #56.
- LT didn’t actually wear #56 until 1990, his 10th and final Pro Bowl. That was because Doug Smith finally was not elected as the center. The Bears’ Jay Hilgenberg would go to his 6th Pro Bowl that year (he’d make 7 overall). But LT was helped by his teammate, Bart Oates, who was named to his first Pro Bowl. That finally kept Smith out and gave LT #56.
- Simms and Morris were the first 2 offensive players to make the Pro Bowl since 1972
- Simms became the first Giants QB to ever start an AFC-NFC Pro Bowl
- Singletary and LT were the only unanimous Pro Bowl selections
- McMahon was the first Bears’ QB to play in an AFC/NFC Pro Bowl
- The Head coaches for this game were Don Shula from the Dolphins and John Robinson from the Rams. Before the changes to the Pro Bowl that moved it to the week before the Super Bowl, it used to be held after it. The consolation prize for the coaches who lost their conference championship games was a free trip to Hawaii and the stress free environment to coach the Pro Bowl. Shula got the trip because his Dolphins were upset by the Patriots in Miami. Robinson’s Rams were road kill and shut out by the Bears in Chicago. Shula had never lost a Pro Bowl as the coach until this game.
- The Jets’ 2nd year QB Ken O’Brien was named to his first Pro Bowl, marking the first time the Jets and Giants had their starting QBs in the Pro Bowl facing each other. O’Brien had actually led his Jets to a better record than Simms did in 1985. The 1985 Jets went 11-5, while the Giants went 10-6. This brought to light a strange scenario that had the schedule makers concerned if both the Jets and Giants were good enough to reach the Championship Game and both host. Back in the mid 1980s, as there were 3 divisions per conference, all division winners would get a bye. There were 2 Wild Cards, who were the 2 teams with the best record that didn’t win their division. The Jets and Giants both were the best of the Wild Cards, therefore they would host the game at Giants Stadium. The Wild Card games however were split up, with the AFC playing on Saturday and the NFC on Sunday. The Jets would play first in 1985, losing to the New England Patriots, 26-14, in which O’Brien was replaced by backup Pat Ryan (which would be a recurring theme for the Jets for many years). The Patriots would go on to win road games in Los Angeles vs. the Raiders and then at Miami until they got curb stomped by the Bears. The Giants meanwhile would beat the defending champion 49ers and falling the next week in Chicago 21-0, in a game that was closer than the score showed.
- The Jets and Giants did have some overlap for Pro Bowl QBs. Now both are media personalities, and back in the 1990s, Phil Simms and Boomer Esiason were both QB for their respective teams (Giants and Jets). Esiason, a NY native was moved on from the Bengals when he won an MVP and led them to the Super Bowl in 1988. They used to joke with each other as they’d get confused as 2 blond QBs. Both were named to their final Pro Bowl in 1993. Simms did not play, but Esiason did.
- The Giants and Jets overlapped QBs in the Pro Bowl again in 2008. That year was Eli Manning’s first Pro Bowl appearance, where he faced off against his brother Peyton who was the QB of the Colts. Meanwhile the Jets sent their own veteran QB, Brett Favre who had his one year stint with the Jets after a nasty divorce with the Packers who decided to give the job to Aaron Rodgers.
- The game was played 2 weeks after the Super Bowl, it was changed to a week later and then to the week before the Super Bowl.
- Steve Largent broke the single game reception record in this game, breaking John Stallworth’s mark of 7 catches back in 1983.
- Apparently a story came out during this game that the day before the 1985 Pro Bowl, there was a hit and run with a car that involved a little girl. The Cardinals LB EJ Junior was at the scene and he and some others actually caught the guy who hit the kid and held him until the police arrived. And to further the story, Junior kept the locals from beating the hell out of the guy until the cops arrived.
- Walter Payton had a shot at OJ Simpson’s Pro Bowl rushing record, but he left before halftime due to the flu and 13 yards short of OJ’s record.
- Wes Chandler’s 114 receiving yards were a Pro Bowl record. He was the first player to go over 100 yards in a Pro Bowl.
- Coaches were able to take a “need” player, who was not selected and essentially was the runner up at a spot. Usually they would take a player on their own team. The Giants first need player taken came in 1988, when Mike Ditka of the Bears took Giants safety Terry Kinard to the Pro Bowl. It was Kinard’s only appearance in the Pro Bowl.
- Leonard Marshall’s sack was his only Pro Bowl sack in his 2 games.
- The side judge for this game was a very young Dave Parry. Parry would end up the head referee in Super Bowl XLVI between the Giants and Patriots 26 years later.
- The USFL had folded before the 1985 season, so this was the first Pro Bowl for players who came over from the failed spring league. The first Pro Bowler to make the team after the USFL folded was DE Reggie White of the Philadelphia Eagles by way of the Memphis Steamboats. Technically, you could also include RB Craig James from the Patriots, who was with the Washington Federals in 1983 for one season, but he left to join New England in 1984 and made his only Pro Bowl of his career in 1985.
- The game featured 31 first time Pro Bowlers.
- When it comes to selections for the Giants, here was their representation in their Super Bowl Seasons
- 1986 (8- most in the NFL that year)- LT, Carson, Morris, Marshall, Jim Burt, Brad Benson, Mark Bavaro, Sean Landeta
- 1990 (7-most in NFC but 2nd behind Buffalo with 10)- LT, Pepper Johnson, Erik Howard, Bart Oates, Sean Landeta, Reyna Thompson, William Roberts
- 2000 (2)- Michael Strahan, Jessie Armstead
- 2007 (1)- Osi Umenyiora
- 2011 (2)- Eli Manning, Jason-Pierre Paul
- The most selections for the Giants in a season they didn’t go to the Super Bowl? 2008 when they sent 7 to the Pro Bowl (most in the NFC and 2nd to the Titans sending 8). Giants sent Justin Tuck, Eli Manning, Chris Snee, Shaun O’Hara, Jeff Feagles, John Carney, and Zak DeOssie as a long snapper.
- This would turn out to be the final Pro Bowl for several notable players
- Dan Fouts- His 6th and final Pro Bowl for the Chargers QB who made the Hall of Fame in 1993
- John Hannah- Generally regarded as the best guard of his generation and one of the best offensive lineman of all time. Hannah played in his 9th and final Pro Bowl. He would retire after the 1985 Super Bowl loss to the Bears and he made the Hall of Fame in 1991.
- Joe Klecko- Talk about a borderline Hall of Famer. The former Jet made the Pro Bowl at 3 different positions (DE, DT, NT). This was his 4th Pro Bowl, but his career was sidetracked and ruined by knee injuries, forcing his retirement after the 1988 season when he ended his career with the Colts.
- Mark Gastineau- Like Klecko, another former Jet, but Gastineau’s trek to the Hall of Fame wasn’t stopped due to injuries, but rather all his off the field nonsense, not to mention his on it. His sack dance that he would do would infuriate the opposition. But you couldn’t discount his talent. Gastineau was one of the top pass rushers in the 1980s, making the Pro Bowl 5 straight years from 1981-1985. In 1983 he registered 19 sacks and followed that up with a long time NFL record of 22 sacks in 1984, which held until the Giants’ Michael Strahan broke it in 2001 with 22.5 sacks, which still stands as the record.
- Everson Walls- Walls was one of the best UDFAs of all time as a cornerback coming out of Grambling. Walls burst on the scene in Dallas, making the Pro Bowl his first 3 years in 1981 (when he led the NFL with 11 picks as a rookie), in 1982 (led the NFL with 7 picks in a strike shortened season) and in 1983/ through 1983. In 1985, Walls again led the NFL with 9 picks. However, similar to the Cowboys eventually decline in the Landry years, Walls didn’t make the Pro Bowl again. Eventually he was known for 2 things, both of which make Giants fans happy. He was “posterized” on the Joe Montana to Dwight Clark TD, known as “The Catch” to win the 1981 NFC Championship for the 49ers over the Cowboys, which signified the real end of the Dallas dynasty and the birth of the San Francisco one. And 2nd, he joined the Giants as Plan B free agent castoff from the Cowboys as Jimmy Johnson purged the roster. Walls expected to just be a nickle back ended up starting over Perry Williams and helped the Giants win the Super Bowl in 1990, his only championship.
- Doug Cosbie- Another former Cowboy, Cosbie was one of the premiere TEs in the NFC up until Mark Bavaro took that title way the very next year in 1986. Cosbie would make 3 Pro Bowls from 1983-1985.
- Ozzie Newsome- Speaking of the top TEs, the Browns’ Wizard of Oz was one the best in the NFL for many years, and he made 3 Pro Bowls. Newsome was named to the Hall of Fame in 1999 and became one of top Executives in the NFL as the GM of the Baltimore Ravens.
- Dan Hampton- With the possible exception of the 1986 NY Mets, no franchise has gotten more mileage out of a single championship than the 1985 Chicago Bears. And as I noted above that Joe Klecko should have gotten Hall of Fame consideration if not for injuries, look at Hampton. Hampton made 4 Pro Bowls and at no time was he considered the best player on his own defensive team nor a “feared” defender such as his linemate Richard Dent. Knee injuries also sapped much of his productivity. But he made the Hall of Fame in 2002, largely on the nostalgia for the 1985 Bears defense. Stop for a moment and realize that the Bears are one of the original NFL franchises. And they have as many Super Bowl championships as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Seattle Seahawks, and New Orleans Saints. And one fewer than the Baltimore Ravens.
- Wes Chandler- One of the main parts of the Air Coryell days with the Chargers, and a favorite of Fouts, WR Chandler made 4 Pro Bowls (3 with the Chargers and 1 with the Saints).
- Gary Green- An underrated corner in the late 70s and early 80s for the Chiefs and then the Rams. Green would make the Pro Bowl 4 times and retire after the 1985 season.
- Randy White- Continuing to dance on the grave of the 1970s Dallas dynasty, White made his 9th and final Pro Bowl of his career which ended up with enshrinement in the Hall of Fame in 1994. Of course, the Giants were mainly responsible for this mess. The Giants traded their first and second round pick to Dallas for QB Craig Morton in 1974, who was not going to play with some guy named Roger Staubach with the Cowboys. Of course, the Giants finished 2-12 and picked 2nd overall. Dallas took Randy White with that pick. Welcome to the dark ages of Giants history.
- Tony Hill- Another aging Cowboy superstar who was at the end of his productivity. Hill made 3 Pro Bowls but retired after the 1986 season.
- Freeman McNeil- An underrated all around back for the Jets, McNeil made 3 Pro Bowls and won the rushing title in 1982 (in the strike shortened season). Played his entire 12 year career with the Jets and retired as their all time leading rusher until his record was broken by Curtis Martin.
- Steve Nelson- The rugged longtime linebacker for the Patriots made 3 Pro Bowls over his 14 year career.