When you think back to the 1980s, the Giants had a collection of some of the best linebackers in NFL history, particularly from 1984 on. Of course, everything begins with #56. Lawrence Taylor changed the game of football and was the most dominant linebacker the NFL has ever seen. And despite a number of off field problems and self inflicted issues, on the field, LT was one of a kind. And at the end of the day, 10 straight Pro Bowls, 3 Defensive Player of the Year awards, 2 Super Bowl championships, and an NFL MVP will put you in the Hall of Fame.
On the opposite side of LT, from 1984 through 1992 was another top linebacker, Carl Banks. Banks was the #3 overall pick in the 1984 draft out of Michigan State. Banks would work his way into the lineup as a rookie and by 1986 had established himself as one of best strong side linebackers in the NFL. In fact, in the 1986 post season, Banks for all intents and purposes outplayed LT. His performance in the 49ers playoff game was that of a one man wrecking crew. Banks would earn a Pro Bowl nod in 1987 and would become a co-captain on the team in helping the Giants win 2 Super Bowls.
In the middle/inside linebacker spot, the Giants were no slouches either. Harry Carson would play 13 years for the Giants, joining the team during the lean years in the mid/late 1970s. Carson would become one of the best inside linebackers in the game. Paul Zimmerman (aka Dr. Z) would call Carson the best goal line linebacker he had ever seen because of his instincts to snuff out plays and prevent TDs. Carson would earn 9 Pro Bowl nods, was the team captain in the 1986 championship season, and would make his way into the Hall of Fame in 2006 after years of waiting.
When Carson retired, the Giants were lucky to have an in house replacement ready to plug into the lineup, Thomas "Pepper" Johnson. Pepper was a versatile linebacker, able to rush the passer from the outside and big enough to play the middle. Pepper would earn more playing time as Carson's career wound down and would take over at ILB full time in 1988 after Carson was injured. By 1990, Johnson was one of the most dominant players on the Giants defense and earned his first Pro Bowl selection and had become a leader both on the field and in the lockerroom.
The Giants had several other linebackers who were very good players in their own roles, and would likely be good enough to start for 90% of NFL teams. Guys like Brad Van Pelt, Brian Kelley, Byron Hunt, Andy Headen, Steve DeOssie, and Johnie Cooks. But the Giants had another guy who was taken in the 4th round of the 1984 draft out of noted football powerhouse Northwest State in Louisiana named Gary Reasons. Reasons had the size the Giants liked, at 6'4" and about 240. He was also an every down linebacker, good enough to play the run and good in coverage. Reasons was so good, that he would end up starting 11 games as a rookie in 1984 and he established himself as a starter along with the big names like LT, Banks, Carson and Pepper. Reasons was the steady guy. While so many people were wearing #56 or #53 or #58 jerseys in the stands, very few wore #55 for Reasons. But Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick knew his value and he would play a crucial role for the Giants from 1984-1991, helping the team win 2 Super Bowls along the way.
Many people can point to games where LT would play a huge role to win, and the same could be said for Banks and Pepper. Reasons was never thought in the same vein. But back in 1989, the Giants were watching their season, once so bright, go down the tubes. They had an NFL best 8-1 record. And then they would go out to LA and get pounded 31-10 by the Rams. The Giants would win a listless 15-3 game over the Seattle Seahawks at the Meadowlands and then would be looking at the gauntlet. A matchup with the Super Bowl Champion 49ers in Candlestick on a Monday Night. And then a game against hated rival Philadelphia at Giants Stadium, with the NFC East in the balance. From there a date with the Broncos in Mile High in Denver.
The ball began rolling in San Francisco, and the Giants would fall behind 24-7 in the 2nd quarter and most left them for dead. But a huge rally thanks to a Dave Meggett TD on a screen pass and then a 4th down fade to Odessa Turner in the 4th quarter stunned the Niners and made the score 24-24. The Niners would end up salting the game away 34-24, and more importantly, LT was carted off with a broken ankle, thanks to a dirty cut block by Wesley Walls.
That would set up a date with the Eagles. LT, doing his best Willis Reed, would suit up and play, broken ankle and all. But LT was clearly not LT and was slowed. What didn't help were 2 TDs by the Eagles defense in the first quarter to make it 14-0. The Eagles would eventually make the score 17-7, and the Giants had to fight back to tie the game at 17-17 in the 3rd quarter. However, a crazy 91 yard punt by Randall Cunningham, because Dave Meggett misplayed the bounce reversed field position and the Eagles would overcome a goal line stand by the Giants earlier and a Keith Byars TD, along with 5 Giants turnover doomed the Giants in a 24-17 loss which would drop their record to 9-4. 3 losses in 4 games, and now a sweep at the hands of the Eagles had given Philly the tie breaker in the NFC East, both sitting at 9-4.
That would set up the Giants to go into Denver to face a Broncos team which was not like the one they pasted in the Super Bowl in 1986. The Broncos team actually had a tough defense. They were the #1 rushing defense in the NFL and had retooled from an undersized unit to one which could take on physical teams. They had held teams to 20 or fewer points 10 times in 13 games. They also had a running game, with #1 pick in the Supplemental draft Bobby Humphrey ripping off big yardage. And of course, they had John Elway at QB. They also had the AFC's best record at 10-3, and a victory in this game would give the Broncos home field advantage in the playoffs, where they were already 6-1 on the season, with their only loss coming to the Eagles, in a back and forth game which was won 28-24 late by Philly.
Again, the Giants had more rough news going into this game. The Eagles had already won 20-10 vs. the Cowboys to go to 10-4. A loss by the Giants would put them 2 games behind the Eagles with only 2 to play to win the NFC East. The Giants were also beat up on the injury front. Starting left tackle Jumbo Elliott never made the trip, so they had to shift guard Eric Moore over to protect Phil Simms' blind side. Odessa Turner, the Giants leading receiver in 1989 (with all of 38 catches) was also out for the game. And LT, trying to play with a broken ankle, was sidelined by back spasms which hit him in the morning. And if that wasn't enough, a Rocky Mountain snow storm had made it's way over Denver, and it would hit right at game time in the already thin air.
So here was your classic wounded animal Giants' team. Seeing their season slip away after such a promising start. Playing against the best team in the AFC in their home park while snow is falling. In order to win a game like this you would need someone to step up on your team and do it. Little did anyone know, the least celebrated of the Giants' linebacking corps, Gary Reasons, would end up playing the game of his life when his team needed it the most.
The Game Highlights
Bjorn Nittmo on to kick off with snow already on the field and the left footed kick went to Ken Bell at the goal line and he ran it out going to his left where he bounced off a hit by Lee Rouson at the 17 and spun up the field, dragging Greg Jackson all the way out to the 25. John Elway led the Broncos out and started with a hand off to Melvin Bratton running to his right, and the Giants got into the backfield, causing him to leap over the pile and into the arms of Gary Reasons and John Washington after a 3 yard gain. 2nd and 7, Elway back to throw and set up a screen as Erik Howard was baring down on him and dumped it to Bratton at the 23 with blockers ahead to the left, but Reasons took out one of the blockers and forced Bratton to cut back to the right, and into arms of Mark Collins and Carl Banks after a 5 yard gain to the 32. 3rd and 2, Elway gave to Bobby Humphrey trying to power to the left where he ran into Johnie Cooks and Pepper Johnson and Howard, and looked to be short, but Jerry Markbriet gave him the first down. First down at the 35, and the ball went back to Humphrey running to his left and he was met by Leonard Marshall and Reasons after just a 1 yard gain. 2nd and 9, a draw up the middle to Humphrey which fooled the Giants and he burst through the line out to the 44, stopped by Reasons and Myron Guyton. 3rd and 1, Humphrey again to the left side, found a crease and took it out to the 48 yard line, tripped up by Reasons and Terry Kinard for another first down. Denver would give to Humphrey again on a draw up the middle, read better by the Giants, stopped by Pepper and Cooks after a 2 yard gain. 2nd and 8, Elway faked the draw, had Banks coming in on him and avoided him, and started to scramble but tossed the ball to TE Clarence Kay at the Giants’ 47 yard line, and he would take the ball back towards the middle hit down by Reasons and Howard for an 8 yard gain and another first down. So the Broncos continued to drive at the Giants’ 41, Elway took a deep shot towards Orson Mobley down the middle, the ball was tipped by Reasons, but an illegal motion on Mobley brought them back 5 yards, setting up a 1st and 15. Elway back again, with pressure coming at him, set up another screen up the middle and got the ball to Humphrey at the 46 yard line, and Reasons burst through all the blockers to nail him down at the 44. 2nd and 13, Elway back, faked another draw and had plenty of time and tried to fire a ball in to Mark Jackson, but the ball was batted away on a dive by Collins. 3rd and 13, Elway in the gun, with plenty of time, looked to hit Rickey Nattiel for what would have been good for a first down, but he couldn’t get both feet in bounds, so the pass was incomplete. The Denver drive finally stalled out and Mike Horan came on to punt, and angled it away from Dave Meggett and put it out of bounds at the 15 yard line.
The Giants would take over and Phil Simms came out with a handoff to OJ Anderson running to his right and powered out to the 19 yard line, stopped by Karl Mecklenburg. 2nd and 6, again a handoff, this time to Mo Carthon, and he found a lane and chugged through, up to the 29 yard line, hit down by Michael Brooks, but good for a first down. The Giants set up for a draw, and this time again to Carthon, who had a huge hole up the middle and he took the ball all the way out to the 48 yard line for a 19 yard gain, taking Tyrone Braxton for a ride. First down, the ball again went to the fullback Carthon, who took the handoff, tried to cut to his left but was met by safety Dennis Smith, who walked up to put 8 men in the box, and took him down after a 2 yard gain at the 50. Simms back to throw, would check down to OJ at the Broncos 46, where he caught it and turned up the field to the 42 yard line, taking Mecklenburg for a short ride and a few inches short of a first down. 3rd and inches, the Giants would bring in Brian Williams at guard and shift William Roberts out to TE, and would hand off to Carthon right over Williams and he plowed ahead for the first down, cut down by Simon Fletcher at the 40. First down with the clock running and the snow starting to come down, again gave to Carthon, but this time the Broncos got penetration and was taken down by Mecklenburg after a 1 yard gain, but a hold on Zeke Mowatt would make it 1st and 20 back at the Giants’ 49. Simms back, set up screen to Carthon out to the right side, as the Mo caught it at the 45, followed Oates and Williams to the Broncos’ 43 yard line as Brooks made a great tackle playing off a block, with help from Greg Kragen. 2nd and 13, the Giants felt they had something there because they ran the exact same play, a screen to Carthon to the right who caught it at the 46, and he turned up the field, this time Williams got Brooks to the ground, Carthon cut back and got to the 35, where he got blasted by Smith and looked to fumble, where it was recovered and carried all the way out to the 28 yard line by Stephen Baker, but it was ruled down.
3rd and 5 at the 35, Simms in the shotgun, with too much noise had to come back under center and was under immediate pressure by Ron Holmes who beat Roberts and flushed Simms out to this right. Simms scrambled, chased by 3 Broncos and was able to fire a pass to Baker at the 24 yard line and out of bounds for a big first down. As the clock eating drive continued, Simms gave to OJ on a sweep to the right, where he was met by Rick Dennison and Fletcher after no gain. 2nd and 10, Lee Rouson came in at H-Back and the ball went to OJ up the middle and he ran with power right into Brooks at the 20, knocking his helmet off and falling forward to the 18 yard line. 3rd and 5, again up the middle to OJ, and again the big back powered forward to the 13 yard line, hit down by Steve Atwater but good for another first down. The Giants would bring in Lewis Tillman in a single setback and got the ball, running to his right, and was able to only get 1 yard, hit down by Andre Townsend on what would be the final play in a fast first quarter. 2nd and 9, with Lionel Manuel in motion, Simms with drop back with plenty of time to throw against a 3 man rush, and would find George Adams over the middle at the 10 yard line and the former first round pick would take it to the 3, hammered down by Atwater and Dennison. First and goal at the 3, the Giants would cap off a monster drive
Showing power football in snowy conditions, the ball went to OJ running to his right, he would follow pulling guard Bob Kratch and a lead block by Carthon into the hole. He would bounce off a tackle attempt by Brooks at the 3 and then just fire his way into the end zone for a statement TD. Bjorn Nittmo would come on to bang through the extra point on a 15 play, 85 yard drive in 8:53 on the clock. An offsides on the Broncos on the play would give the Giants a free 5 yards on the kickoff.
Nittmo from the 40 would book a linedrive right to the goal line, taken by Darren Carrington and he would dart around a tackle attempt by Tillman at the 15, and cut up the field to the 26 yard line, hit down by Dwayne Giles. A block in the back by a Bronco who hit Adrian White from behind would push Denver back to their own 6 yard line. First down, the ball went to Humphrey up the gut, but was swallowed up by Erik Howard after a 2 yard gain. 2nd and 8, the ball went to Humphrey on a sprint to the left, as Jim Juriga took out Perry Williams to get Humphrey around the corner and he would get ridden out of bounds by Myron Guyton at the 14 yard line.
3rd and 2, with 4 WRs, Elway gave to Humphrey running to his left and he was met by Mark Collins in the hole and took it close to a first down, but he chains showed he was a few inches short. When you talk about Mark Collins as an all around player, how many other cornerbacks were willing to stick their nose in there on short yardage to take on a running back in the hole, like a linebacker would do. With 4 WRs, Collins was forced into this position, the Broncos thought they could take advantage of it, but he stepped up and made the play. Dan Reeves considered going for it for a moment but decided to punt, and Mike Horan came on and he would boom one to Meggett who fair caught it at the 38, fumbled the ball but fell on it before it went to a Bronco after a 47 yard punt. However, an illegal man down the field because Horan did some stutter step to get his footing before punting threw off the timing. The Giants decided to have them punt again. In his own end zone, Horan boomed one to Meggett at the 36 down the middle, but with a chance to return it, and Meggett took it to the 46 yard line where he was tripped up with 12:28 to go in the 2nd quarter and a +8 yards in field position.
With good field position to work with, the Giants began with a draw to OJ, trying to run to his right, but Brooks got in the backfield to hit him for a loss back at the 41. 2nd and 14, a draw to Carthon set to go to the left, but was forced up the middle where he was met by Brooks at the 42 and Mo fell forward to the 44 yard line. 3rd and 12, Simms in the gun, with Meggett picking up Atwater on a blitz, would find Mark Ingram deep down the right side and wide open at the Broncos’ 45, and Ingram would turn up the field and was knocked out of bounds by Wayman Henderson at the 35 for a big first down, on a typical play in the snow where the offense has the advantage because they know where they are going and with the bad footing, the defense has a problem. First down, the ball went to OJ up the gut, but this time Atwater came flying in and nailed him for no gain. 2nd and 10, a fake to OJ, and Simms had time early but it started to break down with Alfonso Carreker coming towards his face and Simms dumped the ball off near the line in the general direction of Doug Reisenberg for what should have been intentional grounding, but was not called. So 3rd and 10, the crowd who was lustily booing the missed penalty, forced Simms to take a time out with too much noise. During the timeout, the grounds crew would shovel out the sidelines and 5 yard increment to help at least for spotting the ball. 3rd and 10, Simms back, in the gun, but Carreker would get around Williams and take Simms down for a sack at the 41 yard line. 4th and 17, Landeta would come on to punt and his line drive kick was fair caught by Vance Johnson at the 15.
Denver’s offense would come out with a huge play
The Giants defense had held the rookie in check so far, but this time Humphrey would take the handoff on a draw up the middle, wait for the blocking to develop and cut inside a block on Johnnie Cooks, past Carl Banks and off to the races as he dodged Terry Kinard. However, the only man remaining was Collins, who fought off a block by Johnson and took Humphrey down after a huge 50 yard gain...but a hold on Gerald Perry who grabbed Leonard Marshall ruined the whole thing.
So 1st and 18, Elway back in the end zone, with Cooks putting pressure on, fired a frozen rope down towards Rickey Nattiel who was hit by Guyton to jar the ball loose. A flag was thrown for pass interference. But in the old way instant replay worked in 1989, the call was made, and all off a sudden there was this lull and break in the action as no one was sure what was going on. Replays would show that Gary Reasons would tip the ball as it was going over his head. This was important because the rule is, if a ball is tipped, so long as their is not defensive holding, you can pretty much mug a receiver and there is no penalty for pass interference. The players stood around, the crowd was getting angry and the snow continued to fall. Meanwhile the replay official was in the booth watching the replay over and over. Finally Jerry Markbreit got the call and noted that Reasons tipped the pass, no pass interference and 2nd and 18. It would be the first big play of the day for Reasons. Elway would was set to run a counter trey to Humphrey, but Humphrey slipped when he was about to take the handoff. Realizing this, Elway just kept on rolling to his right and ran past Collins on the edge, past John Washington coming down the line, who shoved him out at the 13 and Elway dove ass first into a pile of snow out of bounds to slow himself down. 3rd and 12, Elway in the gun would fire towards the sidelines to Nattiel, who was open, but lost his footing and fell down and dropped the ball.
Horan came back on to punt again from his end zone and he would boom one to Meggett at roughly the 36 yard line. With plenty of room to run, Meggett accelerated past Fletcher, and up the left sideline, tackled down at the 36 yard line after a 22 yard return to give the Giants great field position.
The Giants would begin with a handoff to Carthon trying to run to the left and he was tripped up after a 1 yard gain by Braxton. 2nd and 9, Simms was back to throw and with no one open, he would dump the ball down the field for an incompletion. However a penalty on Bart Oates for a tripping penalty, essentially a leg whip on Kragen, set the Giants back to a 2nd and 19. Simms in the gun, had zero time to throw as Holmes was unblocked as there was a screw up in pass protection and Simms and was a sitting duck, nailed for a big sack. That would set up a 3rd and 31, no problem, right?
Talk about a shocker out of nowhere. Simms would set up yet another screen, this time to the left, as Brooks and Carriker came bearing down on him. Meggett would initially juggle the ball and then haul it in the Giants 46 yard line and he would follow his blockers, specifically a total wipeout block by Roberts on Fletcher going down the left side. He would then cut inside as Williams came over to hit Dennison and basically take out 3 Broncos as Atwater bounced off Meggett. Meggett would then cut to his right some more, get around the lunge attempt at his legs by Braxton, and then was off to the races with a convoy of WRs around him and took it into the end zone as the Denver crowd was stunned (and as Simms would accept a high five by Landeta, a nice swear word made it out over the air from the crowd too). Madden would give credit to Roberts for a great block, but mentioned the wrong guy who he hit, saying it was Mecklenberg, but it was really Simon Fletcher. Nittmo would put through the extra point to make the score 14-0 with 7:11 to go in the 2nd quarter on a weird 3 play, 36 yard drive with Meggett scoring a 57 yard TD thanks to the loss of yardage due to the penalty and sack.
Nittmo, who kind of carved out an “x” pattern in the snow help get a running start, had his kickoff deep and was taken at the goal line by Bell, who was ridden down at the 23 yard line as Greg Jackson jumped on his back. The Broncos would take the field down 2 TDs, and Elway would fake a handoff and hit Vance Johnson on a deep shot down the left sidelines past Mark Collins for a 42 yard gain as Terry Kinard got lost in deep coverage and the ball was all the way to the Giants’ 35. Denver with a first down would hand off to Humphrey who tried to run to his left, but he ran right into Marshall, who took him down after a short 1 yard gain. Big Leonard wasn’t done making plays
The NFL has always been about protecting QBs. They know full well that there is nothing worse than watching a badly quarterbacked team who can’t run any semblance of an offense. But while CTE and blows to the head were still not that well known, the NFL tried to protect QBs with the “in the grasp” rule. Essentially, if a defensive player had a QB in the grasp and in control, the referee was told to blow the whistle. Some whistles were quicker than others. But this rule was eventually gotten rid of because it was too subjective and as QBs became more athletic (think about Cam Newton today), it actually did more harm than good. If in the grasp was still around in 2007, there would not have been a “Helmet Catch” because they would never let the play continue as Eli broke away from the Patriots. But in 1989, it was alive and well, and when you had a real athletic QB, like Elway it made it all the worse. But for the Giants, it was good as Marshall came on a bull rush on Gerald Perry and pushed him back into Elway. Elway would slip in the snow a bit at around the 44 yard line, enough to let Leonard come in on him and dive towards Elway and get his hand on him. With John Washington also coming towards them, that was enough for Markbreit to consider Elway in trouble and blow the play dead for a sack back at the 42, even though Elway got the ball away. Extra points enjoyment after the play as Leonard was celebrating having Elway just slip and eat it before they went to the replay. Now 3rd and 17, with Elway in the gun, he would throw a dart into Vance Johnson at the 30, who made the catch with Collins all over him, but short of a first down. With a bad field, the Broncos had to go for it on 4th down and 5 yards.
Elway in the gun, with Michael Young in motion, had time to throw and he would fire a patented Elway bullet towards Jackson on a crossing pattern right by the yard marker. But Elway, an owner of one of the legendary strongest arms for a QB in history, as Pat Summerall would say, just threw it too hard through the elements and it bounced off and through Jackson’s hands as he was taken down by Kinard. So the Giants would get the ball back with 4:14 to go in the half.
Simms would come back with the ball at the 30 and gave to OJ trying to run to his left, but he was spun down after no gain by Atwater. 2nd and 10, the ball back to OJ, running to his right and cut back to the middle and he was popped down hard by Kragen and Carreker after a 2 yard gain. 3rd and 8, Simms in the shot gun gave the ball to Meggett on a draw up the middle and for a moment it looked like he might break another one, but he got taken down by Atwater and Smith just shy of the first down. The Broncos would call a timeout with 2:40 to go in the half and Landeta came on to punt. And then came a bit of a preview for something that would end up in Giants’ lore
Well well well… On 4th and 1 from their own 39, Bill Parcells again went for the gamble and pulled out the special teams fake. Now, you have bad field conditions, so the safe thing would be to boom it away. But Parcells never coached like that, for as much of a conservative coach as he was offensively, he always pushed the element of surprise. Steve DeOssie would snap it back to Reasons, who took the ball up the middle and ran slightly to his left and shook enough off the tackle by Steve Sewell and good for a 3 yard gain and a first down. Of course, one year later, in the NFC Championship game in San Francisco in the 4th quarter, the Giants called the same exact play, a fake punt that worked like a charm as Reasons rumbled for 30 yards. However, you can see the difference on the Denver fake because they had all 11 men on the field and Sewell was there to slow it down, even if he couldn’t stop the first down. The 49ers only had 10 men on the field, hence the big lane that Reasons had to rumble with the ball. The Giants would let the clock run down to the 2 minute warning. Now at the 41, Simms back would try to hit Lee Rouson on a deep seam pass, which was open, but Mecklenburg dove and knocked it down. But after the pass was knocked down, Dennis Smith blasted Rouson and drew a personal foul. So the Giants got a first down and 15 free yards at the Broncos’ 44 yard line while the crowd booed. Simms would fake the handoff and dumped off to Carthon at the 40 and the fullback would rumble his way to the 35, hit down by Mecklenburg and a 9 yard gain. 2nd and 1, Carthon got the ball again, ran up the middle and bounced off an Atwater hit behind the line and lunged forward for a 3 yard gain, taken down by Holmes but a first down. 1st and 10 at the 32, Simms would drop back, and with Brooks coming down on him, got the pass off on the same play to Rouson as before, and the running back was open, but Rouson alligator armed it as Atwater came over for a big hit, perhaps remembering the shot he took from Smith a few plays earlier. 2nd and 10, a draw to Carthon running to his left didn’t work as Holmes came into the backfield and took him down for a 3 yard loss. The Giants would call their 2nd timeout with :31 remaining in the half. 3rd and 13 at the 35, Simms in the gun, would get called back under center by Bart Oates because he couldn’t hear him, and with a blitz coming, Simms just took the ball and rumbled forward, taking it out to the 30, hit down by Mecklenburg and the Giants wound the clock down to 1 second as Jeff Hostetler, the holder, came running out to call the time out and set up a 47 yard Bjorn Nittmo field goal
As Madden and Summerall made fun of Nittmo’s looks and how he probably was more of a tennis player than a kicker, came on took a shot at it but the ball would flutter from left to right and off course and you could understand why Dan Reeves passed up long field goal earlier. But for a last second shot at a 17 point lead, it was a good gamble as the Giants went into the half with a 14-0 lead.
David Treadwell came on to kickoff to start the 2nd half and squibbed one down the middle and short and was picked up by Mark Ingram at the 10 yard line, and he took it out to the 25 yard line before he was thrown backwards by Carrington. First down, and the ball went to Carthon up the gut and he got 3 yards, hit down by Carreker. 2nd and 7, Simms faked to OJ, and threw a pass on the outside to Zeke Mowatt, who caught it at about the 33 yard line and took it to the 37 yard line and was knocked out of bounds by Braxton but good enough for a first down. With Manuel in motion, Simms faked to Rouson and tried to throw a seam pass, but Greg Kragen got past Bart Oates and knocked the pass down. 2nd and 10, the ball was given to OJ running to his left, and he plowed for a 5 yard gain, taken down by Kragen and Holmes. 3rd and 5, Simms in the gun, had his arm hit by Mecklenberg and the ball fell in front of Manuel. Landeta on to punt and he would shank the ball as it soared out of bounds at the 34, a poor 24 yard effort for a very good punter.
Elway started by dropping back and firing a pass to TE Clarence Kay at the 36 yard line, and Kay would head up the field to the 43 yard line, stopped by Reasons. 2nd and 1, Humphrey took the handoff running to this right, he got around Washington, and cut past Guyton and started to get a good head of steam, but he was met by Collins at about mid field who put a shoulder in the running back and stood him up and shoved him out of bounds. While it was good for a first down, it could have been for much more if not for Collins. 1st and 10, Elway back to throw and had some time initially, but was flushed out of the pocket by Cooks and he scrambled towards the line of scrimmage and threw a pass down to Vance Johnson at the 39 and he took the ball out of bounds at the 30, however a hold on the Broncos’ Gerald Perry (again), brought the boos from the crowd, as he had to grab Marshall. So 1st and 20 at their own 40, Elway was in the gun and had time and threw a dart to Michael Young on an out pattern and out of bounds at the Giants’ 48 yard line, for a 12 yard gain, as the ball just went over Collins’ jump. 2nd and 8, Elway back again, threw an outlet pass to Humphrey at the 48, and he was able to head up to the 44, dumped by Collins and Pepper. 3rd and 4, Elway in the gun again, would try to draw the Giants offsides and almost got Marshall to jump, but stood back and threw a laser to Jackson at the 27 yard line, he spun off Adrian White, and ran across the field, avoided Sheldon White and and actually lost 2 yards trying to dart around a Giant defender when Marshall and Pepper came charging back and hit him down, but still good for a first down. Elway gave the ball to Humphrey, but had Reasons come in like a rocket into the backfield and slowed him up for a moment, allowing Washington and Howard to wrap him up for a loss.
2nd and 11, Elway was back against the blitz, and the Broncos picked up it, giving Elway time to throw to the end zone for Vance Johnson, who got behind Collins, but Collins recovered enough to knock it away and prevent a TD. 3rd and 11, Elway in the gun, tried to set up a screen as the Giants came in on a blitz, and Elway threw towards no one and it fell incomplete. However, Keith Kartz was downfield and the refs threw the flag. Parcells decided to accept the penalty and set the Broncos back to a 3rd and 21 at the 36 yard line. Elway again in the gun got pressure from Cooks who hit him as he threw and he tried to hit Young on another deep out pattern, but this time Collins did knock it away. On the play, another penalty was called on the Broncos, this time a tripping call on Perry, as the Denver fans lost their minds booing his 3rd penalty. The Giants would decline and on came Horan to punt, and the coffin corner specialist did a bad job in the snow, as the ball nearly went into the stands and it was only an 18 yard punt to the 18 yard line with 9:40 to go in the 3rd quarter.
The Giants would start with a handoff to OJ running to his left and got only a 2 yard gain, hit down by Dennison. 2nd and 8, Simms back, and tried to hit Mowatt on a short out pass, but the ball bounced off the TE’s hands. 3rd and 8, Simms in the gun, had pressure on him and he scrambled up the field and was hit by Carreker and slung down, and as he was going down, Holmes took a big swipe at him and hit him across the head to try to force a fumble. In 2016, that’s a penalty. In 1989, though Simms got up to argue, there was no foul. Laneta on to punt, and this time he got a better effort and it bounced past Nattiel and was downed at the 27 yard line by Rouson for a 49 yard punt.
Broncos ball with 8:12 to go in the 3rd, Elway was back and had time, and found Humphrey at the 28 yard line, where he caught and just avoided a hit by Reasons (and fumble) but was taken down by Banks at the 34 yard line. 2nd and 4, Elway faked a handoff, had pressure from Cooks and threw a pass towards Jackson which went over his head and out of bounds. 3rd and 4, Elway with plenty of time against a 3 man rush, moved around in the pocket as Adrian White came in late and he fired a deep pass to Johnson at the Giants’ 47 yard line, where he was hit down by Sheldon White but good for a first down. A flag on the play on Perry Williams for illegal use of hands was declined (obviously). First down, Elway back to throw again, and he had Marshall bearing down on him and forced Elway to float a pass over his head and it fell incomplete in front of Johnson. 2nd and 10, Elway again back to throw, and with pressure coming up the middle he threw a shot toward Kay who dropped it. 3rd and 10, Elway in the gun, would again get pressured, this time by Erik Howard, who flushed him to the right, but Elway got around him, and then got past Pepper, somehow stayed in bounds and he would tip toe up the sidelines in the snow all the way to the 36 yard line, and a first down before Collins shoved him out of bounds. On a few of those steps, he might have actually been out of bounds, but with the snow it was tough to tell. And without HD TV around to really blow the picture up for a replay, you just had to go with the call and a first down. Denver would fake a pitch to Humphrey, Elway would roll to his right, and tried to hit Johnson, but the ball short hopped him. 2nd and 10, Elway gave the ball to Sammy Winder on a draw play, he would get past Banks in the backfield and as he tried to run to his left, he lost his footing and was touched down by Guyton after no gain. So it was 3rd and 10, Elway was in the gun and he threw another bullet towards Young, who bobbled it about 2 times before he dove and made the catch before it hit the ground and was good for a first down at the 23 yard line. First down, the ball went to Humphrey trying to run to his left, and he was strung out and hit by Reasons at the 20. Reasons wasn’t done hitting
John Elway was one of the most athletic QBs in NFL history. Big, strong and fast. And early in his career, he was more of a scrambler to go with a cannon of an arm. In this case, Elway would find himself under pressure, first he would get away from Washington and avoid a sack, and he would make his way up field and spin off a tackle attempt by Marshall. But in spinning off Marshall, he never saw Reasons zero in on him and take a huge hit at the 16. You rarely see a QB take a shot like that from a linebacker and get up. On the play, Perry got injured for Denver. So it was 3rd and 3, Elway was in the gun and he gave the ball to Winder on an inside draw, and Winder took off to his right and made his way to the 10 yard line, taken down by Washington and Collins. It was first and goal at the 10, Humphrey would take a draw and find a huge hole on the right, and he would barge all the way down to the 2 yard line, taken down by Guyton and Collins. 2nd and goal at the 2, Elway would give to fullback Melvin Bratton, who tried to dive over the pile, but Steve DeOssie came in and hit him just as he tried to jump and ruined his momentum and he only made it to the 1 yard line. 3rd and goal at the 1, Humphrey took the carry running to his left and smack into Reasons and DeOssie, who kept him out of the end zone. On 4th and goal at the 1, Reeves decided that a field goal was no good, they had to go for it. So they took their chances to try to cut the lead to 7.
When you think about it, very few players actually have a “defining moment” in their career. But in this one moment, you had it for Gary Reasons. In the snow, on 4th and goal, the ball went to Humphrey who attempted the old Marcus Allen JOP (jump over the pile) play. But whether it was luck or preparation, Reasons was ready for it. Reasons started his jump and blasted Humphrey before he could start his jump. As Summerall would simply call “No!...Reasons...like a shot!” As his teammates celebrated you could hear a pin drop in Mile High Stadium. Madden would say it was one of the best hits he’s seen Reasons or anyone make and as he simply said “That is football”. And for a few years after the play, I was curious what that thing was which flew out from Humphrey’s helmet. I thought it was his mouthpiece, but it turns out it was his earpad inside the helmet. And it is also a minor technological miracle that I still have a clear video of this play, since I must have rewound/replayed it a few thousand times on my VCR and didn’t destroy the tape.
The Giants got the ball at the 2, gave to Carthon trying to run to his left and got 1 yard, though Fletcher threw him back into the end zone. 2nd and 9, Carthon again running, this time to his right, was met at the line by Atwater, who tried to strip the ball, but couldn’t do it and Carthon lurched forward to the 5 yard line. 3rd and 7, Simms would send Ingram in motion, drop into the end zone, scramble around, and just got out of the end zone as he was sacked by Fletcher and very nearly a safety on the final play of the 3rd quarter. Landeta had to stand right on the back end zone line, and got it off, and had a good effort to Natteil at the 50, who took it off his shoe tops and ran it up to the 32 yard line, hit down by Rouson.
Elway would start out with another pass, and he avoided a sack by Banks, scrambled away from Washington and threw a side arm pass towards Jackson and it went out of bounds. 2nd and 10, Elway back again, tried to hit Kay at the 25, who couldn’t take in the low pass, and was hit by Reasons for good measure. On 3rd and 10, Denver would finally break through
Elway was again in the gun and the Giants would only rush 4 guys, giving the QB plenty of time. He would step up and away from Howard, and head towards the line of scrimmage. As it looked like he might run, he stopped and fired a deep pass to Young, who got behind the Giants safeties and hauled in an easy TD. Treadwell put through the extra point to make the score 14-7 with 14:29 to go in the game.
The shutout was now gone and the game was close. Treadwell again squibbed the ball down the field and short, but it bounced over Ingram’s head and for a moment was laying there on the ground. Ingram scooped it up at the 7 and was blasted by Ken Lucas at the 12 yard line. The Denver crowd was into the game and the ball went to OJ over the middle for a 4 yard gain, hit down by Holmes. 2nd and 6, Simms back, with pressure coming up the middle, was able to find Stephen Baker at the sidelines at the 28 yard line and thrown out of bounds by Henderson. First down the Giants dodged a bullet
OJ took the carry going up the middle and would only gain two yards, but in the cold and snow, the ball came loose on a hit by Kragen. The crowd didn’t know if they should cheer or not because Broncos players kept pointing they had the ball, and then a Giants player would point their way. Jerry Markbreit had to literally get on the ground and into the pile to figure it out and finally decided it was the Giants ball as somehow Rouson came out of there with it. So 2nd and 8, Simms would drop back, dump it off to Carthon who took it to the 36, hit by Randy Robbins and Mark Mumford. 3rd and 2, Simms again back and with a blitz tried to hit Baker on an out pattern but the ball sailed out of bounds. Landeta on to punt again, took a low snap and went out to Nattiel at about the 28 yard line and he would get dropped at the 31 by Reyna Thompson and Greg Cox with 12:05 to play in the game.
Elway was back, scrambled to his right, dumped to Bratton at the 26, and he only made it to the 32, force out by Reasons. 2nd and 9, and with the defense tired and the Giants holding on, for the first time in the game, Lawrence Taylor came on the field, despite the back spasms and broken ankle. Elway would try to throw towards Jackson, but it was tipped by Marshall and nearly picked off by Perry Williams but would hit the ground incomplete.
3rd and 9, Elway in the gun, made a one handed catch on a bad snap and fired the ball towards Nattiel who dove and caught it and would have had the first down. However, he would lunge backward for some reason and since he wasn’t touched, did not have forward progress and was touched down short of a first down by Pepper Johnson. Dan Reeves, at their own 40, and perhaps spooked by the goal line stand, sent out Horan to punt, nearly had it blocked, and it was fair caught by Meggett at the 22 yard line, with 11:05 to go in the game.
OJ got the handoff, running to his right, powered to the 25, a 3 yard gain, hit down by Brooks. 2nd and 7, Simms would drop back, get hit as he threw and the ball sailed out of bounds near no one and the Giants avoided an intentional grounding.
3rd and 7, Simms would come under center and drop back, with the pocket breaking down, would run up and away from the rush, somehow would juke around Atwater in the open field, who slipped down, and then took off up the middle of the field and dove for the first down, past Henderson at the 36. A huge first down kept the ball for the Giants, who pitched to Tillman running to his right and was hit by Brooks for no gain. 2nd and 10, Simms back, avoided the rush and dumped to Carthon at the 39, where he was hit immediately by Smith. 3rd and 7, Simms again under center, would drop back, and drill a pass in to Meggett at the 48 yard line and another huge first down. So the drive would continue, and the pitch to OJ to the right, and he would plod for a 3 yard gain, hit down by Dennison. 2nd and 7, again OJ got the ball up the middle and kind of slid forward for a 1 yard gain as the clock went under 6 minutes. 3rd and 6, Simms would drop back, with plenty of time and he had Meggett down the field, who beat Atwater, but Meggett would drop it. Landeta on to punt and he would have the ball bounce at the 2 and go into the end zone for a touchback.
Down by a TD at the 20, Elway would drop back and throw a curl to Johnson who caught it at the 30 and out of bounds for a first down. Elway would fake the handoff and took a deep shot to Jackson, but was well covered by Collins, who nearly picked it off. 2nd and 10, Elway was back, with time, dumped it over the middle to Johnson at the 39 and knocked down by Pepper. 3rd and 1, Elway was back, and found Johnson over the middle at the 45 yard line, hit down by Reasons but good for a first down with the clock running under 4 minutes. Elway again back, threw a pass in to Kay at the Giants 48 yard line, and he would at it to the 42, where he had the ball stripped by Perry Williams, but he fell on it and gave Denver another first down. The clock was still running and Elway dropped back again, had some pressure, hit Humphrey at the 40 on a check down and the running back took off up the sidelines and got a first down at the 29, knocked out of bounds by Collins with 3:05. The Giants defense was exhausted, as the thin air of Denver was taking it’s toll. Elway back, got a little rush and slipped as he tried to hit Bratton by the sidelines but it went out of bounds. 2nd and 10, Elway back, had Marshall put some pressure on him, but he hit Humphrey out in the flat at the 34, and he would take off, this time up the left sideline and a first down at the 18 yard line, hit by Guyton. The clock was running, now under 2:30 and the Giants looked like a team about to give up their lead. Bratton took the carry up the middle, got the ball to the 15, hit by Pepper to take the clock to the 2 minute warning. 2nd and 7, Elway was back to throw and tried to hit Humphrey over the middle, but he dropped it. 3rd and 7, Elway in the gun, took the snap, had time and tried to hit Nattiel in the back of the end zone, but it soared out of bounds. Now it was 4th and 7 at the 15 and the Giants needed to dig deep
With 1:51 to go in the game, Elway was in the gun, tried a hard count, which got the Giants to flinch, but not jump, and he would fire a bullet to Sewell, who had it bounce off his hands and launch towards the end zone. In a jump ball situation, Myron Guyton made a great play to box out Johnson, similar to a basketball player and bat the pass down. Clarence Kay, near the play, nearly caught the deflection for what would have been a back breaking TD.
With 1:45 to go, Denver had all 3 time outs. OJ took the carry up the middle, gained 1 yard, stopped by Holmes and the Broncos took their first timeout with 1:40 to go. 2nd and 9, the Giants would fake a dive to OJ and gave the ball to Rouson on a reverse, he would run to his left, get past Fletcher, and be stood up by Henderson after a 6 yard gain to the 22 yard line. Denver would stop the clock with 1:31 to go. 3rd and 3, Parcells had a decision, go for the throat or go to force Denver’s final timeout. They gave to OJ up the middle, stopped after a 1 yard gain by Mecklenberg and forced them to take their final time out. So that left it up to Landeta.
There are good punters. Pro Bowl punters. There are punters who can boom off a good kick early in a game when the pressure is not on. And then there is a situation where you are trying to make a team go a long field to try to tie a game in bad weather. But it is not just a punter, but a cover man too. Reyna Thompson was the best special teams player to ever play when he was in his prime. Period. Consider the situation here. John Elway is playing at home, down 7. He is known for his comebacks and the Giants just withstood a drive and held him out of the end zone and they are exhausted. Denver now has no time outs. So Landeta comes on and just blasts a punt away, taken by Nattiel at the 23 yard line. That was amazing in and of itself in this weather. But even more amazing, was Reyna Thompson, sprinting down the field, and since the Broncos were in a safety return situation with 2 returners, had to fight off a block by Vance Johnson and took down Nattiel in the open field where he would have had forever to run if he had a chance. Remarkable. And you know that when Bill Parcells hugs you after a play, in a close game, it’s a big deal.
With 1:15 to go at the 23, Elway started out in the gun, and had time and fired towards Johnson, who had the ball bounce off his hands and fall incomplete. 1:10 to go, 2nd and 10, Elway back, and because the Giants defense was so tired, they couldn’t get off the line, so Cooks did the next best thing, just jump up and knocked the ball down. 3rd and 10 with 1:04, Elway back, again with all kinds of time, hit Young at the 47, hit down by Sheldon White who kind of layed on him to kill more time. Elway hurried to the line, and rather than spike it, took the snap and tried to find someone open. He got a little pressure and scrambled up the field, hit down by Howard and Cooks at the 50, but the clock continued to tick down. Elway finally got to the line and spiked the ball with :23 to go. 3rd and 5, Elway in the gun, with plenty of time, threw a dart to Jackson by the sidelines at the 33, who caught it and went out of bounds with :15 to go. The Giants, who had little left in the tank, were out there as Elway threw a Hail Mary to the right corner of the end zone, but it was batted out of bounds by Guyton with :08 to go in the game.
Elway was back, set up shop and threw another deep one towards the same area, trying to hit Nattiel. But there were only 2 Broncos and about 6 Giants around the ball. Sheldon White and Carl Banks nearly both picked it off, but they knocked it to the ground. The clock struck 0:00 and the Giants escaped with a 14-7 win and kept them in a first place tie with the Eagles.
Post Mortem/ Interesting Tidbits
- First meeting since Super Bowl XXI between the Giants and Broncos
- Dave Meggett’s 57 yard TD was not his longest of the season. That would come in the opener in Washington on a 62 yard catch and run for a TD. It would turn out to be his 2nd longest catch of his career however. Two weeks prior, Meggett caught a 53 yard TD on a short pass and run at San Francisco. After his rookie season, Meggett only had one more catch of 50 or more yards for the remainder of his career, when he caught a 50 yard bomb from Phil Simms at Philadelphia in 1993, which helped set up a TD pass to Mark Jackson in a 7-3 Giants win.
- Lawrence Taylor missed most of this game. He had broken a bone in his ankle 2 weeks prior on a Monday Night loss in San Francisco. He played the next week in the loss to Philly but was clearly slowed down, even with the emotional lift of him being out there. He was supposed to play in Denver, but back spasms forced him to the bench. LT would come out to play later in the 2nd half as the Giants were clinging to the lead and were starting to run out of gas
- The fake punt to Gary Reasons was his only official rush in his career, the 1 carry for 2 yards and a first down. Of course, he would do it again in the NFC Championship game 1 year later, good for a 30 yard gain, and if not for a great tackle by John Taylor, it would have been a TD.
- Mo Carthon’s 18 yard run was not only a season long, it was a career long rush for the fullback who made his name as a lead blocker.
- The Giants did not fare very well in Denver over the years. The Giants have played 5 games in Denver, and this was the only one which they came out the victor. Of course, they did face the Broncos on a neutral site in 1986 at the Rose Bowl when the Giants beat the Broncos 39-20 in Super Bowl XXI.
- Bobby Humphrey as a supplemental pick. Giants fans learned all about the Supplemental Draft in 1992, when they used their would be 1993 First Round pick on Dave Brown (their 2nd rounder would turn out to be Michael Strahan). The Broncos used a first round pick in the Supplemental Draft on RB Bobby Humphrey out of Alabama. Humphrey would impress in his rookie season, rushing for 1,151 yards in the Broncos Super Bowl run season in 1989. In 1990, Humphrey would put up better numbers, 1202 yards and 7 TDs and be named to the Pro Bowl. Believing that he outpaced his contract, Humphrey would hold out in the 1991 season and didn’t actually sign until Week 14. By that time, Gaston Green had taken over as the Broncos lead back, and himself gained 1037 yards in just 13 games. Humphrey was made expendable and was traded to the Miami Dolphins in 1992 for Sammie Smith. Humphrey would play 2 seasons with the Dolphins and be out of the NFL by 1994.
- The late Bum Phillips was on the sidelines in his big cowboy hat watching his son Wade as Defensive Coordinator. Was was in his first year as defensive coordinator with the Broncos. Wade got his start as a defensive coach on his father’s staff in Houston with the Oilers from 1976-1980. When Bum went to New Orleans as head man, Wade followed him and was the defensive coordinator there from 1981-1985, and he would actually take over for his father as interim head coach in 1985 after Bum stepped down. Wade would end up as the Eagles defensive coordinator, working under another top defensive mind, Buddy Ryan, from 1986-1988. Phillips would remain on the Broncos staff as the defensive coordinator from 1989-1992 and would replace Dan Reeves as the head coach in 1993-1994. From there Wade would bounce around either as a Head Coach or Defensive coordinator in Buffalo, Atlanta, San Diego, Dallas, Houston (this time the Texans) and then back to Denver as the defensive coordinator in 2015 when he finally won a Super Bowl after spending nearly 40 years as a coach in the NFL.