1986 still remains my favorite Giants team of all time, and it didn't hurt that it was their first Super Bowl team. After building up the team in 1984 and 1985, expectations were high and the Giants were able to get on a roll and begin to meet those lofty expectations from the fans and media. While the 1986 Giants had a dominant defense, and LT was at his absolute apex as a force in the league, winning the NFL MVP award, the reality is the Giants offense was pretty anemic. Joe Morris and Mark Bavaro were All Pros, but Simms was inconsistent, thanks mainly to a beat up WR core with Simms favorite receiver, Lionel Manuel, out for most of the season. While most people remember the playoff blowouts, the 1986 Giants played a number of close games which they won, leading up to the Monday Night game vs. the 49ers, here was their margin of victory:
- Chargers - 13
- @ Raiders - 5
- Saints- 3
- @ Cardinals -7
- Eagles- 32
- Redskins- 7
- Cowboys- 3
- @ Eagles- 3
- @ Vikings- 2
- Broncos- 3
Other than the home games vs. the Chargers and Eagles, the Giants were within 1 score in 8 of their 10 wins. The last two games prior to the Niners game the Giants had to win on last second Raul Allegre FGs to beat the Vikings (4th and 17) and Broncos. In the Broncos game, the Giants didn't score an offensive TD, it was George Martin's one handed INT and 78 yard TD jaunt for the lone touchdown. However, through it all, the Giants were 10-2 going into the game, looking to win to stay in a tie with the Redskins, who were 11-2 and the Giants were going to face them in a showdown in RFK for the NFC East title the following week. The Giants mid-season schedule was brutal, with them going @ Vikings, Broncos, @ 49ers, @ Redskins, teams who would combine in 1986 for a 41-21-1 record (and were 3 teams who the Giants would meet in the post-season). Though if the Giants won their last 4 games, they would be assured of winning home field advantage in the playoffs.
Many observers felt this gave the Niners the advantage going into this game. And there were many factors to back it up. The Giants had come off 2 emotional last second wins and had the Redskins showdown the following Sunday. Playing on the road, across country, was a formula for a letdown. The Niners were also playing for "revenge", as the Giants ruined their 1985 Super Bowl defense, by knocking them off 17-3 in the Wild Card at Giants Stadium. They had the emotional lift from Joe Montana, returning recently from back surgery and missing 8 weeks, was helping the Niners return to contention in the NFC West. And the biggest reason, the standings. The Niners were 7-4-1 going into this game, trailing the Rams who were 9-4 in the NFC West. A loss to the Giants would put the Niners in a tough position to win the division and make the playoffs.
With a Monday Night audience watching, the Giants brought their 5 game winning streak to the Bay Area against a 49ers team that needed a win.
The Game Highlights
It was a clear, crisp day in SF on December 1, 1986 for this game. The Giants won the toss and McConkey, recently re-acquired from the Packers, returned the kickoff to the 29. The Giants offense took the field and Morris was stuffed for a loss on his first carry and Milt McCall sacked Simms on 2nd down. On 3rd and 17, McConkey managed to get behind his defender and caught a 32 yard pass down the sidelines to the 45. After Morris was tackled for a 1 yard gain, Simms missed a long pass to Robinson which set up the Giants first turnover of the day
Simms was drilled on his pass and forced the ball into coverage, trying to hit Bobby Johnson. What he got was intercepted by safety Jeff Fuller, who fumbled but was recovered by the Niners at the 41. The Niners probably got lucky, as Johnson was hit by rookie CB Tim McKyer, but there was no call by the refs, so it was Niner's ball early in the game in good field position.
The Niners went to the ground, with runs by the recently re-signed Wendell Tyler and Roger Craig. On 3rd and 3, Montana converted on a pass to former USFLer Derek Crawford. However, the drive stalled after 2 short runs by Tyler and Craig and Montana missed a long pass down the sidelines to Rice, who was covered well by Elvis "Toast" Patterson. Niners punted and McConkey fair caught it at the 14. So the defense averted early disaster after the turnover.
Joe Morris started off with a short run, and then Simms went to the air. A dump off to Carthon to the 20 and then a pass to Robinson out to the 31 and then a reception by Bavaro to the 39 had the Giants on the move. But the drive stalled as Morris was again stuffed and Simms missed a deep shot to Robinson. Landeta came on to punt and sent one down to the 19 where it was fair caught by Don Griffen.
The Niners began to move right away. A pass out to Dwight Clark to the 38 for a first. After Tyler was stuffed on 2 straight runs by Carson and then Banks, Montana hit Craig who got just enough for a first down. After a first down incompletion, Montana hit Rice to the Giants 41. Craig followed up with a 10 yard run, thanks to a strong block by Tyler on rookie Mark Collins. Montana again connected with Rice down to the 16. The drive stalled there, as 2 incompletions and a short run brought on Ray Wersching for a 30 yard FG to make the score 3-0 San Francisco.
A return by McConkey got the ball out to the 24 and the Giants offense came back out to work. Simms hit Robinson out to the 36 for a first down. The Giants ended the first quarter on a dump off to Morris, who sprinted up the field out to the Niner's 47. However, on the first play of the 2nd quarter, Simms made a poor decision
Simms was under pressure from the Niner's defensive line and threw the ball up the field as he tried to squeeze the ball in to Bobby Johnson. The result was a Carlton Williamson INT at the Giants 26 yard line and the Giants 2nd turnover of the game.
The Niners started with a run to Tyler for a short gain. A Giants defensive hold and some short passes out to Craig and TE Russ Francis had the Niners driving again. Montana continued to work underneath the Giants zone, with more short passes to Craig and Francis, and some runs sprinkled in to Tyler to get the ball out to the Giants 38. Montana then connected with Rice twice more to get the ball out to the 17 and a Tyler run brought it to the 12. Montana would go to his young star WR for the score
Montana floated the ball up to Rice for the score, as Terry Kinard was a beat slow in getting over to knock it away. While replays would show that Rice was juggling it, the replay setup in 1986 was pretty primitive and the call stood. One other side note, and this is my own personal observation. Niner's fans traditionally have the worst signs they hold up at a game of any fan base. "Cook the Giants with Rice"? Really? It reminded me of when I went to the 1991 season opener vs. the Niners at Giants Stadium. Jerry Rice caught a 73 yard TD on a catch and run (similar to the one he had in 1986 in the playoffs, when he dropped the ball). There was a Niner fan holding up a sign that said...seriously: "49ers are FAN-tastic!" He held this up and showed it around to the crowd, which resulted in the Giants fan behind him, blocked by the sign, to take it out of his hands and rip it up. A scuffle ensued, the yellow coats came down and security escorted out the Niners' fan. I'm not saying that physicality is condoned, just saying.
Anyway, the score was now 10-0 and the Giants were looking like they were in trouble. McConkey took the kickoff to the 23 and the Giants started with a pass to Morris to the 27 and he was stuffed on a 2nd down run. Simms then hit Tony Gallbreath for a first down to the 45. Simms connected with Bavaro out to the Niners 38. After a Morris run to the 33, Simms drilled the ball to Bavaro who took it to the 23 for a first down. However, a short gain by Morris, a big hit on Robinson by Ronnie Lott to break up the 2nd down, and an incomplete pass in the corner of the end zone from Simms to Jeff Hostetler (yes, that was right, Hostetler came on at WR) as he caught it out of bounds. Raul Allegre came on for his first FG attempt of the season on natural grass. His low line drive was blocked by Duane Board and a nice drive went for naught.
Montana continued his patient attack vs. the Giants. With passes to Craig and Clark to the 43. After a Craig run to the 50, Montana hits Craig on a screen to the 41 and then a pass to Rice to the 33. Joe Cribbs, took the ball to the 25 and the Giants defense was on its heels. Two more runs to Craig and Tyler got the ball to the 11. Tyler turned the corner on the next play to take it to the 1 for a first and goal. On first down, Montana was pressured by Carson on a blitz and overthrew Rice. Craig was stuffed on 2nd down by LT. On 3rd down, Bill Walsh decided to show off the depth of his playbook
An end around to Jerry Rice on 3rd and Goal from the 1. Perry Williams got hit and lost containment allowing Rice to score untouched. The score was 17-0 and the shot of Parcells on the bench looking disgusted said it all. This game was turning into a rout.
The Giants got the kickoff and Soloman Miller took it to the 27 with :40 to go. Simms had 2 passes to Gallbreath as the Giants got it to the the 44. A pass to Bobby Johnson for a first down and add 5 more on a facemask on Keena Turner (loved that name) put it at the Niners 42. Simms passed again to Johnson for 18 more, which set up a 43 yard FG. However, in keeping with the whole first half, Allegre hooked it and the Giants went in down 17-0.
Now keep in mind the following. The Giants offense was slumping at this point. They had 1 TD in 11 quarters and were now down 3 scores, on the road, vs. a good team. The Niners offense was moving the ball at will vs. the Giants defense. And the Giants had real do-or-die game at RFK for the NFC East title. The Niners needed this win and were beating the Giants offensively (rolling up 229 yards), defensively (2 picks, Giants unable to run), and on special teams. The Niners got the ball first and it would seem that the Giants were going to just pack it in and get ready for the Redskins with a short week to prepare. But then the 3rd quarter started.
San Francisco took the opening kickoff to the 15. A dump off pass to Francis went for 3 yards. Though things finally went against the Niners, as an offensive pass interference, a Rice dropped pass (which was a big problem for him in his 2nd season), and Gary Reasons knocked down a 3rd down pass brought on the punting unit.
McConkey fielded the punt and took it to the 50. After an incomplete pass to Johnson down the sideline came one the biggest plays in the past 30 years for the Giants
Every Giants fan knows this play and it really did spark the team and was one of the most memorable plays in 1986 and certainly defined Mark Bavaro's career. Bavaro made the catch at the 40, and 49ers LB Mike Walter bounces off of him, and Riki Ellison misses a hit on Bavaro. Ronnie Lott ran up and grabbed Bavaro around his mid-section at the 33 and Bavaro just kept moving, dragging the Pro Bowler up the field. Keena Turner dove in and bounced off the Bavaro tractor, meanwhile CB Don Griffen tried to stick a shoulder in and ended up going backwards, as Bavaro, with help from Oates and Carthon kept moving forward. In all, the play came to a halt at the 18 yard line. After a run to Morris went for no gain, the Giants decided that if Little Joe couldn't do it on the ground, he could maybe do it in the air
With Hostetler again in at WR, Morris ran a pattern up the seam and beat Turner for an 18 yard TD reception. The Giants had life and were now down 17-7.
The Niners got the kickoff and returned it to the 30. After a dump off to Craig for 6 yards, the Niners drive again stalled in a 3 and out thanks to Jerome Sally and LT stuffing Craig on 2nd down and Montana missing Francis. Another Niner's punt and McConkey made a fair catch at the 29.
Simms began with a dump off to OJ Anderson, who bulled to the 41. Morris was stopped for no gain and Simms hit Bavaro to the 49. On 3rd and a long 1, Morris was stopped by Lott short of the first down. That set up The Gambler, Bill Parcells.
Parcells deserves tons of credit for this sequence. The Giants finally had some momentum, however they couldn't run the ball worth a damn on this night. If the Giants do not make it here, the Niners get the ball at midfield, and with a short field, could easily put the game away. But Parcells showed confidence in his offensive line, and Morris followed strong blocks by Carthon and William Roberts (in as an extra OL) and ran it out to the 34. On the very next play, Simms went up top for a 34 yard TD to Robinson on a perfectly thrown ball. The score was now 17-14 and it now became a real game again.
The Niners were looking shell shocked, and yet again, their offense which was flawless in the first half, sputtered, going 3 and out again, as Montana missed Clark down the field and punted to the Giants 28. Simms began with a pass to Carthon out to the 36 and then hit McConkey over the middle to the 50. After Anderson was stuffed for no gain, the Giants decided to air it out
Simms had the hot hand and went up top to Robinson for a 49 yard catch down to the one. Robinson made a circus catch, rolling over and having the ball fall into his lap. I still think he scored a TD and wasn't touched by the SF defensive back, and if the game was played today, there would have been a lengthy replay stoppage. OJ Anderson left no doubt on the next play, plowing into the end zone for a TD and the Giants had scored 3 TDs in the 3rd quarter to stun the Niners and go up 21-17.
The Candlestick crowd was stunned. The Niners offense took over and tried to regain some control, but instead that backfired
Montana was rushed on the throw by George Martin, and the ball deflected off of Rice (who was crushed by Carson and Kenny Hill) and was intercepted by Perry Williams. Williams returned the ball to the 40 and suddenly the Giants were threatening to really grab the game by the throat.
A few runs by Morris and a dump off to Carthon got the ball to the 30. Simms hit Robinson to the 20 and the Giants wanted to go for the kill.
Bavaro, who was having one of the best games of his career, caught the ball in stride and was heading towards the goal line, when he tried to finish off the play and fumbled the ball at the 5, where it was recovered by Ellison and the Niners dodged a huge bullet.
Tyler ran to the 11 yard line to end a dominant 3rd quarter for the Giants, and he followed that up with a burst out to the 24 for a first down. Montana went back to work, with passes to Clark, Craig, Cribbs got the ball to the Giants 42. The Niners would get the ball to the 31, and eventually on would go for it on 4th and 2. Montana went deep to Rice, who made a 1 handed catch near the goal line but was out of bounds.
The Giants couldn't do much with it on their turn and went 3 and out and punted back to SF. Montana ended up missing a wide open Jerry Rice, who got behind Herb Welch, for what would have been a TD. Montana was then pressured by Marshall and LT and missed an open Cribbs for a first down and were forced to punt.
Morris' terrible day continued, losing 6 on a first down carry, and by third down Simms dropped the shotgun snap from Bart Oates and the Giants had to punt it away again and Landeta sent it to the Niners 32.
Montana, famous for his comebacks and 2 minute drills, went to work. After a first down incompletion, Montana hit Rice to the 43 and then 2 passes to Francis to the Giants 36. 2 more passes to Craig set up a 4th and inches, which Montana converted himself on a sneak with 1:23 to go. A short gain to Rice, who dragged Welch out of bounds started off the new series of downs. Rice then caught the ball in front of Collins, who was playing with a broken hand, and just go out of bounds to make it 3rd and 3. Wendell Tyler was stuffed in the backfield by Banks, who actually looked like he fumbled on the hit, but it was ruled inconclusive by the booth and it set up a 4th and 7 with 1:00 to go.
Andy Headen, one of the Giants unsung talented LBs who was behind some of the best in the league at their positions, came up the middle on a blitz and Montana was forced to hurry the throw to Craig. The pass and the play never had a chance. The Giants were able to run out the clock and Parcells was thrilled with the comeback 21-17 win (though he sort of dodged the Gatorade bath). The Giants had gone to 11-2 to tie the Redskins for first place and kept the Giants on track for a division title and homefield advantage in the playoffs.
Interesting Tidbits/Post Mortem
- This game would feature 7 future Hall of Famers: LT, Carson, Montana, Lott, Rice, Randy Cross, and Bill Walsh. Odds are that some day Parcells and Belichick will join them in Canton.
- Joe Morris had 14 carries for 13 yards, an average of 1.08 yards per carry. It was the lowest total of his career in terms of yards and average in a game in which he'd have at least 10 carries. Morris would make up for it in the playoff win vs. the Niners in the second round, rushing 24 times for 159 yards and 2 TDs.
- Simms 388 yards passing was a season high for him in 1986. It was his 4th 300 yard game of the season. The 388 yards was his 4th highest total for his career: 513 @ Cincy in 1985, 432 vs. Dallas in 1985, and 409 vs. Philly in 1984 would best it.
- Robinson's 113 yards was a career high and it was the only 100 yard game of his career. His 49 yard catch was the longest of 1986 for him, and the second longest of his career. The only catch longer was a 62 yard TD vs. the Eagles in 1988 (the infamous game where LT blocked the FG in OT and Clyde Simmons ran it in for a game winning TD)
- OJ Anderson's TD was the first as a Giant and his only with the Giants in the regular season. He did score what seemed to be a going away present TD vs. the Broncos in Super Bowl XXI.
- Morris was never known as a good receiver. His TD was the second of his career and his first since scoring on a pass from Jeff Rutledge in 1983 at Washington.
- The Giants 17 point comeback was their 2nd of 1986. They came back from being down 17-0 in Week 4 at Giants Stadium vs. the Saints.
- Pepper Johnson, a rookie in 1986, played with the name T. Johnson on the back of his uniform. His "real" name is Thomas Johnson. He would later switch it to P. Johnson on the back of his jersey and it would be that way the remainder of his career.
- Rice's rushing TD was his only one for 1986.
- The Niners hadn't lost a game leading by 17+ points since 1977.
- San Francisco had 3 backs on their roster who had run for 1000 yards in a season. Wendell Tyler and Roger Craig did it with the 49ers. Joe Cribbs had done it in Buffalo in the early 1980s. Craig was the first player to rush and receive for 1000 yards in the same season (accomplished in 1985)
- Tony Gallbreath was the Giants 3rd down back in 1986, he held the role which Dave Meggett would end up more or less perfecting 3 years later.
- Monday Night football was the premiere showcase event back when this was played in 1986. However, the Giants would have a brutal Monday Night record, going 4-11-1 going into this game. In the time played (and inclusive) since this game, the Giants Monday Night record has been 18-21 . Though 2 of those games were played on Monday Night due to natural disasters: 2005 game "@" New Orleans due to Katrina (when the Giants played at Giants Stadium) and 2010 "@" Minnesota actually played in Detroit due to the Metrodome roof collapse from heavy snow. The Giants did not play any Monday Night games in 1996 or 1997, due to their 5-11 horror show in 1995 made them a non-marquee team. The Giants would twice go 0-3 on Monday Nights in a season (1987 and 2001). Once the flex schedule came into play, Monday Nights became less of a big event, as that honor was shifted to the Sunday Night games. However, for fun, here are the recent Giants coach's record on Monday Nights, and the lead dog might surprise you.
- Parcells: 7-10-1 (.389)
- Handley: 3-1 (.750)
- Reeves: 2-3 (.400)
- Fassel: 1-8 (.111)
- Coughlin: 7-3 (.700)
- The Niners were unquestionably the Team of the 1980s. From 1980-1990, they won 4 Super Bowls, and posted a record of 118-49-1. In the playoffs in this span, they went 14-5. However, the Giants would go 3-2 in this period vs. the Niners, and Parcells personally went 3-1 vs. San Francisco in the playoffs. Now you understand why they "laid down like dogs" in 1988 to keep the Giants out of the playoffs. The Niners wanted nothing to do with the Parcells' Giants.
- Other than the 1985 playoffs, the last time the Giants beat the Niners was in 1979, in Bill Walsh's first year when they went 2-14. The Giants didn't win a game in SF since 1975.
- Since 1990, the Giants faced the Niners in the playoffs 3 times. They were blown out 44-3 in 1993, in LT and Simms' final game in the NFL, when Ricky Watters ran for 5 TDs. In 2002, the Giants infamously blew a 38-14 lead and choked away the game, with the help of the officials who ignored the pass interference call on Rich Seubert by Chike Okaefor and coined the phrase "bummer" by Steve Mariucci. The Giants would get their revenge in the 2011 NFC Championship, beating the Niners 20-17 on an OT field goal.
- One last note, this game was reffed by Ben Drieth, who was one of my favorite officials. While most refs were robotic, making the call by the book. Drieth would make the call but would add in his own thoughts along the way. Most famous was his call in 1986 in a game between the Jets and Bills, when he threw a flag on Marty Lyons for fighting with Jim Kelly, as seen here: