Thursday, June 28, 2012

1997 Giants @ Redskins

Week 13

The Setup

This game was a match up between the top 2 teams in the NFC East.  In 1997, the Cowboys dynasty was finally showing signs of age and was cracking.  After starting 3-1, Barry Switzer's team was coming back to Earth and going into Week 13, had just been blown out in Green Bay 45-17 by the defending World Champ Pack which dropped them to 6-6.  So that meant that the ESPN Sunday Night game between Jim Fassel's Giants (who started 1-3, but behind Danny Kanell had saved their season and were 7-4 entering the game) and the Norv Turner Redskins (who also started 3-1, and were 6-5 going into Week 13) was for, essentially first place in the NFC East.  A Giants win would give them a 2 game lead, and doing it with a road win.  A Redskins win would put them in a tie with the Giants and give them a leg up by winning head to head.  Of course, no one ever thinks of a tie game in these scenarios, right?

Going into the game, the Giants were hot, winning 6 of their last 7 games and came off a win at Giants Stadium vs. the Cardinals, where the G-men blew a 10-0 lead and had to rely on a Kanell to Cross TD in the 4th quarter to break the tie and win it 19-10.  Meanwhile the Skins were coming off a loss at Dallas and blew a 14-6 lead in the 3rd quarter, before going down 17-14.

The Redskins, as was their MO, had loaded up on high priced free agent talent, players who made their names with other teams and were former Pro Bowlers.  Among the notable names on the 1997 Skins:  Henry Ellard (former Rams WR), Stanley Richard (former Chargers first round safety), Cris Dishman (former Oilers CB), Marvcus Patton (former Bills linebacker), Ken Harvey (former Cardinals OLB), Chris Zorich (former Bears DT), Chris Mims (former Chargers first round DL), Terry Allen (former Vikings RB). Former Rams DT Sean Gilbert was sitting out 1997 in a contract dispute. And 2 former Giants, safety Jesse Campbell and backup QB Jeff Hostetler.

Meanwhile the Giants were the NFL's youngest roster in 1997 and came into the season with 0 Pro Bowlers.  Their oldest player on offense was 30 year old TE Howard Cross.  The rest was led by 24 year old Kanell, 25 year old RBs in Charles Way and Ty Wheatley, 22 year old Tiki Barber.  And on defense was 27 year old Jessie Armstead, 26 year old Jason Sehorn, 26 year old Defensive lineman Keith Hamilton and Michael Strahan.  It was the beginning of a new core of young Giants for rookie head coach Jim Fassel.

For the first time, the Giants played at the Skins new park, then known as Jack Kent Cooke Stadium (now FedEx field).  A late November game, Giants at Redskins and first place on the line, in the 1980s and early 1990s, it was a familiar sight.  2 solid defenses, 2 flawed offenses, 2 Touchdowns, 2 bonehead plays by the Skins and 22 punts awaited a memorable game, in which no one would win or lose.

The Game Highlights
On a perfect, 49 degree, clear night in Raljon, Maryland, the Giants took the opening kickoff which Erric Pegram returned to the Giants 16 and ushered the Giants offense on to the field.  After a Kanell rollout run for 8 yards on the first play, Ty Wheatley popped a big 17 yard run, dragging tacklers to the 42 (yes, Wheatley actually did this and didn't get hurt).  The next play, the Giants continued to run on the 29th ranked rushing defense in the NFL, led by former Giants DC Mike Nolan, with fullback Charles Way plowing to the Skins 45.  Way would add yet another punishing run to the 37, which included a stiff arm on Stanley Richard with put him on the ground.  On 3rd and short, Wheatley was upended and Fassel decided to send out rookie 3rd round pick Brad Maynard to punt, it would be the first of very many.  Maynard hoped to pin them deep, but a poor punt gave the ball to the Skins at the 19.

Gus Frerotte led the Skins offense on to the field.  After a short run and an Ellard drop, Frerotte drilled a pass in to Michael Westbrook, and with a crushing block by Ellard on Percy Ellsworth, Westbrook took the ball to the 46 yard line.  Terry Allen was stuffed on 2 straight runs and an incompletion by Frerotte brought out the Skins punter, Pro Bowler Matt Turk, who promptly sailed one into the end zone for a touchback.

The Giants next drive featured a first down pass to WR Kevin Alexander and a decent run by Way, but once out to near the 40, Wheatley was again stuffed on 3rd and 1, losing yardage and again brought out Maynard with a punt to the Skins 26.

After a couple of passes to Ellard and Westbrook help move the chains, the Giants defense again clamped down on Allen, and a good tackle by Phillippi Sparks on Allen prevented a decent gain, which brought Turk out his punt back to the Giants.  This time, the Giants offense goes backwards.  Kanell botches a screen pass, which results in a 12 yard loss thanks to an intentional grounding penalty and a 2nd and 22 set up.  Things get worse as Kanell is sacked by Ken Harvey, who bull rushed Roman Oben right into Kanell and dropped them both at the 3 yard line.  Maynard had to punt from his own end zone, and manages to get it out to the Giants 41 yard line.

With great field position, the Giants defense has to hold the line.  A first down Allen run was snuffed out by Robert Harris and Corey Widmer.  And then John Fox's aggressive playcalling helped out

Sparks'  sack helped to push the Skins out of long FG range.  However, on 3rd and 15, the Skins drive was saved by a hands to the face penalty on Conrad Hamilton for an automatic first down.  After holding the Skins to short yardage on the next two plays, Conrad Hamliton was called for another penalty and another first down (which earned him a ripping by Fassel on the sidelines).  The Giants defense though, would overcome this as well

 The DL was overwhemling the Redskins offensive line.  For a long stretch in the 1970s and 1980s, linebackers were the impact group on the Giants (as you would expect in a 3-4).  However, once the Giants switched to a 4-3 under Reeves, it was the defensive line which has produced a number or havoc wreaking players and in 1997, while not quite at the 2007/2011 level, they were a strong group.  The defense held and forced a Matt Turk punt down to the 16.

The Giants and Skins both then had matching 3 and out drives, with Matt Turk's punt pinning the Giants at their own 1 yard line.  A Charles Way 7 yard run and then a delayed shotgun draw to Tiki moved the chains.  Two more passes to Barber got the ball out to the 34, where the drive stalled and set up a 3rd and long

It's never a good sign to see your QB get up with huge hunk of the field in his helmet, but this one wasn't Kanell's fault.  Tiki and Oben screwed up the blocking assignments, and Tiki ended up picking Oben, which gave a clear path to the QB for Harvey, the former Cardinal LB and a 4 time Pro Bowler essentially had a free run and got the sack and forced a fumble, which was recovered by Washington at the 27.  The Skins started with a dump off to FB Mark Logan and then hit a wide open TE James Jenkins for 20 yards down to the 3 yard line.  Jenkins was left wide open thanks to a failed zone blitz which left Bernard Holsey trying to cover out in space, with expected results.  Terry Allen was stuffed by Robert Harris and Keith Hamilton on consecutive plays, which set up 3rd and 1, and then came, what is simply known as The Headbutt to the Wall.

A play action fake and Frerotte ended up rolling back to the 12 yard line, where he was chased by Holsey.  After avoiding him, Frerotte took off to the corner and just beat Jason Sehorn to the pylon.  Gus was psyched.  The crowd was psyched.  He spiked the ball.  He then headbutted the wall.  The wall, know...a wall, didn't move.  But Frerotte did, backwards quickly.  Frerotte stayed in as holder on the extra point, but gingerly took his helmet off as the doctors looked at him on the sidelines.  7-0 Skins in the lead.

The Giants tried to response (though, how could you match that?)  Pegram had a good return out to the 35.  But Kanell then tried on his Benny Hill/Keystone cops thing and ran around backwards, until he was caught and sacked at the 19 by Chris Zorich.  2nd and 29.  More boneheaded plays as Tiki Barber inexplicably runs out of bounds, to save the Skins a time out and bring on Maynard for a punt to the 35.

Frerotte would come back on the field with 1:42 to play and a chance to get more.  After an initial first down pass to the 40, Frerotte lobs 3 lollipops for incompletions and gave the Giants a chance to get a score.  Alas, another 3 and out for the Giants and another Maynard punt to the 20.  Norv Turner decided to rest the punter's legs for the remainder of the half and just took a merciful knee to end it at 7-0 Skins.

At the start of the 2nd half, the Skins were getting the ball.  Warming up on the sidelines was a familiar #15, but in an unfamiliar uniform.  It was learned the Frerotte was going for x-rays at halftime, so entering the game was Super Bowl XXV championship QB Jeff Hostetler, our old buddy.  Hoss got the ball at the 17 and a quick screen to Allen was again snuffed out by Corey Widmer for a 4 yard loss.  Hoss though regrouped and hit Westbrook and Asher for first downs.  After Allen was yet again nailed, this time by Armstead, the defense was able to get that needed turnover

Rookie safety Sam Garnes jumped in to deflect the pass, and Sparks put the tip drill into practice and picked it off at the Giants' 45.  Charles Way starts off with three straight power runs down to the Redskins' 33.  The Giants then avoid near disaster as Wheatley fumbled the ball, and Richard blew an easy recovery, trying to run with the ball and kicked it out of bounds.  The Skins would pay the price, Way converted the 3rd down on a quick pass and a dive.  Kanell then got aggressive and took a deep shot to Calloway, but the Giants got a the benefit of a questionable pass interference on 37 year old Darrell Green to put the ball on the 6.  A Charles Way run put it at the 4 yard line, and then the Giants would finally cash in.

Calloway was always a good possession receiver.  He was miscast as a #1 guy on the Giants, but that was mainly due to a number of other personnel decision failures (Thomas Lewis as bust first round pick, releasing Ed McCaffrey who would blossom into a Pro Bowler in Denver, Mike Sherrard getting too old, etc.)  Calloway really should have been a #3 or even #4 on a good team.  In this case, he walked the tightrope and got the job done in the end zone.  Tie score 7-7 with 6:58 to go in the 3rd quarter.

On the Skins next possession, the defense continued to go after Hoss.  Armstead knocked a pass down at the line and Allen was stopped on a short gain by Holsey.  After a 3rd down conversion to Westbrook, Hoss felt the wrath of the DL again

You know that your pass rush is at the top of it's game when all 4 DL end up in a pile by the QB.  The Skins offensive line was simply over matched.  Turk comes on again, punts to the 35.

The Giants start off well, a pass to Tiki to the 45 and another run by Way down to the Skins 45.  After a short Tiki run, I have to add this in here

This is video evidence of Jamal Duff making a play.  Back in 1995, Jamal Duff was one of those diamonds in the rough, physical specimens.  Duff was a 6th rounder out of San Diego State, a raw pass rushing talent who looked to have the tools to be a big part of the young Giants defensive front along with Strahan, Hamilton, Harris, Bratzke.  At 6'7", 285, he had speed and strength and collected 4 sacks as a rookie in 1995.  It seemed like he was going to be a star in the making.  However, a foot injury shelved him for the 1996 season and the Giants released him before the 1997 season.  I was crushed when they did this and thought that George Young would rue the day that he did this.  Well, Duff hooked on with the Redskins and I was even more enraged.  As it turned out, Duff lasted 2 seasons in Washington, and then spent the 1999 camp with the Bears (was cut) and 2000 camp with the Raiders (was cut) and then landed with the LA Xtreme of the XFL in 2001.  He was out of pro football after that and became an actor, where he was "best" (I guess best) known as Me'Shell Jones in the Ben Stiller comedy Dodgeball.  Bottom line, when you fall in love with an unproven player, and the coaches make a decision to release them, maybe accept that they know more than you do as a fan.  For every Ed McCaffrey who was a legit mistake, there are hundreds of Jamal Duffs or Anthony Mixes who are not.

Anyway,  Duff's sack and forced fumble was recovered by Greg Bishop, and effectively killed the drive, resulting in yet another Maynard punt, this time fair caught by Mitchell at the 9.

Terry Allen, though slowed down in 1997, was a good NFL running back.  And he finally got going on this drive.  A 6 yard run and then later breaking a 29 yarder around left end (stiff arming Marcus Buckley off of him) had the Skins on the move.  At near mid field, Strahan registered his 12th sack of the season and set the Redskins back.  Though a nice 3rd down pass from Hoss to Chris Thomas to the 34 got the Skins in FG range.  As the drive stopped at the 27 and brought on Scott Blanton for a 43 yarder, which was hooked to the left and kept the game at 7-7.

The Giants promptly went 3 and out, and a TD saving tackle on a Mitchell punt return by future XFL'er Brandon Sanders put the Skins at their 36.  A tackle in the backfield by Buckley and 2 incompletions brought out Turk again.  This time the Giants are able to mount a bit of a drive.  An 11 yard run by Way to the 46 got them started.  However, the Giants just missed a huge opportunity when Way dropped a 3rd and 1 swing pass for what would have been a big gain.  Enter....Brad Maynard, and a beauty punt to the Skins 4 yard line.

Hoss gets them out of the shadow of their own goal posts, with a 20 yard slant to Westbrook (and a weak body bump tackle attempt by Sehorn).  A couple of more passes to Westbrook and Ellard got the ball to the 45.  On 3rd and 10, the defense again clamped down

Harris' sack with 3:03 left in the game forced yet another Turk punt, which was fielded by Toomer at the 6 and he was dropped without gaining a yard.  A Wheatley 15 yard run was negated by a Calloway holding call, and Kanell bearly avoids an intentional grounding in the end zone for a safety penalty, just throwing one out of reach of Way as he was under duress.  The refs then helped the Giants out, this time with yet another pass interference on Green covering Calloway, for a first down at the 22.  But, 3 more plays and a punt to Mitchell gave the Skins the ball at the 34.

With just over a minute to play, the Skins had a chance to win it, but Hoss ended up going 3 and out (thanks to pressure applied by Holsey).  The Giants got the ball back after a Turk punt down to the 17 with :52 to play.  After a passes to Tiki and Pegram, Kanell hit Calloway up near the 50 yard line.  Fassel called a time out with :08 to play.  A quick pass to Pegram set up a Daluiso 64 yard FG attempt (a record at that time) with :01 to go.  After the Skins called time out to ice Daluiso, Fassel changed his mind and went for the Hail Mary.  Kanell was hit as he threw, and it was caught by Toomer at the 17, but he was easily stopped and time expired.  Overtime.

The Redskins won the toss and a return by Mitchell to the 38 had them looking good.  After 2 plays that went no where, the Giants defense again made a huge play

Jason Sehorn made the play, and tried to get more on the lateral to Tito Wooten, who promptly booted it out of bounds.  But the Giants had the momentum and the ball.  Unfortunately, they didn't have Eli Manning, Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and a championship offense.  They had the 1997 incarnation, and 3 plays and out, including yet another Ken Harvey sack brought on Maynard.

Hoss got the Skins moving, a pass to Asher to the 50.  A pass to Ellard inside the 40, and then Hoss decided to make Giants fans happy again

Hoss' QB scramble and then ill fated pass got him drilled by Strahan and Hamilton, and Harris fell on the ball with 10:37 to go.  So they had barely played 5 minutes in OT, the Skins had 2 turnovers.

The Giants offense, ever consistent, went 3 and out again...and surrendered a 4th sack to Ken Harvey.  Maynard booms the ball into the end zone for a touchback.  Hoss went to the air, hitting Westbrook to the 36 and Ellard to the 50.  Robert Harris then stuffed Allen on one play and knocked the ball down at the line on the next.  Hoss hits Westbrook again to near the 40 and is inches short of a first.  Norv Turner decides to challenge the Giants defensive front, a group he couldn't run on for 4 quarters.  Bad move

The DL was in the backfield almost immediately. So the Skins had 2 turnovers and now a turnover on downs.  Against everyone's better judgement, the Giants offense came back out on the field.  But Kanell was able to finally make a play, hitting Toomer at the Skins 45 yard line, and then to Aaron Pierce at the 37.  The Giants would go no further, so Fassel decided to try a 54 yarder...and then craziness ensues

Daluiso badly hooked his game winning attempt, the Redskins then promptly get picked as Sparks got his second INT of the game.  So in OT that's now 3 turnovers and a turnover on downs by the Redskins offense.  Wheatley then springs a big run down to the 37, just stepping out of bounds when it looked like he could have broken it for a TD.  However, 2 more incompletions by Kanell so Daluiso came back out for yet another 54 yard attempt with 2:20 to go

You can't make this up.  Daluiso goes ahead with the kick and gets blocked, but Marvcus Patton inexplicably called a timeout negating the play.  Fassel gets cold feet now, instead of going for the win, he decides to bring out Maynard to pin them deep and let his defense try to score, I guess.  But it was a touchback and the Skins got it at the 20 with 2:12 to go.

Hoss is able to hit Ellard to the 41 and then to Brian Mitchell to midfield.  Hoss is able to scramble down to the 38, and with no time outs to work with, the Skins spike the ball with :48 seconds to play.  They are now in business and in control for a FG to win it.  And then Michael Westbrook took it all away

A close call on a sideline catch by Westbrook is called out of bounds by the refs.  Westbrook goes crazy, throws his helmet off while on the field of play, which is a 15 yard penalty in 1997.  So many things going on here:
- The rule was put in place thanks in large part to the 1990s Dynasty Cowboys, as Emmitt and Irvin enjoyed pulling their helmets off to mug for the cameras.  So a penalty created by Dallas, killed the Redskins.
-  I love Strahan's reaction, running over and pointing at Westbrook, as if the ref 2 feet away doesn't see it or know it's a penalty
-  Close behind was Norv screaming at Westbrook to "put on your helmet!!"  And then the disgust as he walked away
-  The disgust in Joe Theismann's voice for Westbrook's actions.  Once a Redskin, always a Redskin
-  Patton and Harvey yelling at Westbrook on the sidelines afterwords.

Now it's 3rd and 25 at the 46, out of field goal range, no time outs.  The Skins are able to move it a little bit and Hoss hits Ellard down to near the 38 and with no time outs, the Skins rush Blanton out on to the field....

Blanton's attempt is not even close.  With :02 to go, Kanell's heave is picked off and ends the game with a 7-7 tie.  The Giants ended up with the better end of the tie, getting it on the road and keeping first place.  For the Skins, it was one of the most brutal ties you can imagine, and if ever a tie felt like a loss, it was this game for Washington.

Interesting Tidbits/ the Post Mortem
  • You would be hard pressed to find a more brutal OT showing than the Giants and Redskins put on in this game.  The Skins had 3 turnovers, a turnover on downs, a missed field goal, and a stupid personal foul which knocked them out of field goal range.  Meanwhile the Giants missed a field goal, and had another blocked but was saved by a Skins time out.  
  • The last tie game the Giants played was in 1983, Parcells' first season, a Week 8 20-20 tie at Giants Stadium in one of the worst Monday Night Games in memory.  The Cardinals kicker, Neil O'Donoghue missed 3 FGs with a chance to win (a pre-cursor to Jay Feeley's performance in Seattle in 2006).  Giants QB Jeff Rutledge and Cardinals QB Neil Lomax combined for 5 INTs and 0 TDs.  There were 9 sacks in the game (Giants giving up 6).  The teams combined for 20 penalties and nearly 200 yards.  Awful.
  • Since this game the Giants have played in 16 overtime games, including the post-season.  In all they've posted a 12-4 record.  The closest they came to a tie since the Redskins game was in 2003 vs. the Jets. A Will Allen blocked FG helped keep the game alive and Brett Conway kicked a 29 yarder to win.  That game would even the Giants record at would be the last game Jim Fassel would win, as the Giants went in the tank the rest of the way, going 0-8 and costing Fassel his job.
  • Strahan had 2 sacks in the game to give him 13 on the season.  That was the most by a Giant since LT had 15 in 1989.  Strahan would finish with 14 sacks and his first Pro Bowl selection in 1997.
  • Phillippi Sparks' 2 INT game was not the only time he did it, nor was it his first.  Sparks had 2 interceptions in a game 5 times in his career.  He actually did it twice in 1997, in this Redskins game and then 1 week later in a home loss to the Bucs
  • However, Sparks' sack was the only one in his 9 year career.
  • Brad Maynard had a career game with the Giants.  Still active going into the 2012 season (with the Browns now), Maynard had 13 punts for 537 yards, numbers he has not exceeded in a single game since.
  • Maynard was also known for being a high draft pick for a punter.  Coming out of Ball State, the Giants spent a 3rd round pick on him, by far the highest they spent on a punter.  In recent years, only Ray Guy (23rd overall by the Raiders) and Todd Sauerbrun (2nd rounder, 56th overall by the Bears) were higher picks.  The Giants did not draft a punter again until they took Matt Dodge in the 7th round in 2010.  I don't really recall how that ended up, I blacked out during the 2010 home game to the Eagles and woke up seeing Steve Weatherford cursing happily as he was running off the field in SF in the NFC Title game in celebration.
  • The defense clamped down on Terry Allen.  Allen, who was known for his comeback story of returning with torn ACLs in both knees, had a monsterous 1996 season: 1353 yards and 21 TDs.  In this game however, he was held to 64 yards on 27 carries.  Take away his 29 yard run, and he's at 26 carries for 35 yards, 1.3 yards per carry.  Wow.
  • This wasn't Michael Westbrook's first brush with controversy.  At the start of camp, Westbrook got in an arguement with teammate Stephen Davis, and sucker punched Davis who was sitting down.  Davis ended up with a facial fracture and Westbrook got a $50,000 fine.
  • Ken Harvey came into the game with 1 sack on the season.  He got 4 in the game.  Harvey was a long time Giant killer.  In 1990, Harvey was part of a sack on Phil Simms, which knocked him out of the game and set the stage for Hostetler's 4th quarter comeback in a 20-19 win.  In all, Harvey registered 12 sacks vs. the Giants in his career with the Cardinals and Skins.
  • This was not Hostetler's first time playing the Giants after he left the team in 1993.  Hoss was the Raiders' QB in 1995, and he led the Raiders to a 17-13 come back win at Giants Stadium.
  • Lastly, you have to feel for Gus Frerotte.  The average NFL career is about 3 years.  Frerotte played 15 years in the NFL.  He went to the Pro Bowl in 1996.  Made 2 starts in the Playoffs (0-2).  He threw for 21, 291 yards and 114 TDs.  However, all people remember him for was headbutting a wall after scoring a TD in a National TV game to knock himself out for the second half in a 7-7 tie.  

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

1990 Giants @ Redskins

Week 6

The Setup

Back in 1980s, there were 4 NFC teams who generally represented the best in the conference, particularly from the mid 80s into the early 1990s.  The 49ers in the West.  Bears in the Central.  And in the NFC East it was the Giants and Redskins.  Indeed, between 1984 and 1991, the Super Bowl was won by 1 of those 4 teams (Niners 1984, 1988, 1989), Giants (1986, 1990), Redskins (1987, 1991), and Bears (1985).  The Giants vs. the Redskins.  Parcells vs. Gibbs.  Every game was a battle.  And for some reason in the late 1980s/early 1990s, it was a round-robin between these teams and the Eagles.  The Redskins would beat the Eagles.  The Eagles would beat the Giants.  The Giants would beat the Redskins.  In 1990, the Giants would start off like a machine.  They went 4-0 in the Preseason and started the year 4-0 going into the game at RFK against the Skins.  Meanwhile the Redskins were 3-1, starting second year QB Stan Humphries, in only his second pro start, due to an injury to the #1 QB Mark Rypien.  A Redskins win, and they would be in a first place tie with the Giants at 4-1 and ready the 1990 season for a race to the end for the division crown.  A Giants win would put them at 5-0 and jump out to fast 2 game lead in the NFC East and set up the potential for a run away.

The Giants had won 4 straight games vs. the Redskins going into this one.  The RFK crowd was notoriously loud, so much so that the Giants prepared during the week by having the Giants Stadium speakers pump out loud crowd noise to simulate the conditions that they would face.  [Quick digression: back in my sophomore year at Boston College in 1993, Tom Coughlin prepared for the Eagles game in the Carrier Dome in Syracuse by blaring AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long" over the Alumni Stadium speakers to simulate the noise conditions.  You could hear it all over the lower campus of the school.  It's a trick he learned from Parcells.  BC won the game 33-29.]

The Giants and Redskins were both coming off a bye and the weather was a perfect 74 degrees and sunny in a mid October tilt.  The Giants were beat up early in the season.  Jumbo Elliott and Rodney Hampton were both out due to injuries.  LT was still recovering from a pulled hamstring suffered at the end of the Week 3 win vs. Miami.  Carl Banks dislocated and broke his wrist 2 weeks earlier vs. Dallas and the night before the Redskins game it swelled up and he had to play with a massive cast.  Johnie Cooks started in his place and Banks would come in on passing downs.  Mark Collins was out and replaced by special teamer extraordinaire Reyna Thompson.  But Parcells' teams were always mentally tough and would be ready to play in a big game, on the road, vs. a division rival.

The Game Highlights

The game started with a Giants kickoff and the Redskins wanted to help out their young QB by relying on the "Hogs" offensive line and 2 veteran work horse running backs:  Ernest Byner (known mainly for his time with the Browns) and Gerald Riggs (known more for his All Pro seasons in Atlanta).  After 2 short runs which created a 3rd and long near their own 10, Humphries narrowly escaped a sack by Leonard Marshall and scrambled for a first down.  After 2 more runs by Byner, Humphries hit Art Monk to keep the drive going.  A penalty, and 2 runs by Byner and Riggs brought the ball to midfield.  The Giants defense couldn't keep the Skins offense off the field, and allowed yet another 3rd down conversion, this time to former USFL star Kelvin Bryant.  The Skins march continued on another Byner run down to the 25.  But the Giants defense was finally able to hold thanks to a Skins penalty and LT stuffing Riggs on a sweep.  Humphries missed Gary Clark on 3rd down and the Redskins settled for a Chip Lohmiller 43 yard field goal and a 3-0 lead.  The drive was a marathon, 18 plays, 66 yards and ate up 10:25 of the first quarter.

The Giants finally got the ball and decent field position, thanks to a Meggett return to the 36.  On 3rd and 10, the Giants added a little wrinkle to their game plan, by shifting Meggett to the WR slot and bringing Stephen Baker in the backfield.  The move worked, as Baker got open for a first down to the Skins 45.  After a penalty and a quick pass to Meggett, the drive came to a halt when there was a breakdown on the offensive line and Simms was sacked by Redskins' All Pro DE Charles Mann and forced a Landeta punt, which ended up in the end zone for a touchback.

The Redskins second drive started with a long run by Riggs on a sweep past LT to the 40.  2 plays later, on a 3rd down, Carl Banks was called for holding (even though he had 1 working arm at this point).  At the Giants 49, Humphries hit Monk on a deep pass to the Giants 17 yard line.  After a Riggs run to the 11, LT stuffed Riggs on the next play and then pressured Humphries to force an incompletion.  Lohmiller came in and promptly hooked a 30 yard FG to keep the score at 3-0.  The Giants were very lucky to only be down by 3, as they were totally outplayed for the first quarter and change.

The Giants got the ball at the 20, after 2 plays that went nowhere, it set up a 3rd and 10 from the 20 and the first of several big plays by the Giants' passing game

Talk about a strike out of nowhere.  A relatively short crossing route, which Baker turned up field and out ran the Redskins secondary, including Darrell Green, the fastest man in the NFL.  The play was so unexpected that Pat Summerall didn't really even know how to call it as it was happening.  And this play also highlighted why veteran coaches do not play running backs if they don't know how/are not willing to pick up the blitz.  Dave Meggett, in his second year, took on a blitzing Monte Coleman, and gave up a good 50 pounds, but stuck his nose in there and held him off long enough for Simms to hit Baker.

Bahr, never noted for his distance on kickoffs, managed a touchback.  The Skins again pounded the Giants with a combination of Byner and Riggs, and with the help of a generous spot by ref Tom Dooley, got another drive underway.  A pass to Byner, who faked out Pepper Johnson got the ball to near midfield.  After a Riggs run made it 3rd and 3, the Giants defense made a play

Pepper had great coverage on Bryant out of the backfield, and Humphries threw it right to him for the Skins first turnover of the season.  Bonus points for Pepper as well for whatever trash he spoke to Bryant just moments after the play.

Still up 7-3, the Giants began another drive of their own.  Passes to Carthon and Bavaro moved the ball down inside the 20, where the Giants eventually had to settle for a field goal....however

Madden said he thought it was a botched snap and not a fake.  I'm not sure I agree with him.  If you rewatch it, the Giants had OJ Anderson as one of the edge protectors on FGs and LT was on the other side.  Traditionally, the Giants went with their OLBs for those spots.  Anderson seems to be setting up for a screen and Bahr never really got his steps ready to kick.  Also, right before the snap, Redskins veteran linebacker Monty Coleman (#51) is actually pointing at Anderson before the snap as if to call out a fake.  Additionally, 2 weeks later, when the Giants faced the Skins at Giants Stadium, they did try a fake FG, and a long pass from Hoss to LT, but it was broken up (and LT was interfered with too).  So Parcells and the Giants special teams coaches must have felt there was a weakness in the Skins field goal unit that could be exploited.  However, it was all for naught.  Hoss dropping the snap, and his failed rollout, where he was drilled by Andre Collins kept the score at 7-3 and the Skins took a knee to end the half.

The Giants were lucky to be leading in this game going into the 3rd quarter.  The Skins were moving the ball up and down the field on the defense, but they didn't surrender a TD.  The Giants got the ball first, and after an Anderson run, the Skins defense got the turnover

DT Marcus Koch recovered Anderson's fumble, who was stripped by Fred Stokes in a pile gave the Skins the ball at the Giants 25.  After a pass to Byner got the ball inside the 15, the Skins stalled with 3 straight incompletions and Lohmiller redeemed himself with a 35 yard FG to cut the Giants lead to 7-6.

On the ensuing drive, the Giants got the ball back.  After a reception by Howard Cross was overturned by the booth, John Madden made mention that Mark Bavaro really hadn't done much vs. the Redskins in his career.  Bavaro was about to change that

Being cheered on by Summerall to "turn it on Mark", Bavaro rumbled 61 yards before being caught by Darrell Green at the 19.  Needless to say, Bavaro coming off a series of injuries, knew himself he didn't have the speed to outrun the secondary, let alone the NFL's fastest man, so he covered the ball up to be sure he wouldn't fumble it.  After a Lee Rouson reverse to the 13, the Giants got the ball to OJ.  First was a run down to the 4.  And then he hit paydirt.

Anderson plowed into the end zone, behind a strong push from his interior line, and dragged tacklers along with him.  14-6 Giants lead.

The Skins came right back at the Giants.  A 17 yard conversion on a 3rd down to Kelvin Bryant and a Humphries scramble got the ball past midfield.  Back to back runs by Byner and Riggs got the ball past the 35 yard line, and that's when Gibbs went to his bag of tricks

The Giants defense was completely fooled on this one.  With the success that Byner and Riggs were having in the running game, the Giants secondary was coming up to support.  Reyna Thompson, playing for Collins, bit on the fake and let Rickey Sanders go free where he easily hauled in the 32 yard TD, with only Myron Guyton somewhat in the vicinity.  The score shifted, 14-13.

Now it was the Giants turn to respond.  After a Bavaro catch and a good run by Anderson, the Giants were facing a raucous RFK crowd.  The best way to silence a crowd is to make a big play, and the Giants did just that.

Ok, it's one thing for a speedy WR like Baker to make a catch and run 80 yard TD.  It's another for a TE in Bavaro, bad knees and all to go for 61.  Now Mo Carthon, the blocking fullback, catching a seam pass for 63 yards?  Carthon was caught, again by Darrell Green, down at the 5  yard line.  After an Anderson run to the 2, the Giants went playaction

Still think Bavaro doesn't have big games against the Skins, John Madden?  Bavaro was able to get open, despite being picked by Bob Mrosko coming off the line.  21-13 Giants.

It was again the Skins turn to answer.  After a kickoff return by Brian Mitchell had extra yards tacked on because of a face mask on Matt Bahr (more on that later), the Skins were again moving.  In this drive, there was one highlight I wanted to point out about Thompson

This was really a great play made by Thompson.  Reyna Thompson was a special teams demon, one of the best in the game and probably the best I've ever seen with the Giants.  He was stolen as a Plan B free agent from Miami in 1989 and wasn't expected to contribute much as a corner in 1990 because the Giants had Collins, Perry Williams, and former Cowboy Everson Walls.  But Collins' injury put Thompson out there, who was playing with a dislocated thumb.  Well, Thompson, weighing in at 194 took on a pulling guard in Raleigh McKenzie, weighing 290, and stood him up and then made the tackle on the reverse.  As Madden would say, Thompson was a "card carrying tough guy" in the NFL.

Thompson's impressive play notwithstanding, the Skins kept moving.  A third down conversion to Sanders and a few Giants defensive penalties contributed to the march.  After Riggs was stuffed at the 30, the defense again made a play

Greg Jackson, the 2nd year safety out of LSU, who was brought into the lineup due to a blown ACL in the preseason by starter Adrian White came up with the athletic pick to turn over the Skins and keep them down by 8 points.

The Giants didn't do much with it on the drive following the turnover.  Simms was lucky that LB Kurt Gouveia dropped an easy INT that would have been a TD.  Simms also missed an open Meggett down the sidelines and Landeta had to punt it away where the Redskins return man Walter Stanley took it to the Giants 45.  Another Humphries scramble got the ball down to the 25 yard line.  Meanwhile, Carl Banks was having a difficult time trying to play with one arm

Banks was making tackles keeping his one arm away from contact.  A penalty called on Banks, by mistake, set him off, and he was taken out of the game, where he started yelling at Parcells, with assistant coach Romeo Crennell trying to calm him down.  After a 3rd and 8 pass to Gary Clark down to the 3, that set up the very near goal line stand for the Giants defense

This is one of those defensive stands where you really thought the Giants were going to hold the Skins out.  It also showed the kind of depth, talent, instincts, and toughness the Giants had in their linebacking corps in short yardage and goal line.  Pepper Johnson and Steve DeOssie were both outstanding short yardage players.  Reasons showed what he could do in the snow in Denver in 1989.  Banks, injured in this case, was also a tremendous short yardage LB.  And what else needs to be said about LT.  As Madden noted, the Skins were messing around with him too much.  LT was not just a pass rusher, as his hit on Gerald Riggs showed.  Riggs was able to finally squeeze in past Pepper on 4th down and made the score 21-20.

After a kickoff out of bounds, the Giants used a screen to OJ Anderson, who made a nice move on Wilbur Marshall, and a pass interference on Martin Mayhew got the ball to the 36.  But the Giants were stonewalled again by the Redskins defense, and survived a huge hit on Lewis Tillman on a swing pass which was nearly picked off.  That set up Landeta's punt and the turning point in the game

Again, a few things about this play.  It was a great punt by Landeta to get it inside the 5 (which was one of the main reasons Dan Reeves would eventually cut Landeta in 1993, and bring in his old Bronco punter Mike "coffin corner" Horan).  And, per usual, Reyna Thompson fought his way down the field to get the ball from going into the end zone.  Of course, the bonus was that Johnny Thomas on the Redskins was accidentally hit by the ball and made it a live ball.  Though the ref overzealously pointed the wrong direction on the recovery (which is something I love, when a ref jumps in emphatically to signal a turnover and screws up the direction of the recovering team), it was the biggest play of the game.  Some 22 years later, a similar type play would take place in San Francisco in the NFC Title game, with Devon Thomas playing the role of Reyna Thompson.  Unconfirmed reports are that Jim Harbaugh thought the Redskins didn't touch the ball in 1990 either.

First and goal at the one, the Giants went conservative to run the clock, and OJ Anderson was stuffed 3 times and forced the Skins to use their time outs.  On fourth down, up by 1, while Parcells pondered going for the knockout TD, he decided to go with the conservative play.  Kick the chip shot FG, and tell his defense to keep them from scoring a TD.  Bahr calmly drilled the short FG and made it 24-20.

The Skins immediately came roaring back.  Brian Mitchell returned the kickoff 36 yards to the 45 with 2:20 to go in the game.  A quick pass to Gary Clark and a Humphries scramble put the ball at the 42 with the 2 minute warning.  This is one of those times that all Giants fans dread, watching the opposing team, march down the field and winning the game in the final seconds.  But the Giants defense in 1990 was having none of this

Pepper Johnson's pressure when he did a spin move and hit Humphries, with Banks making another one armed tackle, was a huge play.  (Side note, Pepper's spin move pressure was very similar to the move he made on Joe Jacoby in 1988, when he was playing LT's rush position with LT on drug suspension.  In that game, on the Monday Night opener, Pepper hit Doug Williams and forced a fumble which Jim Burt returned for a TD).  Without his legs under him, Humphries didn't have the zip needed for an out pattern, and Greg Jackson undercut it to pick the pass off for his second INT of the game and sealed the Giants win.

24-20 was the final score.  And I always loved this little cutaway scene, as it showed really how close the Giants were with Parcells.  You've got Pepper headbutting him.  And then Parcells goes over and thanks Banks for his gutty performance, and follows up with a loving slap to Everson Walls' head, who then falls over.  The Giants went to 5-0, Skins fell to 3-2, and the Giants would begin their run away of the NFC East in 1990.

Interesting Tidbits/ the Post Mortem

  • This game would be Parcells' final game as coach of the Giants at RFK vs. the Redskins.  In all, Parcells' Giants were one of the few teams who gave Gibbs' Redskins trouble at home.  From 1983-1990 (the Parcells years), Gibbs' Redskins would go 43-12 at home vs. teams other than the Giants, for a .781 winning percentage.  Against the Giants: 4-4, .500 winning percentage.  Twice in this span, in 1986 and 1990, the Skins went 7-0 at home in a season against everyone else, but lost to the Giants.  The Giants won the Super Bowl both of these times.  Parcells won 4 of the his last 5 games at RFK.
  • This would end up being Simms' finest game statistically in 1990.  13-22, for 283 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs.  It was his most yards that he threw for in a game since their loss to the Niners in 1989, when he passed for 326 yards.  And he would not eclipse that passing mark until he threw for 296 yards in an absolutely brutal loss to the 1991 Bengals, who were 1-11 going into the game.  Yes, Ray Handley was the coach.
  • Baker's 80 yard TD was not his career long.  That honor would go to his 85 yard TD which he hauled in from Jeff Hostetler in New Orleans on the Sunday Night game in 1988, which was better known as the game LT dominated with one arm.  Overall, he had 3 catches for 109 yards, his most productive outing of the 1990 season and was the second best total in his career.  Only his 134 yards in that same Saints game in 1988 was better.
  • Needless to say, Carthon's 63 yarder was his career long reception.  The next closest reception was for 25 yards, which was accomplished in 1987, also in Washington.  While Carthon was mainly (and correctly) remembered as one of the best blocking backs in the NFL (in his 7 years with the Giants, 5 times he blocked for a 1000 yard back- Joe Morris (3), OJ Anderson (1), Rodney Hampton (1)), people forget, he actually ran for 1042 yards with the 1984 NJ Generals in the USFL.
  • Keeping in the career long receptions, Bavaro's 61 yarder was also his career high.  His next longest catch?  41 yards in Washington.  Something about RFK bringing out the big plays.
  • OJ Anderson's fumble in this game was his only fumble lost in 1990.  That would be 225 carries, and 18 receptions, with only one fumble lost.  Expanding on this, in his entire NYG career of 7 years (granted he sat for much of 1986 and 1987), OJ had 704 carries and 77 receptions. In that span, he lost 3 fumbles.  That was it.  Just one of the reasons the turnover averse coach in Parcells loved OJ so much.
  • Banks played hurt, as noted throughout the review.  He originally hurt his wrist against the Cowboys 2 weeks prior.  However, after this game, Banks was shelved due to his wrist, underwent surgery and missed the next 7 games, only to return in Week 14 against the Vikings.  Johnie Cooks held the fort down until Banks was able to come back and be part of the Championship run.
  • Pepper Johnson's INT was his only one in 1990.
  • John Washington was still starting at LDE, normally Leonard Marshall's spot.  Marshall had sat out most of camp in a contract dispute, and Washington had played well enough in camp to continue to start even with Marshall back on the team.
  • The Redskins came into the game with 0 turnovers in 4 games.  They turned it over 4 times vs. the Giants.
  • Stan Humphries returned to the bench after Rypien was ready to play.  Humphries did not play at all in 1991, when the Skins rolled to a Super Bowl title and Rypien put up MVP numbers.  The following season Humphries was traded to the Chargers, who had former Redskins GM Bobby Bethard as their GM.  Humphries became the first QB to lead an 0-4 team to the playoffs, as the Chargers made it for the first time since 1982, when they were led by Hall of Famer Dan Fouts.  Humphries would eventually lead the Chargers to their only Super Bowl appearance in 1994, when they were blown out by the Niners.  And Humphries was eventually nominated to the Chargers Hall of Fame.
  • Lastly, Mark Bavaro made some news stories in May 2012, when he mentioned that Matt Bahr kicked the winning FG vs. the Niners in the 1990 championship game despite suffering a concussion earlier in the game.  It was later qualified by Bahr himself that he was knocked out on a tackle in the Bears playoff game the week before and was still feeling the effects when he kicked 5 FGs to prevent the 3-peat.  What was Bahr doing in on a tackle anyway to get hurt?  Well, the 5'10", 175 pound Bahr wasn't afraid to stick his nose in there.  Witness his tackle here on Brian Mitchell, and he got a facemask penalty as well.  As Pat Summerall mentioned in the NFC Championship when talking about Bahr "he's not just kicker, he's a player"

Extra Goodies

As I mentioned in my explanation of the blog, I had been able to recover a number of old HBO Inside the NFLs from 1986-1991 that I had taped.  I loved that show, with Len and Nick, the NFL Films music, Harry Kalas.  It was outstanding.  

I also got in the practice, after Giants games, of going to ESPN to tape NFL Primetime, with Chris Berman as the host, and a young Tom Jackson, and the late Pete Axthelm.  Back in the late 1980s, ESPN actually had decent coverage, and focused on the sport, rather than what it's become today.

Anyway, enough editorializing.  Here are some highlights to review from this game:

Inside the NFL's coverage:

ESPN's Primetime

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

1989 Giants v. Raiders

Week 16

The Setup

This game was a redemption game for the Giants.  In 1988, the Giants went into the final week of the season with a 10-5 record, a one game lead on the Eagles (who swept the season series with the Giants and held the tie breaker).  They were playing a "road" game against the Jets, playing out the string with a 7-7-1 record.  A win and the Giants were NFC East Champs.  Even with a loss, an Eagles loss at Dallas, would give the Giants the division crown.  If the Giants lost, and Eagles won, then the Giants would still make the playoffs if the 49ers beat the visiting Rams on a Sunday Night ESPN game.  Well, December 18, 1988 was a Sunday that would live in infamy.  Parcells suffered arguably the worst regular season loss in his 8 year Giants coaching career, falling to the Jets 27-21 on a last minute pass to Al Toon over Tom Flynn (filling in for starter Perry Williams who was injured his neck and was carted off earlier in the game).  Meanwhile, in Tom Landry's final Head Coaching appearance, his Cowboys fell at home to the Eagles 23-7, which gave the Birds the NFC East.  The Giants last hope was their rival 49ers (who in Week 2 of the season beat the Giants, at Giants Stadium, on a miracle 78 yard TD to Jerry Rice late in the game) to beat the Rams and put the Giants in as a Wild Card to play Minnesota.  Well, as Phil Simms would say (and backed up by other Giants like OJ Anderson), the Niners "laid down like dogs", and were blown out 38-16.  The Giants were left with a 10-6 record and no playoffs.

The Giants were given a second chance in 1989.  Again with a game at Giants Stadium (though this time as the traditional home team) against an AFC team.  Unlike 1988 though, the Giants had clinched at least a Wild Card spot, after their 15-0 win over the Cowboys the week before.  But to win the NFC East, the Giants needed to stay 1 game ahead of the Eagles, who again swept the season series in 1989.  Going into Week 15, both the Giants and Eagles had 10-4 records.  The Giants, as noted, beat the Cowboys to go to 11-4.  The Eagles, playing a Monday Night game on the road against the Saints lost control of the division title when they were beaten by former a former Arena League QB named John Fourcade 30-20.  With the Eagles playing at home against the Phoenix Cardinals, the Giants realized they had to win their game to win the NFC East, go to 12-4 on the season, and clinch the #2 seed and a first round bye in the playoffs.  A loss, and they likely would have to travel to LA to play the Rams, who blew them out 31-10 in Week 10.

Their opponent was the Los Angeles Raiders.  The Raiders, as per usual under Al Davis, were a circus show going into the Giants game.  The 1989 Raiders started the season with Mike Shanahan as their head coach.  Shanahan, who came from Denver in 1988, was not part of the Raider family, so he was a strange hire for Davis to begin with.  And Davis clashed with him almost immediately, having Shanahan keep some assistants on that he wanted on the staff, rather than letting him have the full say.  After a 1-3 start, Shanahan was fired by Davis, and promoted one of his assistants, and a Hall of Fame player, Art Shell to the position. Shell became the first African American head coach in the modern era of football.  Shell turned the Raiders around winning 4 or his first 5 games and got them in the Wild Card hunt with an 8-7 record entering the Giants game.  It also helped that Shell had Bo Jackson rejoin the Raiders, or his football "hobby", after spending the first month+ as an outfielder with the Kansas City Royals.  Jackson was terrifying, a 235 pound RB with sprinter speed, who averaged 91 yards a game, 5.6 per carry, he had 915 yards entering the game while playing in only 10 games.  Giants Defensive Coordinator Bill Belichick had this to say about Bo:
''He's the best runner I've seen, and I've coached against OJ Simpson, Earl Campbell, James Wilder and Eric Dickerson. He has size and speed and vision and quickness and explosiveness.''
 That wasn't just Belichick throwing verbal bouquets at Jackson.  Bo was that good.  In 3 seasons up to that point, Jackson already had 2 90+ yard TD runs, and he had a 73 yard TD against the Redskins earlier in the season as well.  Jackson was a game breaker and the Giants had to be ready for him in order to win.

The Game Highlights

First thing to mention about this game was the weather.  It was Christmas Eve and it was brutally cold.  According to the reports that I was able to find, it was 14 degrees out, with a 17 mph wind and a wind chill of -2 degrees.  From my own personal standpoint, sitting in my seats in Section 120 with my dad, it was cold enough that the fog from our breath hit our glasses and froze on them.  The general thoughts in this being a 1:00 game in frigid temperatures, was a warm weather team from the West Coast should roll over when faced with these conditions.

On to the game.  The Giants took control, just after the opening kickoff

So much to go through here.  LT starting off the game with a sack, nailing 2nd year QB Steve Beuerlein.  LT was still making his way back from a broken ankle suffered by a dirty block by Wesley Walls in a Monday Night loss to the Niners a few weeks before.  And then watching the Giants come at Bo Jackson in waves, including great run support by Mark Collins, who was one of the best corners in the league (but never made a Pro Bowl).  That set up rookie Dave Meggett to finally break a punt return for a TD.  All year he'd been threatening to break one, but it didn't happen until Week 16.  Meggett famously muffed 3 punts in his first pre-season game at Kansas City earlier in 1989.  But Parcells, who decided to upgrade from "steady" Phil McConkey at punt returner in favor of a player who could make a bigger impact in the return game, stuck with Meggett.  Meggett repaid Parcells with a long TD in the opener in Washington on a short pass, and now this time on a punt return in Week 16.

After a Bjorn Nittmo kickoff, the Raiders again did nothing with the ball and punted.  However, Meggett giveth and Meggett taketh away.

When we say that McConkey was "steady", that generally meant you knew exactly what you were going to get from him.  McConkey would field every punt that came his way, helped maintain field position by not muffing punts or letting them get by him, he'd go about 6 or 7 yards, get drilled by someone, and then he'd jump up and yell that it didn't hurt him.  He did this for 5 years with the Giants.  Meggett however, while a threat to break a long return or TD, also had misplays (ie- the Cunningham 91 yard punt against the Eagles a few weeks prior, which Meggett misplayed and let it get past him) and fumbles, such as this one, gave the Raiders the ball on the 41 yard line.  After a Johnie Cooks sack and Pepper Johnson snuffing out a screen to Bo, the Raiders converted a third and long, hitting WR Mike Alexander down to the 25 yard line.  The Raiders kept rolling, with a pass to Marcus Allen to the 11 and a Steve Smith (the Raiders fullback...not the former Giant/Eagle/Ram nor the Panther) run down to the 1, set up first and goal for the Raiders

A perfect playfake was bit on by Steve DeOssie (yes, #99 is current Giants long snapper Zak's dad) and former Chiefs first round pick (as a RB), converted TE Ethan Horton had an easy TD from Beuerlein and a 7-7 tie.  And yes, that #87 shown celebrating with the last name Junkin was that Trey Junkin, made infamous in the 2002 Wild Card game against the 49ers as a long snapper as a member of the Giants.

A game that looked like a blowout, was suddenly anything but.  Ingram was hit on the subsequent kickoff and fumbled.  The Raiders knocked the ball around, but it was recovered by Meggett at the 11.  The Giants offense did nothing with the ball and punted, which the Raiders returned to the Giants 45.  A 28 yard pass from Buerelein to "Swervin" Mervyn Fernandez got the ball to the 15.  But on this cold day, the Giants defense stepped up to stop the Raiders

Fernandez had the ball stripped by Carl Banks and rookie Myron Guyton came out of the pile with the ball. It was a close play to be called a fumble, but probably would have stood up to 2012 replay standards as a fumble (there were replays in 1989, but they were done in the booth by another official and the process was arduous and confusing).

Another 3 and out for the Giants offense, which finished with a Scott Davis sack of Simms at the 4 yard line.  A poor punt by Landeta and return put the ball on the Giants 23 yard line.  The Raiders drive started poorly, Buerelein was hit in the stomach as soon as he threw by Pepper Johnson and got the wind knocked out of him, and was replaced for 1 play by former Redskins QB Jay Schroeder.  A Raiders first down was wiped out by a holding call, setting up 3rd and 17 on the Giants 30

A perfectly thrown ball by Beurelein to Fernandez for a 30 yard TD, despite pretty good coverage by Sheldon White made the score 14-7.  What looked like a Giants blowout was now becoming a big worry that they were going to blow the division title a second straight year.

Ingram returned the kickoff to the 15 and the Giants came back out on offense down a TD.  A couple of runs by Anderson and Carthon, and a big conversion of a 3rd and 9 to Meggett (when Simms dropped the ball and it bounced right back up to him).  After missing a deep throw to Baker, the Giants had a 3rd and 1 and handed off to Carthon, who was stuffed at his own 45.  Enter the Gambler, Bill Parcells, with a 4th and 1 at the Giants own 48.

In almost any game, at any time, when it's 4th and 1, the fans in the crowd would always scream for the coach/team to go for it.  Most times coaches would ignore these pleas of the fans.  As former NBA coach/executive Frank Layden used to say "the moment you start listening to the fans as a coach, is when you end up sitting next to them".  Well, Parcells found himself going for 4th downs quite a number of times.  For a coach who wasn't overly imaginative in his offensive gameplanning with the Giants, he'd be very aggressive on 4th downs.  It was really him sticking to his principals that the Giants were a power/running team with a strong defense, so they could go for it.  Carthon barely made it.  The Giants then got aggressive, a 27 yarder down to the 25 to rookie "blocking" TE Howard Cross and another to TE Zeke Mowatt put the ball at the 1, where OJ Anderson finished it off, and a 14-14 tie.  Parcells' gutsy call worked.

A muffed kickoff return by the Raiders put the ball at the 20.  But the Raiders were in business on a questionable pass interference call on Perry Williams on 3rd down which put the ball at the 33.  Side note, in those situations, depending on how poor the call was against the home team, the crowd usually gets up enough ire and coordination to begin a "bull****...bull****" chant.  Sometimes that makes it on air and the announcers try to pretend no one can hear it, I love that.  After Jackson first down run, and a broken play, set up classic LT

For those who never saw LT play, this was a small indication of what this guy could do.  Mind you, he's playing with a broken bone in his ankle, but LT had enough power to bullrush an NFL starting left tackle and shove him into the QB and get a sack.  When LT was healthy and determined, he was damn near unstoppable.  In this case, even an unhealthy LT got his 2nd sack of the first half with a division title on the line. However, on 3rd and long, Beurelein came back from this and hit Mike Alexander for 34 yards down to the Giants 31 at the 2 minute warning.  The Raiders stalled, Buerelein missed Willie Gault for a TD and Jeff Jaeger hit a tie breaking 43 yard FG to make it 17-14.

With under 1 minute left, the Giants got the ball back.  A 43 yard return by Meggett got the ball in Raiders territory.  A crazy Simms scramble and lateral to the late Stacy Robinson was negated by a hold on Brian Williams, which made it 1st and 20 with :43 to go.  A dump off to Meggett and a first down pass to Lionel Manuel got the Giants going again.  And this time, the refs intervened to help the Giants

Whether this was an early Christmas present or a make up call on the Williams interference, is unclear. Back in 1989, defensive backs had much more leeway in jostling receivers than they do today with the league putting a greater emphasis on QB play and the passing game.  But this was not interference on McDaniel.  The Giants were happy to take it, and after Simms threw the ball away taking one shot at a TD, Nittmo came in to nail a 28 yarder to tie the game at 17 going into the half.

Bill Parcells would later say he didn't rip into his team.  He didn't dump garbage on them, as he did to the defense in 1986 when they were struggling at home in the season finale to the Packers with home field advantage on the line.  Parcells said he simply told the team that they have 30 minutes to decide if they want to win the division or not.  All that work done in the offseason was on the line for the next 30 minutes.  The team took him seriously as the second half would show.

Ingram returned the second half kickoff to the 33, which he actually nearly broke for a TD if not for a saving tackle.  But the Giants did nothing from there, Simms just missed Robinson for a long TD and set up a big Landeta punt.  Landeta boomed the ball down inside the 5.  Raiders return man Stefan Adams made a mistake in fielding it, and it was compounded by a Raiders penalty and they had the ball starting at their own 4 yard line.  Another mistake by the Raiders on a holding call negated a decent run by Bo, and they were forced to punt from their end zone and Meggett fielded a tough hop to keep the ball at the Raiders 40.  Meggett again made a big play on offense, turning a 3rd down into a 13 yard catch to the 21 yard line.  Parcells decided to pound in OJ, with 3 straight runs and set up another 4th and 1.  Parcells again passed up the go ahead FG and OJ converted, putting the ball at the 10.  2 more OJ runs set up the Giants at the 1 yard line.

Anderson 2nd TD made the score 24-17, a lead the Giants would not give up.

Another Raiders 3 and out, thanks to 2 incomplete passes to Gault and a Leonard Marshall pressure forced another punt.  Meggett had another big return for 23 yards down to the Raiders 36.  Simms hit his new favorite TE target, going to Cross for 24 yards down to the 10 yard line.  After getting the ball to the 4 yard line, Simms missed Ingram for a TD, and settled for a 21 yard Nittmo FG and a 27-17 lead.

At this point, things started spiraling for the Raiders.  A Nittmo kickoff out of bounds put it at the 35.  The Giants defense continued to hold against the high powered Raiders, and Bo in particular

Bo was stuffed by Reasons and the Giants gang tackled him all game, never let him get on tract.  And with the temperature dropping, the fans were reveling in the Southern California team falling apart.  More pressure from Leonard Marshall and Greg Cox on a 3rd down blitz resulted in another punt by the Raiders.

And it was time for more love for OJ

There are so many things to enjoy about this clip.

  • Anderson's completely unexpected production in 1989, when he was forced into action due to a Joe Morris broken foot in the pre-season which ended his year.  
  • The appreciative Giants crowd giving a standing ovation to a warrior who stepped up to help save the Giants season with his gutty comeback and give the team a much needed running game
  • That awesome monochrome scoreboard, which if memory serves me was replaced in 1990 with better video capability, but I"m not 100% sure.  
After OJ's milestone, the Giants continued to march.  A 3rd down conversion to Baker got the ball to the 35 to close out the 3rd quarter.  A few Lewis Tillman runs, another first down pass to Robinson, and the Giants were moving again.  A hold on Bart Oates was a minor set back, but another Simms pass to Mowatt put the ball on the 12.  An OJ catch and run, featuring a big stiff arm on Raiders' Jerry Robinson, and another Carthon run to the 3 set the Giants up for the knockout

Fleet of foot Simms, got behind Eric Moore and plowed into the end zone.  34-17.  Announcer Don Criqui was saying it was all over, which meant that
  • He had faith in the Giants defense/offense to keep it up
  • He had no faith in the Raiders in the cold to come back on the round down 17 in the 4th quarter
  • He just wanted to go home because it was cold and Christmas Eve
The game slipped into serious garbage time at this point.  The Raiders were allowed to move the ball and the Giants gave up yards for clock.  Though they reached the 30, the Giants defense turned the Raiders over again on Perry Williams' pick

The Giants took the ball and ate up more clock, finally giving it up to the Raiders with 4:31 left in the game, and again, playing a prevent defense, the Giants still managed to get yet another turnover

Now, the refs had a rough game.  A weak pass interference call on Perry Williams, an even worse make up call on Terry McDaniel.  And now Sheldon White mugs the receiver and no call, and Kinard was there to make the one handed INT.  I guess the refs were also cold and just wanted to go home on Christmas Eve, like Don Criqui.
Lewis Tillman got the carries the rest of the way in place of OJ, and the Raiders has one last hurrah, but to no avail

The gatorade bath, started by Jim Burt of all people, identified with Harry Carson in the 1986 season.  But it was 2 of the old guard linebackers, the heart of the defense, LT and Gary Reasons that did the honors, dunking Parcells in the frigid weather, though he was too busy yelling at the press to notice, trying to see the final play of the game (which was also missed by NBC cameras) in a 34-17, NFC East clinching win.
Interesting Tidbits/ the Post Mortem

  • The Giants needed to win this game to win the NFC East.  The Eagles ended up beating the Cardinals 31-14 at the Vet to finish 11-5.  Which actually turned out to be the best record in the Buddy Ryan era for the Birds.  Throughout Parcells career, there were 2 teams which gave him a ton of problems.  Buddy Ryan Eagles (who had won 4 straight vs. the Giants by this point in 1989) and John Robinson's Rams under Jim Everett.  While Parcells' knocked the Rams out of the 1984 playoffs, with a road win in LA in the Wild Card, the Rams changed their offense from a running team behind Eric Dickerson, to a passing team behind Jim Everett.  The Giants defense had terrible matchup problems with these Rams, giving up 45 points in a home loss in 1988 and 31 points in a blowout loss earlier in 1989.  As fate would have it, the Eagles faced the Rams in the 1989 Wild Card at the Vet.  An Eagles win would mean that Philly would travel to SF to face the Niners, and the Giants would host the Vikings (since in 1989, you couldn't play a team from your same division in the 2nd round of the playoffs).  The Rams ended up dominating the Eagles, winning 21-7.  That set up the infamous 1989 playoff game, where the Giants blew a 6-0 lead and lost in OT on the Flipper Anderson TD while being covered by Mark Collins, who was playing with a broken bone in his ankle and didn't know it.  If the Eagles had won that game, the Giants would have faced the Vikings (whom they beat earlier in 1989) and would have set up another showdown in SF for the NFC Championship.  But that match up would have to wait until 1990.
  • Parcells would call this game "probably our best overall game of the year." And, as was Parcells' wont, he liked to play up the underdog card. "We were picked to finish third in the preseason.  We were supposed to be an 8-8 team.  We were in transition...This was one of the 3 or 4 biggest wins we've had here.  I don't think we're the most talented team, but we got 12 wins.  I'll take that every year in this league and take my chances."
  • OJ Anderson, an 11 year veteran at age 32, finished with 1023 yards on the season.  It was his 6th 1000 yard campaign (he had 5 with the Cardinals, including a career high 1605 in his rookie year).  It would be the last time that Anderson would go over 1000 yards in his career, as the Giants drafted Rodney Hampton in 1990 and shared more of the workload among Hampton, Tillman and Meggett.
  • Anderson also scored 14 TDs, which would be his career high.  The 14 TDs would be the most by a Giant since Joe Morris also got 14 in 1986.  And would later be matched by Rodney Hampton in 1992. That number would not be bested until Brandon Jacobs scored 15 in 2008
  • Meggett had a monstrous game.  In all, Meggett accounted for 182 total yards (114 punt return, 43 kick returns, 25 receiving) and his TD.  The TD return was the first by a Giant since Bobby Hammond in 1977.  As it would turn out, the 76 yard return would be the longest of Meggett's 10 year career and 1989 would be his only Pro Bowl appearance with the Giants (he was named to the 1996 Pro Bowl as a member of the Patriots.)
  • Meggett also broke Emlen Tunnell's record for return yardage with 1159 total yards in punt and kick returns.
  • Terry Kinard's INT would end up being his final one as a member of the Giants.  Kinard, then 30, a former first round pick out of Clemson was left unprotected as a Plan B free agent and signed with the Houston Oilers in 1990.  The Giants had planned for former 2nd round pick Adrian White to take over as safety in 1990.  However, White tore his ACL in the pre-season in a game at Houston and the Giants handed the spot to 2nd year man Greg Jackson.
  • LT's 2 sacks gave him 15 on the season.  That made it 3 out the past 4 years where LT had at least 15 sacks in a season.
  • Johnie Cooks registered his only sack of the season for the Giants in this game.
  • This would be the first and only time the Raiders played the Giants at Giants Stadium while they were in Los Angeles from 1982 - 1994.  The Raiders played the Giants 3 times out in the Coliseum, going 2-1, with their only loss coming in 1986.
  • This would also be Steve Beuerlein's final game played as a member of the Raiders.  Al Davis constantly would tinker with his roster, and especially QBs.  Buerelein split time with former Redskins' QB Jay Schroeder in 1988 and 1989, after Schroeder was traded for Pro Bowl LT Jim Lachey.  Buerelein would hold out of camp in 1990 and Schroeder never gave up the position, leading the Raiders to a 12-4 season, an AFC West Championship, and an appearance in the AFC Title Game, where they were summarily destroyed 51-3 at Buffalo.  Beuerlein was traded in the 1991 offseason to the Cowboys to back up Troy Aikman.  He would end up having a nice 15 year career, which included a Pro Bowl season in 1999 with the Panthers and 4436 yards and 36 TDs.
  • This would also be Bo Jackson's only appearance vs. the Giants.  Bo needed 85 yards to go over 1000, and he would only gain 35 on 10 carries.  At a pedestrian 3.5 yards per carry, it was well below his career average of 5.4 yards per carry.  Jackson suffered a career ending injury in the 1990 post-season against the Bengals.  A dislocated hip eventually led to decreased blood supply in his hip joint and forced him to have hip replacement surgery.  He would never play in the NFL again, and though he did come back to play Major League Baseball, joining the White Sox and his former Auburn football teammate Frank Thomas, he was never the same player again.  
  • In 1989, AFC broadcast rights were owned by NBC, and NFC broadcast rights were owned by CBS.  In interconference matchups, the home team would broadcast on the road team's network.  So in this case, the NFC Giants were broadcast on NBC.  That meant we got Ahmad "Mr. Clair Huxtable" Rashad, before he became one of the voices of NBC's NBA coverage (and Michael Jordan's best friend).  We also had, in studio, "The Juice", OJ Simpson, in with Bob Costas.  Needless to say, things changed for Simpson dramatically in June 1994.
  • I would be remiss if I didn't point out that this game was the also the only real life matchup of true legends, LT and Bo.  However, both players were larger than life in video games as well, particularly Super Tecmo Bowl on the Nintendo.  It is generally accepted that the 2 most dominant players in this game were Bo on offense and LT on defense.
For your consideration:

And no, no cheat codes were used, this is how that game used to play and how those 2 dominated.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

1993 Giants @ Bears

Week 1

The Setup

The 1993 season represented the last gasp of the Parcells' era 1980s championship teams.  Two wasted years under Ray Handley after Parcells retired ruined part of the Giants window.  When Handley was dismissed, the Giants wanted to replace him with a young, up and coming assistant.  George Young's first choice was a former Giants WR coach who went off to coach Boston College after the 1990 Super Bowl.  However, Tom Coughlin decided to stay up at The Heights (coincidentally, at a time that I was a student there as well.).  The next choice was the Dallas Cowboys Defensive Coordinator, Dave Wannstedt.  However, Wannstedt, who knew that the Cowboys were building a dynasty, coming off a Super Bowl blowout of the Bills, didn't want to coach in the same division as Jimmy Johnson and the Cowboys, chose to go to Chicago to coach the Bears.

Though he didn't fit Young's desire for a young, up and coming coach, Dan Reeves, 49, had credentials that couldn't be ignored.  Reeves, a former player for the Cowboys and coached on Tom Landry's staff, where he played in 2 Super Bowls (lost V, won VI), and coached in 3 more (winning XII vs. Denver).  Reeves actually interviewed with Wellington Mara in 1979 for the Giants head coaching job, but the Giants wanted to bring in a GM first to choose the coach.  The Giants brought in George Young, who passed over Reeves to hire Ray Perkins.  Reeves ended up going to Denver, where he put together an impressive resume: Including the post-season, Reeves' Broncos went 117-79-1, won 5 AFC West Championships and won the AFC 3 times.  However, the Broncos became doormats in the Super Bowl, including losing to the Giants in Super Bowl XXI.  In 1992, the Broncos went 8-8, and Reeves was battling owner Pat Bowlen over control of football matters.  Bowlen decided to move on from Reeves and fired him, and elevated Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips to the head job.  Reeves was out of a job, the Giants were without a coach....enter former Giants great Frank Gifford, who stepped in and lobbied for Reeves to take over the Giants job.  George Young, who battled Parcells in the past in various power struggles, didn't want to bring Reeves in to his set organizational structure, laid out simply: Owners own, GMs GM, coaches coach, players play.  Reeves said he would play by these rules (which lasted about 2 years before he started grousing) and signed a 5 year, $5 million deal.

Going into the Bears game, it was 2 new coaches.  Wannstedt, who bypassed the Giants to replace a legendary coach in Mike Ditka in Chicago, and Reeves, who was replacing an extremely unpopular coach in Handley.  However, Reeves was being questioned by fans and players for his personnel moves, particularly bringing in former Broncos and his treatment of popular Pro Bowl LB Pepper Johnson.  Johnson, who didn't care for the big money spent on Carlton Bailey and Michael Brooks, complained about being moved to OLB and started calling the Giants "the NJ Broncos".  Reeves responded with a bloodletting in the final cuts, including cutting Pepper, Matt Bahr, OJ Anderson, and Stephen Baker.  He benched long time NT Erik Howard for a younger player in Stacy Dillard. Ultimately though, this game was about a new coach, and 2 old war horses for the Giants, Phil Simms and Lawrence Taylor, in their final opening day in the NFL.  Simms, who was benched by Handley in favor of Jeff Hostetler, and LT, coming off a torn achilles tendon vs. the Packers, would play a crucial role in winning the game and getting the Reeves Era off on the right foot, when it could have gone very wrong.

The Game Highlights

Showing an opening kickoff touchback?  Really?  Well, it needs to be noted that Reeves completely switched the Giants kicking game in the final cuts.  The Giants had steady Matt Bahr, a post-season hero for his 5 FGs, including the game winner in SF to stop the Three Peat.  But Bahr, who never possessed a strong leg, was having a tougher time on kickoffs.  The Giants actually drafted Todd Peterson out of Georgia, who was known for his kickoffs and ended up having a pretty long NFL career, staying in the league through 2003 with various teams.  Reeves carried 2 kickers in Denver, David Treadwell and Brad Daluiso.  In the final cuts, the Broncos released both Treadwell and Daluiso, and Reeves scooped them both up and released Bahr.  Treadwell would handle the short to mid range FGs, and Daluiso, who kicked in the 1991 Super Bowl for the Bills, was the kick off specialist.  And Daluiso was initially great at his job.  Daluiso set an NFL record for touchbacks in 1992, with 52.  And in 1993, by the time the season was over, Daluiso again led the league with 39 touchbacks.

After a 3 and out for the Bears offense, the Giants took over and with Phil Simms starting his first opening day since 1990 against the Eagles, helped drive the Giants down the field, spreading the ball around to new WR Mike Sherrard and a few Rodney Hampton runs.  But Simms missed Sherrard in the end zone and set up a Treadwell 19 yard FG and a 3-0 lead.

The Bears, behind free agent acquisition, the late Craig "Ironhead" Heyward, hammered to near midfield, before stalling again and punting the Giants.  Again the Giants drove down the field, with Simms narrowly missing Sherrard for a 53 yard TD, but saw Mark Jackson convert 2 third down passes.  However, a Richard Dent sack stopped the drive and set up another FG for Treadwell, this time from 35 yards out, and a 6-0 Giants lead.

To this point in the game, it was Giants domination, they held the ball for 12:58 and 22 plays, meanwhile the Bears only had the ball for 5:29 and 11 plays.  The pressure was on Jim Harbaugh, who had just signed a new contract and was being booed by the home fans.  After a Harbaugh scramble, he made a mistake:

Pressure in his face from LT, and Myron Guyton stepped in front to pick off Harbaugh's pass.  The Giants took advantage, with Mark Jackson drawing a 38 yard pass interference penalty on Donnell Woolford which put the ball down on the 11.  However, keeping with the theme of the Giants offense, they drove the ball but stalled in the Red Zone (Coughlin wasn't around yet to call it Green Zone), and set up yet another Treadwell FG, this time a 23 yarder and a 9-0 Giants lead, but it could well have been 21-0.

The Bears fans were becoming restless, booing the home team.  On their own 15 yard line, the Bears drive started poorly, a Stacy Dillard sack set them back.  But inexplicably, the Bears suddenly got new life.  A few mid range passes and a long run by fullback Bob Christian set the Bears up and with 6 seconds to go in the half, Wannstedt had his first big decision:

Instead of going for the sure 3, Wannstedt went for the end zone and Terry Obee responded with his first NFL TD.  At the half, the Giants were up 9-7, but it was one of those games where the Giants should have put the Bears away early, but let them stay in the game.

In the third quarter, the Bears had momentum and they took command of the game.  A 3 and out for the Giants and then came yet another Soldier Field nightmare for Sean Landeta

The Giants have been very fortunate over the past 30 or so years at the punter position.  They've had 3 Pro Bowlers (Dave Jennings, Landeta, and Jeff Feagles).  Some pretty good other punters in Mike Horan, Brad Maynard, and now Steve Weatherford.  Rodney Williams boomed a 90 yarder in Denver once.  Unless their name is Matt (Allen and Dodge), the Giants have done a good job with their punters.  But Landeta's house of horrors is in Chicago.  In 1985, he whiffed on a punt out of the end zone in the playoffs vs. the Bears and resulted in a TD.  In 1987, he gave up a 95 yard punt return TD to Dennis McKinnon.  And now, a blocked punt TD by Myron Baker had put the Bears up 14-9.

Another Giants 3 and out and a good punt return by Obee put the ball at the Giants 37.  A pass to Tom Waddle down to the 16 and an Ironhead run put the ball on the 4 yard line, for first and goal.  But the Giants defense held, and forced a 20 yard Kevin Butler FG and the Bears were up 17-9.

The teams traded punts after that, and the Giants finally got a drive together.  A couple of Hampton runs and a swing pass to Jarrod Bunch got the ball to the Bears 40, and Reeves went to the bag of tricks

I'll get to the Jones penalty and the lack of penalty on Jackson's celebration before scoring later on.  But I'll go on record, I love the flea-flicker.  It's my favorite gadget play by far.  The Giants have had some pretty good ones over the years, including an 80 yarder in Indianpolis in 2002 involving Collins, Tiki, and Toomer.  The most famous was in Super Bowl XXI, with Simms, Morris, and McConkey, with McConkey doing a flip and falling just short of the goal line.  To my knowledge, Tom Coughlin has never run a flea flicker in his Giants tenure, but with 2 Super Bowl championships (so far), he gets a pass.  

The long TD helped slow down the Bears, made the score 17-16, and brought the Giants back into the game when it seemed as though it was slipping away.  And after a Bears punt, and when it began to rain in the 4th Quarter, the Giants continued to take control of the game

This play was added because the Giants had not had a WR like Sherrard for many years.  Giants WRs were after thoughts.  The Giants offense was based on a running game and defense through the Parcells years.  Simms only had 2 WRs go over 1000 yards for him (Ernest Gray in 1983, Lionel Manuel in 1988).  Bavaro had 1001 in 1986, but the point is, Simms never had a real go-to horse at WR in his career.  Sherrard had good size, speed, elusiveness, which was on display on this play.  Unfortunately, Sherrard, who battled a severely broken leg in Dallas in the mid 1980s that forced him to miss several season, would later hurt his hip in a game vs. Philly and cost him the remainder of the 1993 season.

A Meggett 23 yard run set up a 36 yard Treadwell FG, making him 4-4 on the day and giving the Giants a 19-17 lead.

The Bears mounted a comeback.  Two third down conversions to Tom Waddle, a few more Ironhead runs got the ball down in the Red Zone for the Bears.  However, pressure from LT forced a throw away from Harbaugh and brought Butler on the field

This was a remote thrower/swear inducer.  I still don't think that FG was good, I don't care about Madden's explanation.  That was a hometown call for the Bears and a 20-19 lead.

The Giants got the ball back and had to drive down the field.  But it started badly, a Chris Zorich sack and a delay of game made it 3rd and 18 from the Giants own 11 yard line.

This was an absolute perfect pass from Simms.  Simms was an underrated passer, with a very strong arm and when he was on, could sling it in there with anyone.  But since the Giants were identified as a running team and defensive team, not to mention bigger name contemporary QBs like Marino and Montana, Simms was left out.  However, this bullet to Calloway for 23 yards was an outstanding pass as the team got to the 2 minute warning.  Another deep pass to Sherrard for 29 yards put the ball on the 26 yard line.  Which set up the Giants to finish off the drive

A second long pass interference call drawn by Mark Jackson, and the very next play, a pass to an open Jarrod Bunch (with Simms taking a huge hit from Alonzo Spellman, who infamously battled bipolar disorder and was later arrested).  The TD put the Giants up 26-20 and it was on the defense to hold the Bears out of the end zone

John Madden said it all, "Lawrence Taylor will never be average".  That was classic LT, showing speed and power, and making the big play with the game on the line.  Even at the end of his career, that was his patented chase down from the blindside and chop forcing a fumble, which he recovered.  Also involved was 2nd year man Keith Hamilton, playing DE at the time, muscling his way into the backfield (note how he throws the guard around) and gets part of the sack.  And more bonus points for Hamilton, Sparks and Corey Raymond taunting the Bears crowd as the clock was winding down.  LT's play ended the game and gave Reeves a victory to start his new career in NY.  And big 4th quarter plays by LT and Simms to win the game was a throwback to the 1980s and something which was sorely missed after the Handley debacle.

Interesting Tidbits/ the Post Mortem

  • As noted earlier, this was a big game for Dan Reeves to help win over the Giants team and the fans.  The Giants had stuggled in the pre-season, not scoring a point in the first quarter of any game, when the starters were playing.  Reeves decided to avoid the whole QB controversy and decided to go with Simms and ushered Hostetler over to the Raiders.  In letting go several popular players (Hostetler, Pepper, Banks, OJ Anderson, Baker, Bahr), Reeves had a lot to prove, and by beating the Bears, particularly the way he did, he helped wash away the poor memories of the Handley mistake.
  • 1993 was a strange year for free agency and the salary cap.  The Plan B era had ended, and the cap wasn't put in place until 1994.  So in 1993, the Giants opened their wallet to sign several big ticket free agents:  Carlton Bailey from the Bills, Mike Sherrard from the 49ers, and Michael Brooks and Mark Jackson from the Broncos.  In all, the Giants veteran payroll in 1993 was $38,533,500, good for 4th highest in the NFL and some $4 million over the projected 1994 cap. Needless to say, the future would show that George Young never got the hang of the cap and the Giants were forced to make a number of poor personnel decisions due to the cap.
  • Rodney Hampton caused one of those poor cap decisions. Hampton held out of camp for a while in 1993, but just before the season signed a 3 year, $6.875 million deal which expired after the 1995 season. The Giants were reeling after a 5-11 season, and Hampton, their lone offensive draw and given a transition tag, signed a contract with the Niners, and it was a 6 year, $16.5 million deal designed for the Giants to pass. However, the Giants famously matched the contract, which was "leaked" by co-owner Bob Tisch who was interviewed at a Knicks v. Warriors game at MSG. Tisch said: "San Francisco didn't make it that difficult. They gave us more annoyance. We're going to meet it." The Giants were going to actually wait a few more days, just to screw with the Niners cap, but once it was out there, it was too late. In hindsight, Reeves drove Hampton to the ground and the Giants should have let Hampton leave, as he later tied the Giants cap up in dead money.
  • Lawrence Taylor played the Bears 5 times in his career going into the 1993 opener and had never registered a sack vs. them. In fact, the Giants actually went the span of 3 games between 1985 and 1990 (including 2 playoffs games) and never sacked a Bears QB among the entire defense, and this was a time of Giants defensive dominance. LT wasn't facing Jimbo Covert in his prime though, he had converted interior lineman Jay Leeuwenburg at left tackle. LT ended up with 2 sacks, including the sack/fumble/recovery which clinched the game.
  • Jim Harbaugh, like Hampton, also signed a new contract at the start of the season, but this would be his final opener in Chicago. He was released by the Bears in 1994 and landed with the Colts, which is where he got his "Captain Comeback" nickname.
  • Where was Pat Summerall? You may have noticed that Madden wasn't with his long time partner, instead he was paired with veteran broadcaster Verne Lundquist. Back in the early 1990s, CBS had the rights to the US Open Tennis tournament and the first week of the NFL season would coincide with the Finals. Summerall would call the US Open Finals and skip the NFL coverage. So Lundquist got the nod in this game.
  • Mike Ditka had won 9 straight openers, Wannstedt lost his first one, on his way to a 7-9 season.
  • Wannstedt wasn't the only Bear replacing a legend. Dante Jones replaced a retired future Hall of Famer in Mike Singletary. Jones ended up having a great year, registering 189 tackles in 1993.
  • This was Jessie Armstead's first NFL game, he saw a great deal of time as a nickel linebacker and special teams coverage.
  • Dapper Dan- Reeves carried over a tradition of learned from Tom Landry and brought from Denver in he coached wearing a tie. Since 1983 (Parcells, Handley, Reeves, Fassel, Coughlin), Reeves is the only coach to wear a tie for the Giants while coaching. In recent years, Mike Nolan (a former assistant under Reeves in Denver and with the Giants) wore a suit/tie as a coach, but that was mainly as a tribute to his father, former NFL coach Dick Nolan.
  • Mark Jackson's 40 yard TD would end up being the longest pass play of his Giants career.
  • This game also represented the first time the Giants used an H-back in their offense.  Before Reeves, the Giants would go with a traditional fullback (Mo Carthon, Jarrod Bunch).  But Reeves brought in 1992 3rd round pick Aaron Pierce to play the H-back slot.  Pierce, drafted in the same draft as first rounder, and ultimate bust in Derek Brown, ended up with a more productive career than Brown.
That would be a penalty/fine/suspension in 2012

One of the amazing things you notice as you go back and watch games from the 1980s and 1990s are some of the hits and celebrations, which today would call for a flag, and in some cases fines and suspensions. No question, the NFL is doing more to tone down the hits to the head, hits on defenseless players, etc. Look no further than the Saints punishment to see how the NFL is cracking down. But going back 20 years ago, it was all fair game. So, without further ado...

Let's take the last one first, the Flea Flicker TD. Dick Hantack did throw a flag on Jones' dirty hit at Simms' knees. The Giants and Simms are very lucky his legs weren't planted (like Tom Brady's in 2008) and blew out his knee. However, there was no fine for Jones after this game. Had this happened today, he'd easily be looking at a $20k hit. And no flag on Jackson's Nestea Plunge in the end zone. That one easily draws a taunting penalty today.

But now let's get to Richard Dent. Dent hit Simms in the head, not once, not twice, but thrice. Not one flag. On the second one, Simms was bloodied and Kent Graham had to come in for one play. Dent was one of the top defenders in the NFL and was elected to the Hall of Fame. But if he played today, he'd have gotten 3 flags on each of those plays, a hefty fine, and with the media attention, quite possibly have had to go to the Principals' office and Goodell would have him take a seat for a game.

Now, I'm not saying Dent was a dirty player...but look at this clip I found from an Inside the NFL highlight in 1989 against the LA Rams

Richard Dent leapt over the Rams fullback and speared Greg Bell in the face with the crown of his helmet! If that had happened today, refs who were not even at the game would have thrown a flag. You'd have every station replaying the hit and Dent would be up there with the James Harrison's of the world, the poster boy for headhunting. Again, in 1989, this was not a penalty. It was fair game, so it's tough to hold it against Dent. Still, Dent should be thrilled he came a generation early, as he'd have lost a ton of money to fines.