First things first: He didn't sing this time. During his rookie season, in 1992, New York Giant quarterback Dave Brown jogged into a scoreless game to replace an ineffective Kent Graham with the ball on his own two-yard line. Trying to impress his teammates with a cool exterior, Brown entered the huddle warbling 2 Legit 2 Quit, which had been playing on the public-address system during a timeout. Two plays later New York suffered a safety; on the next series Brown broke his thumb; the Phoenix Cardinals wound up romping 19-0. "I haven't done much singing since," Brown said early last week.
The pressure Brown faced on Sunday might have understandably had him belting out an aria. He was replacing 38-year-old Phil Simms at the helm of the Giants, his lifelong dream team. He was confronting the blitz-happy Philadelphia Eagles in an NFC East matchup of two teams loaded with question marks and aching to start well. Temptation beckoned further: Brown strode onto the Giants Stadium turf to the strains of Devil with a Blue Dress On, a favorite ditty at his alma mater, Duke. But instead of joining in, he kept his focus on the field and helped dispatch the Eagles 28-23 with all the assuredness of Pavarotti crooning in the shower. "Well," Brown admitted afterward, "I might have hummed a little."
Sunday will forever mark the official end of the Simms Era in New York, a time span that only seemed as long as the Paleozoic. Put it this way: When the 24-year-old Brown attended his first game as a Giant fan, when he was a third-grader in Westfield, N.J., Simms was a rookie starter out of Morehead State. Brown grew up imagining he would one day fade back for the Big Blue, standing tall, like Simms, while the pocket was imploding, and waiting until the last split second to find the secondary receiver as he absorbed the hit. Brown will eagerly point out that, also like Simms, he throws righthanded and writes lefthanded—a trait they both share with a less illustrious Giant quarterback of the early 1980s, Scott Brunner.
"This is something I've always wanted, something I've always looked forward to, being the Giants' quarterback," Brown said last week. "It's something I'm going to try to enjoy as much as I can."
If the lanky 6'5", 225-pound Brown is to follow in Simms's footsteps—as opposed to, say, Brunner's—it will be largely because of Simms, whom he dials up for advice. After being taken in the first round of the 1992 supplemental draft, Brown spent two years behind Simms on the depth chart, his clipboard poised and his eyes wide open. He watched how Simms could shake off the adversity of being intercepted, how he gave free rein to his emotions and, especially, how he lifted weights five days a week to better endure the pounding. When Simms no longer fit into New York's plans or under its salary cap, Brown felt ready to step in despite having thrown only 17 passes in the NFL. "Phil was the ultimate when it came to preparing for the game," says Giant offensive coordinator George Henshaw. "Dave has that same self-confidence because he goes into a game knowing he's done everything he could do to get ready."
Brown beat out Graham for the starter's job in the preseason—and almost beat himself up in the process. Again, the Simms legacy loomed: Brown felt compelled to show his toughness by taking on tacklers after scrambling out of the pocket. Indeed, before the opener Brown seemed almost apologetic for what Eagle coach Rich Kotite had lauded as his "escapability." "I can scramble and do some different things, but I don't want to be mistaken for a guy who doesn't want to sit in the pocket," said Brown, who was 10 for 20 for 171 yards and a touchdown on Sunday. "I want to hang in as long as I can and deliver the ball, just like Phil did."
And just like Phil, Brown delivered something very important to Giant fans—a victory.