SI Vault
Rick Reilly
January 28, 1991
After a seven-year wait, Jeff Hostetler proved he's an NFL quarterback as the Giants beat the 49ers for the NFC title
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January 28, 1991

Hoss Is A Hit

After a seven-year wait, Jeff Hostetler proved he's an NFL quarterback as the Giants beat the 49ers for the NFC title

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Jump ahead to 1985, when Vicky delivered what seemed like a perfect baby boy, Jason. But after four hours Jason's lips started to turn blue. The infant had pulmonary and heart problems that required surgery. Fine. Then his heart required another operation. O.K. But then he needed to have his gallbladder removed, and during that surgery he lost a kidney. That was real scary. Then he required heart surgery a third time, which was not so fine but was not as bad as the fourth operation, for which his body temperature had to be dropped to 30� before the doctors could start the eight-hour procedure. Then the flu sent him back to the hospital for five days. "All that put everything in perspective for us real quick," Hostetler says. Life was definitely not going the way he'd planned it.

But Jason got better, and so did the football. When Simms went down with an ankle injury in the middle of the 1989 season, Parcells finally gave Hostetler a shot. Once he found his helmet, he started twice and won twice, throwing a touchdown pass in each game. That was good enough for Parcells, who cut Rutledge loose under Plan B last February and installed Hostetler as quarterback 1-A going into training camp.

So when Simms suffered a sprained right arch five weeks ago, with the Giants already guaranteed work in the postseason, Hoss, as his teammates call him, found his ship had finally docked. He beat the Phoenix Cardinals and New England Patriots to end the regular season, and then he wiped out the Chicago Bears in the opening round of the playoffs, running two times to convert fourth downs. Bears coach Mike Ditka called him the best running quarterback in the league "outside of [Randall] Cunningham."

Yeah, but could he beat Joe God and the San Francisco 49ers in The Stick? In the NFC Championship Game? He could. On Sunday he forgot to wilt in front of the Niner legend. Damned if he wasn't still right in it with a quarter to play and San Francisco leading 13-9.

Then suddenly it looked as if his ship had sunk. As Hostetler dropped back to pass, 49er noseguard Jim Burt, a former Giant, dived at Hostetler's left knee and buckled it. "I figured I was out of the game," Hostetler said afterward. Beautiful. One quarter away from going to The Show and destiny blew by Hostetler as if he were a hitchhiker with pets. "It hurt like crazy," he said after the game, "but at this point in my season and at this point in the game and, really, at this point in my career, I knew I wasn't coming out."

The backup's backup, Matt Cavanaugh, looked catatonic, and New York punted. Defensive end Leonard Marshall of the Giants got a payback on Montana, creaming him from behind, breaking a bone in his right hand, severely bruising his sternum and generally testing his Tylenol supply. "That's what we call justice around here," said New York linebacker Lawrence Taylor afterward. " Jim Burt's hit was a cheap shot."

The Niners punted. Destiny made a U-turn.

"Can you go?" Parcells had asked Hostetler minutes before.

"I think so," Hoss said.

"You think you can go?" Parcells asked him one play later.

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