Perhaps it's the eye-black smeared across his unshaven face, or the fact that he spits out the words "pretty-boy wide-outs" as if he's speaking of maggots, but it's difficult to imagine Phil McConkey in the dress whites of the Naval Academy. Army fatigues, maybe. Or turkey-hunting garb. But not whites.
McConkey, the first Midshipman since Roger Staubach to serve a full hitch in the Navy and then make it in the NFL, savored the Giants' win Sunday from the perspective of one of the least likely heroes in Super Bowl history. Unblessed with size (he is 5'10", 170 pounds) or speed, McConkey, who will turn 30 this month, was cut by the Giants at the end of training camp last summer. Too small. Too slow. Too old. He was picked up by the Green Bay Packers but then, four games into the season, was reacquired by the Giants after coach Bill Parcells discovered that he missed McConkey's sure-handed abandon on punt and kickoff returns. McConkey was also needed to fill in for the injured Lionel Manuel at the Giants' much-maligned wide receiver position, catching a meager 16 passes for 279 yards and one TD in 12 regular-season games. "All year long we heard that we were the weak underbellies of the team," says McConkey. "Well, we've got five tough s.o.b.'s that will go over the middle to catch the ball. We get our heads knocked off, our helmets cracked and we get back up. I'll take that over world-class, pretty-boy wideouts anytime."
McConkey had a ball in the Giants' second-half rout, scoring one touchdown and setting up a field goal and another TD. He also was the Giants' on-field cheerleader. "Enthusiasm is infectious," says McConkey. "You infect the crowd, and the crowd infects the team."
Early in the third quarter McConkey's 25-yard punt return set up the field goal that gave the Giants a 19-10 lead. On their next possession Phil Simms called for a flea-flicker. McConkey lined up left and went in motion right. "I just tried to go in there and get lost in the crowd as I came back across, and I was wide open. When I caught it, I thought, Oh, my God, I'm going to score a touchdown in the Super Bowl."
McConkey cut toward the goal line but was hit at the four and somersaulted down on the one. He pounded the turf in frustration—a 44-yard gain, but no TD. Joe Morris swept untouched into the end zone on the next play.
McConkey's touchdown would not come until the final quarter, a slant-in that Mark Bavaro tipped and McConkey snatched in midair. It was not a pretty play—as the flea-flicker had been—but a mistake, saved only by McConkey being there in the middle, right in with those hulking linebackers. "It's something you dream about, scoring a Super Bowl touchdown," McConkey said. "When it happens you think about every push-up you ever did, everybody who ever helped you. You think about the great players who never got to a Super Bowl. I can think of one right now: O.J. Simpson. I come from Buffalo, a city which gets put down as much as the Giants receivers. I understand what Giants fans have gone through. I've waited my whole life for the Bills to win a Super Bowl. I'm still waiting."
Having earned a Super Bowl ring should make that wait a bit more bearable for McConkey.