Five hours before kickoff, Simms, left tackle Brad Benson and right guard Chris Godfrey took a cab to the stadium, a road-game ritual they have followed for two years.
"I was nervous," Benson said. "I had been nervous all week, even though I had done a good job of trying to hide it. I asked Phil if he was nervous too. 'Not nervous,' he said. 'Excited.' Then he said, 'I'm telling you guys, I feel great. I'm gonna be throwing some fast balls today. Give me time and I'll rip 'em.' "
But Elway did some ripping of his own in the first quarter. On a third-and-seven from his own 37, he hit Mark Jackson on a 24-yard pass that set up a 48-yard field goal by Rich Karlis. Then, after the Giants took the lead on a 78-yard touchdown drive that ended with a 6-yard pass from Simms to tight end Zeke Mowatt, Elway put the Broncos back on top 10-7, using short passes and, for the final four yards, a quarterback draw. For a while there, Super Bowl XXI looked like it would be the best one ever.
Simms and the Giants soon changed that notion, however, with almost flawless execution of a perfect game plan. Simms's instructions were to throw play-action passes in the first half to temper the rush and hold in those very active, swarming Denver linebackers who were, as Parcells said, "all gassed up to get Joe Morris." And in the second half, when Denver people were starting to sag a little, the Giants would come back and pound them on the ground.
"I was surprised they changed their whole offensive attack," Bronco linebacker Karl Mecklenburg said. "Pass first, run second. It surprised us. We thought they would try to establish the running game, but they went against their tendencies, and they did a good job of it."
The Giants threw on nine first-down plays in the first half, running on only two, not counting a final quarterback kneel before the intermission. Simms completed all nine. The Broncos were rushing four men, three down linemen and an outside linebacker, either Jim Ryan or Tom Jackson, but the protection was near perfect. New York had one full possession in the first quarter, and the result was that 78-yard touchdown drive. On Simms's only third-and-long situation, he hit wideout Stacy Robinson on an 18-yard sideline pattern.
The Broncos made some changes in their normal long-yardage rush. Mecklenburg, who usually lines up outside Rulon Jones in a down-lineman position, was now paired with Simon Fletcher, while Jones worked inside Freddie Gilbert on the other side. The alignment posed no problem.
"They like to stunt off that," Benson said. "Jones slams you, and the end outside him loops around him to the inside. It's a kind of pick play, and they're real good at it. They got us on that a couple of times when we played them during the season. If you take a flat setup on your pass blocks, they've got you. You have to drop deeper."
"We practiced all week head up, butt down, keep your feet moving," Oates said. "Stay light on your feet and play patty-cake with them. No firing out. Passive-type blocking."
In the second quarter the Broncos stepped up the tempo of their rush, sending in strong safety Dennis Smith on third down and forcing two of the three incompletes Simms threw all day. And as technically proficient as Simms and the Giants offense had been in the first period. Elway and the Broncos were matching it. Neither quarterback threw an incompletion in that first quarter; collectively they were 13 for 13. They were like two guys holding their hands in a pail of hot water to see who would pull out first.