From SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, February 2, 1987
INSIDE THE MIND OF EVERY QUARTERBACK THERE'S A 22-FOR-25 DAY, A DAY WHEN every pass has eyes, every decision is correct. For a showcase there's a bright, sunlit stadium with a long tradition, a place like, well, the Rose Bowl. There are 101,063 people in the stands and about 2,000 writers and broadcasters to tell people about it, and some 130 million Americans gathered around their TVs to see what has been called the Ultimate Game. That's where the fantasy usually stays, inside, because nobody ever goes 22 for 25 in the Super Bowl.
But let's say there's a quarterback who deserves this kind of day, a quarterback who has spent eight years in the NFL being hammered by adversity and injury, who has heard the boos of the New York fans for as long as he can remember, a quarterback like the Giants' Phil Simms.
In Super Bowl XXI, Simms got even. New York crushed the Broncos 39--20 and Simms, the game's MVP, wound up with the best percentage passing day in Super Bowl history.
You say someone must have gotten the name wrong, that Simms is a downfield passer, usually with a low completion percentage. You have a point. He was below 50% for the Giants' two postseason wins, and that's not easy when you win 49--3 and 17--0. Fourteen NFL passers had higher percentages than Simms this season. A day like 22 for 25 is for the dinkers, the dump-off artists, not the gunners like Simms. But there it was. "He quarterbacked as good a game as ever has been played," said coach Bill Parcells.
The guys who work with Simms every day said they had a hunch he might have a surprise like this cooked up, that it started more than a week before the Super Bowl. "On Thursday after the Redskins game we had a lackluster practice," said center Bart Oates. "The next day Coach Parcells kind of got on us. He said, 'You've got to pick it up.'
"Phil was phenomenal in that Friday practice. He hit everything he threw. Parcells said, 'Hey, this is too much. Save something for the game.' Phil had a strange sort of glow—like he was in a perfect biorhythm stage or something."
In the Super Bowl the key series came in the second quarter and was provided not by Simms but by the Giants' great defense. The Broncos led 10--7 and had a first down at the Giants' one. They brought in their goal line offense. Denver QB John Elway tried a run-pass option, but Lawrence Taylor and nosetackle Erik Howard threw him for a loss. The Broncos tried a trap, but Harry Carson stuffed Gerald Willhite for no gain. Next, a pitch went to Sammy Winder. Linebacker Carl Banks read it and got in front of Winder, along with Carson and cornerback Perry Williams. The play lost four yards. Then Rich Karlis missed a field goal. First-and-goal on the one and Denver came away with nothing.
The Broncos went into halftime ahead but shaky. Reality arrived in the third quarter, when the Giants pressured Elway into misfires. New York also set off the biggest one-half offensive explosion in Super Bowl history, scoring four touchdowns and a field goal on its first five possessions. Simms went 10 for 10. He was finding all his receivers—short, long, primary, secondary, it didn't matter.
The real turning point came on the Giants' first drive of the third quarter, when backup QB Jeff Rutledge shifted out of punt formation to sneak two yards for a first down at the Giants' 46. Simms made the gamble pay off by hitting tight end Mark Bavaro for a 13-yard TD against double coverage. Simms got his longest completion of the day, 44 yards to Phil McConkey, off a flea-flicker that set up New York's next TD. And while Denver wore down in the 76° heat, the Giants, who had been punished by Parcells in practices leading up to the game, got stronger. Simms found Stacy Robinson for 36 yards, laying the ball perfectly in the hole in the double zone, on the way to the third TD of the half. Simms bootlegged for 22 yards to set up the last one.