New York Giants: Longing for those ‘Glory Days’

PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 25: Wide receiver Phil McConkey #80 of the New York Giants reacts after being stopped short of the goal line against the Denver Broncos during Super Bowl XXI at the Rose Bowl on January 25, 1987 in Pasadena, California. The Giants defeated the Broncos 39-20. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)
PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 25: Wide receiver Phil McConkey #80 of the New York Giants reacts after being stopped short of the goal line against the Denver Broncos during Super Bowl XXI at the Rose Bowl on January 25, 1987 in Pasadena, California. The Giants defeated the Broncos 39-20. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images) /

Since the Giants are light years away from winning a Super Bowl again, I was feeling nostalgic after watching “The Two Bills” on ESPN.

Highlights of Bill Parcells jawing with Phil Simms, and Lawrence Taylor chasing down quarterbacks were the Glory Days for this franchise. No disrespect to the New York Giants teams that won it in ’07 and ’11, but they can’t compare to the ’80s teams.

Taylor revolutionized the linebacker position and was the league’s MVP in 1986. He had 20.5 sacks alone – leading the Giants to their first Super Bowl in team history. Parcells and defensive coordinator Bill Belichick orchestrated one of the best all-around defenses in league history.

Taylor, Harry Carson, Carl Banks, Leonard Marshall and Jim Burt tormented the league for almost a full decade.

The “Big Blue Wrecking Crew” was so dominate that their defense finished with a Top 3 defense four times from 1981 through 1990, and finished out of the Top 9 in defense just once. That was in 1983 (excluded strike year of ’87).

New York Giants
New York Giants /

New York Giants

NFC Rivals

The New York Giants had their hands full with incredible teams in the NFC during the ’80s – the 49ers, Bears, Redskins, the Cowboys (early in the decade) and then the Eagles and Saints later in the decade. While the Redskins, Cowboys and Eagles were the Giants biggest in-season rivalries – the 49ers were their biggest post-season nemesis over a 13-year span.

The 49ers and Giants met in the playoffs six times from 1981 through 1993, with each team winning three games.

The 49ers won four Super Bowls from 1981 through 1990 and were similar to today’s New England Patriots. On their way to San Francisco’s first two Super Bowls in ’81 and ’84, the 49ers knocked the Giants out of the playoffs in Candlestick Park.

In the ’84 game, Montana seemed to be running out of bounds and linebacker Carson let up on the quarterback, but he then cut inside and ran for 51 yards.

The New York Giants defense never forgot this sneaky move by Montana.  Banks said that Montana put a “target” on him moving forward. “He was a ‘marked man’,” says Marshall in a 2011 interview. “We had to do something to dispel the myth that Montana would beat us at will.”

One more hill to climb

By 1985, the New York Giants were primed for the 49ers. This time the playoff game was going to be at the Meadowlands where Big Blue took care of San Francisco 17-3.

Montana was sacked four times by the Giants defense and Joe Morris rushed for 141 yards on the afternoon to lead New York to victory. The following week the Giants were stonewalled by the Bears 21-0 in Chicago in the divisional playoff.

But the loss proved to be learning lesson for that New York Giants team.

"“That football team taught us how to play football the next year,” says Maurice Carthon in his 2005 interview about the USFL. “We learned from that butt-whipping they put on us, that we had to be more physical and what it takes to be a champion. Every player on our team took heed to that. I’ve never forgotten it to this day. Every time I go to Soldier Field I think about that game and those players the Bears had. They shut everyone down that year.”"

Slaying the Niners

The following season the Giants had arrived.

"“We knew what were offensively, and we had a great defense,” says Carthon. “Bill [Parcells] had us buy into that fact that we weren’t going to bowl over teams. We accepted what Bill said. It’s hard to stop us when you look at the offensive line and Joe Morris was running the ball so well.”"

Despite their 14-2 record and the league’s best defense, the Giants had a scare early in the game against the 49ers in the divisional playoff in ’86.

It looked like the 49ers were going to take an early lead when receiver Jerry Rice caught his patented “slant pass” from Montana and was heading for the end zone with no one around him when he suddenly lost control of the ball and the Giants recovered in the end zone and dominated from there.

"“We got the momentum from that play,” recalls Carthon. “If Jerry Rice takes it to the end zone, it might have been a different story.”"

The Giants mauled the 49ers 49-3 and as nose tackle Jim Burt knocked two-time Super Bowl MVP Montana out of the game. To add insult to injury, linebacker Lawrence Taylor intercepted the pass and returned it 28 yards for the score.

“We were known as the Montana Killers,” says Marshall, who recorded 2.5 sacks vs. the Broncos in Super Bowl XXI. “It was to let other teams in the league know that we are going to play physical football. You better prepared to get hit and beat up if you’re going to win a game against the Giants. We are going to make it the toughest day of your life if you’ re going to beat us.”

Made it look easy

The following week the Giants shutout the Redskins 17-0 in the NFC Championship at the Meadowlands, where the winds gusted up to 22 miles-per-hour and making it feel like it was 29 degrees.

"“The biggest thing was that the Redskins had a balanced attack and they were looking to run the ball that day and make it like a scrum,” says Marshall. “But it was so windy, they couldn’t throw the football, their offense was so limited.”"

After disposing of the 49ers and Redskins, who won three of the previous five Super Bowls, the Giants faced the young-gun from Denver – John Elway. The Broncos were able to move the ball early against the Giants, putting up 10 first-quarter points and leaving another possible seven on the field.

Denver had the ball first-and-goal from the New York 1-yard line, but the Broncos failed to score on three running plays, then kicker Rick Karlis missed an easy 23-yard attempt that would have put the Broncos up by six.

Instead, the Giants trailed 10-9 at the half and ignited for 30 points in the second-half.

"“We shifted our tight end and they never made any adjustments from there,” says Carthon."

Super Simms

New York Giants tight ends Mark Bavaro and Zeke Mowatt caught a combined five passes for 57 yards and two touchdowns. Simms won the Super Bowl MVP, completing 22 of 25 passes for 268 yards, and 3 TD’s as the Giants beat the Broncos 39-20.

Carthon felt Simms was ready for a big day because he practiced so well.

"“He didn’t miss anything that week in practice,” recalls Carthon. “Especially that Friday, he had the hot-hand that week.”“We were pretty hot at the end of that season for quite awhile and had a lot of big games,” says Simms at the 25th Giants reunion for the Super Bowl in 2010. “I don’t remember during the week thinking, ‘wow, this is really a special week of practice and this is going to carry over.'”"

Marshall and veteran George Martin remember what an amazing feeling it was walking off the field as a Super Bowl champion.

"“It felt unbelievable man, I never won in high school, never won at LSU, ” Marshall says with a big smile on his face. “To be able to do it with a great group of guys, guys that went from boys to men, was just phenomenal.”"

"“I can still see all the confetti coming down, all the celebration, all the tears, Jim Burt hoisting his son in the stands, those moments will live forever, ” says Martin in 2010. “It denotes a moment in time when we were going to be the best in our industry and we have the Super Bowl rings to validate it.”"