Maybe next time it will be different. Maybe next time the New York Giants will have figured out the Chicago Bears' wildly effective blitzing scheme, which knocked the Giants' quarterback, Phil Simms, into dreamland, destroyed their passing game and eliminated the running attack from their game plan. The final score in what was billed as Super Bowl XXI½, the September Classic or, simply, the greatest Monday night matchup in history, was 34-19, but it was misleading. The Giants' defense scored one touchdown, and their special teams got another off a blocked punt. Their offense finally got on the board in the fourth quarter, when the game was all but lost.
So maybe the Bears and Giants will meet again, but when? And what can we expect: more of the same or a New York game plan that will get everyone blocked? In the teams' last two meetings—Chicago's 21-0 victory in the playoffs two seasons ago and Monday night's game—the Bears held the Giants' offense scoreless for seven quarters. They have punished New York physically and put a key man out of action on each occasion. Giants running back Joe Morris went down in the playoff game. On Monday in Chicago, Simms was knocked groggy by defensive end Richard Dent's blind-side hit in the second quarter, but he returned, after getting himself together during halftime. To Dent, the Bears' latest accomplishments on D should have been expected simply because "we did it to the same people last time, so why wouldn't we think we could do it again?"
Certainly a lot of people were interested in seeing who could do what to whom in this game. The Bears' p.r. department issued 750 press credentials and turned down 350 requests. Three London papers covered the proceedings. The Chicago Sun-Times Sunday supplement ran 76 pages on the Bears, most of them devoted to this game, and that was in addition to the paper's regular sports section. "It's going to be a game that you'll say when you're 50 or 60 years old, 'Hey, I played in one of the biggest games in NFL history,' " said Chicago quarterback Mike Tomczak.
"Look," said Giants linebacker Harry Carson, "the league knew what it was doing when it put the game on this week. It could've been scheduled for November 2 or any other Monday night of the season, but the NFL wanted a media event, and that's what it got. The last two Super Bowl champs, two teams coming off 14-2 records, the two dominating defenses of the '80s. People are going to expect hellified things."
September 20, 1987
Five hours after New York checked into its hotel on Sunday afternoon, the phones were turned off to incoming calls. "When we played them two years ago, I had a bad case of the flu the night before the game," said Simms. "I was drinking quarts of orange juice. I'd just fallen into a deep sleep, around 3 a.m., when the phone rang. 'I've got some bad news for you,' this guy said. 'Your father just passed away.' By the time I and found out it was a crank call, the night was almost gone."
Before Monday's game an old New Jersey friend talked to Giants coach Bill Parcells about the blown chances in that Jan. 1986 playoff loss. The friend mentioned a whiffed punt and a fumble on the first series, and the drive at the end of the first half that should have yielded some points. Finally, Parcells cut him off. "We had no chance," he said. "They beat us up. You have no idea how hard they hit us."
It wasn't as bad this time. The Giants put together a serious opening drive, moving from their own 24 to the Bears' 10 in seven plays. Simms had time to deliver the ball, and Morris picked up good yardage on nifty cutback runs. It was easy. Were the Giants really that good? Could they come right back from their Super Bowl victory without missing a beat? Or, worse, if you happened to be one of the suddenly quiet Chicago fans, was there something dramatically wrong with the Bears' defense?
"We weren't tackling; we weren't wrapping Morris up," middle linebacker Mike Singletary said later. "We were on our heels. We were giving Simms time to do what he wanted. I don't know if we'd gotten caught up in the hype or what."
With New York facing second-and-ten on the Chicago four, the Bears' defensive coordinator, Vince Tobin, called his first all-out blitz. Todd Bell, the strong safety, was the first man through. Two linemen, Dan Hampton and Steve McMichael, followed. Simms was swarmed, and he fumbled. The Bears recovered, ran three plays, had a punt blocked for a TD, and the Giants were up 7-0. Justice was served, sort of. The pretty opening drive was not wasted, but Chicago had learned something: This was to be a night for the blitz—until it was picked up or burned, or something discouraging happened to it.
We're into a tricky subject here. Buddy Ryan, the Bears' defensive coordinator from 1978 through '85, and his 46 defenses lived by the blitz, but last year when Tobin took over he turned the throttle down; Chicago mixed things up, and its defense again led the league. See, you can get the job done without turning into a bunch of rampaging maniacs.
The laws of pressure, though, say that if the squeeze is working you keep squeezing, so here they came—up the middle, Singletary working in tandem with one of the outside backers, Otis Wilson or Wilber Marshall. Sometimes Bell would come, sometimes free safety Dave Duerson. "Simms is a great quarterback," said Hampton, "but put enough pressure on, and they all look like Art Schlichter."
Meanwhile, the Bears found a new offensive weapon, Neal Anderson, last year's No. 1 draft choice, the guy who put Walter Payton's bodyguard, Matt Suhey, on the bench. What Chicago lost in blocking it gained in flash. Trailing 7-0, the Bears drove 88 yards late in the first quarter for a field goal. Anderson, who turned a little dump-off pass into a 47-yard gain, accounted for 77 of them. The Giants had never faced him. They had no handle on his speed.
Early in the second quarter, Dent, working inside a wide, looping blitz by Marshall, hit Simms as he let go of a pass, and the lights went out. Jeff Rutledge came in for a play, Simms returned for a few more, and then he retired for the rest of the half. "I was knocked goofy," said Simms. "I tried to hand the ball off one time, and I didn't really know what I was doing. I couldn't remember anything. Things didn't start coming back to me until after halftime."
At the end of the second quarter, Chicago put together its first touchdown drive, a painstaking 80-yarder that consumed 15 plays. Directing a sustained march was the one thing no one thought Tomczak could do against the Giants' defense. But he had time to deliver his throws. They were easy ones, short stuff over the middle. Then in the third quarter he aired out the ball—42 yards for a score to rookie Ron Morris, a 56-yard TD pass to Willie Gault—and the rout was on. New York didn't help itself by picking up a total of one first down in three consecutive possessions. With the score 24-7, it was survival time for the Giants. Wilson taunted New York linemen. He also had words with Simms: "I told him, 'When we were at the Pro Bowl, your son took my kid's truck. You give it back.' "
In the locker room after the game, the Giants looked like a bunch of guys who weren't quite sure what had hit them and from what angle. "Was it the inside pressure; was that the problem?" said right guard Chris Godfrey. "We had seen the blitzes they used, we thought that we had them down, but in the heat of battle...."
"We did a poor pick-up job," said center Bart Oates. "They got us in one-on-one situations across the board by bringing so many people. All it takes is for one guy to mess up...."
The Giants' right tackle, William Roberts, had a tough time with Hampton. O.J. Anderson, who replaced Morris when New York's task became pure catch-up, couldn't handle Marshall on the outside blitzes. The entire blocking mesh broke down. There would be no catching up.
For the second time since the two teams moved into the league's elite, the Chicago defense proved that it could inflict more serious damage on the New York offense than the Giants' offense could inflict on the Bears' defense. The closest thing to a dominating force for the New York D was its rookie inside linebacker, Pepper Johnson. Not Lawrence Taylor, who made some big plays, but got blocked on many others.
On the other hand, Chicago was one big dominating force. Even Tomczak, who passed for 292 yards, was a dominator. He started the preseason as a long shot to make the Bears, won the recuperating Jim McMahon's starting job with a solid exhibition season, and on Monday night hung in, gaining confidence as the evening wore on. He wasn't unnerved by all the pregame hype or by the Giants formidable defense. McMahon he isn't, but Tomczak may be all the quarterback Chicago needs.