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DENVER BRONCOS VS. NEW YORK GIANTS SUPER BOWL XXI TAKING A GIANT STEP New York's senior team was too strong for the Broncos, who simply wore down and gave up scores on five consecutive enemy possessions

Jan. 02, 1989
Jan. 02, 1989

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Jan. 2, 1989

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DENVER BRONCOS VS. NEW YORK GIANTS SUPER BOWL XXI TAKING A GIANT STEP New York's senior team was too strong for the Broncos, who simply wore down and gave up scores on five consecutive enemy possessions

I'M TIRED OF PEOPLE SEIZing on something that's easy to write,
like a goal- line stand or a fake punt, and calling it the most
significant moment of a game. I'm tired of misplaced angles. I'm
particularly tired of arguing with people who say that the turning
point in the Giants' 39-20 defeat of the Denver Broncos was New
York's goal-line stand in the second quarter.
The game had no turning point, it was a war of attrition, and the
bigger, stronger Giants wore the Broncos down, on both sides of the
ball. What's more, Phil Simms had the greatest Super Bowl a
quarterback has ever had. The goal- line stand was a dramatic moment,
I'll grant that, but there was a half left to play. And when people
say that Dan Reeves blew it because he didn't go straight ahead at
the Giants when he was on the one-yard line, well, they just haven't
done their homework. The two best goal-line-defense teams in
football, year in, year out, are the Giants and the 49ers. I don't
know why that is -- maybe they coach it better or devote more time to
it in practice -- but you just don't get anywhere trying to muscle
through either of those teams in short-yardage situations. And in
inside linebacker Harry Carson, the Giants had one of the great
instinctive goal-line players in history, maybe the best. Some
runners are special around the goal line; they have an instinct that
gets them into the end zone. Well, Carson has the opposite instinct.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Both Simms and John Elway had proved
themselves during the season. Elway was the cover boy, and there have
been few drives more significant than the one on which he took the
Broncos in the dying moments of the AFC Championship Game against
Cleveland. I can close my eyes and still see that third-and-18
shotgun snap that hit wide receiver Steve Watson in the backside,
and Elway then reaching down for the ball and picking it off like a
shortstop fielding a low liner, and in one motion whipping a 20- yard
pass to Mark Jackson.
Simms had made equally dramatic plays more than once during the
season. Fourth-and-17 against the Vikings, third-and-21 against the
Broncos -- he had cashed both of them and pulled out games the Giants
should have lost. He had had a great year, but the heart of the
Giants' offense was not Simms's arm. It was the power toss, with Joe
Morris running off the right side behind Mark Bavaro, the best
blocking tight end in football, and tackle Karl Nelson, whose
excellence was fully appreciated only when the Giants had to play
without him the next season. Usually the big fullback, Maurice
Carthon, would lead the play, and guards Chris Godfrey and Billy Ard
were skilled at folding back into the hole and picking up strays. It
was the Giants' big hammer. Elway and the Broncos had nothing to
match it.
We figured the game would be a defensive kind of thing for a
while, with the Giants' defense and the great Carson-Lawrence
Taylor-Carl Banks linebacking corps controlling Elway, while the
small but active Bronco defense would be making things tough for
Simms. What happened in reality was shocking.
First, Neil Diamond sang the national anthem in 1:01, the quickest
ever in a Super Bowl and the second-fastest I've ever clocked. Bravo,
Neil! That's the way it's supposed to be sung. Then Elway and Simms
came out and set the Rose Bowl on fire.
The ball didn't touch the ground in the first quarter; 13 passes
were thrown and not one was incomplete. They threw safe passes
mostly, crosses, hooks, outs -- intermediate routes. But they were
working like machines. The Giants were the first to throw an
incomplete and to punt -- in the second quarter. Denver, which had
scored on its first two possessions and led 10-7, marched 79 yards,
down to the Giants' one. First down. Elway rolled right on a pass-run
option, a good first-down call against an impregnable tackle-to-
tackle goal-line defense. He lost a yard. Gerald Willhite tried a
quickie inside. Carson stuffed it for no gain. Then it was Sammy
Winder on a pitch left. Carson, Banks and Perry Williams dumped him
for minus four. There it was, the goal-line stand, everybody's Monday
angle -- if the Giants won, of course.
When Rich Karlis missed the 23-yard field goal, it was time for
the Broncos to fold, right? Especially when their next series ended
in a safety. But on their last possession of the half Elway took them
47 yards in less than a minute, down to the Giants' 16. Some
collapse. Some turning point. Then Karlis missed a 34-yarder. Denver
still led, 10-9.
In the second half the Giants scored on their first five
possessions, held the Broncos to a field goal on their first four,
and the game was history. The bigger, stronger team had won. Simms
had been unbelievable, completing 22 of 25 passes. He didn't throw an
incomplete in three of the four quarters. He passed for 268 yards;
Elway, with 304, went down fighting.
The Broncos had lived by their defense for so many years, but now
it failed them. They weren't big people. They averaged 257 pounds
along their defensive front, only 223 for the starting eleven. They
had shown a tendency to wear down during the season -- they dropped
from fifth to ninth in the league in the last four weeks, when they
gave up an average of 34 points a game -- but the statistic was
somehow lost in the Super Bowl euphoria.
It would haunt them in the next two years, the inability to match
up with bigger players. But please, don't tell me about turning
points.

This is an article from the Jan. 2, 1989 issue