Six minutes into the third quarter of Super Bowl XXV, quarterback Jeff Hostetler leaned into the New York Giants huddle and called out "half-right-62-comeback-dig" above the din in Tampa Stadium. Wide receiver Mark Ingram's heart leapt, because he would be Hostetler's first option on this, the biggest play of the game so far.
Trailing 12-10, the Giants faced third-and-13 at the Buffalo 32, and a Matt Bahr field goal try loomed. Hostetler hoped to get at least enough yardage to give Bahr a shorter kick. In the play, wideouts Stacy Robinson and Troy Kyles were to clear the right side of the field by running deep routes, while wideout Stephen Baker and Ingram ran basic sandlot square-ins, Baker going about 12 yards before cutting and Ingram about six.
An all-but-forgotten first-round draft pick out of Michigan State in 1987, Ingram was so pumped that before breaking the huddle he looked into the eyes of the three other wideouts and said, "Here we go! Big play! Here's our chance! So many times they've said we can't do it. Let's show 'em!"
Hostetler quickly picked out Ingram and hit him about eight yards upheld. From there, the play turned into a high light film. Ingram cut around Bills cornerback Kirby Jackson, then turned up-field and spun away from lunging linebacker Darryl Talley. He juked free safety Mark Kelso and broke clear for a few steps before being grabbed at the ankles by nickelback James Williams. But Ingram twisted one last time and dived forward for the first down.
"I knew exactly where I had to get," Ingram said later. To the 19. He got to the 18. Five plays later, Ottis Anderson's one-yard run for a touchdown gave the Giants their biggest lead of the game, 17-12, and ended the longest drive—nine minutes, 29 seconds—in Super Bowl history. "Biggest drive of our season," Baker said after the Giants had won 20-19.
Afterward, New York receivers coach Tom Coughlin hugged the spent Ingram outside the Giants' locker room. Ingram had finished with five catches, tying his career best, for a game-high 74 yards. Four of his receptions had kept scoring drives alive. But Coughlin was marveling over the whirling-dervish catch and run in the third quarter. "That was one of the greatest plays in Super Bowl history," he whispered to Ingram.
It must have seemed that way to the Giants, who used their receivers more in the Super Bowl than in any other game in their 16-3 season. Against the Bills, Hostetler completed 16 passes to his tight ends and wideouts—four more passes than Giants receivers had caught in a game all year. New York coach Bill Parcells had trusted this strategy enough to stick with it for the entire Super Bowl. Hostetler, who was starting his fifth straight game in place of the injured Phil Simms, passed 13 times on third down and found his man on eight occasions, seven for first downs.
On the scoring drives that ended the first half and began the second, the Giants ran a combined 12:53 off the clock, exhausting the Bills, and 13 of the 24 plays on those drives were passes.
Until Sunday, Ingram hadn't fulfilled his promise as a top draft pick, mostly because of a weight problem in 1987 and a broken collarbone in '88. Even when fit, he wasn't able to draw Simms's attention away from his favorite target, the recently waived Lionel Manuel, and too often Ingram seemed a man without moves. He could catch the medium-route passes well enough, but what did he do after the catch? Add to that Parcells' love of a ground-oriented attack, and it's easy to see why Ingram had only 58 catches in four regular seasons.
"Some receivers catch 100 passes," Ingram said in the afterglow of his Tampa Stadium coming-out party. "Some catch 70. I don't. But I'm a world champion."