The hawk rose out of the Jersey Meadowlands on Sunday and grabbed the Minnesota Vikings. The hawk—the wind, those nasty, swirling gusts that have made Giants Stadium a quarterback's nightmare—claimed another victim, and now the New York Giants, 17-10 wild-card survivors, will meet the San Francisco 49ers this Saturday. In windy Candlestick. It is windy there, right?
"Not as bad as this place," said Giant quarterback Phil Simms, who on Sunday put up the kind of numbers you need to survive the Meadowlands hawk in January. Simms's completion rate was high (17 for 26), his yardage low (94). "I never lost it," he said. "It never got away from me."
The wind gusts reached 26 mph, and they were unpredictable. "The wind hits the ball and runs it through a tunnel," said Sean Salisbury, who twice replaced Minnesota's Jim McMahon at quarterback after McMahon got his bell rung.
Game plans change; carefully crafted pass patterns go out the window. Quarterbacks, become weathermen, and Simms, who has played more games at Giants Stadium than any other quarterback, has a big edge. "I've taught myself how to deal with the wind here," he said. "It's like being in a hot climate. Sooner or later you're going to take some clothes off."
All points were scored by the team with the wind at its back. Going into the wind, the Giants never got past their own 40, and the Vikings reached New York territory once, on a drive that fizzled at the 27. But Minnesota held a 10-3 halftime advantage on McMahon's 40-yard touchdown strike to Cris Carter down the seam.
Coming out for the second half, Viking coach Dennis Green had a choice: the wind or the ball. He took the ball. Giant coach Dan Reeves had won the pregame coin toss and had taken the wind in the first quarter. "I liked the situation," Green said afterward. "The lead and the ball, then the wind in the fourth quarter."
The Giants tied the game early in the third quarter when Rodney Hampton, who ran for 161 yards, broke a 51-yarder. On New York's next series, Hampton punched in a two-yard touchdown at the end of a 26-yard, all-ground drive. Then the Giants waited for the quarter to change and the wind to favor Minnesota.
One play ended Minnesota's hopes. With less than three minutes gone in the final period, Salisbury hooked up with Carter for 30 yards, to the Giant 23, but strong safety Myron Guyton knocked the ball loose, and free safety Greg Jackson recovered the fumble. The Vikings would get the ball three more times but could not penetrate beyond the New York 43. McMahon was woozy. Even with the wind, 10 Minnesota passes produced only two completions for a total of 15 yards.
"I was able to function," said McMahon. "I just didn't make the damn plays."
Welcome to the land of the hawk.