By Michael Eisen, Giants.com
Special to Profootballhof.com
For three days, the players and coaches of the Giants
' Super Bowl XXI championship team enjoyed the reunion of a lifetime. At events both public and private, they hugged and laughed, jarred their memories and told stories from that magical 1986 season while proving that the bonds they developed in winning the title will never be severed.
The good times began Saturday night at a dinner in the Giants' Legacy Club in New Meadowlands Stadium. It continued Sunday during a celebration attended by approximately 1,000 fans and another dinner, this one to benefit charities. The reunion concluded yesterday at the New York Giants Invitational Gold Classic presented by Toyota at the Westchester Country Club in Rye, N.Y.
The 1986 Giants finished 17-2 and won their final 12 games, including the postseason, to give the franchise its first championship in 30 years. In the playoffs, the Giants defeated San Francisco (49-3), Washington (17-0) and Denver (39-20) by a combined 105-23.
"There's something about this Super Bowl team," said Hall of Fame linebacker . "I come in here and I see guys that I had even forgotten about. But once you get here, it's like they're brothers. They're old familiar friends. It is the greatest thing. I'm really, really proud to be here."
"As time goes on I realize how special it was to be a part of a Super Bowl team," said quarterback Phil Simms, now CBS' lead NFL analyst. "Because of the business I'm in, a lot of guys that do what I do and players I talk to, it really bothers them that they did not win a Super Bowl. And I go, 'Oh my gosh, thank God we did.'
"This weekend, I was excited to do it. But it has meant much, much more to me. When I walked into the Legacy Club on Saturday night and started seeing everybody I said, 'I'm so glad we're doing this to see everybody, to get together one more time to have a good time and remember the one time we got it done.'"
The raw emotion that had been simmering near the surface all weekend finally boiled over when running back Joe Morris, participating in a panel discussion Monday evening at the golf tourney dinner, broke down and cried when asked a routine question about the '86 team's rushing attack. Morris rushed for a then team-record 1,516 yards and ran for 14 touchdowns that season.
"I always knew that if I had Maurice (Carthon), Mark (Bavaro), Brad (Benson), Billy (Ard), Chris (Godfrey), Karl (Nelson) out there with me I was going to fine," Morris said, tears falling down his cheeks. "I always cry every time I get on this stage, because they mean so much to me. My career, everything I've ever done, is from these guys. I know it every day.
"Mark Collins asked me once, 'Why don't you talk at meetings?' I said, 'You want me crying every place I go?' I love these guys. Maurice knows how I feel about him. He said to me one time, 'Joe, sometimes you're not going to get them all blocked. You're going to have to run them over sometimes. You have to run around them. You have to do what you have to do to get us where we have to get to. We have to get this done every day.' That's the kind of person he was. He was always concerned about Joe. You gotta do what you gotta do. That's what it's about."
The Giants' annual golf tournament, an event now two decades old, has raised millions of dollars for numerous deserving charities in the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area. It is normally held the day after Memorial Day but was moved back this year to coincide with the reunion, which was tirelessly organized by .
The 1986 team will always be a favorite among Giants fans, including team president and chief executive officer John Mara, who spoke at the dinner at the conclusion of the golf tournament.
"This was a very, very special group of men," Mara said. "If you think back to that 1986 season, this team just dominated the rest of the NFL, not only in the regular season, but in the postseason as well. That is always going to mean so much to my family. And, on a personal note, it gave me a chance to see my father accept the Vince Lombardi Trophy. That's a memory I will have for the rest of my life. So thank you."
Many of the players and coaches from the 1986 team said this weekend that the road to the title began in Chicago at the end of the '85 season, which ended with a 21-0 loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Bears in Chicago. Although the Bears finished 18-1 that year, the game was closer than the score indicates and the Giants believe they not only could have won the game, but should have. They took the lessons they learned from that disappointing loss and carried them all the way to a Super Bowl victory the following season.
"We learned in '85 when we played in Chicago that we had to step it up a notch to play championship football," Taylor said. "We all thought we were better than the Chicago Bears in '85. We didn't win the game. So when we came in '86, we came out with a determination. We lost our first game (in Dallas), we won five consecutive games, then we lost another game to Seattle and won (their last 12 games). I think after that Minnesota game when we were able to (convert) that fourth-and-17 - which was unbelievable – after we won that game, no one in the league played with us. It's the greatest feeling in the world when you know you can step on the field and you know you are the best. No one can play with you. No matter what you do, you know you can't lose. Every year, some team puts that together. They find that they are the best and they feel they are the best. And in '86, we felt we were the best and we were able to win."
And win they did, which is why we still celebrate them today. At the dinner following the golf tournament, Bob Papa, the voice of the Giants, moderated question-and-answer sessions with three groups of vital contributors from that team. The first were assistant coaches (defensive coordinator Bill Belichick, special teams coach Romeo Crennel, offensive line coach Fred Hoaglin, wide receivers coach Pat Hodgson, tight ends coach Michael Pope and strength and conditioning coach Johnny Parker).
They were followed by the offense, which was represented by Simms, wide receiver Lionel Manuel, fullback Maurice Carthon, center Bart Oates, tight end Mark Bavaro and Morris. The session ended with the defense, with linebacker Carl Banks, nose tackle Jim Burt, cornerback Perry Williams, defensive end George Martin, Carson and Taylor fielding questions.
Here is a sampling of what some of the participants said in response to Papa's questions:
Belichick on the defense: "Everybody knew what we were going to do. We're going to play a 34 defense and cover 2 and let Lawrence go. And they played it well. We knew what we were going to do, so they could anticipate what the offense was going to do. I think Bill (Parcells) put it very well (Sunday) – in the second half of the '86 season, when we walked out on the field I think we knew we were going to win. It was just a question of how. We had a lot of confidence and a lot of good players and they always played well."
Crennel on special teams: "We had a great group because we were a team. Everyone was expected to do their part on special teams, even . He played special teams, even though he didn't want to all the time. I had to talk him into it. He'd go out there and he'd be mad, but he'd go down there and make the tackle. That's the kind of spirit that group had."
Hoaglin on his line, known as the Suburbanites: "These guys were smart. They're still smart. The more adjustments and things that they could learn to get a little bit of an advantage or a little bit of an edge on somebody, the more they liked it. And they liked doing things together. … We'd look at a team on film after we played them and I'd say, 'Put your hands up when you see that your guy quit.' In that San Francisco playoff game, they all put their hands up about the middle of the second quarter, when Joe Morris went about 50 yards (actually 45) right down the middle for a touchdown. They said, 'That's it, they quit, they didn't have anything left after that.' That's what they tried to do. They tried to make the other team quit."
Pope: "We were blessed with good players and we didn't screw them up."
Simms: "There were sometimes that season I wish the running game wasn't going so well so we'd throw it a little more. The line was tremendous. We had great leaders. Bart Oates up front. Maurice Carthon, all you had to do was watch Maurice to know who made the mistake in the run game, because he thought every run should go for a touchdown. … When (the Super Bowl) was over, I was so happy for the wide receivers. Because all week all we heard about was John Elway. 'Hey Phil, what about John Elway?' Well you really want me to tell you what I think? They got no respect. But I think they showed in the Super Bowl that our wide receivers knew their role, they were tough as hell and they made the big, tough catches. They were the difference in our season. They never really got the credit they deserved, because they did it as a group."
Carthon on his development as a blocker: "I have to give credit to (reserve linebackers) Andy Headen and Robbie Jones and practicing against those guys in our run game. Coach Belichick was always one of those guys who was really upset with us because we didn't run the plays the way he wanted to. O.J. (Anderson), Joe and I used to practice on the scout team and try to give our defense a good look. We learned as players that's what made us better, going against us our linebackers every day. Robbie and Andy made me better. If they didn't play on Sunday, they would be (ticked). We'd go to practice on Wednesday and Andy would say, 'We didn't play. We're going to take it out on you guys.'"
Oates: "There were some great players on that team. We had Hall of Famers (Carson and Taylor) But we didn't have egos. There weren't any egos on the team where guys acted like they were better. They were willing to (disregard) their personal ambitions for the team. … We were genuinely a group that liked each other and I think that really helped put things together as groups."
Morris: "Parcells used to say to me, 'Joe, if you don't get 100 yards we're not going to win.' I said, 'Coach, Phil can throw for 300 yards.' He goes, 'we have to get a hundred yards from you, because we have to control the clock. We have a great defense and we want to control the clock.' We had the best quarterback and we knew that. When we were out in Pasadena (for the Super Bowl) I was doing an interview and a guy asked me, 'Joe, do you really think Phil Simms can win the game for you if they stop you?' I said, 'I guarantee it. If they stop me from running, Phil Simms will beat them. I guarantee it.' The game came and it went that way. I knew it, because this is my teammate. I knew what he was made of."
Carson, who won the Super Bowl in his 11th season: "That, hands down, was absolutely the best team that I've been a part of. And these guys are my brothers. I'm in heavy right now, because this is another opportunity to be together and re-live something that was so so special."
Banks on the tough practices: "I had Mike Pope screaming at Zeke (Mowatt) and Mark (Bavaro) to knock the (crap) out of me. Literally in nine-on-seven drills we'd line up and know it was going to be harder than game tempo. Then Phil's on the other side whispering in the tight end's ear to do certain things. So it was a challenge.
"One man's fight was everybody's fight. If I had a problem, or somebody had a problem with me, they had a problem with Burt, they had a problem with Harry, they had problem with Lawrence, they had a problem with Elvis (Patterson). We wanted to make cowards out of the toughest men on the other side of the line of scrimmage."
Burt: "Wellington Mara was a football man of all football men. I picture him sitting there watching our practices wearing a sun hat. He'd walk around and watch us. I envision him almost like a shadow late at night and he's walking around. He never missed a practice. He was there for our games. You saw the (Dallas) Mavericks win (the NBA title) and their owner (Mark Cuban) is in the front row. Wellington Mara was sitting on the equipment trunks. I think of that."
Martin, who won the Super Bowl in the 12th season of his 14-year career: "I remember the day of the game when we were sitting in our locker room. There were a lot of nervous hearts. Joe Morris walked across the locker room and put his arm around me and gave me a hug and said, 'George, this one is for you and Harry.' And he guaranteed a victory. And that I will never forget."
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