Since winning the Super Bowl in 1986, Bill Parcells and the Giants had gone through some tough times. The strike-torn season of 1987 was a disaster for Big Blue. 1988 saw some recovery, but a crushing loss to the Jets in the finale cost the Giants a playoff berth. They needed to get back into the postseason and the 1989 New York Giants did just that, returning to the top of the NFC East.
It was all about defense in this era of New York Giants’ history and while the ‘89 team wasn’t stacked with Pro Bowl players, they had two essential cogs—Lawrence Taylor was 1st-team All-NFL at outside linebacker and Bill Belichick was the defensive coordinator. A wrecking ball on the field and brilliance in the press box combined to make the Giants defense the second-best in the league in points allowed.
The offense was competent, ranking 12th in a 28-team league, but not great. Phil Simms was 34-years-old and played pretty well in offense built around the run. Ottis Anderson ran for over 1,000 yards but his 3.1 yards-per-attempt was low. The receiving corps didn’t knock your socks off, although between Odessa Turner and Lionel Manuel on the outside, along with Mark Bavaro and Zeke Mowatt at tight end, it had the virtue of balance.
New York did get a nice lift from an unexpected source. Dave Meggett, a rookie from Towson known to perhaps no one except Parcells provided a change of pace in the running game, a reliable target out of the backfield and most importantly, he became a Pro Bowl punt returner. On a team that relied on grinding out field position, Meggett’s contributions were no small thing.
SWEEPING THE SKINS
The season opened on a Monday Night in Washington, where the Redskins were also looking to rebound after a recent Super Bowl championship was followed by a non-playoff year. On a humid September night in old RFK Stadium, it was kicker Raul Allegre that came up big.
Trailing in the fourth quarter after a Simms Pick-6 put the Giants in a 24-21 hole, Allegre first hit a field goal to tie it. Then he drilled a 52-yarder on the final play of the game to win. This writer, a lifelong Redskins fan, still remembers how crushed and sweaty I was in the heat of my college dorm late that Monday night.
This was part of a three-year stretch (1988-90) where the Giants owned the Redskins. They won all six games and they were all more or less gutwrenchers for those of us who bleed burgundy-and-gold. The rematch at the Meadowlands came in mid-October. Anderson rushed for 101 yards and Simms rallied New York after they trailed 10-6 going into the fourth quarter. He found Bavaro and Turner for touchdown passes and the Giants won 20-17.
The sweep of Washington gave New York a big boost in an NFC East race that was built around these two teams and the Philadelphia Eagles. And those two wins were the highlight of a very consistent stretch of football through nine weeks. The rest of the schedule wasn’t great, save for a Monday Night home win over the playoff-bound Minnesota Vikings and a tough loss in Philly, but the Giants methodically churned out wins. They sat on an 8-1 record as a difficult portion of the schedule approached.
TROUBLE AGAINST THE BEST
New York went west to face the Los Angeles Rams, the eventual 5-seed in the NFC playoffs. The Giants were pummeled on the ground, losing rush yardage 150-6 and losing the football game 31-10. After a ho-hum win over mediocre Seattle, New York again got on the plane west. They faced San Francisco on a Monday Night. The 49ers were the defending Super Bowl champs and would win it again in 1989.
The Giants again dug themselves a hole, falling behind 24-7 in the second quarter, with Joe Montana carving them up for a couple touchdown passes. This time, Simms rallied his team. He put the ball up 48 times for the game and threw for 326 yards. Touchdown passes of 53 yards to Meggett and 7 to Turner eventually tied the game 24-24.
Montana was too much to overcome. He finished a surreal 27/33 for 292 yards and three touchdowns. More important, he made no mistakes while Simms was intercepted three times. San Francisco got a second wind and won 34-24.
Most damaging was a home loss one week later to Philadelphia. The New York offensive line was manhandled, allowing five sacks, only getting 58 yards on the ground and Eagles defensive lineman Clyde Simmons produced a touchdown. That was the difference in a 24-17 loss amidst heavy winds at the Meadowlands.
New York still had a clear path to the playoffs, but Philadelphia now controlled the division. The teams were tied at 9-4, with the Eagles owning the head-to-head sweep.
RALLY FOR THE NFC EAST
The Giants-Broncos game a week later in Mile High Stadium was shown to most of the country and it was realistically make-or-break for New York’s NFC East title hopes. Denver would make its third Super Bowl in four years this season, but they always had problems matching up with the best in the NFC. This game was no exception. Simms played efficiently, Meggett produced a 57-yard touchdown catch and the Giants won a physical battle, 14-7.
They remainder of the schedule was more than manageable—home games with a horrible Dallas Cowboys team and the mediocre Los Angeles Raiders. New York won both games without breaking a sweat. And on the penultimate Monday Night of the season, the Giants got the break they needed—the Eagles lost in New Orleans. New York’s win over the Raiders sealed the division crown and #2 seed in the playoffs.
The Rams came to the Meadowlands for the divisional playoff game in the early Sunday afternoon time slot. In a tough, physical battle, the Giants just didn’t make enough big plays. Simms went 14/29 for 180 yards while counterpart Jim Everett turned his 25/44 day into 315 yards. Everett hit two big touchdown passes to Flipper Anderson, the latter a 30-yard post pattern in overtime that ended the New York season, 19-13.
It was a tough way to end the season, but the Giants were back on the board as a playoff team. And one year later they were back on the board in a bigger way—with the second Super Bowl trophy of the Parcells era.