The 1993 New York Giants were looking for a fresh start. After their Super Bowl title of 1990, Bill Parcells went into temporary retirement and the Giants slipped out of the playoff picture. With Dan Reeves’ successful tenure in Denver coming to an end in 1992, he was available. It proved to be providential timing for both the coach and the franchise. The Giants hired Reeves and returned to the playoffs in 1993.
A defense led by outside linebacker Lawrence Taylor had been New York’s calling card through Parcells’ run from 1984-90. That was still the case in ’93. The great “LT” was 34-years-old, but he was still effective. Other contributors on the defensive side included veteran corner Mark Collins and outside linebacker Corey Miller.
What’s most notable about this edition of the Giants defense is that even though there were no Pro Bowlers, they were still the best unit in the NFL in terms of points allowed. It was yeoman’s work done by Mike Nolan, getting his first chance to be a defensive coordinator in the league.
Phil Simms was 38-years-old at quarterback, but the veteran stepped up with a Pro Bowl campaign. He finished with a 62% completion rate at 7.6 yards-per-attempt. He was intercepted on just 2.3% of his throws. Each stat ranked in the top 10 among starting quarterbacks.
Simms’ favorite target was Mark Jackson, who caught 58 balls for over 700 yards, but a balanced receiving corps also included Chris Calloway, Ed McCaffrey (father of current NFL star Christian) and running back Dave Meggett. Mike Sherrard at wideout and Howard Cross at tight end also figured into the passing attack.
The offensive line was anchored by two Pro Bowlers in offensive tackle Jumbo Elliot and center Bart Oates. They paved the way for Rodney Hampton to rush for just over 1,000 yards. Lewis Tillman, with nearly 600 yards on the ground was a valuable second option.
But what hindered the New York attack was the lack of a big playmakers. Hampton averaged less than four yards per carry. No one in the receiving corps could really be considered a field-stretcher. For that reason, an offense that looks pretty good on the surface was only 18th in points scored in what was then a 28-team league.
The season opened in Chicago. The Bears were another team on a fresh start, in this first year post-Mike Ditka. Simms was sharp, going 24/34 for 277 yards. He outplayed counterpart Jim Harbaugh and that was the difference in the Giants’ 26-20 win.
Hampton’s running was the story in the home opener against Tampa Bay. He gained 134 yards on 29 carries and keyed a 23-7 win. A week later at home against the Los Angeles Rams, everything worked. Simms was 21/27 for 217 yards with no mistakes. Hampton muscled his way for 134 yards on 41 carries. The defensive front picked up five sacks and the Giants held the ball for over 43 minutes. They won 20-10.
New York was going into the bye week riding high at 3-0. But none of the wins were against teams that would finish the year over .500 and none had been over .500 in 1992. So while the consistency could be appreciated, there was still something to prove.
A road trip to Buffalo was good place to start. The Bills were en route to a record fourth straight AFC title in 1993. A game that was a rematch of the Super Bowl that New York won in 1990 unfolded in much the same way that battle four years earlier had. The Giants were running the football. They were controlling the clock. But unlike that ’90 Super Bowl, they were making mistakes. The biggest came when they drove inside the red zone in the first quarter…and Simms threw an interception that came back 85 yards the other way. It was the difference in a 17-14 loss.
Another powerhouse of the 1980s was facing new beginnings in 1993, as the division rival Washington Redskins played their first season in the post-Joe Gibbs era. The Redskins were beginning a dark age of franchise history that hasn’t lifted to this day. New York was dominant. They won the rush yardage battle 199-65. Simms was an efficient 14/17 for 182 yards and no interceptions. Even Meggett got in on the act and threw a TD pass. An easy 41-7 win put the Giants back on track.
Philadelphia was a mediocre opponent and with Hampton out, it was Tillman who piled up the yardage—169 yards on 20 carries as the Giants won 21-10. They were 5-1 and headed into another week off, courtesy of the double-bye concept that the NFL adopted for 1993, and then mercifully abandoned after one year.
A crosstown battle was waiting on the far side of the bye, as the Giants met a Jets team that would contend for a playoff spot deep into December. With winds gusting at 21mph, neither offense could do much of anything. Each team made two deep drives. The difference is that the Jets got one touchdown, while the Giants settled for field goals both times. They lost 10-6.
The loss was doubly disappointing because it preceded a road trip to Dallas. The Cowboys were the defending Super Bowl champs and the heavy favorites to win it all again. When Dallas’ great running back, Emmitt Smith, held out the first two weeks and the Cowboys lost both games, it gave the Giants a head start in the NFC East race. But Dallas was starting to come on strong.
New York was a decisive ten-point underdog and they looked overmatched. Simms was sacked five times. The defense gave up big plays in the passing game. They lost 31-9. There was nothing to do but lick their wounds and hope that Dallas’ return trip to the Meadowlands for the last game of the season would be meaningful.
A home date with the Redskins was a good tonic for a team on a two-game losing streak. The Giants grabbed a quick 14-zip lead and cruised home, 20-6. Then they went to Philly and won a defensive war. Trailing 3-0 in the fourth quarter in front of the late Sunday afternoon audience, Simms found Jackson on a 26-yard touchdown pass. New York escaped 7-3.
The winning continued against the Phoenix Cardinals, although so did the tight escapes against mediocre competition. With no running game going, the Giants trailed 17-13 in the fourth quarter. They got a couple field goals, the last one a 54-yarder from Brad Daluiso to win it 19-17.
In the meantime, Dallas had stumbled. They lost two consecutive games, including a dramatic Thanksgiving Day defeat to Miami in the snow. New York was back in the NFC East lead, but now they had to play the Dolphins, who were riding high at 9-2.
New York went to South Beach and got a terrific performance from Simms, 17/24 for 257 yards. The 19-14 win triggered a Miami free-fall where they lost every remaining game and missed the playoffs. As for the Giants, they were 9-3 and the Cowboys were in hot pursuit at 8-4.
What’s more, the NFC East was shaping up as the battle that would decide the 1-seed in the NFC playoffs. Prior to 2002, the alignment in each conference had three divisions, with three wild-cards filling out the bracket. The NFC Central was balanced, but had no one that would get homefield advantage. The NFC West was owned by the San Francisco 49ers, but they were on their way to a 10-6 season. Not spectacular. It was looking like the top line in the NFC was left to the survivor of New York and Dallas.
The Giants kept churning in a 20-6 home win over lowly Indianapolis that was keyed by 173 yards from Hampton. They went to mediocre New Orleans for Monday Night Football. Simms threw TD passes to Jackson and Cross to put New York up 14-0. The running game took over, with a 133-11 edge in rush yardage salting away the 24-14 win.
Dallas was keeping pace and they had the tiebreaker. So when New York went to Phoenix (the Cardinals were in the NFC East prior to the ’02 realignment), the Giants knew that unless the Cowboys lost at home to the Redskins, everything was coming down to next week’s head-to-head showdown. Perhaps that explains New York’s flat performance in a 17-6 loss.
So both the Giants and Cowboys were 11-4 coming into January 2’s final regular season game. In today’s world, this would be a clear choice to get flexed into Sunday Night Football. In 1993, it didn’t even get the late afternoon—a 1 PM kickoff in the Meadowlands would settle the NFC East title and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.
Oddsmakers installed New York as a 6 ½ point underdog. Factoring in homefield, it shows that the assessment of the Giants vis-à-vis the Cowboys had really not changed since their November meeting in Dallas. When New York dug themselves a 13-0 hole at halftime, the oddsmakers appeared to be right.
But Hampton was having a good day, with 114 yards on the ground. And the second half reversed the first. The Giants pulled even 13-13. It was a dead even game. Each team had to settle for one short field goal in the red zone. Each was reliant on the running game.
We went to overtime. But for as good as Hampton was, he wasn’t Emmitt Smith. The Cowboy running back put the finishing touches on his MVP season by rushing for 168 yards and pounding Dallas into field goal range. The 16-13 loss sent New York into the 4-seed for the playoffs.
The Minnesota Vikings came in for the wild card round’s early Sunday afternoon kick. At 9-7, with no real downfield passing game, the Vikings seemed a tailor-made opponent for the Giants. New York could play their slug-it-out style and they were better at it than Minnesota was.
Presuming that is, that the Giants were ready to play. And for a half, they may not have been. New York faced a 10-3 deficit. On a classic Meadowlands day with the winds over twenty miles per hour, a touchdown deficit seemed substantial.
Enter Hampton. He ripped off a 51-yard TD run that tied up the game. He ended the afternoon with 161 yards. He added another short TD run and keyed 35 minutes of possession time for Big Blue. The 17-10 win had New York moving on.
The previous day, Green Bay’s young quarterback Brett Favre had pulled off some late heroics to get a win for the 6-seed Packers. That meant New York could avoid having to go to Dallas for the divisional round. The Giants instead headed west to play the 49ers.
Even with all they had accomplished this season, the close wins still had oddsmakers skeptical. New York was an eight-point underdog. And on this late Saturday afternoon, even that proved to be too generous. The Giants ran out of steam. They were outrushed 178-41. Simms threw two interceptions and was sacked four times. By halftime, New York was in a 23-3 hole and they suffered an embarrassing 44-3 loss.
Losing in that fashion was an inappropriate ending for a season of success and overachievement. There was reason for optimism moving forward, given Reeves’ past track record. But those hopes did not pan out. A 9-7 non-playoff year in 1994 was followed by two losing seasons. Reeves would reach another Super Bowl as a head coach, but it would be in Atlanta in 1998. As for the Giants, it took Reeves’ successor, Jim Fassel, to get back on top of the NFC East in 1997 and into the Super Bowl by 2000.