Jeff Hostetler stepped in for injured QB Phil Simms to lead the Giants to a win in Super Bowl XXV:
BLOOMINGTON, Minn. – Jeff Hostetler doesn't have to follow the NFL closely to know when a quarterback on a playoff-bound team is injured.
"I always know when somebody gets hurt because my phone starts ringing," Hostetler said this week from his home in Morgantown, W.V.
He's spent a lot of time on the phone this month. Reporters from all corners of NFL nation want to ask Hostetler about Nick Foles, who will start for the Philadelphia Eagles against the New England Patriots Sunday in Super Bowl LII.
In the season's first 12 games, Foles threw a grand total of four passes (he did complete each one). But on Dec. 10, Carson Wentz, the Eagles' outstanding second-year quarterback, tore two knee ligaments in a victory against the Rams in Los Angeles. In that instant, Foles became the starter of the top-seeded team in the NFC playoffs. He was brilliant in Philadelphia's two postseason games, completing 78% of his passes for 598 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions. Now he has an opportunity to become the first Eagles quarterback to win a Super Bowl.
"Sometimes circumstances dictate the opportunities that you have to play," Hostetler said. "It's not talent, it's circumstances. So when you see a situation like that, yeah, you're hoping the guy succeeds, because he's finally getting an opportunity. He's getting an opportunity to go ahead and prove that he can play the game. One of the things that I've always taken from that, is it's not going to be easy. In fact, it's extremely difficult. But it's good to see guys get opportunities to get a chance to prove that they can play."
Hostetler's affinity for backup quarterbacks stepping up to the big stage is understandable, because 27 years ago, Foles' story was his. On Dec. 15, 1990, Phil Simms suffered a fractured foot in a loss to Buffalo that dropped the Giants to 11-3. Hostetler, who had started only two games in almost seven full seasons, was promoted to starter and won the final two regular-season games and three in the playoffs, including epic upsets of San Francisco in the NFC Championship Game and the Bills in Super Bowl XXV.
His two starts tie him with Doug Williams for the fewest by a quarterback in the season in which he started the Super Bowl. Thirty years ago, Williams stepped in for an ineffective Jay Schroeder and led Washington victory in Super Bowl XXII. Next on the list is Foles, who started the final three games of the season.
"There are a lot of similarities with the exception that Nick has a lot more experience (39 career starts) than what I had at that time," said Hostetler, 56. "But similar type of teams, similar ages (both making their Super Bowl debuts at 29). I think the roles are reversed; I moved around a lot more, whereas I think Nick is more of a pocket passer. He will move around, but he is more comfortable in the pocket."
Hostetler said he had confidence in himself, and was boosted by the backing he received from his teammates, particularly those on defense.
Several other quarterbacks who didn't open the season as a starter have led their teams to a Super Bowl. Colin Kaepernick did it five years ago with the 49ers. Trent Dilfer led Baltimore to victory against the Giants in Super Bowl XXXV. Even New England's Tom Brady, the winningest quarterback in Super Bowl history, began the 2001 season as Drew Bledsoe's backup (though Brady was 11-3 as a starter that year).
Hostetler is proud of his place in history, but believes reserve quarterbacks today are a different breed than they were in his era.
"The backup part was because there was no free agency," he said. "I never had an opportunity. "I was with these guys for 6½ years, waiting for an opportunity to play. The nature of the game is lots of times, you never get an opportunity unless somebody gets hurt. When my opportunity finally came, there was a lot of excitement from the guys for me. I believed they had a lot of confidence in me. They'd seen me, they'd been around me, they knew I prepared, but they were also excited about what I could bring to the table and the opportunity that I had. I think in that sense, a lot of guys realized that being a backup isn't necessarily because you can't play the game. It's because you may not have had the opportunity, and I think that's what these guys knew with me. I just felt their full support."
In his five starts at the end of the '90 season, Hostetler threw 122 passes. Not one of them was intercepted, and five of them went for touchdowns. In the conference title game – in Candlestick Park against a Niners team hoping to win its third consecutive Super Bowl - he led the Giants on the game-winning drive that ended with Matt Bahr's 42-yard field as time expired.
"I proved then that I could play in the game," Hostetler said. "And not just any game, but the toughest part of the season, and that's the postseason and then the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl is not very kind to inexperienced quarterbacks. I'll match my numbers against anybody (Hostetler completed 20 of 32 passes for 222 yards, a touchdown, and no interceptions in the Giants' 20-19 Super Bowl victory vs. Buffalo). My opportunity presented and I was able to take advantage of it. I hadn't had a chance to show beforehand. That was something to jump-start my career, to give me an opportunity. It's a tough spot, a tough position to be in. There's been a lot of quarterbacks that have been in it and (few) have been successful at it, so that's something to be proud of."
On Sunday night, maybe Nick Foles will have that same feeling.