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Together Again


That's been apparent all weekend, as one of the best and most popular teams in Giants history held a reunion. Hall of Fame linebacker Harry Carson, the team captain in '86 and still very much the leader of his former teammates, was the catalyst behind the events, which included team dinners Saturday and Sunday nights and a public event attended by approximately 1,000 fans Sunday at the Meadowlands Exposition Center. Approximately 50 players and most of the coaches, including Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick, attended at least one event. The majority of that championship team will also participate in the Giants' annual charity golf tournament on Monday.

Some of the players – such as the five offensive linemen known as "The Suburbanites" - frequently see their former teammates. But others have had little or no contact with the men with whom they shared a locker room and unforgettable achievements in that magical Giants season, which concluded with a resounding 39-20 victory over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXI in the Rose Bowl. But a quarter century has done nothing to loosen the bonds between them.

"It's a great group," Parcells said Sunday. "As I told them last night, one of the most gratifying things about this team, besides what it accomplished on the field, is to me that when any one of them seemed to be in some form of distress I later life, all the others went to assist them. I'm not trying to be dramatic here, but that's probably the thing that I'm most proud of, because that's what a team is supposed to be.

"This team particularly, I've often said, is maybe the greatest laboratory for human behavior that I've ever witnessed. I wish society had a chance to witness the interaction of all this conglomeration of people that we had on this team, from all different parts of the country, all different races, everything, and just to see what can happen when someone tries to pull together. It's really a great laboratory for me in human behavior, because there are no secrets. And last night, when we all got together in that room, it was like nothing changed. It was the same deal. It's the same guys. Everybody knows everything about everybody. You spend eight, nine hours (a day) with them for year after year after year, they all know. Everybody knows, there are no secrets. You're naked, so to speak. And it you're sensitive, you have a problem."

So everyone joked about cornerback Elvis Patterson, who was nicknamed "Toast" (because he was burned so often) and with wide receivers Bobby Johnson and Lionel Manuel, who sometimes had difficulty arriving to team events on time. "We had a chance to be rested (for the Super Bowl), but if I could get Bobby to show up, that was another story," receivers coach Pat Hodgson said.

"It is the most wonderful thing in the world to be around your teammates from 25 years ago and have such fond memories," said running back Joe Morris, who rushed for 1,516 yards and 14 touchdowns that season. "I think I hugged maybe 40 guys last night and I got tears in my eyes. This team is very special to me.

"I see Jim Burt, I see George Martin, I see Harry. But to see Vince Warren, Solomon Miller, guys that came here and made a contribution to this team and helped us, it's great to see those guys. Before every play, I used to ask Solomon Miller, 'Do you know the play, so you know what you're doing, do you know who you have to block in case you have to block?' Damian Johnson, Kenny Hill, Herb Welch - it was just a wonderful to see guys for the first time in years. It was like no time had passed."

"One thing about this team, we were close then and we're close now," said cornerback Mark Collins, who was a rookie in 1986. "Being around the league – and I played for three other teams – I never played on a group this tight, a group that genuinely cared about each other. That says a lot about Harry and Bill Parcells and the Giants organization."

At the public ceremony, all of the players and coaches in attendance received rousing ovations when they were introduced to the crowd by Michael Strahan, the Giants' career sack leader and seven-time Pro Bowler, who played on the Super Bowl XLII title team. Strahan then handed the microphone to Bob Papa, the voice of the Giants, who brought groups of five or six players and coaches to an area in front of the dais, where he monitored eight to 12-minute discussions on five key moments from the '86 season: Mark Bavaro's catch and run in a come-from-behind Monday night victory in San Francisco, Phil Simms' 22-yard pass to Johnson on a fourth-and-17 that helped the Giants pull out a victory in Minnesota, George Martin's touchdown on a 78-yard return after intercepting a John Elway pass in Giants Stadium, the NFC Championship Game victory over Washington and Super Bowl XXI.

The Giants trailed the 49ers at halftime, 17-0, but score 21 unanswered points to win the game in Candlestick Park. The big play was made by Bavaro, who caught a short pass down the middle from Simms and broke the attempted tackles of five or six 49ers, notably Hall of Fame safety Ronnie Lott, who jumped on his back – for a 31-yard gain. So how did he do it?

"I just kept thinking (what) bad tacklers the 49ers were," Bavaro said.

Michael Pope, the Giants tight ends coach then and now, said, "It was a very simplistic play. We had curls on the outside and … Phil delivered the ball to him. Their linebackers kind of divided and Ronnie Lott, the first one to jump on his back to try to ride him down, was just another fly. It didn't affect him. And the other players were coming from the side. Those kinds of plays can ignite your whole team, an individual effort like that. I think the 49ers were in awe after they saw what happened. That was an incredible play. I don't know anyone other than Mark that might have been able to do that."

Fourth-and-17 is part of Giants lore. The team was seemingly about to lose to the Vikings when they called a timeout to discuss their options. When play resumed, Simms, under a heavy rush, found Johnson on the right sideline for a 22-yard gain with 1:06 remaining in the game. Four plays later, Raul Allegre kicked the game-winning 33-yard field goal.

"I remember Pat Hodgson standing next to Bill and they were trying to decide which play we were going to run," Simms said. "I think it was probably one of the first plays we put in training camp every year. It gave us an opportunity to throw the ball down the field. They came up with hit and I remember thinking it was a good plan.

"I saw a tape recently and as we break the huddle, I won't tell you exactly what I told Bobby, but I said, 'Be ready.' Because I probably I never through it to him one time my whole career on that play. But the one time we did it was safe."

Johnson said he was surprised to be so open on the sideline.

"I just ran my route and (Simms) threw me the ball," Johnson said.

Martin scored seven career touchdowns, including three on interception returns, but none were as spectacular as his pick and return of the Elway pass, which he likes to call his "20-minute run" on Nov. 23 vs. the Broncos.

"It's probably the defining moment of my (14-year) career, the best play I ever had," Martin said. "It's remarkable to me how that encompasses a complete team effort. Had it not been for all the blocking and the guys switching instantly from defense to offense, I never would have gotten to the end zone."

"We all knew George could catch the ball; he had scored a lot of touchdowns – more than some running backs I've had," Parcells said. "Once he got going and he ran that little option move on Elway, he got going down the sideline and it was really an amazing play. That's absolutely one of the greatest plays I've ever seen in football in my career."

On Jan. 11, 1987, the Giants won the NFC championship – their first title in 30 years - when they defeated the Washington Redskins for the third time that season, 17-0. The game was played in Giants Stadium, where the wind howled all day from 17-25 mph. Parcells took the wind after winning the coin toss and the Giants scored all of their points in the first half.

"I think the game really came down the specific time and place of the game," Belichick said. "In the previous game in Washington, we intercepted (Jay) Schroeder six times. Then we come out for the NFC Championship Game and the wind was a huge factor in the game. Bill told us if we won the toss, we were going to take the wind. And I think that was the game right there, that was the decision that probably influenced the game more than anything.

"We didn't feel like the Redskins were going to come into Giants Stadium on this day and say, 'We're just going to chuck it around the field.' We knew it was going to be a ground game and the players stepped up. We stuffed them three-and-out, got the ball back and scored, took advantage of the wind and it was 17-0 at the end of the first (half). And that was pretty much the game."

The Giants were confident entering the Super Bowl vs. Denver. They had defeated the Broncos, 19-16, in the game that featured Martin's interception. Although Denver kicker Rich Karlis missed two short field goals in the second quarter – the first after an inspired goal-line stand, the Giants trailed at halftime, 10-9.

But Simms completed all 10 of his passes in the second half and earned MVP honors by hitting 22 of 25 throws for 268 yards and three touchdowns. The Giants outscored the Broncos in the second half, 30-10, and won going away.

"You dream and hope that someday you're going to have an opportunity to compete in that game," Parcells said. "I think all of us that got into football on the professional level did so with the intent of hopefully trying to get the ultimate prize. It's not a one-year battle. It takes time sometimes. You go forward for two or three years and you suffer a lot of disappointments, heartaches, close calls. And then finally you have the opportunity to compete at the highest level with this team.

"It was gratifying for all of us. A lot of our coaching staff had known each other for a long time. We coached together in college and had been together in the pros for a number of years. And to have a crew of players like we had – we had a lot of great players. A lot of times it was just, 'Don't mess it up Parcells.' If you can just not mess it up, then things are going to be pretty good. When you get to the top, I've never really been able to find the words to express the exhilaration that comes over you. But I vividly can remember the smiling faces in that locker room after that game. I can see them all right now and it was really very, very special."

Twenty five years later, they're still smiling when they're with each other.

"Of all the teams I ever played on, I don't think any had the bond that this '86 team had," Bavaro said. "This is a special group of guys. They're very dear to my heart."

"Our most important jobs are parenting our children," nose tackle Jim Burt said. "I call it selfless love – there are no boundaries. I think this team has that type of love for each other."

That has never changed.

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