By RALPH VACCHIANO
There was magic back in 2007 when the Giants made the run to Super Bowl XLII, just like there was something special happening when the 1990 Giants won Super Bowl XXV. Those are moments that Giants fans will cherish forever.
But there’s still nothing that can compare to the first time for the franchise – when the 1986 Giants won Super Bowl XXI.
No matter what any of the other Giants teams has done, the ’86 squad is still the measuring stick. Every team, every player, gets measured against that significant part of the Giants’ past.
So as the 2011 Giants make their run at a championship – possibly the second one for the franchise in the last five seasons – it’s only fair that they’re held up in comparison to the greats from 25 years ago. If the 1986 Giants and 2011 Giants were matched head to head, who would come out on top and how would they compare?
There may be no way to compare teams from different eras in the NFL, but for fun, it’s worth a try:
The 2011 Giants are trying to find out if it’s really true that “Defense wins championships,” because the revival of their defense – particularly their pass rush – is what has fueled this Super Bowl run. But if they really want to know what a defense can do, they should look back at their own history, because defense won three Super Bowls for this franchise.
And none was more dominant than the one in 1986.
This current Giants team can’t compare to that one, even with a dominant pass rush led by Jason Pierre-Paul. He’s dangerous, but not the scary figure that Lawrence Taylor once was. And Taylor was rushing from behind Leonard Marshall, George Martin and Jim Burt.
Add in linebackers like Carl Banks, Gary Reasons and Hall of Famer Harry Carson, and it’s not even clear that many of the Giants’ current front seven would have a starting spot on the ’86 team. And when you add in the fact that the genius, Bill Belichick, was the ’86 defensive coordinator, it easily puts the Super Bowl XXI champions over the top.
This is where the comparison gets a little more even, because Eli Manning is beginning to look like the best quarterback the Giants have ever had. He’s obliterated any numbers that Phil Simms ever put up, and he’s the first Giants quarterback to lead two teams to Super Bowls, too.
And Simms never had receivers as explosive as Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham and Victor Cruz. He did a wonderful job of getting the most out of Lionel Manuel, Stacey Robinson, Bobby Johnson and Phil McConkey, but none of them were as dangerous as what the Giants have now.
What Simms had was a much better tight end – Jake Ballard can’t compare to the greatness of Mark Bavaro – and probably a better running game, too. Joe Morris was a true, No. 1, workhorse back and he was backed up by Ottis Anderson. Brandon Jacobs, in his current form, is a shell of his former self and Ahmad Bradshaw is running on a fractured foot. It’s no wonder this Giants’ rushing attack was the worst in the league.
But it didn’t matter. The 2011 teams can put up points in a hurry. It’s one of the most dangerous offenses the Giants franchise has ever seen.
Just a few years ago Giants fans would’ve gagged at the thought of Manning being mentioned in the same sentence as Simms, who is one of the most beloved figures out of the Giants’ past. He was tough, blue-collar, fun to watch and a winner, and he threw better than people sometimes remember, too.
This season, though, has separated Manning from the pack. He rebounded from an ugly, 25-interception season, started talking tough when he declared himself “elite”, won over New York by backing up his words, and captured the heart of the city by leading fourth-quarter comebacks six times. He’s proven to be gritty, tough (see the pounding he took in the NFC championship game), and the franchise has never seen a better quarterback when the game is on the line.
He’s already passed Simms as the greatest quarterback in franchise history, and a second Super Bowl championship could be his ticket to the Hall of Fame.
It’s a little eerie how similar these two coaches are. Their regular season records are nearly identical. Both were former Giants assistants (Coughlin worked under Bill Parcells). Both had sometimes prickly personalities (though Parcells was always a bit more jovial than Coughlin). Both were tough and set in their ways.
History will likely remember Parcells as the greater coach, especially if he ends up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He resurrected four different franchises in his career and had success everywhere he went. He won his two rings with the Giants, just like Coughlin, but he got his by pulling the Giants out of one of the darkest eras they ever had.
Still, when it comes to coaching these teams, it’s hard to separate the jobs they’ve done. Parcells slowly built a powerhouse, then tweaked it at the right moments to turn it into a mini-dynasty. Coughlin, in the free-agent era, was forced to rebuild on the fly and for the second time pulled his team back from rock bottom in December to make an unlikely title run.
Both are great coaches. Both are great leaders. This matchup would be a wash.
History has shown that the two most important ingredients in building a contender are quarterbacks and defenses. Both teams had good enough ones to win a title. But if these teams were ever somehow matched up against each other in a theoretical battle in the middle of their primes, the ’86 defense would prove to be the far superior unit and the most dominant factor on the field.
Manning could out-play Simms in a numbers game, but there was always something about Simms and his ability to find a way to win. Couple that with a smothering defense and the most dominant player in the matchup – Lawrence Taylor – and his job wouldn’t be all that hard.
The ’11 team is more explosive. It can score quicker, too. But its pass rush would have trouble getting to Simms, and he certainly wouldn’t be rattled. Simms and the ’86 offense wouldn’t have any trouble operating a smooth, efficient, ground-controlled game. Meanwhile, the ’86 defense wouldn’t give ground to anyone. It wouldn’t be missing tackles all over the field.
So yes, defense really does win championships, and the ’86 team had the far superior defense. This 2011 Giants team may win a championship, too, but there’s still no doubt the 1986 Giants were by far the better team.