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Super Bowl XXI

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Super Bowl XXI

Super Bowl XXI
1 2 3 4 Total
DEN 10 0 0 10 20
NYG 7 2 17 13 39
Date January 25, 1987 (1987-01-25)
Stadium Rose Bowl Stadium, Pasadena, California
MVP Phil Simms, Quarterback
Favorite Giants by 9½
Referee Jerry Markbreit
Attendance 101,063
Future Hall of Famers
Giants: Bill Parcells (coach), Harry Carson, Lawrence Taylor.
Broncos: John Elway.
National anthem Neil Diamond
Coin toss Willie Davis
Halftime show "Salute to Hollywood's 100th Anniversary" with Southern California high school drill teams and dancers
TV in the United States
Network CBS
Announcers Pat Summerall and John Madden
Nielsen ratings 45.8
(est. 87.2 million viewers)[1]
Market share 66
Cost of 30-second commercial US$600,000
 < XX Super Bowl XXII > 

Super Bowl XXI was an American football game between the American Football Conference (AFC) champion Denver Broncos and the National Football Conference (NFC) champion New York Giants to decide the National Football League (NFL) champion for the 1986 season. The Giants defeated the Broncos by the score of 39–20, winning their first ever Super Bowl, and their first NFL title since 1956. The game was played on January 25, 1987, at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.

This was the Broncos' second Super Bowl appearance. Led largely through the play of quarterback John Elway and a defense that led the AFC in fewest yards allowed, Denver posted an 11–5 regular season record and two narrow playoff victories. The Giants, led by quarterback Phil Simms, running back Joe Morris, and their "Big Blue Wrecking Crew" defense, advanced to their first Super Bowl after posting a 14–2 regular season record and only allowing a combined total of 3 points in their two postseason wins.

The game was tight in the first half, with the Broncos holding a 10–9 halftime lead, the narrowest margin in Super Bowl history. The only score in the second quarter, however, was Giants defensive end Super Bowl MVP, finished the game with 22 of 25 passes completed for 268 yards and three touchdowns. He also had 25 rushing yards on 3 carries. His 22 out of 25 (88%) completion percentage not only broke a Super Bowl record, but also set an NFL postseason record that lasted for 21 years. This remains the only Super Bowl win for the Giants against a team that did not come from the AFC East.

The telecast of the game on CBS was seen by an estimated 87.2 million viewers.[1] This was one of the first times that a very large, national audience saw what is now the traditional Gatorade shower, where players dump a cooler full of liquid over a coach's head following a meaningful win. The practice was first started by Giants players in 1985 but it did not gain much national prominence until this season.


NFL owners voted to award Super Bowl XXI to Pasadena, California on May 24, 1984 during their May 23–25, 1984 meetings in Washington, D.C. Fourteen cities were part of the bidding process, which was scheduled to award four Super Bowls (XXI, XXII, XXIII, and XXIV).[2] The bidding cities included: Anaheim, Detroit, Houston, Jacksonville, Miami, Minneapolis, New Orleans, Pasadena, Philadelphia, San Francisco, San Diego, Seattle, Tampa, and Tempe.[2] The Philadelphia host committee assembled what was considered a strong, but long-shot bid, hoping to win the first outdoor Super Bowl in a cold weather city.[3]

The balloting for XXI took 13 ballots and over two hours to complete,[3] with Pasadena finally receiving the winning bid. XXII was also voted on, but the voting for XXIII and XXIV was postponed. This was the fourth time that Pasadena hosted the game, and the sixth time it was held in the Greater Los Angeles Area.

New York Giants

The Giants advanced to their first Super Bowl in team history, and were playing for their first league championship since they lost to the Chicago Bears in the 1963 NFL Championship Game. The Giants were led by quarterback Phil Simms, who threw for 3,487 yards and 21 touchdowns (but also 22 interceptions). Simms' main target was tight end Mark Bavaro, who caught 66 passes for 1,001 yards and 4 touchdowns. Although the Giants did not have one great wide receiver, they did have several good ones. Receivers Stacy Robinson, Bobby Johnson, and Phil McConkey combined for 76 receptions and 1,307 yards.

However, running the ball was the Giants' primary offensive attack. Running back Joe Morris finished the regular season with a then-franchise record 1,516 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns, while also catching 21 passes for 223 yards and another touchdown. One reason for his success was fullback Maurice Carthon, who provided Morris with excellent blocking and was the team's second leading rusher with 260 yards. Another reason was the play of their offensive line, led by Pro Bowl left tackle Brad Benson and right tackle Karl Nelson. On special teams, punter Sean Landeta made the Pro Bowl with an average of 44.8 gross yards per punt, a net average of 37.1, and 24 punts inside the 20.

The Giants also had a lot of weapons on their defense, nicknamed The "Big Blue Wrecking Crew". After giving up 31 points in their opening day regular season loss to the Dallas Cowboys, the Giants had not given up more than 20 points in a game until the last game of the season, in a 55–24 win over the Green Bay Packers. The Giants' defensive leader was Hall of Fame outside linebacker Lawrence Taylor, who led the league with 20.5 sacks during the regular season, won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award for the third time in his career, and became just the second defensive player to ever win the NFL Most Valuable Player Award. At 6′3″ and 245 pounds, Taylor was big enough to break through the offensive lines of many teams, but he still had enough speed to chase down running backs. The Giants' other starting linebackers, Gary Reasons, Carl Banks, and Harry Carson, did not get as much media attention as Taylor, but Carson had been selected to play in the Pro Bowl, while Reasons had two interceptions and Banks recorded 6.5 sacks and 2 fumble recoveries. Nose tackle Jim Burt and right end Leonard Marshall, who were also both selected to the Pro Bowl, anchored the defensive line. Marshall recorded 12 sacks, 3 fumble recoveries, and 1 interception during the season.

With the play of their defense, the running attack led by Morris, and Simms' passing game, the Giants earned a 14–2 regular season record.

Denver Broncos

The Broncos won the AFC West with an 11–5 regular season record, largely through the play of quarterback John Elway. In just his fourth season in the league, Elway made an impact to the team with his ad-libbing skills. During the regular season, he had thrown for 3,480 yards and 19 touchdowns, while also rushing for 257 yards, the third-leading rusher on the team.

Elway did not really have a particular receiver who caught most of his passes during the regular season, but wide receivers Mark Jackson, Vance Johnson, Steve Watson, and tight end Orson Mobley all combined for 136 receptions and 2,132 yards. Pro Bowl running back Sammy Winder was the Broncos' top rusher with 789 yards and 9 touchdowns, while also catching 26 passes for another 171 yards and 5 touchdowns. Halfback Gerald Willhite rushed for 365 yards and 5 touchdowns, while also leading the team in receptions with 64 (for 529 yards and three touchdowns), and ranking third in the NFL in both punt return yards (468) and yards per return average (11.1). The Broncos also had a powerful offensive line, led by Pro Bowl guard Keith Bishop.

The Broncos' defense led the AFC in fewest rushing yards allowed (1,651). The defensive line was anchored by Pro Bowl defensive end Rulon Jones, who recorded 13.5 sacks and a fumble recovery. Denver's linebacking corps, led by three-time Pro Bowler Tom Jackson and Karl Mecklenburg, who recorded 9.5 sacks, was viewed as comparable to the Giants' Pro Bowl linebackers. Their secondary was led by Pro Bowl cornerbacks Dennis Smith and Louis Wright, along with Mike Harden, who intercepted 6 passes and returned them for 179 yards and 2 touchdowns. Wright, Steve Foley, and Jackson, the last remnants of Denver's Orange Crush defense of the 1970s, all retired after this Super Bowl.


Elway's ability to improvise on the fly, in part, helped Denver to make it through the playoffs, narrowly defeating the New England Patriots 22–17, and the Cleveland Browns 23–20, in the AFC Championship Game. The AFC Championship Game against the Browns was particularly significant because Elway displayed why many NFL experts thought Super Bowl XXI would be the first of many Super Bowls for him. In what became known as The Drive, the Broncos started from their own 2-yard line, trailing 20–13, with 5:32 left to play. But in 15 plays, Elway led Denver 98 yards for a game-tying touchdown pass with 39 seconds left. The Broncos then won in overtime after Elway led them 60 yards in 9 plays to set up kicker Rich Karlis' game-winning field goal.

Meanwhile, the Giants went on to only allow a combined total of 3 points in their playoff victories over the San Francisco 49ers, 49–3, and the Washington Redskins, 17–0, respectively. Such a dominating performance by the Giants' defense gave the team a lot of confidence going into the Super Bowl matchup versus the Broncos.

Super Bowl pregame news

Much of the pregame hype centered around the confrontation between Elway and Taylor, and whether or not Taylor would be able to hurry Elway's throws or sack him. The Giants had narrowly defeated Denver during the regular season, forcing four turnovers in a 19–16 win despite being outgained in total yards 405 to 262.

Television, radio, and entertainment

The game was broadcast in the United States by CBS and featured the broadcast team of play-by-play announcer Pat Summerall and color commentator John Madden. Brent Musburger of The NFL Today anchored the pregame, halftime and postgame coverage. Helping Musburger were reporters Irv Cross and Will McDonough and analysts Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Theismann and Dan Dierdorf (in his final CBS assignment before moving on to ABC's Monday Night Football for the following season). The game was also the first NFL game to be broadcast in Dolby Surround sound and in stereo. The game was also broadcast in Canada on CTV and in the United Kingdom on Channel 4. This was also the first Super Bowl to be telecast on commercial television in Asia, as the GMA Network in the Philippines aired its first Super Bowl.

Nationally, the game was carried over the NBC Radio Network. Don Criqui served as play-by-play with Bob Trumpy his color commentator. This was the last Super Bowl called by Criqui, as NBC Radio lost NFL rights following the season and he returned to his secondary play-by-play role on NBC television. Trumpy would call two more Super Bowls for NBC television (Super Bowl XXVII and Super Bowl XXVIII) as part of the network's #1 broadcast team. In the teams' local markets, the game was carried on WNEW-AM and KOA-AM.

The pregame show was a salute to California and featured the pop music group The Beach Boys. Singer Neil Diamond performed the national anthem. The coin toss ceremony featured Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive lineman Willie Davis.

The halftime show was a "Salute to Southern California high school drill teams and dancers.

Super Bowl XXI MVP Phil Simms was the first athlete to appear in an "I'm going to Disney World!" television ad.

As had been their tradition all season, upon securing their victory, Giants players celebrated by dumping a Gatorade cooler on head coach Bill Parcells. The 1986 Giants were the first team to initiate what has now become a standard post-game celebration, and the Super Bowl telecast enabled a large, national audience to first witness what has become commonplace.

The postgame show was supposed to feature the song "One Shining Moment" but due to postgame interviews taking so long, CBS never aired it. They ultimately changed the lyrics from "The ball is kicked" to "The ball is tipped". The song was then played at the end of the network's NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship coverage three months later, and has been used since then (still used in 2013). CBS also debuted the theme music (composed by Lloyd Landesman) that would later be used for their college football coverage during this game (still used as of the 2014 season), as well as its open that was used through 1990.

This Super Bowl is featured in NFL's Greatest Games under the title Land of the Giants and was narrated by John Doremus.

Game summary

On the Broncos' first play after receiving the opening kickoff, quarterback John Elway faked a handoff, then spun around and ran in the opposite direction for a 10-yard gain to the Denver 34-yard line. Then on third down, his 24-yard completion to receiver Mark Jackson advanced the ball to the New York 39-yard line. However, the Giants' defense tightened up and halted the drive at the 30-yard line, forcing Denver to settle for Rich Karlis's 48-yard field goal to give them a 3–0 lead.

The Giants then took the ensuing kickoff and stormed right back on a 9-play, 78-yard drive. First, quarterback Phil Simms completed a 17-yard pass to receiver Lionel Manuel. Then running back Joe Morris ran for 11 yards to the Denver 41-yard line. The Giants then marched to the Denver 6-yard line with Simms' 18-yard pass to receiver Stacy Robinson, and then a 17-yard completion to tight end Mark Bavaro two plays later. Finally, Simms threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to tight end Zeke Mowatt, giving the Giants a 7–3 lead.

Denver kick returner Ken Bell gave his team great field position by returning the ensuing kickoff 28 yards to the Broncos 42-yard line. Then, Elway completed three consecutive passes: a 14-yard completion to running back Sammy Winder, an 11-yard completion to tight end Orson Mobley, and a 9-yard screen pass to Winder. On Winder's play, the Giants were flagged for two 15-yard penalties; the first was a personal foul called on Harry Carson, who was penalized for hitting Winder out of bounds, and the second penalty was an unsportsmanlike conduct foul on Lawrence Taylor, who picked up the first penalty marker and threw it. The penalties moved the ball to the Giants' 6-yard line, and three plays later, Elway ran a quarterback draw for a 4-yard touchdown run to give the Broncos a 10–7 lead.

On Denver's first drive of the second quarter, Elway dropped back to pass from his own 18-yard line on third down. The Giants' pass rush forced him to scramble out of the pocket, but it gave him time to find receiver Vance Johnson, who was wide open, for a 54-yard completion. Several plays later, the Broncos drove to a first down at the New York's 1-yard line, but the Giants' defense made a key stand. First, Elway tried a run-pass option, but Taylor broke through the line and tackled him for a 1-yard loss. Then fullback Gerald Willhite tried to run through the middle, but Carson tackled him for no gain. On third down, Elway pitched the ball to Winder, who tried to score on a run to the outside, but linebacker Carl Banks tackled him for a 4-yard loss. In total, the Broncos had run three plays from the 1-yard line and lost 5 yards. Then Karlis, whose earlier 48-yard field had tied Jan Stenerud's Super Bowl record for longest kick made in a Super Bowl, was sent out to try a 23-yard field goal and missed it, setting another, this time infamous, mark of having the shortest missed field goal in Super Bowl history.

The first use of [4] To make matters more complicated, CBS' production staff found a reverse angle of the Kay catch that was unavailable to the replay booth, and it clearly showed the reception made by Kay. CBS broadcast this replay toward the end of the half.[5]

With less than a minute remaining in the half, Elway completed a 31-yard pass to receiver Steve Watson and an 11-yard pass to Willhite, giving the Broncos a first down at the Giants 20-yard line. But the Giants defense forced three consecutive incompletions, leaving a 34-yard field goal attempt for Karlis. Karlis, who had made 11 of 12 field goals from inside 40 yards during the season, missed again, ending another Denver drive with nothing to show for it. Karlis later admitted his two misses in the first half were devastating to the Broncos. "Both times I didn't get my hips all the way through the kicks. I was steering the ball, and I know better than that. I felt the team unravel after that. I really hurt them."[6]

In the second half, the Giants dominated the Broncos, outscoring them 30–10 with four touchdowns and a field goal on their first five possessions.

The Giants took the opening kickoff in the third quarter, but faced fourth down and one yard after their first three plays. New York sent their punt formation out onto the field, with backup quarterback Jeff Rutledge as an extra blocker. Parcells had entertained the possibility of running a fake punt and later said that if the Broncos were not going to pick up on Rutledge being used as a decoy for a potential fake, he would take advantage. As he had thought, Denver paid no attention to Rutledge, and he moved under center while punter Sean Landeta split out as a receiver. Rutledge then took the snap from center and ran a quarterback sneak to the New York 48-yard line for a first down. On the next play, Simms completed a 12-yard pass to Morris, and then followed it up with a 23-yard completion to running back Lee Rouson. Two plays later, Simms finished the drive with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Bavaro to give the Giants a 16–10 lead. The Broncos were forced to punt on their next drive, and receiver Phil McConkey returned the punt 25 yards to Denver's 36-yard line. The Broncos managed to keep the Giants out of the endzone, but New York kicker Raul Allegre kicked a 21-yard field goal to increase their lead to 19–10.

Denver was again forced to punt on their ensuing possession. Afterwards, Simms completed a 17-yard pass to Manuel at the Broncos 45-yard line. On the next play, the Giants executed a flea flicker play for a long gain. Simms handed off to Morris, but before he crossed the line of scrimmage, Morris pitched the ball back to Simms. With the ensuing pass, Simms found McConkey, who was wide open at the Broncos 20-yard line and began sprinting toward the end zone. After eluding one tackler, he was upended just before he reached the goal line, throwing his hands up in mock frustration after being stopped at the 1-yard line. On the next play, Morris then scored on a 1-yard touchdown run, increasing New York's lead to 26–10.

Elway barely avoided a turnover by recovering his own fumble on the last play of the third quarter, but on the first play of the fourth quarter, he threw an interception to Giants defensive back Elvis Patterson. After that, Simms completed a 36-yard pass to Robinson. Two plays later from Denver's 6-yard line, Simms threw a pass to Bavaro in the end zone. The pass bounced off Bavaro's fingertips, but fell right into the hands of McConkey for a touchdown, extending the lead to 33–10.

The Broncos finally managed to get a good drive going on their next possession, advancing the ball 74 yards in 13 plays. Elway completed 5 of 6 passes for 46 yards and rushed for 14, while Karlis finished the drive with a 33-yard field goal, making the score 33–13. But New York recovered his ensuing onside kick attempt and stormed right back for more points. Rouson ran twice for 21 yards, and then Simms ran for a 22-yard gain. On the next play, Ottis Anderson scored on a 2-yard touchdown run, giving the Giants a 39–13 lead after Allegre missed the extra point.

Denver finally scored a touchdown when Elway found Johnson on a 47-yard bomb later on, which was the 100th recorded Super Bowl touchdown. However, by that point, the game had become so far out of reach that it did not do much good. Elway would eventually be replaced by Gary Kubiak, who took a sack to end the game, and the Giants were victorious in a 39–20 rout of the Broncos.

As the final seconds of the game ticked away, Harry Carson, continuing the recent trend started by the Giants, gave head coach Bill Parcells a Gatorade shower, going as far as to take off his jersey and pads and sneak behind Parcells with a Rose Bowl security team shirt on. Thanks in large part to this particular Gatorade dunking, a tradition of sorts was formed that continues to this day. In addition, Brad Benson and Bart Oates drenched Simms with a cooler of ice water; "I think it was very appropriate to cool the guy down," Oates explained, "as hot as he was in the game."[6]

Morris was the top rusher of the game, gaining 67 yards, and added another 20 yards on 4 receptions. Robinson was the Giants' top receiver with 3 catches for 62 yards. Bavaro caught 4 passes for 51 yards and a touchdown. McConkey caught 2 passes for 50 yards and a touchdown, returned a punt for 25 yards, and even got to make a contribution after the game, discovering a dropped police pistol on the field and turning it over to a stadium security guard.[1] Defensively, while the Broncos managed to bottle up Lawrence Taylor, Carl Banks had 14 tackles, 10 of which were unassisted and four of those for negative yardage, while Leonard Marshall had two sacks and forced a fumble. Elway finished the game with 22 out of 37 pass completions for 304 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception. He also was the Broncos' leading rusher in the game, with 27 rushing yards and a touchdown on 6 carries. Denver's Vance Johnson was the top receiver of the game, with 5 receptions for 121 yards, an average of 24.2 yards per catch, and a touchdown.

The Giants' victory in Super Bowl XXI marked the second time in four months that the New York metropolitan area had won a championship in a major professional sport; three months before, the New York Mets had won the 1986 World Series.

Box score

Final statistics

Source: Super Bowl XXI

Statistical comparison

New York Giants Denver Broncos
First downs 24 23
First downs rushing 10 5
First downs passing 13 16
First downs penalty 1 2
Third down efficiency 6/12 7/14
Fourth down efficiency 1/2 0/0
Net yards rushing 136 52
Rushing attempts 38 19
Yards per rush 3.6 2.7
Passing – Completions/attempts 22/25 26/41
Times sacked-total yards 1–5 4–32
Interceptions thrown 0 1
Net yards passing 263 320
Total net yards 399 372
Punt returns-total yards 1-25 1-9
Kickoff returns-total yards 4-53 5-84
Interceptions-total return yards 1–(-7) 0–0
Punts-average yardage 3–46.0 2–41.0
Fumbles-lost 0-0 2–0
Penalties-total yards 6-48 4–28
Time of possession 34:39 25:21
Turnovers 0 1

Individual leaders

Giants Passing
Phil Simms 22/25 268 3 0
Giants Rushing
Car2 Yds TD LG3
Joe Morris 20 67 1 11
Phil Simms 3 25 0 22
Lee Rouson 3 22 0 18
Tony Galbreath 4 17 0 7
Maurice Carthon 3 4 0 2
Ottis Anderson 2 1 1 2
Jeff Rutledge 3 0 0 2
Giants Receiving
Rec4 Yds TD LG3
Mark Bavaro 4 51 1 17
Joe Morris 4 20 0 12
Maurice Carthon 4 13 0 7
Stacy Robinson 3 62 0 36
Lionel Manuel 3 43 0 17
Phil McConkey 2 50 1 44
Lee Rouson 1 23 0 23
Zeke Mowatt 1 6 1 6
Broncos Passing
John Elway 22/37 304 1 1
Gary Kubiak 4/4 48 0 0
Broncos Rushing
Car2 Yds TD LG3
John Elway 6 27 1 10
Gerald Willhite 4 19 0 11
Steve Sewell 3 4 0 12
Gene Lang 2 2 0 4
Sammy Winder 4 0 0 3
Broncos Receiving
Rec4 Yds TD LG3
Vance Johnson 5 121 1 54
Gerald Willhite 5 39 0 11
Sammy Winder 4 34 0 14
Mark Jackson 3 51 0 24
Steve Watson 2 54 0 31
Clint Sampson 2 20 0 11
Orson Mobley 2 17 0 11
Steve Sewell 2 12 0 7
Gene Lang 1 4 0 4

1Completions/attempts 2Carries 3Long gain 4Receptions

Starting lineups

Denver Position N.Y. Giants
Vance Johnson WR Lionel Manuel
Dave Studdard LT Brad Benson
Keith Bishop LG Billy Ard
Billy Bryan C Bart Oates
Mark Cooper RG Chris Godfrey
Ken Lanier RT Karl Nelson
Clarence Kay TE Mark Bavaro
Steve Watson WR Stacy Robinson
John Elway QB Phil Simms
Sammy Winder RB Joe Morris
Gerald Willhite FB Maurice Carthon
Andre Townsend LE George Martin
Greg Kragen NT Jim Burt
Rulon Jones RE Leonard Marshall
Jim Ryan LOLB Carl Banks
Karl Mecklenburg LILB Gary Reasons
Ricky Hunley RILB Harry Carson
Tom Jackson ROLB Lawrence Taylor
Louis Wright LCB Elvis Patterson
Mike Harden RCB Perry Williams
Steve Foley SS Kenny Hill
Dennis Smith FS Herb Welch


  • Referee: Jerry Markbreit #9
  • Umpire: Bob Boylston #101
  • Head Linesman: Terry Gierke #72
  • Line Judge: Bob Beeks #59
  • Field Judge: Pat Mallette #82
  • Side Judge: Gil Mace #90
  • Back Judge: Jim Poole #92
  • Alternate Umpire: Hendi Ancich #115 [8]


  1. ^ a b "Historical Super Bowl Nielsen TV Ratings, 1967–2009 – Ratings". TVbytheNumbers. Retrieved October 9, 2012. 
  2. ^ a b "N.F.L. Approves Sale of Broncos". New York Times. May 24, 1984. Retrieved January 11, 2010. 
  3. ^ a b Forbes, Gordon (January 26, 1996). "Best lobbyists have best chance // Winning presentation doesn't guarantee winning game". USA Today. Retrieved January 11, 2010. 
  4. ^ Wallace, William N. (January 26, 1987). "SUPER BOWL XXI; DITKA AND BERRY SIZE IT UP". The New York Times. Retrieved August 16, 2009. 
  5. ^ "Denver Broncos: 5 Worst Officiating Mistakes in Franchise History". Bleacher Report. April 20, 2011. Retrieved October 9, 2012. 
  6. ^ a b Zimmerman, Paul (February 2, 1987). "SUPER BOWL XXI: Giants-Broncos Killer Giants". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved August 16, 2009. 
  7. ^ Neft,, David S.; Cohen, Richard M.; Rick Korch (1994). The Complete History of Professional Football from 1892 to the Present.  
  8. ^ Lawrence Taylor Of The New York Giants Talks To A Referee… News Photo | Getty Images | 56403354


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