On January 25, 1987, New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms had a day for the ages.
While leading New York to a 39-20 victory over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXI, Simms set a game record with a 150.9 completion percentage.
Remarkably, only three of his 25 passes fell incomplete and Simms was named MVP.
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) January 25, 2013
Only eight years earlier, Giants fans had booed Simms when he was taken with the seventh overall pick in the 1979 NFL Draft.
He was a no-name from a Division I-AA school in Kentucky and the New York faithful believed their team had wildly overreached.
All Simms did was help lead the franchise to two Super Bowls and become one of the best players in team history.
This is the story of Phil Simms.
Phillip Martin Simms was born on November 3, 1955, in Springfield, Kentucky.
— New York Giants (@Giants) November 4, 2016
Although he would one day rule the Big Apple, Simms came from very humble beginnings.
He spent his formative years on his grandfather’s farm outside of Springfield with seven brothers and sisters.
“I remember a lot,” Simms said in 2018. “On the farm, my dad raised tobacco, cattle, sheep, chickens, pigs. We had everything.”
The family moved to Louisville when Simms was in grade school and he matriculated to Southern High School where he played football and baseball.
In 1974, Simms quarterbacked the Trojans to the Jefferson County championship.
Even with a state title game appearance under his belt as a prep senior, Simms was not heavily recruited by Division I schools.
Undeterred, he headed east to Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky.
The Eagles played at the Division II level, but Simms was determined to become the starting quarterback and make a name for himself.
With his strong right arm and a 6’3, 215-pound frame, Simms played his freshman year and lettered.
He repeated as a letter-winner as a sophomore even though Morehead State struggled in the win column.
#TBT May 3, 1979
The New York Giants select Morehead State QB Phil Simms with the seventh overall pick of the first round. pic.twitter.com/uC73t5MCjT
— FCS Football (@FCS_STATS) April 25, 2019
As a junior, Simms was named the Ohio Valley Conference’s Player of the Year and he was an All-OVC first-team pick.
Then, just before his senior year in 1978, the Eagles moved up to the Division I-AA level.
Morehead State primarily ran the ball and Simms attempted just 173 passes for 1,229 yards, six touchdowns, and 11 interceptions.
Although the Eagles went 2-6-1 that season, Simms was voted a second-team All-OVC.
He was voted into the school’s Hall of Fame in 1995.
Surprise First Rounder
During Simms’ four years at Morehead State, the Eagles failed to post a winning record.
His stats weren’t great either, completing under 50% of his career passes for 5,545 yards (a school record), 32 touchdowns and an ugly 45 picks.
— UofL CWC (@UofL_CWC) August 14, 2014
However, to some NFL scouts and coaches, Simms’ poor stats didn’t really matter.
When they went to Morehead to scout him, Simms’ arm strength stood out along with his cool demeanor.
Weeks before the 1979 NFL Draft, new San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh and his top assistant, Sam Wyche, flew to Kentucky to watch Simms go through the paces.
They left with a firm belief that they had found their franchise quarterback and planned to take Simms in the third round.
“Not to take anything from Joe [Montana],” Walsh told writer Peter King years later, “but I know Phil could have done the things in our offense that Joe did.”
(The Niners would take Montana in the third round).
In mid-April, Ray Perkins, the newly hired head coach of the New York Giants, also traveled to see Simms work out.
Perkins desperately wanted a quarterback to start over lame-duck veteran Joe Pisarcik, who was widely known for fumbling the ball away during the “Miracle of the Meadowlands” play in 1978.
Simms worked out for Perkins and felt he had impressed the coach.
— FCS Football (@FCS_STATS) April 19, 2022
A few weeks later, New York shocked their fans and most of the free world when they selected Simms with the seventh overall pick of the first round.
“I know that from what he saw he [Perkins] must have liked me to pick me No. 1,” said Simms after his selection. “I threw the ball well that day, I think, because of the relaxed mood he put me in.”
When Simms’ name was called, Giants fans in attendance booed their new quarterback.
In their eyes, the team had made a huge mistake and should have taken someone like Missouri tight end Kellen Winslow.
However, Perkins and the Giants front office didn’t think Simms would have been on the board in the second round.
The franchise also strongly believed that Simms was just as good as the third overall pick, Washington State quarterback Jack “Throwin’ Samoan” Thompson who went to Cincinnati.
“Thompson‐Simms, Simms‐Thompson,” said Jerry Shay, the Giants’ chief scout. “We had them rated about even.”
After the draft, Perkins was ecstatic that he got his man.
“I think Phil Simms, at some point in time, has a chance to be a great quarterback,” said Perkins.
By the time he reported to his first Giants minicamp in 1979, Simms already had a moniker.
Due to his similar hairstyle to the popular comic character, his new teammates nicknamed him “Prince Valiant.”
Phil Simms Morehead State haircut >>>>>>>> pic.twitter.com/F3WP4WR2uK
— Ham (@shut_up_ham) September 20, 2016
Simms downplayed the nickname and did his part to win over the team
“I was paranoid,” he said. “That’s how I felt. But everyone was real nice. They kept telling me to relax. They knew I was pressing.”
Although he was understandably nervous in his first outing, teammates and coaches could plainly see Simms’ talent.
“As long as he keeps throwing spirals,” said receiver Emery Moorehead, “we’ll cut down his nickname from Prince Valiant to just the Prince.”
Armed with huge expectations, Simms started in 11 games, winning his first five, and passed for 1,743 yards, 13 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
New York finished 6-10 for the second year in a row and Simms was named to the NFL’s All-Rookie Team and finished second to St. Louis Cardinals running back Ottis Anderson for NFL Rookie of the Year.
Giants fans were just getting their hopes up with Simms as the starting quarterback when injuries made life miserable.
His second year was progressing well with 2,321 passing yards, 15 touchdowns and 19 picks, but a collarbone injury sidelined Simms for three games.
In 1981, Simms separated his shoulder in November and was done after throwing for 2,031 yards, 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
— Forever 80's Giants Football (@1980sGiants) September 8, 2021
Then, in 1982, Simms was running a play in the preseason and tore up his knee, keeping him out of the entire season.
At the same time, the Giants continued to play underwhelming football except in 1981.
New York selected University of North Carolina linebacker Lawrence Taylor who proceeded to crush opposing quarterbacks at an astonishing rate.
He was the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year and the Defensive Player of the Year while helping to lead the G-Men to a shocking 9-7 record and playoff berth.
Unfortunately, Simms missed the organization’s first postseason contest since 1963 due to his shoulder injury.
In his place, second-year quarterback Scott Brunner stepped in and tossed three touchdown passes to beat the Philadelphia Eagles in the Wild Card round.
The following week, Brunner had three more touchdown passes against San Francisco in the divisional round, but Montana and the Niners overcame the Giants and won, 38-24.
Parcells Takes Over
When the 1982 season ended, Coach Perkins left to take the head job at Alabama and the Giants promoted defensive coordinator Bill Parcells to take his place.
“When Bill was named head coach I could tell he was different from most head coaches I had dealt with,” said Simms in 2013. “There was just more personality involved. He definitely talked to players more than most coaches that I had been associated with.”
Although Simms was ready to play in 1983, Brunner was still the man of the hour for helping the team win its first postseason game since 1958.
Parcells went with Brunner as the starter and Simms angrily demanded that he be traded.
His request was denied and Simms sat on the bench until Brunner struggled.
We ALL need those who challenge us & make us grow. Coach Bill Parcells pushed QB Phil Simms harder-even at the peak of his success.”Son, I’m sorry my expectations of u are higher than your expectations of yourself.”Bless those willing 2 PUSH us 4ward & not just PAT us on the back pic.twitter.com/MEw4JG1046
— Gene Cathcart (@genecathcart4) September 5, 2018
Simms replaced Brunner during a Week 6 game against Philadelphia but sustained a thumb injury and missed the remainder of the year.
To Parcells’ dismay, Brunner wasn’t the answer and the team crashed with a 3-12-1 record.
Simms Becomes the Man
When the 1983 season ended, Parcells was almost certain he was going to be fired.
He hadn’t done a great job at the helm of the Giants and Parcells expected team owner Wellington Mara to give him the boot.
After vacillating back and forth, Mara decided to give the coach one more shot.
That proved to be the turning point for the franchise.
“I was in the weight room one day and he came in and he started talking to me and he said, ‘Simms, if I survive this, if I’m the Giants coach next year, I promise you we’re going to do it my way now.’ I’ll never forget that and I’m sure that he had built up all these beliefs and ways to run a football team and he didn’t do them his first year as a head coach,” Simms recalled.” That would be a terrible burden to carry. So his second year when we went to training camp he was a different guy. As he said, he did it his way.”
As hard as it is to believe, Parcells was a fun-loving players coach in 1983.
However, when he returned in 1984, he was the gruff, no-nonsense coach the NFL world came to know.
OTD 1984: After spending two seasons away due to injury and the loss of his starting job, Phil Simms throws for 409 yards and 4 scores as the #Giants hang on late to clip the Eagles at the Meadowlands, 28-27.
• Simms' 409 yards: most for the NYG since Y.A. Tittle's 505 in 1962. pic.twitter.com/JTNkF4sjlw
— Kevin Gallagher (@KevG163) September 3, 2019
During training camp that season, Parcells pitted Simms and Jeff Rutledge against one another.
Instead of getting down on himself by constantly having to prove he belonged, Simms welcomed the challenge.
“Failure never crossed my mind,” said Simms. “Maybe I just didn’t understand the landscape enough. But I’m telling you, it never crossed my mind.”
Simms was also more confident in his ability as an athlete after deciding to devote more time to film study and lifting weights (usually with the offensive linemen) before the 1984 season.
“When you got a quarterback out there sweating and working with his offensive linemen, joking with them, you have to know this guy is thinking about one thing: He’s trying to win football games,” said running back Joe Morris.
The hard work paid off when Simms exited camp as the starter and then silenced the boobirds when he started all 16 games for the first time in his career.
He then passed for 4,044 yards (a career-high and franchise-best at the time), 22 touchdowns and 18 picks.
Here are all 513 yards.
Simms' single-game total remains the most in Giants history. He completes a… pic.twitter.com/pOc3K5lM1L
— Kevin Gallagher (@KevG163) October 13, 2023
Parcells didn’t mind the number of interceptions because that’s exactly how he wanted Simms to play.
“His greatest line to me ever was during the opening game in 1984 and we’re walking out of the locker room. He said, ‘If you don’t throw two interceptions today, you’re not taking enough chances.’ If a coach said that now, they’d be struck by lightning,” Simms said in 2013.
Playing free and easy, Simms led New York to a 9-7 record and victory over the Eagles in the wild-card round.
The team lost in the divisional round a week later to San Francisco.
In 1985 Simms played every week again and passed for over 3,800 yards, 22 touchdowns and 20 interceptions.
He was selected to his first Pro Bowl and even won the game’s MVP award when he led the NFC to victory by throwing three touchdowns.
New York won 10 games, finally beat the Niners in the playoffs, then lost to Chicago in the divisional round.
Phil Simms days till Giants first preseason game. pic.twitter.com/YFzZuaN8FS
— NYGcrush🍎 (@NYGcrush) July 31, 2023
One year later, Parcells had a balanced roster that won 14 games including a Week 11 thriller against Minnesota that Simms still calls his favorite.
New York’s loaded offense included Simms, Morris and new teammate Ottis Anderson in the backfield.
Simms had receiving targets in Phil McConkey, Mark Bavaro, Lionel Manuel, and Stacy Robinson.
In the postseason, the Giants put on a clinic against San Francisco in the divisional round and advanced with a 49-3 beat down.
Surprisingly, Parcells still found something to gripe about.
“The better you played, the harder he would be on you,” said Simms. “There’s a madness to it, because self-satisfaction and all of those things creep into you when you’re playing well. Listen, we beat the 49ers, 49-3, in a playoff game. He was absolutely out of control the next day in the meetings, just complaining about things that went wrong, that we were misled and the score didn’t tell the truth and all this stuff about the game. I didn’t sit there and go, ‘This is an act.’ It was real. He immediately went into attack mode after that game was over to keep everybody on edge and know what was in front of us. I’m not exaggerating. I got it. I felt it.”
Parcells still wasn’t having any fun when New York shut out the Washington Redskins in the NFC Championship game, 17-0.
He gathered the team in the locker room post-game and reminded them that the biggest challenge of their lives was up next.
Super Bowl XXI
The Giants were favored in Super Bowl XXI over the 11-5 Denver Broncos by 9.5 points.
NFL fans were excited because Simms would be facing Broncos quarterback John Elway in what promised to be a battle.
However, by halftime, Elway and Denver led 10-9 and New York hardly looked up to the task at hand.
“I had read stories of Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks, who said with all the nerves, it took until the second quarter to settle into the game. And I thought, ‘Man, I don’t want to wait until the second quarter. I’m not missing 25 percent of the game,’” Simms said.
It wasn’t until the third quarter that Simms and the G-Men really hit the ground running.
By the time the final whistle blew, Simms had completed an astonishing 22 of his 25 pass attempts for 268 yards and three touchdowns.
30 years ago today, @Giants QB Phil Simms had the best completion pct for a QB in Super Bowl history
Simms: 22-25, 268 yards, 3 TD pic.twitter.com/RZZxCxRI9H
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 25, 2017
His numbers were only part of the tale that day.
“Not only did he set Super Bowl records for consecutive completions, completion percentage & passer rating but he also helped the Giants post a Super Bowl-record 30 points in the second half,” said journalist Lance Medow in 2023.
After New York won convincingly 39-20, Simms was awarded the MVP and was the first Super Bowl winner to announce to a television audience that “I’m going to Disney World!”
For the next two years, the Giants fell short of expectations before winning 12 games and returning to the playoffs in 1989.
Despite Simms’ solid year with 3,061 yards passing, New York fell to the LA Rams in overtime of the divisional round.
In 1990, Simms only passed for 2,284 yards but threw 15 touchdown passes against just four interceptions resulting in a career-high 92.7 quarterback rating.
On this day in 1990: SF beats NYG 7-3.
Fitting that this defensive battle ends with a sack.
Ronnie Lott vs Phil Simms at the end of the game was heated.
— #Random49ers (@Random49ers) December 3, 2022
Things were going well until Week 15 when Simms went down with a broken foot against the Buffalo Bills.
Buffalo quarterback Jim Kelly was also injured that day and both signal callers were interviewed after the game.
“I remember doing the interview,” Simms said. “Jim Kelly was on the other side (of the screen). And Kelly said, ‘Phil, I’ll see you in the Super Bowl.’ He was all upbeat, because he knew he was coming back. I just remember going, ‘Yeah okay, right.'”
While Kelly knew he would return in time to compete in the postseason, Simms knew he was done for the year.
Backup quarterback Jeff Hostetler got the nod and won the final two regular season games as well as victories over Chicago and San Francisco in the playoffs.
The Bills and Giants then met again in Super Bowl XV.
Took over for Phil Simms in ‘90 and took the Giants to a win in Super Bowl XXV. pic.twitter.com/0hpa7Mb3hu
— Nick Riva (@Radio_Flyer15) July 9, 2023
This time Hostetler was under center and threw for 222 yards and one touchdown in New York’s 20-19 upset.
Simms has downplayed the disappointment in missing his second Super Bowl, but Hostetler knows it couldn’t have been easy.
“I know it was tough on Phil,” Hostetler said. “He played great and all the sudden he gets hurt and he can’t play in a huge game like that.”
Back on the Bench
Just weeks after the Super Bowl, Parcells stepped down from his position to work as a television analyst.
Running backs coach Ray Handley was promoted in 1991 and his first order of business was to name Hostetler as the starting quarterback.
Simms rode the pine until Week 13 when Hostetler broke his back against Tampa Bay.
During the final month of the season, Simms led the Giants to one win and passed for over 900 yards and eight touchdowns.
After New York went 8-8 in 1991, the team sunk to 6-10 in 1992.
— Let’s Talk NFL 🏈 (@TalkFootball34) May 7, 2022
Simms had been the starter, but broke his arm in Week 4 and remained sidelined the rest of the year.
One Last Hurrah
Two consecutive subpar seasons cost Handley his job and he left football permanently.
Former Denver head coach Dan Reeves was hired and he decided to keep Simms and let Hostetler walk.
During the 1993 season, Simms started all 16 games for the first time since 1986.
— Robert Prescott (@roaminbull02) May 29, 2014
While helping New York reach 11 wins, Simms passed for 3,038 yards, 15 touchdowns and nine interceptions and was voted to his second Pro Bowl.
Simms and the Giants then beat Minnesota in the Wild Card round before losing to San Francisco in the divisional round, 44-3.
While playing in 1993, Simms tore the labrum in his throwing shoulder and had surgery after the season to fix it.
He was given a clean bill of health and prepared to return to the Giants in 1994.
— WBG84 (@WBG84) June 15, 2017
New York, on the other hand, had other plans and surprisingly released Simms.
“It’s a combination of a lot of things,” said Reeves. “Contract, age and injury were all taken into consideration, and we weren’t ready to take that gamble right now.”
Understandably, Simms was upset and vowed that he was not done with football.
“I’ve decided not to retire,” Simms told reporters. “I’ll make that decision (about another team) in a couple of weeks.”
He ultimately decided not to sign with either franchise and remained retired.
During his career, Simms passed for 33,462 yards, 199 touchdowns and 157 interceptions.
Additionally, he rushed for 1,252 yards and six touchdowns.
Simms was a two-time Super Bowl winner, a two-time Pro Bowler, and the NFL’s Man of the Year in 1993.
He also set several Giants records, some of which were later broken by Eli Manning.
Since his retirement, the Giants have placed Simms in their Ring of Honor and have also retired the number 11.
Flashback Friday: Phil Simms threw his final pass to Lawrence Taylor during his jersey retirement ceremony pic.twitter.com/0bdddgMjFJ
— Big Blue United (@BigBlueUnited) September 24, 2021
During the ceremony to retire his jersey number, Simms threw “one last pass” to his former teammate, Lawrence Taylor.
Simms didn’t stray far from football after retiring as a player.
For the past few decades, he has appeared on various television shows and called NFL games for ESPN, NBC and CBS.
— Simms Complete (@SimmsComplete) June 10, 2022
Simms and his wife, Diana, have three children including son Chris who suited up for three different NFL teams during an eight-year career.