The ‘86 Giants wanted to break opponents physically, spiritually, Carl Banks says
A Date To Remember is an occasional series Big Blue View will be running through the Super Bowl, highlighting the glory of the Giants’ past and celebrating the biggest playoff wins in franchise history.
Jan. 11, 1987
NFC Championship Game
Giants 17, Redskins 0
The names line the MetLife Stadium Ring of Honor.
Lawrence Taylor. Harry Carson. Carl Banks. George Martin.
The coaching staff included Hall of Famer Bill Parcells, future Hall of Famer Bill Belichick and a future head coach in Romeo Crennel.
But something else separated the Giants’ 1986 defense beyond those now-legendary names and impressive resumes.
Playing in the competitive apex of the modern NFL, the Giants learned to not just beat their opponents. They wanted to break them spiritually.
“It was more the challenge each week of making your opponent quit and watching them do it and then actually having a conversation during the course of a game as to whose guy quit,” Banks told Big Blue View. “Seriously, it was to that level. ‘OK, my guy’s about to quit.’ Or ‘My guy’s quit already.’ ‘This guy doesn’t want to block me anymore.’
“It was that level of competitiveness we had. It wasn’t a matter of the confidence that we were so good. We were so good, we wanted our opponents to quit. To literally quit trying.”
By the NFC title game, the Giants defense was that good.
Christened “The Big Blue Wrecking Crew,” it rivaled any other defense in the modern era — even the vaunted 1985 Chicago Bears or the 2000 Baltimore Ravens.
It ranked second in the NFL in total defense, second in scoring defense, first in run defense and fourth in sacks en route to a 14-2 regular season.
And it was the dominant force in the NFC Championship game that suffocated the Washington Redskins, 17-0, to clinch the Giants’ first Super Bowl appearance.
They yielded only 190 total yards. They recorded four sacks. They forced two turnovers.
But the numbers really do not capture the level of domination as the Giants earned a berth in their first championship game since 1963. They had not won a title since 1956.
The Meadowlands crowd of 76,633 feted them with a blizzard of paper late in the game, a ticker-tape-style coronation as if they knew what was to come in the Super Bowl.
As usual, the Giants took advantage of their home stadium.
They won the coin toss and deferred, knowing that sending Washington into the swirling 35-mph wind — with a wind chill that was in the teens — was better than holding the ball.
“It was the strongest wind I ever saw at Giants Stadium,” Phil Simms told reporters after the game. “I could play another 10 years and never play in wind like that.”
And the Giants immediately established their dominance.
They forced the Redskins to punt on their opening possession, and with the wind in punter Steve Cox’s face, the best he could do was hit a 23-yard boot. It set up the Giants at the Washington 47.
Six plays later, they led 3-0 thanks to Raul Allegre’s 47-yard field goal.
The Giants stopped Washington again on its next possession, this time taking over at the Redskins’ 38-yard line after Cox’s 27-yard punt. On a third-and-10 at the Washington 26, Simms threw an incomplete pass, and center Bart Oates was flagged for holding.
Redskins coach Joe Gibbs accepted the penalty instead of saddling the Giants with fourth down, trying to push them out of field goal range.
It was a decision he would soon regret.
Simms capitalized on the opportunity, completing a 25-yard pass to Lionel Manuel. First down. A few plays later, Simms connected with Manuel again, this time for 11 yards and a touchdown.
The game was all but over.
In the second quarter, Joe Morris’ 1-yard touchdown run made it 17-0 entering halftime.
Washington tried to get back into the game through the air in the second half. But all it did was unleash the Giants’ devastating pass rush.
Schroeder (20-of-50 passing for 195 yards) paid for it. Gary Reasons had an interception and a sack, and Eric Dorsey, Leonard Marshall and George Martin also registered sacks.
The Giants defenders competed as much amongst themselves as they did the opposing offensive line and skill players. It was practically bred into them when they slogged through training camps and practices that tested them psychologically as well as physically.
Banks was the third overall selection in the 1984 NFL draft out of Michigan State.
The coaching staff tested him from the start.
In those days, rookies reported to camp a week or so before the veterans. And if you were unlucky enough to be alone at your position, you took all the reps in drills. And those were the days before collective bargaining eliminated legitimate two-a-days or odyssey-like practices filled with bone-rattling drills.
”Those were some of the moments that were formative for me, and I think some of them were designed to break me,” Banks said. “As a rookie, I was the first person and the last person in some of the drill lines. My position had one player: That was me.
”So Romeo Crennel and Bill Belichick would play good cop-bad cop, and if we had a three-minute drill, I had to run that drill for all three minutes. I was the only guy in line.”
That was just the physical part. Parcells — as was his way — added a little twist.
”Mentally, maybe they needed to find out about me?” Banks asks all these years later, still unsure if it was his first-round draft status, sheer bad luck or some other reason that earned him the special treatment. “I don’t know what the concept was other than to piss me off.
”It was one of those deals where Parcells would look over, and if I was taking a breather in between [drills], he would be like, ‘Nope, you got to go.’ And I was the first guy and the last guy in every single drill until team drills. So when the veterans came, I was happy to see them.”
But those trials by fire prepared them.
There was a reason Parcells famously built a core of his “guys.” Parcells guys. Tough guys. Smart guys. Players he trusted with games — and seasons — on the line.
They were players who could match the skill and toughness of the San Francisco 49ers’ Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and Ronnie Lott in January. Or Walter Payton and the Chicago Bears. Or Washington’s famous Hogs and Art Monk. Or the overlooked Philadelphia Eagles, with Reggie White and Clyde Simmons.
”We were forged in the fire by literally beating teams that are all-time greats,” Banks said. “It was a special time in the NFL. The competition in the division was brutal. You couldn’t tell me that the Philadelphia Eagles weren’t better than everybody. They just couldn’t beat the Washington Redskins, and we could. Thank you, Washington, for that!
“It was an amazing time for the sport in terms of the competition. Outside of the division, there was great competition with the 49ers, who were so dominant. They played a different style of football, but nonetheless, they were as tough as individual players as you’ll ever get — even within the NFC East.”