The 1984 New York Giants
The New York Giants are a storied NFL franchise. Established in 1925, the Giants won their first league title in 1927. After three more league titles and 16 playoff appearances, the Giants began to slide from 1964 through 1980 — the longest postseason drought in team history.
After moving into Giants Stadium in 1976, the franchise had grown more dysfunctional. Owned and operated by Wellington Mara (a son of the team’s founder) and his nephew, Tim Mara.
By the late 70s, the Mara’s were no longer on speaking terms. In turn, the franchise continued to suffer and lag. Despite these bad times, the fans continued to purchase season tickets, selling out all of the Giants’ home games. More to the point, the Giants had a 25-year waiting list for season tickets.
In 1979, at the behest of the NFL, the league intervened to help right the Giants’ business model. It was then, that the Mara’s agreed to hire George Young as the team’s new general manager.
Young began his tenure with a blueprint for future success. In his first NFL draft, Young selected Phil Simms to be the team’s next franchise quarterback. Two years later, Young drafted Lawrence Taylor. In Taylor’s rookie season, 1981, the Giants finally broke their playoff drought, qualifying as a wildcard that postseason.
The ’84 Giants are often remembered as the turning point and launchpad for two Super Bowl titles. Looking back, the 1984 season was surrounded by doubt and uncertainty. An unproven head coach, Bill Parcells, and a struggling Phil Simms.
In 1979, Phil Simms was selected with the seventh overall pick in that year’s NFL Draft. A little-known QB from a Division-I AA college football program, Morehead State. The joke around the metro area, Phil who? From Morehead where?
Simms came in with the expectations of being a perennial Pro Bowl quarterback. Back then, they didn’t toss around elite like these days, but that’s what it meant. Simms showed promise in his rookie season.
From there, things began to digress and go downhill. Injuries and benchings began to mar his career. By 1983, the Giants, the fans, and the talking heads were all wondering if the Giants would be moving on from Phil Simms.
After reaching the playoffs in 1981, the ’82 Giants fell flat. A strike-shortened season coupled with a 4–5 record knocked Big Blue out of postseason contention.
In 1983, Bill Parcells was hired to be New York’s next head coach. Parcells was originally hired as a linebackers coach and elevated to defensive coordinator by his predecessor, Ray Perkins.
Heading into the 1983 season, it was believed that the Giants would again reach the postseason. Most of the roster was still in place from the ’81 season where the Giants beat the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Wildcard Game before losing to the eventual Super Bowl champion, San Francisco 49ers.
Instead, the ’83 Giants posted a 3–12–1 record. In his own words, what Parcells would later be famous for: You are what your record says you are. A season that began with such hope, optimism and confidence devolved into a 16-game disaster.
While prepping for the 1984 campaign, the New York tabloids and sportswriters began questioning both Bill Parcells and Phil Simms. Did either of these guys have the talent and mettle to recapture that spirit of ’81, and move the team forward? More importantly, the stuff to bring the Giants back to their glory years.
The sports pages also wondered if George Young would fire Parcells and bring in Howard Schnellenberger. Schnellenberger was the head coach at the University of Miami where he resurrected the Hurricanes’ football program, leading the ‘Canes to the 1983 National Championship.
Young and Schnellenberger had worked together while in Baltimore with the Colts. At the same time, Schnellenberger resigned from his post at Miami to become president, general manager, and head coach of the Miami Spirit — a USFL franchise.
When the USFL announced that it would shift to a fall schedule, the Spirit relocated to Orlando and changed its nickname to the Renegades. Schnellenberger opted not to follow the Renegades to Central Florida, hoping instead for an NFL opening.
In the same off-season, QB Warren Moon was the hottest free agent to hit the NFL in years. After being snubbed by the NFL as a collegiate QB, Moon opted to play in Canada. After six seasons with the Edmonton Eskimos of the CFL, Moon led his team to five straight Grey Cup titles.
The Giants were one of the teams that were interested in Moon. That’s when a sports reporter asked Phil Simms to comment. Simms didn’t bellyache. He made it clear he was up for the competition and welcomed it. The Giants were his team and he’d prove it, no matter how many Warren Moons they brought in.
Moon wound up signing a five-year contract with the Houston Oilers and Parcells was retained as head coach. Heading into the 1984 NFL season, Parcells and Simms were joined at the hip. It would be their make-or-break season. If the Giants stumbled, faltered, and failed to make the playoffs, both could be sent packing. Parcells might be fired and Simms could be traded.
The Giants finished the 1984 season with a 9–7 record. Not all that impressive in win totals, but the Giants wound up beating Dallas twice and Washington once.
More importantly, the ’84 Giants had qualified for the NFC Wildcard Game. Despite only 9 wins, the ’84 season would turn out to be a resounding success.
After defeating the Los Angeles Rams in the Wildcard game, the Giants then lost to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Divisional Round.
A watershed season? Probably. If nothing else, a pivotal and consequential campaign. The ’84 Giants had reached a precipice. Another collapse and losing season could have sent the franchise into a tailspin and the dreaded rebuild.
Instead, the ’84 season catapulted the team for bigger and better things. The Giants returned to post 10 wins in the ’85 NFL Season. Just as they did in ’84, the ’85 Giants won the NFC Wildcard Game and lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears in the divisional round.
In 1986, the Giants charged to a league-leading 14–2 record. The 1986 Giants are folklore in team history — their first of four Super Bowl titles. In 1990, Parcell’s Giants would go on to win their second Super Bowl.
Deeper dives into championship teams always reveal the seasons beforehand. The process and their perseverance. Numerous obstacles on their climb to becoming champions.
In hindsight, 1984 might be one of the richest and most underrated seasons in team history. Pivotal for sure. So much went on beforehand, behind the scenes, and on the playing field.
Heading into the ’84 season, the NFC Eastern Division had 3 of the last 4 teams that won the NFC Championship and played in the Super Bowl. In the same era, the Dallas Cowboys reached and lost three straight NFC Championship games (’80, ’81, and ‘82).
The NFC Eastern Division was stacked. Add in the rising and coming-of-age St. Louis Cardinals, the Giants had a tough schedule to overcome to turn this corner. All four division foes were ranked higher than the Giants and a safer bet to reach the postseason.
After losing out to Warren Moon, George Young re-committed to Phil Simms. With the third pick in the 1984 NFL Draft, Young selected Carl Banks, an outside linebacker from Michigan State. A complimentary piece to a vastly improving and league-renowned defense.
In the end, the ’84 Giants persisted. Despite their shortcomings, growing pains, and inconsistent play, the team continued to improve. All of this under Parcells’ coaching with a healthy and resurgent Phil Simms.