State Your Case: Phil Simms

simms vs dal2 94

(Photo courtesy of New York Giants)

By Ron Borges


In 2001, Sports Illustrated called Phil Simms “the most underrated quarterback in NFL history.” Whether that’s true or not it, one has to wonder where he might be today had he not broken his foot late in the New York Giants’ 1990 Super Bowl season.

At that time, Simms was one of the NFL’s leading quarterbacks. He was a former Super Bowl MVP, a former NFL MVP and a Pro Bowl performer leading the NFC with a quarterback rating of 92.7. His team was 11-2 when his foot was shattered in a game with the Buffalo Bills. His season, and perhaps his Hall-of-Fame candidacy, ended that day.

Jeff Hostetler stepped in for the disabled Simms and seven weeks later led the Giants to a 20-19 victory over the Bills in Super Bowl XXV. Had that been Simms under center would those two Super Bowl rings, combined with his overall career numbers, have landed him in Canton? Many think so because such is the Hall-of-Fame power of winning an NFL championship.

Nearly 75% of all Hall-of-Fame inductees played on either an NFL championship team or a Super Bowl champion. Many played on multiple champions. So one has to ask: Can it be true that on all those other teams, over all those decades, only 27% of their players were Hall-of-Fame worthy?

Numbers do not always tell the story of a man’s career of course, but a look at Simms’ when compared to two of his peers elected to the Hall is illustrative. When Simms chose to retire after off-season shoulder surgery following the 1993 season convinced Giants’ general manager George Young to release him in favor of Dave Brown (who, you say?) after one of Simms’ most statistically productive seasons, he had thrown 34 more touchdown passes than Troy Aikman would throw, passed for 520 more yards and won slightly more games (95-64 to 94-71).

To be fair, he also threw 16 more interceptions and won two fewer Super Bowls than Aikman in a 14-year career, but for all intents and purposes they were statistically the same player … with the exception that Simms threw for slightly more yards and touchdowns and had a slightly better winning percentage (62.3% to Aikman’s 60%).

Oh, and one other thing: Aikman threw to Hall-of-Fame receiver Michael Irvin and handed off to Hall-of-Fame runner Emmitt Smith. Simms? He threw to Bobby Johnson, Lionel Manuel, Mark Ingram, Phil McConkey and Stephen Baker “The Touchdown Maker.” None will ever enter the Hall without a ticket.

Now let’s look at another of his Hall-of-Fame contemporaries, Buffalo’s Jim Kelly. Kelly threw 38 more touchdown passes and for 2,105 more yards. He also threw 18 more interceptions and never won a Super Bowl, although he did the more remarkable feat of leading the Bills into that game four straight times. Any other difference? There’s one. He threw to two Hall-of-Fame receivers, James Lofton and Andre Reed, and handed off to Hall-of-Fame running back Thurman Thomas.

One can argue all day whether Simms’ numbers compare with the Hall-of-Fame careers of Aikman and Kelly, but it would be difficult to argue they didn’t. Then there’s this: Simms also had perhaps the greatest single passing day in Super Bowl history when he went 22 of 25 in a 39-20 victory over John Elway’s Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXI, a completion rate of 88 percent.

Hall-of-Fame coach Bill Parcells insists, “that might be the best game a quarterback ever played.” If it wasn’t, the list of competition is a short one.

Simms’ career was marred not only by the broken foot that cost him a second Super Bowl championship but also by the retirement of Parcells after that 1990 season. Parcells, who had been tough on Simms early in his career but grew to admire him deeply, was replaced by Ray Handley, who lasted two seasons as head coach. One of the reasons why was that he chose Hostetler over Simms in 1991, benching him until Simms finally won the job back in 1992 … only to be sidelined after four games with a season-ending arm injury.

Thus, in two of what should have been his prime seasons, Simms threw for a combined total of only 1,905 yards and 13 touchdowns. One might argue that this was in part because he was approaching the end of his prime except that when Dan Reeves took over as head coach in 1993 he cut Hostetler and re-installed Simms. The result was one of his finest season, passing for 3,038 yards, 15 touchdowns and leading the Giants to a 11-5 record after they went 6-10 a year earlier with Hostetler.

It has now been 22 years since Simms retired, but his 33,462 yards still rank 28th all-time, with 17 Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks behind him. Of the 23 modern-era Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks, Simms has more completions than 13 of them, threw for more yards than 15 of them and more touchdowns than nine of them. Had he not lost 1991 and 1992 to Handley’s benching and injury, those numbers would have dwarfed the majority of Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks and likely rivaled Kelly’s, despite the fact Kelly ran an offense that threw more often than Nolan Ryan.

So is Phil Simms Hall-of-Fame worthy? Hard to say. But one thing is not: He should have his day in court. If he ever gets it, the debate will be heated, but add one more ring to his jewelry chest and there might never have been a debate at all.

Just a bust in Canton.


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  1. Derek Votta
    May 22, 2015

    No effing way and I’m a lifelong Giants fan. 1) broadcasting career – I will be fair and admit that doesn’t really apply but… can’t stand him.2) A lot of injuries , a lot of quarterback controversy, a lot of whining 3) his lack of mobility is a highlight film for great pass rushers Reggie White, Richard Dent Charles Haley etc

  2. Anonymous
    October 15, 2015

    Agreed. Another Giants fan, but Phil does not deserve to be in the HOF! Many more deserving players. Also agree on his lack of broadcasting abilities, which does not apply to HOF balloting, but PLEASE take him off the air!! For a guy who’s played football for so many years, I just can’t believe how ignorant he is.

  3. bachslunch
    March 19, 2016

    Not sold on Phil Simms for the HoF. He ranks well down on stat lists adjusted to era such as those by Chase Stuart and Kiran Rasaretnam, and he has only one SB win. That’s well behind folks like Joe Theismann and Charlie Conerly, neither of whom have a HoF case.

  4. Stu
    April 12, 2016

    How could he not. Started his game behind a porous offensive line and paid the price. Hit the weight room to better withstand the beating he would continue to take. He was throwing in a windy, cold stadium to receivers that would never compared to household names. Other than Bavarois, there wasn’t a starter among them. Phil stood tall in pocket, and anyone who thinks he wouldn’t have benefitted greatly from playing in San Diego, Miami, San Francisco, etc., never saw him throw tight spirals on seam passes into the teeth of “The Hawk.” Even with all that, he won two Super Bowls (with all due respect to Hoss, no one really believes he doesn’t win the 2nd), put up huge numbers, and took the hits in order to give wr’s a chance to get open. Simms is the meaning of HOF QB. He made himself a great QB. Or as Parcells calls him…The Great Phil Simms.

  5. bachslunch
    May 1, 2016

    Maybe Simms would have had better numbers playing in a different climate. And maybe Archie Manning would have been a HoF-er if he had played for a franchise other than the Saimts. Not sold on “what-if” arguments, myself — stuff happens. And sorry, but Simms isn’t the only player who QBd much of a season but didn’t finish and had another QB end up with a title win. Happened to Bobby Layne (Tobin Rote) and Earl Morrall (Bob Griese) also, and the convention for better or worse seems to be that the QB who played the title game gets “credit” for the title win. And as said before, he doesn’t rank that well in either Stuart’s or Rasaretnam’s ratings, so one can fairly argue that he didn’t put up “huge numbers” adjusted for era. Those arguments don’t help Simms’s case any.

  6. johnny
    May 15, 2016

    If you compare the numbers to hall of famer then he deserves his place in Canton and no doubt in my mind he would have won his 2nd superbowl if he played..hostetler sucks

  7. Glen
    June 10, 2016

    He should be in the hall of fame without question. If you want to use the numbers that would get him in.

    If you watched him week after week you’d understand how good he was withing the confines of what he was allowed to do.

    The first couple of posts are not from Giants fans obviously….

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