(Photo courtesy of New York Giants)
By Ron Borges
TALK OF FAME NETWORK
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.