It's a great quarterback nickname, coined by the cynical New Yorkers of the late 1970s.
"Parkway Joe" Pisarcik, was described by the tabloids' sportswriters as "the bargain basement quarterback."
No glamour of Broadway Joe. No $427,000 bonus. No photographs of Parkway on...a Parkway. No Super Bowl victory guarantees. No Super Bowls.
Then, the following year it was, “Where the hell is Morehead State University?”
Tough room, here in the Big Apple.
It's in Morehead, Kentucky, that is, on I-64, about an hour east of Lexington...you know, where they raise horses...no, not plow horses...maybe three hours east of Louisville...Kentucky Derby? Four weeks before Belmont?
Okay, so Giants fans will be unhappy with their team's 1979 quarterback draft pick, Phil Simms, from Morehead State, four hours east of Significance.
Back to Parkway.
It's the '78 Eagles-Giants game at Giants Stadium in the godforsaken Meadowlands. This has been rumored so often it possibly cannot be true: Jimmy Hoffa's body is either:
a) in the Meadowlands footers concrete, or
b) in the swimming pool concrete at a swank (?) hotel in Huntington, W. Va., which by the way is an hour east of Morehead State.
I'm going to do this briefly, referencing John Maxymuk and The Fifth Down blog he posts with The New York Times. This entry is dated Oct. 27, 2009. The subject is The Fumble. The sportswriting is outstanding.
Giants up 17-12. It's third and two, and New York is on its own 28. There are 31 seconds remaining in this hideously executed game. Fans are thanking their Higher Power the punitive damage to their souls is almost over.
Take a knee, every living and/or dead Giants fan said. Take a knee and the clock will run out and we win and we go home.
Parkway gets a play from the offensive coordinator who shall remain nameless: run Larry Csonka, one of the greatest running backs ever, up the middle.
I'll call it: double tights, 30 dive.
That is a rather good guess because when you played for my high school team in the guts of the West Virginia coalfields, 30 dive was the first play you learned. It can't get any more basic.
It is rumored that only one Giant in the huddle was happy with the call. So, that particular Giant, Parkway, ran it. Considering the heirarchy defined by professional football, you really can't fault him for that.
What you can fault him for is missing the handoff to Larry Csonka. How on God's green Astro-Turf can one QB miss a handoff to a 6-foot-3, 245 pound Super Bowl VIII MVP and future Hall of Famer?
Don't ask me, said Eagle Herman Edwards as he scooped the ball up and sprinted those 28 yards for a touchdown.
New York Giants lose 19-17. It is, thankfully, the nadir of their existence. We just won't know that for a few years.
* * *
In the fall of 1977 I attended Marshall University, located a few blocks from where Jimmy Hoffa's body was supposedly dumped in Huntington. Marshall at the time was Morehead State's big rival, separated by one hour of hardtop ribbon.
This 1977 Marshall was 2-9 and possessed the dubious honor of leading the nation in points allowed per game at the huge, unacceptable number of just over 39. Absurd.
Anyway, there we are, among a capacity crowd of 14,000, my friends and I and several females, two with facial hair. I’m not making that up.
The time is 1:00 p.m. The afternoon is simply bewitching and we’re on our second drunk of the day, having drained the keg before 11. In the morning.
The game has begun. Morehead State has the ball. The Golden Eagles’ quarterback does a five-step drop and…dude! This Morehead gun has just put a deep out on a laser right into the hands of his receiver.
Another drop back and he got the bazooka out for a high velocity post corner on the fingertips.
Holy Mixed Metaphor, Princess Leia! Who is this Jedi warrior?
I consult the game day program, immediately recalling that I’ve never read the Marshall game day program.
This QB, this big man who looks as if he can throw the ball from here to Wayne County and put it on a postage stamp, is Phil Simms.
Who won the game? I don’t remember. I’m sure it’s on the Internet.
Bacardi Gold mellowed my game, as did the exotic co-ed with the facial hair. Her inebriated head rested against my shoulder. I didn’t notice.
What if I just discovered Phil Simms?
* * *
The exotic co-ed with facial hair has by now, in this month and year of January 1987, found a good man who helped her pay for electrolysis. Still, she’s long gone from my sights.
I’m the father of two girls. My lovely wife and I had just moved in to our first real home after selling the crackerbox condo on the morning of our second daughter’s birth (yes, I am a fourth-quarter man).
Being a stockbroker, I think I cut deals like this all the time. I, with my high commissions and on-the-money stock picks? I just think I'm a master of the universe.
So, I drop a bet. Giants minus 9-1/2 with the bookie I call Hit Man.
The wife is, with all her long legs and brains, on the sofa, reading. The infant girl is carefully corralled with her playthings on the new carpet. Our older daughter has two My Little Ponies in hand and cannot take her eyes off the television.
Could she be the nascent football fan?
If so, today’s the day. It’s Super Bowl XXI at the Rose Bowl, starring The New York Giants with The Denver Broncos and their wunderkind quarterback John Elway.
Many experts are disgusted with the spread, kibitzing that even though the Giants have a much superior 16-2 record, John Elway is the Michael Jackson of improvisational football.
Junior, I say, Elways have come and gone.
Remember how Dan Marino was 14-2, threw for 5,000 yards, and got slapped around by the Niners in XIX? Could he have his ticket punched to Bustville in the seat beside Elway?
Craig Morton was supposed to be great. How can you have two worse Super Bowls than his V and XII? Especially XII, which interestingly was with the Broncos. Four picks. Yo. Craig. We're wearing orange today.
Other hot names.
Rich Campbell of Cal, prototypical QB in college, and those were the glory days for Rich.
Todd Blackledge of Penn State, beat out Jeff Hostetler. By the way, Hoss went to West Virginia and is Simms’ backup today. Blackledge has trouble even turning his remote to a Super Bowl. Great future in television.
And, Art Schlichter?
It doesn’t matter. I’m done, because it’s pedigrees vs. dungarees between these two Super Bowl XXI quarterbacks and my hayseed will win a) the Lombardi Trophy and b) 50 dollars for me.
Denver could line up anyone at QB. Lawrence Taylor will own him. In fact, how will Boy Elway launch a pass if his line can’t at least slow down Harry Carson, Gary Reasons, and Carl Banks?
Slow down, hell! Do you think Jim Burt will let anyone get a hat on those four?
And, Elway? To paraphrase Buddy Ryan, “How can Elway see his receivers through the tears in his eyes?” That's really funny every time I hear it.
Just so you won't think I'm a fanboy, I’ll acknowledge all the good things about the Denver Broncos.
Denver has a wall of a run defense and leads the league in stopping attacks like the one Joe Morris and Ottis Anderson and their O-line generate. I’ll concede the run game, even though the football pundits say it is the key to a Giants victory.
Maybe Phil will set up the run, but he’s 21 touchdowns on 22 interceptions. He has no go-to wideout, even after considering how everyone thinks Phil McConkey is the bomb (he is). Simms' primary receiver is tight end Mark Bavaro, handsome guy, but owner of just 4 touchdown catches.
* * *
Neil Diamond sang the National Anthem. I tolerated that, wanting to do this!
John Elway looked like John Unitas on the game’s initial drive, but his boys had to settle for a Rich Karlis 48-yard field goal. Remember Rich.
Phil Simms took the stick, leading his Giants 78 yards in 9 plays for a touchdown. 7-3 New York.
The Broncos again moved the ball, getting in New York territory. Then, it got interesting.
Giants’ Harry Carson was flagged with a personal foul by hitting the Denver receiver while he was out of bounds. That’s 15 yards.
So, LT decides to top that by losing his mind, picking up Carson’s penalty marker, and throwing it. That’s unsportsmanlike conduct (ya think?) and another 15, taking the ball to the Giant six.
Frightening people on that New York defense.
Three plays later (it took three plays, remember that), Elway runs it in. 10-7 Broncos.
It’s now Elway’s first drive of the second quarter deep in his territory, and this was the beginning of a great day for Giants fans, wherever you are.
After the rocket grenade-armed Elway found his receiver 54 yards downfield, Denver looked invincible.
I quickly calculated the commissions I would have to earn to pay the bookie his 55. It was around $150, equivalent to a $6,000 mutual fund ticket. Damn.
The Anointed One took his Broncos to a first and goal situation on the Giant 1. They have four plays.
Soon, it was one play. New York linebackers abused the Broncos to make it 4th-and-goal on the six. Rich Karlis lined up for the 23-yard chip shot.
And, not good. Don't you hear that mo' ashifting?
The Broncos try it again. At just less than three minutes left in the half, New York’s defensive end, George Martin, threw Elway to the end zone ground for a safety. 10-9 Broncos, not bad maybe, but they were sucking air through a straw at this juncture.
Denver stopped the Giants from advancing the ball after the men in blue received the free kick. Elway took the ball and found his inner Daryl Lamonica, throwing and throwing Denver to the Giants 20.
Alas, as one could have expected, the Giants stopped the Broncos three straight, forcing Karlis onto the field for a 34 yarder.
Double alas. No good.
In America, there are men whose mother-in-law could have split a 23-yarder and a 34-yarder, thereby putting Denver up 16-9 going into the lockers.
Instead…I’m talking a deer-in-the-headlights 10-9, the most precarious lead in Super Bowl history.
At that point that day, this is the most secure I felt about my 50.
* * *
History will show that the second half of Super Bowl XXI was complete Giant domination. Rich Karlis should be named New York’s MVP for priming the pump, but New York was responsible in large part for the inflicted punishment
After going three-and-out, New York successfully (and as a result of the extra large titanium Parcells stones) faked a punt to maintain possession.
From then, it was as if a guardian angel guided Phil Simms’ right arm. I read in the Sports Illustrated recount of XXI that, as Simms’ and a few of his Giants buddies were being chauffeured to Pasadena, the New York quarterback said softly, “I’m feeling pretty good today.”
Phil’s good vibrations went 22-for-25 (that’s right, only three hit the deck) for 268 yards and three touchdowns. As well, the Throw-The-Pick King threw zero picks, further frustrating the Broncos.
Phil even went big on a Joe Morris flea-flicker that one would think never works. However, it did. Why? It was Phil!
John Elway was essentially a non-factor in the second half. He met with his attorney on the Denver sidelines midway through the fourth.
She asked for a latte with skim. Elway threw back two doppio.
It took days for John to realize that wasn't true and was just a coping mechanism he needed as his ass was being handed to him.
Simms led New York’s 24-point explosion as Denver could not stop them or answer them.
Mark Bavaro (otherwise known as “Bavaro!”) caught a touchdown early in the third stanza. Kicker Raul Allegre found a way to get on the field to slice one in from 21 yards.
Joe Morris got some end-zone action, as did America’s Favorite Wideout, Phil McConkey.
Elway’s imaginary doppio must have found him new life. He landed the Broncos across the goal line once late in the fourth for a score that was so meaningless The American Heritage College Dictionary immediately planned to place a photo of that touchdown beside the word ‘minutiae.’
The final was 39-20 Giants. There were celebrations in Pasadena. "Start spreading the news..."
And, no one mentioned Parkway Joe.
* * *
I was standing in the men’s washroom which serviced all the working boxes at Heinz Field, like television and radio, coordinators and other coaches, and the sportswriters, the group to whom I belonged that day.
Pittsburgh was hosting the New England on that gorgeous January afternoon in 2002. Hopes were high and yellow towels were spinning uncontrollably, but Troy Brown, Marshall alum and the Patriots’ special teams guru, blew up the Steelers and their Super Bowl hopes.
As I peered into the mirror and contemplated the 24-17 upset, I’ll be damned if Phil Simms didn’t appear washing his hands in the basin to the left of me. I was frozen. Phil was okay with it; he washes hands with himself everyday.
I wanted to say something, but men don’t say much of anything to each other in the washroom.
The up elevator reached the working boxes area. I was alone. I entered the car and pressed 1. The doors closed, then opened. In walked the NFL on CBS team, Phil Simms with Greg Gumble. The doors closed and the car moved downward.
“Greg, nice game you called,” Phil said. “You didn’t miss a one.”
“Thank you,” said Greg.
That was classy.
For some creepy reason, I felt as if I had to say something.
“Uh, excuse me, Phil?”
He nodded my way.
Calling upon his days as a bitter rival of the Thundering Herd, I say, “You know, Phil, The Herd had Randy Moss and Troy Brown. After today, who do you think is the better Marshall wideout?”
He laughed. “Has to be Troy Brown!”
I wanted to tell Phil I discovered him in 1977, but he would think I was stalking him.
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