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January 25, 1987 • Rose Bowl • Pasadena, California • CBS • 3:13 p.m. PST
(2) Denver Broncos Super Bowl XXI (1) New York Giants
Denver Broncos 1976-1996 Orange Crush Helmet Left Face 20
Team 1 2 3 4 Totals
Broncos 10 0 0 10 20
Giants 7 2 17 13 39
NFL-NFC-Helmet-NYG 1980's-Right side 39

Super Bowl XXI
Super Bowl XXI Logo
1 2 3 4 Total
DEN 10 0 0 10 20
NYG 7 2 17 13 39
Date January 25, 1987
Stadium Rose Bowl
City Pasadena, California
MVP Phil Simms, Quarterback
Favorite Giants by 9.5
National anthem Neil Diamond
Coin toss Willie Davis
Referee Jerry Markbreit
Halftime show "Salute to Hollywood's 100th Anniversary" with Southern California high school drill teams and dancers
Attendance 101,063
TV in the United States
Network CBS
Announcers Pat Summerall and John Madden
Nielsen Ratings 45.8
(est. 87.2 million viewers)[1]
Market share 66
Cost of 30-second commercial $600,000
Super Bowl XXI Program
Super Bowl XXI Program
 < XX Super Bowl XXII > 

Super Bowl XXI was an American football game between the American Football Conference (AFC) champion Denver Broncos and the National Football Conference (NFC) champion New York Giants to decide the National Football League (NFL) champion for the 1986 season. The Giants defeated the Broncos by the score of 39–20, winning their first ever Super Bowl and their first NFL title since 1956. The game was played on January 25, 1987, at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.

This was the Broncos' second Super Bowl appearance. Led largely through the play of quarterback John Elway and a defense that led the AFC in fewest yards allowed, Denver posted an 11-5 regular season record and two narrow playoff victories. The Giants, led by quarterback Phil Simms, running back Joe Morris and their "Big Blue Wrecking Crew" defense, advanced to their first Super Bowl after posting a 14-2 regular season record, and only allowing a combined total of 3 points in their two postseason wins.

The game was tight in the first half, with the Broncos holding a 10-9 halftime lead, the narrowest margin in Super Bowl history. The only score in the second quarter however was Giants defensive end George Martin's quarterback sack of Elway in the end zone for a safety. This began New York's run of scoring 26 unanswered points through the third and fourth quarters. The Giants also posted a Super Bowl record 30 points in the second half, and limited the Broncos to only 2 net yards in the third quarter. Simms, who was named the Super Bowl MVP, finished the game with 22 of 25 passes completed for 268 yards and three touchdowns. He also had 25 rushing yards on 3 carries. His 22 out of 25 (88%) completion percentage not only broke a Super Bowl record, but also set an NFL postseason record that lasted for 21 years.

The telecast of the game on CBS was seen by an estimated 87.2 million viewers.[1] This was one of the first times that a very large, national audience saw what is now the traditional Gatorade shower, where players dump a cooler full of liquid over a coach's head following a meaningful win. The practice was first started by Giants players in 1985 but it did not gain much national prominence until this season.


NFL owners voted to award Super Bowl XXI to Pasadena, California during their May 23–25, 1984 meetings. Fourteen cities were part of the bidding process, which was scheduled to award four Super Bowls (XXI, XXII, XXIII, and XXIV).[2] The bidding cities included: Anaheim, Detroit, Houston, Jacksonville, Miami, Minneapolis, New Orleans, Pasadena, Philadelphia, San Francisco, San Diego, Seattle, Tampa, and Tempe.[2] The Philadelphia host committee assembled what was considered a strong, but long-shot bid, hoping to win the first outdoor Super Bowl in a cold weather city.[3]

The balloting for XXI took 13 ballots and over two hours to complete,[3] with Pasadena finally receiving the winning bid. XXII was also voted on, but the voting for XXIII and XXIV was postponed. This was the fourth time that Pasadena hosted the game, and the sixth time it was held in the Greater Los Angeles Area.

New York Giants[]

The Giants advanced to their first Super Bowl in team history, and were playing for their first league championship since they lost to the Chicago Bears in the 1963 NFL Championship Game. The Giants were led by quarterback Phil Simms, who threw for 3,487 yards and 21 touchdowns (but also 22 interceptions). Simms' main target was tight end Mark Bavaro, who caught 66 passes for 1,001 yards and 4 touchdowns. Although the Giants did not have one great wide receiver, they did have several good ones. Receivers Stacy Robinson, Bobby L. Johnson, and Phil McConkey combined for 76 receptions and 1,307 yards.

However, running the ball was the Giants' primary offensive attack. Running back Joe Morris finished the regular season with a then franchise record 1,516 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns, while also catching 21 passes for 223 yards and another touchdown. One reason for his success was fullback Maurice Carthon, who provided Morris with excellent blocking and was the team's second leading rusher with 260 yards. Another reason was the play of their offensive line, led by Pro Bowl tackles Brad Benson and Karl Nelson.

The Giants also had a lot of weapons on their defense, nicknamed The "Big Blue Wrecking Crew". After giving up 31 points in their opening day regular season loss to the Dallas Cowboys, the Giants had not given up more than 20 points in a game until the last game of the season, in a 55–24 win over the Green Bay Packers. The Giants' defensive leader was Hall of Fame outside linebacker Lawrence Taylor who led the league with 20½ sacks during the regular season, won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award for the third time in his career, and became just the second defensive player to ever win the NFL Most Valuable Player Award. At 6′3″ and 245 pounds, Taylor was big enough to break through the offensive lines of many teams, but he still had enough speed to chase down running backs. The Giants' other starting linebackers, Gary Reasons, Carl Banks, and Harry Carson, did not get as much media attention as Taylor, but both Reasons and Carson had been selected to play in the Pro Bowl, while Banks recorded 6.5 sacks and 2 fumble recoveries. Nose tackle Jim Burt and right end Leonard Marshall, who were also both selected to the Pro Bowl, anchored the defensive line. Marshall recorded 12 sacks, 3 fumble recoveries, and 1 interception during the season.

With the play of their defense, the running attack led by Morris, and Simms' passing game, the Giants earned a 14–2 regular season record.

Denver Broncos[]

The Broncos won the AFC West with an 11–5 regular season record, largely through the play of their quarterback John Elway. In just his fourth season in the league, Elway made an impact to the team with his ad-libbing skills. During the regular season, he had thrown for 3,480 yards and 19 touchdowns, while also rushing for 257 yards, the third leading rusher on the team.

Elway did not really have a particular receiver who caught the most of his passes during the regular season, but wide receivers Mark Jackson, Vance Johnson, Steve Watson, and tight end Orson Mobley all combined for 136 receptions and 2,132 yards. Pro Bowl running back Sammy Winder was the Broncos' top rusher with 789 yards and 9 touchdowns, while also catching 26 passes for another 171 yards and 5 touchdowns. Fullback Gerald Willhite also contributed by rushing for 365 yards and 5 touchdowns, while also leading the team in receptions with 64, good for 529 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Broncos also had a powerful offensive line, led by Pro Bowl guard Keith Bishop.

The Broncos also led the AFC with the fewest rushing yards allowed (1,651). The defensive line was anchored by Pro Bowl defensive end Rulon Jones, who recorded 13.5 sacks and a fumble recovery. Denver's linebacking core, led by three time Pro Bowler Tom Jackson and Karl Mecklenburg, who recorded 9.5 sacks, was viewed as comparable to the Giants' Pro Bowl linebackers. Their secondary was led by Pro Bowl cornerbacks Dennis Smith and Louis Wright, along with Mike Harden, who intercepted 6 passes and returned them for 179 yards and 2 touchdowns. Louis Wright, Steve Foley, and Tom Jackson, the last remnants of Denver's Orange Crush Defense of the 1970s, all retired after this Super Bowl.


For more details on this topic, see 1986-87 NFL playoffs.
Elway's ability to improvise on the fly, in part, helped Denver to make it through the playoffs, narrowly defeating the New England Patriots, 22–17, and the Cleveland Browns, 23–20, in the AFC Championship Game. The AFC Championship Game against the Browns was particularly significant because Elway displayed why many NFL experts thought Super Bowl XXI would be the first of many Super Bowls for him. In what became known as The Drive, the Broncos started from their own 2-yard line, trailing 20-13, with 5:32 left to play. But in 15 plays, Elway led Denver 98 yards for a game-tying touchdown pass with 39 seconds left. The Broncos then won in overtime after Elway led them 60 yards in 9 plays to set up kicker Rich Karlis' game winning field goal.

Meanwhile, the Giants went on to only allow a combined total of 3 points in their playoff victories over the San Francisco 49ers, 49-3, and the Washington Redskins, 17-0, respectively. Such a dominating performance by the Giants' defense gave the team a lot of confidence going into the Super Bowl match-up versus the Broncos.

Super Bowl pregame news[]

Much of the pregame hype centered around the confrontation between Elway and Taylor, and whether or not Taylor would be able to hurry Elway's throws or sack him. The Giants had narrowly defeated Denver during the regular season, forcing four turnovers in a 19-16 win despite being outgained in total yards 405 to 262.

Television, radio, and entertainment[]

The game was broadcast in the United States by CBS and featured the broadcast team of play-by-play announcer Pat Summerall and color commentator John Madden. Brent Musburger of The NFL Today anchored the pregame, halftime and postgame coverage. Helping Musburger were reporters Irv Cross and Will McDonough and analysts Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Theismann and Dan Dierdorf (in his final CBS assignment before moving on to ABC's Monday Night Football for the following season). The game was also the first NFL game to be broadcast in Dolby Surround sound and in stereo. The game was also broadcast in Canada on CTV and in the United Kingdom on Channel 4.

Nationally, the game was carried over the NBC Radio Network. Don Criqui served as play-by-play with Bob Trumpy his color commentator. This was the last Super Bowl called by Criqui, as NBC Radio lost NFL rights following the season and he returned to his secondary play-by-play role on NBC television. Trumpy would call two more Super Bowls for NBC television (Super Bowl XXVII and Super Bowl XXVIII) as part of the network's #1 broadcast team. In the teams' local markets, the game was carried on WNEW-AM and KOA-AM.

The pregame show was a salute to California and featured the pop music group The Beach Boys. Singer Neil Diamond performed the national anthem. The coin toss ceremony featured Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive lineman Willie Davis.

The halftime show was a "Salute to Hollywood's 100th Anniversary" featuring an introduction by George Burns (who was only nine years younger than Hollywood at the time) and a performance by the Southern California high school drill teams and dancers.

Super Bowl XXI MVP Phil Simms was the first athlete to appear in a "I'm going to Disney World!" television ad.

As had been their tradition all season, upon securing their victory, Giants players celebrated by dumping a Gatorade cooler on head coach Bill Parcells. The 1986 Giants were the first team to initiate what has now become a standard post-game celebration, and the Super Bowl telecast enabled a large, national audience to first witness what has become commonplace.

The postgame show was supposed to feature the song "One Shining Moment" but due to postgame interviews taking so long, CBS never aired it. They ultimately changed the lyrics from "The ball is kicked" to "The ball is tipped", and the song is now played at the end of the network's NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship coverage. CBS also debuted the theme music that would later be used for their college football coverage during this game, as well as its open that was used through 1990.

Game summary[]

On the Broncos' first play after receiving the opening kickoff, quarterback John Elway faked a handoff, then spun around and ran in the opposite direction for a 10-yard gain to the Denver 34-yard line. Then on third down, his 24-yard completion to receiver Mark Jackson advanced the ball to the New York 39-yard line. However, the Giants' defense tighened up and halted the drive at the 30-yard line, forcing Denver to settle for Rich Karlis's 48-yard field goal to give them a 3-0 lead.

The Giants then took the ensuing kickoff and stormed right back on a 9-play, 78-yard drive. First quarterback Phil Simms completed a 17-yard pass to receiver Lionel Manuel. Then, running back Joe Morris ran for 11 yards to the Denver 41-yard line. The Giants then marched to the Denver 6-yard line with Simms' 18-yard pass to receiver Stacy Robinson, and then a 17-yard completion to tight end Mark Bavaro two plays later. Finally, Simms threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to tight end Zeke Mowatt, giving the Giants a 7-3 lead.

Denver kick returner Ken Bell gave his team great field position by returning the ensuing kickoff 28 yards to the Broncos 42-yard line. Then, Elway completed 3 consecutive passes: a 14-yard completion to running back Sammy Winder, an 11-yard completion to tight end Orson Mobley, and a 9-yard screen pass to Winder. On Winder's play, the Giants were flagged for two 15-yard penalties. The first was a personal foul called on Harry Carson, who was penalized for hitting Winder out of bounds. The second penalty was an unsportsmanlike conduct foul on Lawrence Taylor, who picked up the first penalty marker and threw it. The penalties moved the ball to the Giants' six-yard line, and three plays later Elway scored on a 4-yard touchdown run to give the Broncos a 10–7 lead.

On Denver's first drive of the second quarter, Elway dropped back to pass from his own 18-yard line on third down. The Giants' pass rush forced him to scramble out of the pocket, but it gave him time to find receiver Vance Johnson, who was wide open, for a 54-yard completion. Several plays later, the Broncos drove to a first down at the New York's 1-yard line, but Giants defense made a key defensive stand. First, Elway tried a run-pass option, but linebacker Lawrence Taylor broke through the line and tackled him for a 1-yard loss. Then, fullback Gerald Willhite tried to run through the middle, but linebacker Harry Carson tackled him for no gain. On third down, Elway pitched the ball to Winder, who tried to score on a run to the outside, but linebacker Carl Banks tackled him for a 4-yard loss. In total, the Broncos had run 3 plays from the 1-yard line and lost 5 yards. Denver tried to salvage the drive with a 23-yard field goal attempt, but Karlis' kick was no good, making it the shortest missed field goal in Super Bowl history.

The first use of instant replay in a Super Bowl game came with approximately three minutes to play in the half. Bronco tight end Clarence Kay caught a pass from Elway for a 25-yard gain, but after the officials conferred the pass was ruled incomplete. The replay booth, headed by director of officiating Art McNally, took a look at the play and confirmed the ruling on the field. On the next play George Martin sacked Elway in the end zone for a safety, cutting Denver's lead to 10-9.[4] Toward the end of the first half, CBS broadcast a reverse angle replay that the officials were unable to see and showed that they had missed the call, clearly showing a reception by Kay.[5]

With less than a minute remaining in the half, Elway completed 31-yard pass to receiver Steve Watson and an 11-yard pass to Willhite, giving the Broncos a first down at the Giants 20-yard line. But the Giants defense forced 3 consecutive incompletions, and Denver ended the drive with no points after Karlis missed another field goal, this time from 34 yards. Karlis, who had made 11 of 12 field goals from under 40 yards during the season, later admitted his misses in the first half were devastating to the Broncos. "Both times I didn't get my hips all the way through the kicks. I was steering the ball, and I know better than that. I felt the team unravel after that. I really hurt them."[6]

In the second half, the Giants dominated the Broncos, outscoring them 30-10 with four touchdowns and a field goal on their first five possessions.

The Giants took the opening kickoff in the third quarter, but faced fourth down after their first 3 plays. Instead of kicking the ball to Denver, they ran a successful fake punt. Playing from the blocking back position on the punt formation, backup quarterback Jeff Rutledge took the snap and ran to the Giants 48-yard line for a first down. On the next play, Simms completed a 12-yard pass to Morris, and then followed it up with a 23-yard completion to running back Lee Rouson. Two plays later, Simms finished the drive with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Bavaro to give the Giants a 16-10 lead. The Broncos were forced to punt on their next drive, and receiver Phil McConkey returned the punt 25 yards to Denver's 36-yard line. The Broncos managed to keep the Giants out of the endzone, but New York kicker Raul Allegre kicked a 21-yard field goal to increase their lead to 19-10.

Denver was again forced to punt on their ensuing possession. Afterwards, Simms completed a 17-yard pass to Manuel at the Broncos 45-yard line. Then the Giants fooled Denver on a flea flicker play: Morris took a handoff from Simms and ran up to the line of scrimmage as if it were a run play. But before he crossed the line, Morris pitched the ball back to Simms, who then passed the ball to McConkey, who was wide open at the 20-yard line. After catching the pass, McConkey ran all the way to the 1-yard line before being tackled. Morris then scored on a 1-yard touchdown run on the next play, increasing New York's lead to 26-10.

Elway barely avoided a turnover by recovering his own fumble on the last play of the third quarter, but on the first play of the fourth quarter, he threw an interception to Giants defensive back Elvis Patterson. After that, Simms completed a 36-yard pass to Robinson. Two plays later from Denver's 6-yard line, Simms threw a pass to Bavaro in the endzone. The pass bounced off Bavaro's fingertips, but fell right into the arms of McConkey for a touchdown, making the Giants lead 33-10

The Broncos finally managed to get a good drive going on their next possession, advancing the ball 74 yards in 13 plays. Elway completed 5 of 6 passes for 46 yards and rushed for 14, while Karlis finished it off with a 28-yard field goal, cutting their deficit to 33-13. But the Giants recovered Denver's ensuing onside kick attempt and stormed right back for another touchdown. On the drive, Rouson ran twice for 21 yards and then Simms ran for a 22-yard gain. Running back Ottis Anderson finished the drive off with a 2-yard touchdown run to make the score 39-13 after Allegre's extra point attempt failed.

Denver later managed to cut their deficit to 39-20 with Elway's 47-yard touchdown pass to Vance Johnson (the 100th TD in Super Bowl history), but by then there was only a little more than two minutes left in the game.

As the final seconds of the game ticked away Harry Carson, continuing the recent trend started by the Giants, gave head coach Bill Parcells a Gatorade shower, going as far as to take off his jersey and pads and sneak behind Parcells with a Rose Bowl security team shirt on. Thanks in large part to this particular Gatorade dunking, a tradition of sorts was formed that continues to this day. In addition Brad Benson and Bart Oates drenched Simms with a cooler of ice water; "I think it was very appropriate to cool the guy down," Oates explained, "as hot as he was in the game."[6]

Morris was the top rusher of the game, gaining 67 yards, and added another 20 yards on 4 receptions. Robinson was the Giants top receiver with 3 catches for 62 yards. Bavaro caught 4 passes for 51 yards and a touchdown. McConkey caught 2 passes for 50 yards and a touchdown, and returned a punt for 25 yards. Defensively; while the Broncos managed to bottle up Lawrence Taylor, Carl Banks had 14 tackles, 10 of which were unassisted and four of those for negative yardage, while Leonard Marshall had two sacks and forced a fumble. Elway finished the game with 22 out of 37 pass completions for 304 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception. He also was the Broncos' leading rusher in the game, with 27 rushing yards and a touchdown on 6 carries. Denver's Vance Johnson was the top receiver of the game, with 5 receptions for 121 yards, an average of 24.2 yards per catch, and a touchdown.

The Giants' victory in Super Bowl XXI marked the second time in four months that the New York metropolitan area had won a championship in a major professional sport; three months before, the New York Mets had won the 1986 World Series.

Box score and Game Information[]

1 2 3 4 Total
Broncos 10 0 0 10 20
Giants 7 2 17 13 39

  • Stadium: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California
  • Date: January 25, 1987
  • Time: 3:13 p.m. PST
  • Weather: Template:Convert/°F, sunny
  • Scoring:

First Quarter

  • DEN - FG: Rich Karlis 48 yards 3-0 DEN
  • NYG - TD: Zeke Mowatt 6 yard pass from Phil Simms (Raul Allegre kick) 7-3 NYG
  • DEN - TD: John Elway 4 yard run (Rich Karlis kick) 10-7 DEN

Second Quarter

  • NYG - Safety: George Martin sacked John Elway in end zone 10-9 DEN

Third Quarter

  • NYG - TD: Mark Bavaro 13 yard pass from Phil Simms (Raul Allegre kick) 16-10 NYG
  • NYG - FG: Raul Allegre 21 yards 19-10 NYG
  • NYG - TD: Joe Morris 1 yard run (Raul Allegre kick) 26-10 NYG

Fourth Quarter

  • NYG - TD: Phil McConkey 6 yard pass from Phil Simms (Raul Allegre kick) 33-10 NYG
  • DEN - FG: Rich Karlis 28 yards 33-13 NYG
  • NYG - TD: Ottis Anderson 2 yard run (kick failed) 39-13 NYG
  • DEN - TD: Vance Johnson 47 yard pass from John Elway (Rich Karlis kick) 39-20 NYG

Starting lineups[]


Denver Position N.Y. Giants
Vance Johnson WR Lionel Manuel
Dave Studdard LT Brad Benson
Keith Bishop LG Billy Ard
Billy Bryan C Bart Oates
Mark Cooper RG Chris Godfrey
Ken Lanier RT Karl Nelson
Clarence Kay TE Mark Bavaro
Steve Watson WR Stacy Robinson
John Elway QB Phil Simms
Sammy Winder RB Joe Morris
Gerald Willhite FB Maurice Carthon
Andre Townsend LE George Martin
Greg Kragen NT Jim Burt
Rulon Jones RE Leonard Marshall
Jim Ryan LOLB Carl Banks
Karl Mecklenburg LILB Gary Reasons
Ricky Hunley RILB Harry Carson
Tom Jackson ROLB Lawrence Taylor
Louis Wright LCB Elvis Patterson
Mike Harden RCB Perry Williams
Steve Foley SS Kenny Hill
Dennis Smith FS Herb Welch


  • Referee: Jerry Markbreit #9
  • Umpire: Bob Boylston #101
  • Head Linesman: Terry Gierke #72
  • Line Judge: Bob Beeks #59
  • Field Judge: Pat Mallette #82
  • Side Judge: Gil Mace #90
  • Back Judge: Jim Poole #92


  1. 1.0 1.1
  2. 2.0 2.1 "N.F.L. Approves Sale of Broncos", New York Times, 1984-05-24. Retrieved on 2010-01-11. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Forbes, Gordon. "Best lobbyists have best chance // Winning presentation doesn't guarantee winning game", USA Today, 1996-01-26. Retrieved on 2010-01-11. 
  4. Wallace, William N.. "SUPER BOWL XXI; DITKA AND BERRY SIZE IT UP", The New York Times, January 26, 1987. Retrieved on 2009-08-16. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 Zimmerman, Paul. "SUPER BOWL XXI: Giants-Broncos Killer Giants", Sports Illustrated, February 2, 1987. Retrieved on 2009-08-16. 
  7. The Complete History of Professional Football from 1892 to the Present,Neft,, David S. (1994). . ISBN 0312114354.


 2006 NFL Record and Fact Book,. Time Inc. Home Entertainment.  ISBN 1-933405-32-5.
 Total Football II: The Official Encyclopedia of the National Football League,. Harper Collins.  ISBN 1-933405-32-5.
 The Sporting News Complete Super Bowl Book 1995,.  ISBN 0-89204-523-X.
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