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A Date To Remember: A loss, a pledge, a Super Bowl run

Carl Banks looks back on a players-only meeting that drove the Giants’ to their 1986 Super Bowl run

New York Giants vs. Los Angeles Rams
Carl Banks and the Giants committed to the 1986 season just minutes after a demoralizing loss ended their 1985 campaign.
Photo by George Rose/Getty Images

A Date To Remember is an occasional series Big Blue View will be running through the Super Bowl, highlighting the glory of the Giants’ past and celebrating the biggest playoff wins in franchise history.

Dominating a Dynasty

Jan. 4, 1987

NFC divisional playoffs

Giants 49, 49ers 3

The doors to the decimated room were closed.

The coaches were asked to leave. Bill Parcells. Bill Belichick. Ron Erhardt. None of them were invited.

This was players’ business, and it would be taken care of by the players right there in the visiting locker room at Soldier Field while they still mourned.

The Giants had just been shut out by the Bears in a 1985 NFC divisional playoff game. And in their rival’s building, Harry Carson — with assists from fellow captains George Martin and Phil Simms — hosted a players-only team meeting that set the agenda for the Super Bowl they would win a year later.

Carl Banks views Carson’s act as a turning point.

This is when the 1986 Super Bowl run truly began.

“We all committed to a man to come back ready to go, to be the best,” Banks told Big Blue View. “We left the Chicago game feeling like we were the better team, but they showed that they were.

“And from that point we were committed to being the most dominant football team in the NFL.”

Carson, Martin and Simms went to each teammate demanding a commitment — a pledge — that the 1986 season would begin that day.

There would be no offseason. There would be no days off.

“Harry and George Martin were so in the moment as our leaders,” Banks said. “They wouldn’t let anything slide, especially if it was bothering them.”

The realization of that pledge would not come until the 1986 playoffs. It started when Joe Montana and the 49ers visited Giants Stadium in the divisional round game, a year after the Giants eliminated San Francisco in a 1985 Wild Game matchup.

They would honor that pledge. In a resounding way.

The Giants simply overwhelmed the 49ers, 49-3, in an utter onslaught.

The team came out of the Giants Stadium tunnel just as intense as it had been in the Soldier Field locker room.

Moments before kickoff, Phil McConkey jumped onto the bench and waved a white towel to fire up the crowd of 76,034.

It would be the first of many times it roared that afternoon.

Montana would not even make it to halftime. Jim Burt drilled him as he was throwing a pass near the end of the first half.

Montana would end up in an ambulance and spent the night at the hospital with a concussion. Lawrence Taylor, meanwhile, would end up in the end zone, having intercepted that pass and returned it 34 yards for a touchdown.

It was the Giants’ third score of the second quarter. They added three more touchdowns in the third.

Simms threw four of his nine completions for touchdowns (to Mark Bavaro, Bobby Johnson, McConkey and Zeke Mowatt). And Joe Morris ran for 159 of the Giants’ 216 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

The 49ers gained just 184 total yards.

But the blowout victory was merely one step, just as the 14-2 regular season that landed the Giants the top seed in the NFC and home field throughout the playoffs was only one step.

After all, the Giants entered Soldier Field in the 1985 playoffs thinking they were the better team. The Bears taught them that more was required to win in January.

“We kind of understood there was just another level that we could go to,” Banks said. “And we committed that offseason to a man and came back and did exactly what we said we were going to do.”

Bill Parcells thought similarly.

”I think losing to the Bears in ’85 taught us, ‘OK, here’s what we need to get just a little further down the road in terms of our approach, determination, toughness and physicality if we’re going to try to win this,’” Parcells said in Giant Steps: The Making of Big Blue’s First Super Bowl Championship, a podcast by The Players’ Tribune about the 1986 Giants. “’85 was a disappointment, but it also was what set the stage for a better year in ’86.”

The Giants had come quite far in just a year.

The only disappointment — if there was one — came when they would not get a rematch with the Bears the next week in the NFC title game. Instead, they would host the Washington Redskins, who had upset Chicago at Soldier Field.

But the Bears already gave the Giants a gift in 1985.

That lesson, and the pledge it spawned, paid larger dividends than just a divisional round victory.