Hoss takes reins on Giants Super ship

Jeff Hostetler was hardly an unknown entity when he was thrust into the Giants' lineup for better or worse in the second half of the Week 15 game against Buffalo, the result of Phil Simms' serious foot injury.

Hostetler had been a Giant since 1984, when he was drafted in the third round out of West Virginia. He wouldn't throw a pass for four full seasons, as Simms and backup Jeff Rutledge stood between him and the huddle. But he did block a punt and catch a 10-yard pass in cameo appearances during the 1986 Super Bowl season.

By 1988, he'd taken over as the No. 2 QB and the holder for kicks, and in '88 and '89 he completed 36 of 68 for 538 yards with four TDs (including an 85-yarder to Stephen Baker vs. New Orleans) and four INTs.

He'd even made a key contribution to the Giants' 10-0 start in 1990. In for Simms, who'd suffered an ankle injury, Hostetler struggled as the Cardinals took a 19-10 lead in the fourth quarter. But he threw a 38-yard TD pass to Baker, then led a two-minute drive from the Giants' 29 to the Phoenix 22 to set up Matt Bahr's game-winning field goal.

But now was different. The stakes were higher. And Hostetler knew it.

"I feel I've been ready for quite a while, I really have," he told the New York media during the week before the Week 16 game in Phoenix. "When you don't get the opportunities and the reps during the year, it works on your confidence. There are times you sit there wondering, ‘Am I ever going to get a chance to prove I can play?' Then, you start wondering, ‘Can I play?' It's an actual battle to keep your confidence up. You don't have a chance to prove it every week, but I've always felt I could play in this league."

Hostetler's coaches believed that, as well, and while they knew the Giants' offense would have to be different the rest of the way, they at least hoped it could be effective.

"Everyone [on the outside] sort of felt when we lost Phil that we wouldn't be able to do anything, or at least some of the things we'd done before," offensive coordinator Ron Erhardt, now 73 and "chasing the little white ball" at his retirement community in Boca Raton, Fla., told TGI this past week. "But we felt we did have some pretty good people and that we could do some other things. Hoss was a bright kid and he had no problem picking up what we were trying to do."

The main goal was to utilize Hostetler's abilities outside the pocket. And that required some major alterations from the Simms pocket plan.

"We changed everything we did offensively," Erhardt said. "We had a different running game, with counters [misdirection running to complement the smash-mouth ground game]. And our passing game was a lot different, with bootlegs and more waggles [a variation of play-action]."

Hostetler made Erhardt's vision work. He led the Giants to victories in their final two games at Phoenix and New England to finish off the season 13-3 and secure the first-round bye. He was efficient in the 31-3 rout of the Bears in the first round, compiling only 10 completions for 112 yards but throwing two TD passes and running for another score.

And then in the NFC Championship win in San Francisco and Super Bowl XXV win over the Bills in Tampa, he carved out his place in Giants history. Versus the Niners, he came back from what many Giants felt was a cheap shot by Jim Burt and made season-saving completions to Mark Bavaro and Baker to set up Bahr's winning field goal.

In Tampa, he was downright heroic. It's still amazing he didn't fumble in the end zone on the blind-side sack by Bruce Smith. A Buffalo TD there would have made it 17-3. Instead, it was 12-3. And by the time Hostetler got finished with the last drive of the first half, which he capped with a pinpoint 14-yard post corner to Baker, and the first drive of the second half, a record 14-play, 75-yard, 9:29 tour de force that ended in an Ottis Anderson 1-yard run, the Giants led 17-12.

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