Coach Bill Parcells of the New York Giants said early this season that quarterback Phil Simms might not be really appreciated by the critical Giants fans until after he retires.
He said it was likely that the fans would say of the team's next quarterback, "He's good, but he's no Phil Simms."
Parcells was right about that.
The Giants have a new starting quarterback, Jeff Hostetler. He's no Simms, but he seems to have brought a new dimension to the Giants' offense since Simms was sidelined with a sprained foot while playing against the Buffalo Bills last month.
Hostetler gives them a running threat. He scrambled for 43 yards in six carries against the Chicago Bears Sunday in leading the Giants to a 31-3 victory.
That got him a lot of respect in and out of the Giants locker room.
"He did everything you can ask of a quarterback except fly the team plane," said cornerback Mark Collins.
The Giants aren't going to ask him to fly the team plane when they go to San Francisco for Sunday's National Football Conference title game.
But they will ask him to try to lead the Giants to an upset victory
over the San Francisco 49ers that would vault them into the Super Bowl for the first time since the 1986 season.
If he does that, it even would raise the question of whether he would remain the starter next season.
"I'm not answering that question," Parcells said this week.
But Simms said he knows that if Hostetler wins a Super Bowl, it would be hard to sit him down the next day.
"I would think it would be tough for me to come back under those circumstances, of course," Simms said. "I'm sure it will be different. But there's no use answering something like that now. They'll deal with that when the time comes."
All this discussion may well be premature. If the 49ers beat the
Giants on Sunday, Hostetler could go back to being just another backup.
But in completing 10 of 17 passes for 112 yards and two touchdowns against the Bears besides running for 43 yards in his first playoff game, Hostetler showed surprising poise for a player who had thrown only 68 passes for the Giants in six years since being drafted in the third round in 1984.
"I think the coaches feel real comfortable with me being able to do the things we've been working on," he said.
Instead of being conservative against the Bears, the Giants let him throw on their first six first downs in the game.
Now he takes on the toughest assignment in the game: dueling 49ers quarterback Joe Montana.
When the Giants played the 49ers on Dec. 3, Hostetler played the role of Montana in practice all week against the Giants defense.
This week, he's been preparing to play against Montana, although he has no illusions that he can win a shootout with the 49ers star.
"First of all, I'd be foolish to try to something like that," Hostetler said. "I'm not on his level. This guy has accomplished just about everything you can imagine. These are two different offenses, two different types of game plans. If I wanted to go out and try to be Joe Montana, our offense wouldn't work. I don't plan on doing that.
"He's a guy I've watched quite a long time -- probably one of the best, if not the best quarterback to have ever played the game. I just love watching him."
Hostetler was watching when both teams used a conservative approach in the Dec. 3 game, which the 49ers won, 7-3. Montana's one touchdown pass proved to be enough.
The Giants, though, aren't asking Hostetler to be Montana. They'll be satisfied if he is the same Hostetler he was against the Bears.
Nobody was more impressed with his effort than Simms.
"I think he has really two main ingredients that are absolutely necessary to be successful at quarterback," Simms said. "I think he's a great competitor, and I think he's a pretty tough guy."
Parcells likes the fact that Hostetler is taking advantage of this long-awaited opportunity.
"There are a lot of guys that have to wait their time," Parcells said. "I'm not talking about Jeff, but I've heard a lot of them stand up and say, 'I can start for any team.' Let me tell you something. It's a hell of a lot different when you're out there doing it than when you're watching somebody else."
Hostetler proved he could do it against the Bears. Now he has to show if he can do it against the 49ers.
Season .. .. Att... .. Comp.. ... Yds.. . TDs
1988 .. .. ..29 .. .... 16 .. ...244 .. .. 1
1989 .. .. . 39 ... .. .20 .. .. 294 .. .. 3
1990 .. .. . 87 .. .. . 47 .. .. 614 ... ..3