TAMPA,FLA. — TAMPA, Fla. -- If you didn't know Jeff Hostetler before -- and, chances are, if you aren't from Davidsville, Pa., you didn't -- you know him now. In one evening, he got more TV time than Ted Koppel and Wolf Blitzer get in a week combined.
Hostetler (Hoss to his friends) walked into your living room yesterday and just stayed, sort of like your brother-in-law, except in a football uniform. Hoss is, as if I needed to tell you, the quarterback of the New York Giants. They were the guys in blue who kept the ball for 40 minutes and 33 seconds yesterday -- in other words, for just about the whole Super Bowl party, from chips to dips.
They kept it through commercials, and they kept it through news updates and they kept it when the Buffalo Bills begged them to give it back. Hoss wasn't having any of it. He waited seven years just to touch the ball -- he blocked a punt before he ever completed his first pass in the NFL -- and now that he had it, he wasn't going to share.
You see, Hoss is the most unlikely hero the Super Bowl has ever produced. He was so unlikely that, although he was easily the most important player on the field, he still didn't win the MVP award. He didn't win because he's Jeff Hostetler, and who the heck is Jeff Hostetler?
We know. He's Hoss. He's the seven-year backup with the 3.95 '' GPA at West Virginia who married the coach's daughter and who looks like an accountant and thinks like an accountant, but who was so tough yesterday that he would not let the Giants lose.
When he wasn't making the big passes, he was trying to bring back the bootleg. And when he wasn't trying to bring back the bootleg, he was taking smelling salts, just trying to remember where he was after a couple of hits in the first half.
"He never thought he couldn't do it," said Jumbo Elliott, the Giants' offensive lineman. "And he sure convinced us."
The most important moments in the game came at the end of the first half, when the Giants were down 12-3, looking as if the game was there for the losing, even against an AFC (Awful Football Conference) team. He led the Giants on an 87-yard touchdown drive, hitting Stephen Baker in the end zone.
Then there was the never-ending drive to open the second half, the one that took nearly 10 minutes, although it must have seemed like a lifetime to the Bills defense, who were the guys in white on the field for 40 minutes, 33 seconds. And, of course, there was the drive that set up the winning field goal.
But the game was won in the bad times in the second quarter, when Hoss refused to stay down.
Fortunately for Hoss, he doesn't remember them.
"I was pretty woozy for a while," he said. "I didn't really know where I was. I couldn't focus for a while. . . I really don't remember exactly, but once or twice, after I got hit, if I had had to go the next play, I wouldn't have been able to make it."
Once, especially, Leon Seals bounced Hoss around like the financial planner that he is, and Matt Cavanaugh, the third-team quarterback, began to warm up. That's when the smelling salts were brought in.
"I needed them, I guess," Hoss said, "because I couldn't smell them."
But he was a quick healer. He had to be, because the Bills offense usually stayed on the field only long enough to turn around and return to the sidelines. For most of the game, the no-huddle offense was the no-offense offense.
Meanwhile, Ottis Anderson, an old 34, was running the ball up the middle and little David Meggett was running it around the ends and Hoss was completing 20 of 32 passes, making one big third-down completion after another.
How could it be? Here was a guy who left Penn State because he couldn't play there and kept wanting to leave the Giants because he couldn't play there -- at least until Phil Simms went down Dec. 15 against Buffalo.
And yet, there he was, down and almost out, the victim of a safety, the Giants looking at what soon could develop into a lost cause, rallying his team.
"I told them," Hoss said of the moment when the Giants took the field at the end of the first half, "that it was time to get down to business, that we were screwing things up for ourselves."
Sure, you know Hoss. He's not the most dynamic guy, but something clicked. And it kept on clicking. And now he's the Super Bowl champion and just about your best friend, so how are the Giants going to take the job away from him?
"I had enough trouble handling it before all this," Hoss said. "But whatever comes around, I'll handle it. We'll let things happen and go from there."
This was not the night to worry. It was the night to celebrate, if he could get over what he called a splitting headache. It was a night to consider the impossible and to remember what a 20-19 Super Bowl win feels like, especially one where the underdog team with the unknown quarterback wins as a last-second field-goal try by the Bills' Scott Norwood goes just to the right.
Hoss, headache and all, talked of that final moment.
"I watched the ball," he said. "I heard the people yelling, but I didn't know whether it was good or bad until I saw the referee. I was kneeling on one knee on my helmet, just looking at the stands opposite me and just saying, 'Hey, look at this.' I was just really capturing the moment."
Hoss held onto it just as he held onto the ball on a night that could have been filled with terror but that gave way to wonder and to the quarterback who came to stay.