East Rutherford, N.J. -- Listening to the Washington Redskins talk last week, it'd be easy to think that Jeff Hostetler is a cross between John Unitas and Joe Montana.
"Jeff Hostetler is a winner, just like Phil Simms," coach Joe Gibbs said. "He's a very accurate passer who is tough and smart."
The Redskins couldn't say enough good things about the New York Giants' new starting quarterback, but the hyperbole award has to go to linebackers coach Larry Peccatiello.
He said that replacing Phil Simms with Hostetler was like replacing "Red Grange with Bronko Nagurski."
As Peccatiello talked about how difficult it would be to defense Hostetler, he was asked if he could pass a lie-detector test while saying those things.
"With flying colors," Peccatiello said with a smile.
Still, George Young, the Giants general manager, is skeptical about all the Redskins' praise for Hostetler.
He knows they're not shedding any tears that Simms will be on the bench when the Redskins meet the Giants tonight at Giants Stadium.
"They seem to be elated [that Simms isn't playing]," Young said. "What should we do, make Phil the quarterback for the year because of the Redskins? It seems strange they feel that way. If we get beaten by the Redskins, we feel the team does it."
The Giants' team has beaten the Redskins. Six straight times and nine of 10 non-strike games.
One constant in those games was Bill Parcells as the coach, Bill Belichick as the defensive coordinator and Simms as the quarterback.
Belichick left the team last February to become Cleveland Browns head coach. Parcells quit last May to go into broadcasting.
Completing the cycle was the decision of new coach Ray Handley to bench Simms for Hostetler, who won the Super Bowl last year after Simms
So the Redskins -- though they won't admit it -- have to like their chances this time. The architects of the Giants' success against them won't be there.
Since Joe Theismann broke his leg in November 1985 against the Giants, the Redskins have sent four quarterbacks (Jay Schroeder, Doug Williams, Mark Rypien and Stan Humphries) out in the past 10 non-strike games to duel Simms. Schroeder, now with the Los Angeles Raiders, got the only victory.
In a way, though, the Redskins might feel regret that Parcells won't be on the sidelines and Simms won't be on the field.
They were to the Redskins what the whale was to Captain Ahab. And now they've gotten away.
"It's like of like when you play a guy in racquetball and he beats you four-five times in a row and you want nothing more than to come back and beat him. Then, all of a sudden, he's not there, and you kind of feel frustrated inside a little bit," Rypien said.
Simms will miss it, too, even though he seems resigned to spending the season on the bench if Hostetler stays healthy.
"It's been a gentleman's rivalry. That's something that doesn't happen in this league," Simms said. "I've pretty much gotten numb to the fact that I'm not going to play."
With this rivalry now in a transition stage, the Redskins want to get a jump on the Giants' new regime.
"This is as big a game as we'll play this year. If we find a way to win, it eliminates their chances of winning the division, and the six-game [losing] streak will end. It's a make-or-break game," Rypien said.
It definitely means a lot to Rypien. The Redskins are 7-0, but they haven't beaten the Giants. In the past three years, they went 12-3 in their first seven games against everyone but the Giants.
Rypien has been all that the Redskins have wanted him to be this year. But he hasn't beaten the Giants in three tries.
For Hostetler, this first start against the Redskins is big, too. If he loses, the Giants will be 4-4 with him at quarterback. The Giants started ot 10-0 last season with Simms while beating the Redskins twice.
Hostetler, though, tried to downplay the pressure on himself.
"You take it one week at a time. That's how I've always done it. If it changes, all you're doing it adding extra pressure on yourself or your team. And, in this game, you don't have to add any pressure," he said.
Statistically, Hostetler and Rypien seem about even. Hostetler has passed for 1,373 yards and Rypien for 1,346. The Redskins are averaging 345.1 yards and the Giants 341.6. But the Redskins are plus seven in turnovers and the Giants are minus one.
Even though the Giants could be knocked out of the division race if they lose, New York linebacker Lawrence Taylor said the ** pressure's on the Redskins.
"Regardless of what's said, how they're 7-0 and we're 4-3, regardless of all that, they've got doubts in their mind. They haven't beaten us in six straight games," Taylor said.
Parcells used to call it, "the best the NFL has to offer." And Simms also recalls: "Parcells would say, 'Hey, men, if you can't get ready to play this game, something is wrong with you.' "
Except for the 1987 games, 1 of which was a strike game, the Redskins have had little success against the New York Giants.
1986.. . Lost, 27-20
.. .. .. Lost, 24-14
1987.. ..Won, 38-12 *
.. .. .. .Won, 23-19
1988.. ..Lost, 27-20
.. .. .. Lost, 24-23
1989.. ..Lost, 27-24
.. .. .. Lost, 20-17
1990.. ..Lost, 24-20
.. .. .. Lost, 21-10
* Strike game