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SUPER BOWL XXI : THE WINNERS : A GIANT LEAP FOR HIM : Rutledge Doesn't Get Much Playing Time, but He Makes the Most of It When He Gets the Go-Ahead on Fake Punt

January 26, 1987|JOHN WEYLER | Times Staff Writer

He spent the last two weeks working on his John Elway impersonation, but Sunday he looked more like Bart Starr.

Jeff Rutledge's quarterback sneak in the third quarter of Super Bowl XXI may not go down in history with Starr's touchdown lunge in the 1967 NFL title game known as the "Ice Bowl," but it led to a score that gave the New York Giants a 16-10 lead and all the momentum they needed to carry them to a 39-20 rout of the Denver Broncos.

For Rutledge, who has been a backup quarterback during all of his eight NFL seasons, it was a moment to cherish. In 1983, he started four games for New York and threw for more than 300 yards in three of them, but "The Sneak" still would be the key scene in the highlight film of his career . . . if there was one.

Someday, when he retires and is showing his grandkids the Super Bowl ring he earned one fine Sunday afternoon at the Rose Bowl, he'll be able to say he played an important role in the Giants' giant victory.

Here's how Jeff Rutledge's personal moment of glory came to pass:

The Broncos kicked off to open the second half. Three plays later, the Giants were faced with a fourth and one from their 46-yard line. Rutledge ran out on the field with the punting unit, but he didn't exactly sneak out to make his sneak.

"They saw me, so it wasn't a surprise," Rutledge said. "We've run the fake punt before and they must have seen it on film. They left their regular defense in and just sent one guy back (in case New York did punt)."

But Rutledge yelled, "Shift," anyway, indicating to his teammates that the play was on and then he stepped up behind center. He had the option to go ahead with the play or just let the 30-second clock run out and take a delay of game penalty.

He looked at the clock (there were four seconds remaining), looked at Coach Bill Parcells (who nodded) and then took the snap and dived over right guard for two yards and the first down.

Five plays later, Phil Simms hit tight end Mark Bavaro with a 13-yard touchdown pass and another super rout was in the making.

Parcells said he never had a doubt the play would work. Even when the Broncos left their regular defense on the field, he gave Rutledge the go-ahead.

"We were trying to win the game, that's all," Parcells said. "It was just a gut feeling.

"Every time I've challenged these guys with something like this, they've come through. We're 5 for 5 on fourth-down plays this year. And Rutledge is a real heady guy, perfect for making that kind of decision."

Rutledge knew he didn't have surprise on his side, but he also saw that the Broncos' linebackers had not stepped up behind their linemen. He did wait until the last second to call for the snap, though.

"I wasn't taking a lot of time to make them think I was just trying to draw them offside," he said. "I just wanted to clarify in my mind what I was going to do. We run that play every week in practice, and when the backers didn't step up inside, I figured I could make it."

This was Rutledge's second trip to a Super Bowl. He was with the Rams, who drafted him in the ninth round in 1979, when they lost to Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XIV. He didn't even make an appearance in that game, though.

He's been the regular holder for Giants' kicker Raul Allegre this season, so he figured he would probably get a chance to step on the field this time. But a chance to make a difference in the game? That probably would have meant an injury to Simms, and Rutledge couldn't bring himself to hope for that.

"Phil had a great game and a great year," Rutledge said. "I think I've done my part, too. I did a good impression of Elway and all the other opposing quarterbacks for our defense to work against this year.

"But I don't get to play much, so it's a big thing to be part of something important. I think it was a big play for us; it kept our momentum going. I guess anybody could have put their head down and do what I did, though."

Maybe, but that didn't alter the reception he got when he took the field in the final moments to run the offense . . . well, run out the clock anyway.

Rutledge was laughing as he stepped into the huddle. He said the game was more fun than when he led Alabama to a national championship at the Sugar Bowl.

"Everybody was giving me a hard time," Rutledge said, "They were all laughing at me."

The Broncos, however, found nothing funny about Rutledge's two-yard dive and the fact the Giants had a comfortable enough lead to remove Simms. They'll be thinking about the sneak and a lot of other plays all summer.

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