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SUPER BOWL XXI : THE GAME : McConkey in Wrong Place at Right Time : He Just Misses Scoring Touchdown, Then Manages to Get One on the Rebound

January 26, 1987|RANDY HARVEY | Times Staff Writer

Phil McConkey, the New York Giants' little wide receiver, got a Super Bowl touchdown and a complete sentence out of Mark Bavaro, both on the same play. One is as rare as the other.

The touchdown came early in the fourth quarter on a six-yard pass into the end zone from quarterback Phil Simms that was intended for Bavaro, the Giants' All-Pro tight end.

Even though McConkey was out of place on the play, he was in the right place.

The ball bounced off Bavaro's hands and into McConkey's, enabling the Giants to increase their lead to 33-10.

"I take care of my buddies," Bavaro told McConkey in what amounts to a speech for the reticent tight end.

McConkey thus became the only Naval Academy graduate other than Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach to be involved in a Super Bowl touchdown.

He came within one yard of earning that distinction earlier in the second half, when the outcome was still somewhat in doubt.

Leading, 19-10, the Giants faced second and six at the Denver 45 late in the third quarter, when Simms handed off to running back Joe Morris, who pitched the ball back to Simms, who threw downfield to McConkey.

McConkey caught the ball at about the 15 and ran untouched to the one, where he was upended by Bronco cornerback Mark Haynes.

"Phil was looking for Bobby Johnson but couldn't find him," McConkey said, referring to the intended receiver on the flea-flicker.

"I was open all the way. I knew he would find me. When I caught it, I kept saying to myself, 'I'm going to score a touchdown in the Super Bowl.'

"When I saw Mark Haynes, I thought I could dive over him, but he got enough of me to make me do a somersault."

Simms said he thought that was the play that clinched the Giants' victory. Morris scored one play later and the Giants took a 26-10 lead.

"There were so many big plays, I don't think you can single out one," McConkey said, adding he thought the Giants' decision to run for a first down on fourth and one early in the third quarter was the most significant play because the Giants eventually scored a touchdown on that drive for a 16-10 lead.

But if the Giants gained momentum on that play, McConkey made sure they kept it at the start of their next possession, when he returned a punt 25 yards to the Bronco 36. Nine plays later, the Giants kicked a 21-yard field goal for the 19-10 lead.

Heck, the turning point might have come even earlier than that, when McConkey led the other 44 Giants onto the field in the second half, looking more like the head cheerleader than a player.

"If I tried to contain my enthusiasm, I'd be a phony," McConkey said. "That's the way I am."

Of all the Giants, McConkey probably was the least likely to play a starring role in the Super Bowl.

First, he's not very large (5 feet 10 inches, 170 pounds).

Nor is he particularly fast.

Neither limitation prevented him from being accepted by the Naval Academy, where he played for four years before beginning his five-year tour of duty as a helicopter pilot in 1978.

In 1983, he finally joined the Giants as a free agent. But he was recalled by the Navy before the season began and didn't return to the Giants until 1984.

After two seasons, in which he contributed primarily as a punt returner, he was waived by the Giants on Sept. 2 of last year and claimed by Green Bay. Four weeks later, the Giants traded a low-round draft choice to the Packers to get McConkey back.

Asked if he ever thought he would score a touchdown in the Super Bowl, McConkey said: "I've dreamed about it. You project things. I've been imagining myself in this position for 25 years. When you think of all the good things that can happen if you just believe in yourself, I'm living proof."

McConkey took the opportunity, standing in front of a large group of reporters with a microphone in his hand, to continue his crusade against drug and alcohol abuse.

"You can make anything you want of your life, and you can do it drug and alcohol free," he said.

"I'm experiencing the greatest high known to man, and I hope that if any 12-year-olds are listening to this, they'll know I got here without drugs."

McConkey also put in a good word about serving in the military.

"You may think I'm waving the American flag," he said. "That's exactly what I'm doing."

But then McConkey even likes Buffalo, his hometown.

"Just like the Giants' receivers get put down, so does my city," he said.

"I came from Buffalo, and I love it there, and I love the people there. It's one of the greatest places on earth.

"So there."

Who was going to argue? It was his day.

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