Spirit of '86 rekindled at Big Blue bash

6/13/2011 - NFL New York Giants

SECAUCUS, N.J. -- It had been, in many cases, ages since they last saw each other.

Some had gained weight. Others had turned gray. And yet it was as if they'd never left the locker room 25 years ago.

The New York Giants' Super Bowl team from 1986 gathered together for its 25th anniversary reunion and it certainly didn't feel as though a quarter century has passed since Phil Simms, Lawrence Taylor, Harry Carson, Mark Bavaro & Co. were kings of the NFL.

"Twenty-five years? It could be 25 hours," said former wide receiver Phil McConkey.

At a dinner at the Legacy Club at the New Meadowlands Stadium on Saturday night, players playfully hurled playful insults and one-liners at one another as though they were in the old Giants Stadium locker room.

Bill Parcells worked the crowd, bantering with players as though he were still the head coach.

Taylor arrived "grumpy," according to Carson, but it didn't take long for his demeanor to change once he was around his old teammates.

And Bobby Johnson even showed up late -- just like old times.

It may be 2011 but it felt like 1986 all over again for one of the franchise's greatest teams.

"It's déjà vu as they were saying," Parcells said at the 25th anniversary celebration at the Meadowlands Expo Center on Sunday. "Last night, when we all got together in that room, it was like nothing changed. You try to put something together that is lasting, and obviously for this team, their loyalty and commitment to one another is still there."

"You can feel it," Parcells continued. "But I can't explain it to you. I am trying to but I can't really explain it. It is just a bond, it is a blood kinship."

Carson, the team's captain, got 51 players and seven coaches to participate in the weekend's festivities, which included an event with fans Sunday morning.

Backup quarterback Jeff Hostetler (who had a family trip to Africa) and running back George Adams (who had a prior commitment with his son) couldn't make the weekend. Linebacker Carl Banks was expected to meet up with his old mates Sunday night after being away on a business trip.

Taylor, who was at the reunion dinner Saturday, did not attend the fan event. Several Giants said it was good to see the Hall of Fame linebacker, who recently was sentenced to six years of probation after pleading guilty to sexual misconduct with an underage girl.

"Lawrence had a lot of laughs," Simms said. "It was fun to see him. I think everybody was happy to see him. He is still playing a lot of golf. I'd hate to speak for him but I think it was a great thing for him, for him to be around everybody and everybody to see him."

Parcells, who has remained close to Taylor, is amazed at how the 1986 Giants still rally around each other like brothers.

It's just another reason why that team was so unique and why Parcells is so proud of his group.

"This team here is maybe the greatest laboratory for human behavior that I have ever witnessed," Parcells said. "I wished society had a chance to witness the interaction of all this conglomeration of people that we had on this team, from all different parts of the country, all different races, everything and just to see what can happen when someone tries to pull it together."

"It really is a great laboratory for human behavior because sensitivity isn't tolerated," the former head coach continued. "There are no secrets. Last night, when we all got together in that room, it was like nothing changed."

Fans who paid $199 for tickets to Sunday's celebration relived cherished Giants memories such as Simms' unforgettable 22-yard pass on fourth-and-17 to Johnson against the Minnesota Vikings, George Martin's 78-yard interception return for a touchdown off John Elway during the regular season, the Giants' 17-0 NFC Championship victory over the Washington Redskins and Simms' 22-of-25 passing performance to beat the Denver Broncos, 39-20, in the Super Bowl XXI.

"We had a pretty good feeling we were going to win every game and it was a feeling I've never really experienced with any other team," Bavaro said of a squad that went 14-2 in the regular season before dominating the 49ers, Redskins and Broncos in the postseason. "I think we knew from the beginning of the year that we were going to go to the Super Bowl."

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, who was the Giants' defensive coordinator on that Super Bowl team, still marvels at the talent he had at his disposal.

"Honestly, I think I learned something from every guy," said Belichick, who attended the fan celebration. "Our defense understood the team concept. The corners knew what the linebackers were doing. The linebackers knew what the nose guard was doing. Jim Burt, George Martin, Perry [Williams], Lawrence [Taylor], Pepper [Johnson], Carl [Banks], Mark Collins ... all those guys, I learned a lot from all those players."

"Jim Burt, Erik Howard, I mean, can you imagine two nose guards like that?" Belichick asked. "Can you imagine Pepper Johnson not in the starting lineup? Our depth was remarkable, really, how much talent we had. Particularly on the front seven. I learned one thing: They'll make you a good coach."

For Carson, it was an unforgettable weekend for an unforgettable team.

"Everybody, regardless of what they have gone through since 1987, they went back to that time," Carson said of the Saturday night dinner where several Giants spoke. "They left their cares, their worries, their disappointments and all of that stuff, outside."

"These guys poured out their heart," the Hall of Famer added. "It was like a once-in-a-lifetime sort of deal that you cannot script, it happened very spontaneously."