BERGEN COUNTY, N.J.- While the 2017 New York Giants’ season is as good as over and if a sense of nostalgia for the gritty 1986 Super Bowl Champion Giants is what you’re feeling: you’re in luck! Big Blue Wrecking Crew: Smashmouth Football, a Little Bit of Crazy, and the ’86 Super Bowl Champion New York Giants is your remedy. Author Jerry Barca (producer of ESPN’s 30 For 30: Catholics vs. Convicts and author of Unbeatable: Notre Dame’s 1988 Championship and the Last Great College Football Season), chronicles the story of the Giants from their inception to their triumphant 1986 Super Bowl Victory.
Written like a 30 For 30, Big Blue Wrecking Crew, like the 1986 Giants team, is character driven. When one thinks of that triumphant Giants team, there are three protagonists: Linebacker Lawrence Taylor, Coach Bill Parcells, and Quarterback Phil Simms. Barca details the lives of all three main characters, but, in particular, that of Simms.
“A lot has been written about two of those guys, and two of those guys have said a lot about themselves. There’s been in-depth stuff [written about them]. Simms, we didn’t really know much about…. It’s very important to me [to tell his story]…. Knowing the ending was his triumph, let’s find out who this guy was and what he had to deal with and I don’t think people realize, especially today, and given even last season, he would get all of the hate from Twitter about his announcing, I think people forgot who he was. I loved the resurgence of Simms now, doing the NFL Today. I love his Twitter game. That wasn’t there when he was doing the announcing. So, I think for a multitude of reasons, it’s important to develop Simms, mostly also, because it was just stuff people didn’t know: how poor he grew up and how he ended up being interviewed by a guy who was a former FBI special agent. The first scout from the Giants to talk to him was a former FBI special agent in Herbert Hoover’s FBI. There’s just these little, unique details of happenstance that I found very intriguing.”
Simms told me: “I had never been on a plane before in my life…. I probably had only been out of the state of Kentucky to go to the state of Tennessee maybe a little across the border into Indiana…. When I came here, I loved it. I liked the people. I felt good…. I just [went] in, looked at it and went: ‘oh my gosh’. I think it exceeds your expectations of how big it is”.
Only the highest degree of research and attention to detail could produce a story that compels the reader to relate to the characters. As a reader of Big Blue Wrecking Crew, you actually feel what the Giants are feeling. Barca takes the reader into the Giants’ team meetings, into the Giants’ hotel rooms the night before Super Bowl XXI, and even on the field with (and in the mind of) Harry Carson, the lone Giants representative on the field for the coin toss before Super Bowl XXI.
“I think that’s critical with any story is to have these arcs. You have to have the ups and downs.” Barca continued: “We’re all human beings and what inevitably is going to connect us is the human experience that the characters have… Like Phil Simms coming out of Kentucky having to work so hard growing up, being a paperboy, being great at athletics, and even getting into his high school fist fights”. Furthermore, Barca told me: “I think, so often, we look at athletes like celebrities, like theyre something different from us, but more often than not, they have their own issues that are similar. It’s on a bigger stage, it plays out in front of a lot more people, but when Phil Simms is having the two worst games of his career and his wife had made him dinner and he couldn’t even talk on a Sunday night, and he’s not trusting his receivers, I think we all have times in life where things don’t go our way and we’re having trouble trusting the people around us or we just don’t want to talk to people. So, I think that type of stuff is important because it’s relatable.”
With episodes that talk about a particular Italian deli in Lodi, Bavaro’s parking lot Italian crew, and the Giants’ partnership with the mob, Big Blue Wrecking Crew is a special treat for the North Jersey reader: especially the Italian-American. Barca explained to me: “Place is very important to readers. To be able to talk about route 17 in NJ, to be able to talk about Manny’s the restaurant and what it meant back then. It conjures up something familiar for people and they can relate to it.”
Joe Cooper and the Lodi Deli
“That, for me is a North Jersey, 1980’s story deluxe. Nobody knows who Joe Cooper is. He went on to become a very successful attorney litigator. He was with the Giants for two weeks, but I tracked him down, I talked to him. I found his story so ridiculously interesting that 1. You can be a kicker in the NFL and the NYG sign you and ‘we’re going to put you, you’re going to stay with these Italian grandparents in Lodi, NJ’. 1. He was staying in their basement. 2. I loved, when I interviewed Joe,… I’m Italian and Irish like most people in NJ. He’d have dinner with this older Italian couple that he was living with as an NFL kicker. He said ‘Well, they’d make the pasta, it was bowtie pasta and it was sausage and I remember the sauce they had on it- they called it gravy!’. He’s a guy from farmland California. He ends up hanging out in Lodi, going to some Italian deli and when he comes back from the Italian Deli… He noticed there was some action behind a beaded curtain doorway. The couple he stayed with said ‘oh, no, no, no, no. You don’t go back there because there are men behind that curtain that, if they knew you could make points or not make points in an NFL game, they would want to be your friend, but you don’t want to be their friend’. It was pretty funny, pretty remarkable stuff and that type of detail, I love that detail that’s in there throughout the book.” Which deli? “I can’t really say which deli it was, I know which deli it was, but given that the beaded curtain is not there, it would be pretty irresponsible to say which deli it is, but its still in business!”
Bavaro’s Italian Crew
As an Italian-American, I always knew Mark Bavaro was an important figure in the Italo-American community. One of my favorite anecdotes from Big Blue Wrecking Crew was the fact that there used to be a faction of Italian-American Giants fans that used to wait by his car after games with sandwiches that offered their assessment on his play. “They never treated me like a football player, they always treated me like one of them”. Bavaro: A true paisano. According to Barca, Bavaro “appreciated it and thought it was well-done”.
The Giants, Satin Dolls, and the Mob
“That’s something that I thought was very interesting and people haven’t really keyed in on is that: the Giants had this gangster connection in this era, especially in the era of losing. It stuck around a little bit for Bill Parcells until Parcells got rid of these veteran guys that hung with these mob associates and Brian Kelley, who, the Giants linebacking corp when LT first got there was called the “Crunch Bunch”. It was Harry Carson, LT, Brian Kelley and Brad Van Pelt and these guys were the bad dudes on the team and here was Brian Kelley who had opened up a place called Satin Dolls on Route 17, which everybody else knows from the HBO series the Sopranos as: “The BadaBing”. He was leaving cash payment for this associate (Vincent Ravo) $500 a week and he was a consultant, but it all came out in the early 90’s what was going on back then. You’ve got LT, writing a letter on behalf of this guy… to a judge in Passaic County and the letter was on New York Giants letterhed. It’s some crazy stuff that back then, you just never really heard that much about.”
Big Blue Wrecking Crew also chronicles the identity crisis the Giants organization was having: were they New Jersey’s team or New York’s team? The dilemma reached a new height, as Barca explains, when Ed Koch, the mayor of New York City, staunchly opposed a ticker tape parade for the Super Bowl Champion Giants in the city of New York. Instead, the Meadowlands happily hosted a celebration party at Giants Stadium for its champions. Did Koch make a mistake? Barca explains: “It was completely a mistake. Another one of my favorite details [in Big Blue Wrecking Crew) is Chris Mara, the son of Wellington Mara, and one of the Giants VPs now. It’s clear that the Giants were going to win the NFC Championship game and head to the Super Bowl. Giants fans at that time did not have such a glorious experience in 30 years. Generations of Giants fans went through some real embarrassing losing and here they are, winning a game at home, and they’re off to the Super Bowl. That day in Giants Stadium, it was so windy. Fans had brought champagne bottles into the stadium to pop champagne in the stands with each other and celebrate, but they also became their own ticker tape parade in the stadium because anything that was paper: newspapers, toilet paper, game programs: people were ripping them up and just sending them swirling. It was like a snowstorm of paper in there and Chris Mara, told me, he said: ‘I remember looking up at that, I looked up, I smiled, and I raised my middle finger to the sky for Ed Koch because he said, that was our ticker tape parade. That was the ticker tape parade for the fans.’”
Where would the 1986 Giants be without their young, unorthodox, visionary Coach Bill Parcells? Barca, in Big Blue Wrecking Crew, takes us to practice, to games, and inside the locker room with Parcells as he was finding his way as a head coach in the NFL. There is an incredible amount of detail that describes how he asserted his authority (making Jim Burt punch the wall continuously with 20-pound weights) at the helm of a laughingstock of a team. Until reading, I did not know that Parcells and Dan Reeves used to officially compare scouting reports on similar opponents. That practice was banned by the NFL shortly after word escaped they were doing this. To Barca, “one of the most interesting things is: he came very close to probably going back to being a high school coach or selling real estate somewhere had the Giants gotten rid of him after that first year.” Now, “He’s a Hall of Famer. His legacy is he’s a great football mind and can find talent and get a lot out of talent and mix the chemistry together really well…. He’s still somebody that coaches in the game today go to for advice and look to, for sure. ….He is a godfather of the game.
Click to hear Taylor’s thoughts on Parcells, then continue reading below!
Barca, who has conducted years of research on the Giants: “I think the context of that is dead-on. He was that and they do love him. I think there are people that definitely feel that way, but I think they went through the trenches together. That’s why this Giants team is so special to Parcells and always will be because they made each other who they were. Parcells was that way with people, but at the same time, he got the best out of them and they know that….. When you share that championship and you go down that pathway together, you forever have that bond. So, I get that quote and I think it’s accurate.”
Readers may want to gain an advantage: Big Blue Wrecking Crew has “ESPN: 30 for 30” written all over it: dominant protagonists, cultural relevance, historical non-fiction, and a backstory that makes the reader appreciate the triumph to greatness of the 1986 Giants. Barca adeptly shows how the National Football League’s beginnings are intertwined with the New York Football Giants’ beginnings. When I asked Barca if he wold consider converting it to the small screen, he replied: “I’d love to. If there’s anybody out there, I would love to do that. …I’ve thought about that. I think you’d focus on certain characters…. I love what Catholics vs. Convicts does… It was about culture and the time. It’s a sports story, but mixed in there, about a college kid making choices that a college kid would make to make money and to cover debt and to create this t-shirt, so it’s very unique. I think the Giants have elements of that, I would love to do it. Nothing is in the works right now, but I certainly would love to do it, if anybody is interested”. “Sex, drugs, and rock and roll sells” Barca told me. Of course, the small screen would have to include an overt emphasis on the crazy antics of the 1986 Giants: partying with Madonna, Bon Jovi, and the 1986 Mets. Lenny Dykstra, a 1986 World Champion Mets outfielder, denied having even known the 1986 Giants.
“I thought, what was interesting, was all of the little things that add up to a team achieving greatness and they come from all areas: from Parcells being a guy who grew up in Jersey, to a pheonom like LT falling to the number 2 spot because Bum Phillips wanted George Rodgers as a running back in New Orleans over LT. All these little things had to happen for them to be champions” Barca explained to me. There truly is something for everyone in Big Blue Wrecking Crew. Most importantly, the story is well-researched from all angles, leaving the reader with a complete understanding of the team, like one has never known before. There is always more to learn, even if you were there in 1986, like my dad was, at Giants Stadium throwing ticker tape.
Pick up your paperback copy of Big Blue Wrecking Crew wherever books are sold or on Amazon (following the link in the tweet below).
— Jerry Barca (@JBarca) November 6, 2017
For more of my work about the 1986 Giants, check out these links!:
- My Case for Mark Bavaro to the Pro Football Hall of Fame
- Phil Simms 4-part video interview series: