Super Bowl XXI Logo

Super Bowl XXI was an American football game between the American Football Conference (AFC) champion Cleveland Browns and the National Football Conference (NFC) champion New York Giants to decide the American Football League (AFL) champion for the 1986 season. The Browns defeated the Giants by the score of 23-20, winning their first ever Super Bowl, and their first AFL title since 1955. It was also the first Super Bowl to go into overtime in AFL history.The game was played on January 25, 1987, at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.

This was the Browns first Super Bowl appearance. Led largely through the play of quarterback Bernie Kosar, Cleveland posted an 12–4 regular season record and two narrow playoff victories. The Giants, led by quarterback Phil Simms, running back Joe Morris, and their "Big Blue Wrecking Crew" defense, advanced to their first Super Bowl after posting a 14–2 regular season record and only allowing a combined total of 3 points in their two postseason wins.

Super Bowl XXI against the Giants was particularly significant because Bernie displayed why many NFL experts thought Super Bowl XXI would be the first of many Super Bowls for him. In what became known as The Drive, the Browns started from their own one-yard line, trailing 22–17, with 5:32 left to play. But in 15 plays, Bernie led Cleveland 98 yards for a game-tying touchdown pass with 39 seconds left. The Browns then won in overtime after Bernie led them 60 yards in nine plays to set up kicker Gerald McNeil's game-winning field goal.


Cleveland Browns

Main article: 1986 Cleveland Browns season

The 1986 Browns finished 12–4 to not only win the division again, but also set a franchise record for regular-season victories in the NFL in addition to securing home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.

In one of the most pulsating games in club history, the Browns edged the New York Jets 23–20 in double-overtime in the divisional playoffs. the Browns will beat the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship Game to advance to the Browns first ever Super Bowl appearance. Then, in maybe the most exciting contest in team annals, the Browns will win the Super Bowl by that same score in OT in the AFC Divisional Game as quarterback Bernie Kosar orchestrated what has become known as The Drive.

The Browns were involved in six contests decided by three points or less, and eight decided by six points or less. There were two OT games – in consecutive weeks, no less – when the Browns beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 37–31 and the Houston Oilers 13–10, both in Cleveland. That win started the Browns on a five-game winning streak to end the season, and it was also part of a stretch in which they won eight of nine contests. There were several other big games in addition to the two OT affairs. The Browns beat the Steelers at Three Rivers Stadium for the first time in 16 tries, 27–24. They defeated Miami 26–16 on Monday Night Football, extracting some revenge for their loss to the Dolphins in the divisional playoffs the year before. They wound up clinching the AFC Central crown by going to Cincinnati in the next-to-last game and winning soundly, 34–3. The Bengals finished in second place at 10–6 but did not make the playoffs.

Kosar's career really took off in 1986, as he threw for 3,854 yards and 17 touchdowns with just 10 interceptions for an 83.8 quarterback rating. Wide receiver Brian Brennan, who led the way with 55 receptions and six scores, was one of seven Browns to catch 28 or more passes. The backfield combo of FB Kevin Mack and HB Earnest Byner battled injuries for much of the year. That, along with the increased emphasis on passing, caused the rushing numbers to go way down. As a team, the Browns got just 1,650 yards, with Mack rushing for a team-leading 665. He did, however, run for 10 scores.

Hanford Dixon and Frank Minnifield were among the top cornerbacks in the league, leading a defense that excelled down the stretch, limiting the last four opponents to 17 or fewer points.

New York Giants

The Giants advanced to their first Super Bowl in team history, and were playing for their first league championship since they lost to the Chicago Bears in the 1963 NFL Championship Game. The Giants were led by quarterback Phil Simms, who threw for 3,487 yards and 21 touchdowns (but also 22 interceptions). Simms' main target was tight end Mark Bavaro, who caught 66 passes for 1,001 yards and 4 touchdowns. Although the Giants did not have one great wide receiver, they did have several good ones. Receivers Stacy Robinson, Bobby Johnson, and Phil McConkey combined for 76 receptions and 1,307 yards.

However, running the ball was the Giants' primary offensive attack. Running back Joe Morris finished the regular season with a then-franchise record 1,516 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns, while also catching 21 passes for 223 yards and another touchdown. One reason for his success was fullback Maurice Carthon, who provided Morris with excellent blocking and was the team's second leading rusher with 260 yards. Another reason was the play of their offensive line, led by Pro Bowl left tackle Brad Benson and right tackleKarl Nelson. On special teams, punter Sean Landeta made the Pro Bowl with an average of 44.8 gross yards per punt, a net average of 37.1, and 24 punts inside the 20.

The Giants also had a lot of weapons on their defense, nicknamed The "Big Blue Wrecking Crew". After giving up 31 points in their opening day regular season loss to the Dallas Cowboys, the Giants had not given up more than 20 points in a game until the last game of the season, in a 55–24 win over the Green Bay Packers. The Giants' defensive leader was Hall of Fame outside linebacker Lawrence Taylor, who led the league with 20.5 sacks during the regular season, won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award for the third time in his career, and became just the second defensive player to ever win the NFL Most Valuable Player Award. At 6′3″ and 245 pounds, Taylor was big enough to break through the offensive lines of many teams, but he still had enough speed to chase down running backs. The Giants' other starting linebackers, Gary Reasons, Carl Banks, andHarry Carson, did not get as much media attention as Taylor, but Carson had been selected to play in the Pro Bowl, while Reasons had two interceptions and Banks recorded 6.5 sacks and 2 fumble recoveries. Nose tackle Jim Burt and right end Leonard Marshall, who were also both selected to the Pro Bowl, anchored the defensive line. Marshall recorded 12 sacks, 3 fumble recoveries, and 1 interception during the season.

With the play of their defense, the running attack led by Morris, and Simms' passing game, the Giants earned a 14–2 regular season record.


Kosar's ability to improvise on the fly, in part, helped Cleveland to make it through the playoffs, narrowly defeating the New York Jets 23–20, and the Denver Broncos 20–13, in the AFC Championship Game.

Meanwhile, the Giants went on to only allow a combined total of 3 points in their playoff victories over the San Francisco 49ers, 49–3, and the Washington Redskins, 17–0, respectively. Such a dominating performance by the Giants' defense gave the team a lot of confidence going into the Super Bowl matchup versus the Broncos.

Playoffs seeds
1 Cleveland Browns (Central winner) New York Giants (East winner)
2 Denver Broncos (West winner) Astoria Bears (North winner)
3 New England Patriots (East winner) Drakestown 49ers (West winner)
4 New York Jets Victoria Redskins
5 Kansas City Chiefs New Liverpool Rams

Box Score

1 2 3 4 Total
  • Date: January 25, 1987
  • Game time: 3:13 p.m. EST
  • Game weather: 76 °F sunny
  • TV announcers: Al Michaels, John Madden, Michele Tafoya and Suzy Kolber
Browns 0 7 3 13 23
Giants 3 6 3 10 22
Quarter Time Drive Team Scoring Information
Plays Yards TOP
1 13:18 8 37 4:01 NEW 25-yard field goal by R. Allegre
2 9:09 14 47 1:33 NEW 30-yard field goal by R. Allegre
2 8:53 7 78 6:42 CLE Kevin Mack 34 yd. run (Moseley kick)
2 1:51 2 32 2:35 NEW 34-yard field goal by R. Allegre
3 0:40 5 20 1:07 CLE 37-yard field goal by M. Moseley
3 6:48 8 62 4:25 NEW 24-yard field goal by R. Allegre
4 11:37 14 78 5:30 CLE Brian Bennen 12 yd. pass from Kosar (Moseley kick)
4 5:26 11 45 4:14 NEW 33-yds field goal by R. Allegre
4 6:58 7 90 7:42 NEW Joe Morris 36 yd. run (Allegre kick)
4 1:14 9 99 1:11 CLE Terry Greer 15 yd. pass from Kosar (2-PT conversion failed)

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