As one of nine children, Phil Simms is schooled in the mental games people play.
The New York Giants quarterback is starring in a Broadway psychodrama with Ray Perkins, his coach from Mount Olive, Miss. Simms, a native of Springfield, Ky., indicates he is coping in the wily sparring between country boys.
After the New York Jetts temporarily assumed bragging rights by thrashing the Giants in their annual exhibition, Perkins publicly criticized Simms, his 1979 first-round draft choice from Morehead State University.
"Maybe I expected too much from him," Perkins said. "Maybe we all did. But he's going to learn from experience and he's going to learn from hard times with me. I'm not going to let upon him.
"We're not getting consistency in our quarterback position. We were in field goal range and we gave up a sack instead of throwing the ball away. We were near the goal line and we fumbled the ball away at the four-yard-line instead of covering it. We had a man open in the end zone and we overthrew him.
"If I thought it would help this team I would make a change at quarterback. But I'm also not sure Phil's ready to play and win."
It was only the 12th game of Simms' pro career. On Sunday he threw five touchdowns in the regular-season opening-game victory, 41-35, over the Cardinals at St. Louis.
He was asked after he was given a briefing on Tuesday for Sunday's game against the Redskins in East Rutherford, N.J., if Perkins' post-Jets criticism bothered him or perhaps fired him up against St. Louis.
"It didn't bother me, but it didn't help me. Something like that can't make you play better than you are. That was Coach Perkins's opinion. Everybody has his opinion. I have mine. I told him I did some good things against the Jets, too."
"The criticism didn't fire me up," Simms said. "I don't want to get 'fired up.' My job is to be calm, to think, to pass well. But I'm not naive enough to think I'm not going to be criticized in New York."
That same morning (Tuesday), Simms probably read a report in which Perkins acknowledged that he had maneuvered the quarterback's emotions before the Cardinal game. It was remarked to the coach that Simms seemed upset after the criticism and appeared to adopt an attitude that he would prove Perkins wrong in his opinion.
If the coach's ploy didn't motivate Simms into playing a much better against the Cardinals, what did?
"Maybe it helped me to bear down to eliminate mistakes and prepare better," the quarterback said. "I just put it all together. I did some good thinking. I went to the right play with the ball. I never got excited."
Then Simms did a little psychologizing for the benefit of the Redskins, who may be deluded into thinking they are seeing him at his best on the film of the Cardinal game. "I didn't throw exceptionally well in that game," he said. "my passes weren't as crisp as I normally would throw them, and I missed a few."
He completed 16 of 31 for 280 yards, averaging 17.4 yards, with one interception, as Earnie Gray caught four of his five scoring throws.
The Giants averaged only 2.6 yards rushing per play and could not stop the Cardinals from averaging 5.5. Inasmuch as the Redskins could not run against Dallas and could not stop the Cowboy running game, Simms was asked if looking at the Redskin film was like the Giants looking into a mirror. But he wasn't about to derogate the Redskins by implication.
Reluctant to encourage his coach to think he could be motivated by criticism, Simms will have an incentive to perform well against the Redskins in a week free of it. As a relatively inexperienced quarterback, he expects the Redskins to test him by blitzes Sunday. But Perkins is quoted as saying that "He (Simms) played his smartest game ever against the Cardinals. sHe was seeing the defenses and going for what there was to take right away. I was calling plays involving things Phil couldn't do last year."
Simms, father of month-old son Christopher David, was the focus of wall-to-wall television cameras at the Giants office Monday, after regaining the affection of the area fans from those dratted Jets.
Simms' timing was such that when Warner Wolf was wondering whom to cast in the leading man's role for a brand new audience participation show in an unprecedented half hour of prime time devoted to pro football, the image of the Kentucky Rifle with the hayseed only recently combed out of his towhead made the decision easy to uphold for the highest-rated sports program in town.