EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Most quarterbacks dream of last-second touchdown passes, of leading teams through the playoffs, of looking into a camera and saying, "I'm going to Disney World." Jeff Hostetler dreamed just of playing. Simply taking a snap. Regular season game, playoffs, it didn't matter.
"Seven frustrating years, it could have been enough to make me quit," Hostetler said Sunday, referring to the seven-year itch he contracted while sitting behind entrenched Phil Simms. "I've been in a unique situation here. Most times a guy gets an opportunity to play through injury or something. My first four years, there was nothing like that. My first four years, Phil was injury free."
Sometimes, the great performances in football are even more memorable because they come from the unexpected source, the backup. Hostetler, playing because Simms injured his foot a month ago, produced the unexpected Sunday. That the heavily favored Giants beat the Bears isn't particularly shocking; that Hostetler rushed 43 yards and threw two touchdown passes in a virtually flawless performance is.
The Giants figured Mike Tomczak couldn't beat them and of course they were right. The Bears figured Hostetler couldn't beat them and were very, very wrong.
This was supposed to be a 6-3 game, but Hostetler made it 31-3. He gave the Giants points, which took the Bears out of their 1940s game plan. Hostetler was supposed to stay out of the way, not win the game.
Instead, Mike Ditka started his postgame analysis by saying that not many quarterbacks in the league could "do what he did to us today."
Or as retiring Bears defensive tackle Dan Hampton said after his last game: "That little quarterback, he's a little rabbit. He got outside and hurt us. He killed us on the bootleg. We practiced against it all week and still he was able to get outside for eight and nine yards. We racked him around pretty good too. They looked better than I imagined they would against us."
The Giants looked better than expected because Hostetler looked better than expected. No, not just better than expected, better than anybody's wildest dream. On fourth and six from the Bears 35, too far to try a field goal, yet too close to punt, Hostetler had no open receiver but scrambled nine yards for the first down. That kept alive the drive that ended with Hostetler going back to pass on first and goal, finding nobody open again, then scrambling three yards for the touchdown. That made it 24-3, Giants. It iced the game.
"Jeff did a good job of breaking their backs," Lawrence Taylor said.
Early, there was a 21-yard touchdown pass to Stephen Baker. Hostetler recognized that the Bears, desperate to stop the Giants runners, had crowded the line of scrimmage and left the very burnable Vestee Jackson in single coverage with Baker. Just before halftime, Hostetler flipped a five-yard touchdown to tight end Howard Cross.
In the fourth quarter, when the Bears were trying to get the ball back, they had forced the Giants into third and eight at midfield. Not to worry, Hostetler ran wide left for eight yards. The Fridge, who looks to weigh more than a breadbox, less than a small cow, gave chase. "That's a lot of human being chasing me," Hostetler said, managing a smile. "That's incentive enough to get outside."
Faced with another third and eight later in the fourth quarter, Hostetler ran eight more yards wide to the left. He had gone into the huddle, when that drive began with 10:37 left, and told the offensive linemen that it would be nice if the offense held the ball "six or seven minutes." The Giants nearly ran out the clock, all but seven seconds. That was typical of Hostetler's day, exceeding expectations.
Simms had said during a radio interview on Saturday that he thought the coaches shouldn't put in so many running plays for Hostetler, that he should stick pretty much with the offense the club has been running. Sorry, Phil. Hostetler was at his best when he had the option of running. The Bears, after a few scrambles, didn't have the faintest clue what Hostetler would do, making them vulnerable trying to cover and rush the passer too.
He had help from unlikely sources. The Giants coaches sought out safety Dave Duerson, a four-time Pro-Bowler with the Bears. "Last week, the coaches locked me in a room for an hour and a half," Duerson said, "and they drained me of every bit of information I had on the board, both offensively and defensively." As a result, there were times when the Giants coaches would shout out what they thought was coming; often they were right.
The Giants' last drive produced a meaningless touchdown, meaningless to everybody except Hampton, finally relieving his ravaged body after 12 always distinguished, sometimes spectacular, years.
With his retirement, the '85 Bears -- the best defense ever to line up -- are officially dead. Mike Singletary says he will play one more year. He and Hampton, whose two upcoming knee operations will bring the total to a dozen, were the guts of that defense. Hampton, as much as Grange and Nagurski, Sayers and Ditka, Butkus and Payton before him, typified Bears toughness. If you walk a little funny the rest of your life, so be it.
"My last play in football, they scored," Hampton said, adding that Sunday's ending was like "a great Disney movie that ended in a train wreck. I didn't want it to end like this."
Later on, as he realized winning here, without an offense, would have been near-impossible, Hampton softened. Would he cry later? "No," he said. "The guys who cry are the guys who feel like they didn't get it all done. I did all I could. I poured it all out; the bottle's empty."