PASADENA, Calif. — His hair was sticky. That’s how he knew. All that Phil Simms had wanted, all he had dreamed, the best game he could imagine. It was all there. His hair was sticky.

Gatorade.

“When did you know you’d won the MVP award?” Simms was asked, after he completed 22 of 25 passes in the Giants’ 39-20 crushing of the Broncos in Super Bowl XXI.

“When they dumped the Gatorade on me,” he said, breaking into a grin. “I figured that was it.”

That was it? That was it. Super Bowl XXI, wrapped up tight and stored in the vaults. They dumped the Gatorade on coach Bill Parcells — as they had done all season — and then they dumped it on Simms. Here is your Super Bowl MVP quarterback, America. John Elway played the game in our minds. Phil Simms did it on the field.

“Have you ever had a better day than that?” someone asked. “Could you ever have a better day than that?”

“It’d be hard to imagine,” he said.

“Are you vindicated now?” someone asked.

“I wasn’t looking for vindication,” he said.

“You’re always saying you’re not a great quarterback but a good one,” someone screamed. “But didn’t you play great today? Wouldn’t you call that great?”

Simms smiled. He looked down for a second, then he looked straight into the dozens of camera lights.

What the hell.

“Yeah, all right,” he said. “I was great today. I was great!” I t is a tribute to Simms that he cannot say that too much. Make no mistake. He was not the only element in this thumping of the Broncos. But he was the biggest. He threw short, he threw long, he earned 268 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions, and was perfect in the second half, 10-for-10, and the second half is when this Super Bowl went from a tussle to a trashing.

“I have never seen better quarterbacking than that,” Parcells said. “I mean, you know, never.”

What was the difference between the 10-9 first half, led by the Broncos, and the 39-20 laugher at the final gun? Certainly you have to begin with Simms. He stayed confident. Poised. And when the Giants came out for the second half — to the strains of “New York, New York” being sung by three-quarters of this hardly neutral neutral-site crowd — well, you got the sense the thing was over. Their game.

And they were losing at the time.

“Every time I challenge these guys, they respond,” Parcells said. He threw the gauntlet down on the Giants’ opening drive of the second half. Fourth down on their 46. Fake punt, men. The Giants pulled it off, got the first down, and a few plays later, Simms rifled a pass to big tight end Mark Bavaro,

the silent one, and it was touchdown. Bavaro fell to one knee, crossed himself, looked to the heavens, then flipped the ball behind his back to the referee.

That’s how they do it in New York, folks. A little dash, a little credit, and then — show off. So much for close games. The Giants followed with a field goal, then a flea-flicker — in the Super Bowl? — and Simms hit a wide-open Phil McConkey, who did a 360-degree flip at the 1-yard line.

“Was that the biggest play?” someone asked the quarterback.

“You bet it was,” he said. “When he caught that, I knew we had this won. I knew it was over. There was no way they were coming back from that. No way.”

“Did your resent all the talk this week about Elway instead of you?” he was asked.

“No, I really didn’t. Like I said, when you think of the Denver Broncos, you think of John Elway. When you think of the Giants, you think of defense.”

The mob around Simms was endless. The MVP trophy was his.

Think again.

And what of Elway? He was brilliant in the first period, and the 10-9 halftime lead was a Denver victory of sorts. But in the second half he was suddenly mortal, incomplete. He was chased like a rodeo calf, he fumbled and was dragged to earth rudely. He was picked off. He wound up 22-for-37 for 304 yards. What can you say? He played as gamely as a quarterback can. If football games were meant to be won by a single player, they wouldn’t pay the other guys.

His team did not let him down. Nor did it help him much. Rich Karlis missed two first-half field goals that would have padded the Denver lead, not to mention its confidence. And the defense was never able to handle Simms — who remember, was the less Super quarterback coming into this game.

“You made it look so simple,” someone marveled to Simms afterward.

“Sometimes,” he answered, “it is simple.”

Sometimes it is.

The point spread on this one was 8 1/2 points. It was not unfair. The mistake people make with Super Bowls is in thinking that the two weeks between the conference championships and the Big One is enough time to transform your team into something else. It is not. New York was a superior team two weeks ago. It is a superior team this morning. A Super team.

The defense was stringent. The offense was surprisingly agile. Credit Parcells for some gutsy calls — including that fake punt and a series of passes to open the New York attack.

In his post-game press conference, Parcells mentioned his joy at winning a title for a team that hadn’t had one since 1956. “We buried the ghosts tonight,” Parcells said.

He wasn’t the only one.

Phil Simms, the “other” quarterback, the guy who even this year was ridiculed as being unable to win the big one, had buried a few of his own, washed them away with the dump of a bucket. His hair was sticky. He knew what he had done. Someone gave him a hat that read “New York Giants, 1987 Super Bowl Champs.”

He read it. He smiled.

“Amen,” he said.

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