After the Giants’ selection of Duke quarterback Daniel Jones was greeted by a chorus of boos and a stream of criticism on talk shows and call-in programs, Phil Simms heard from plenty of friends and acquaintances wondering if he felt the same way when his name was called in the 1979 draft.
“No, I didn’t,” Simms recalled of the moment he was welcomed to the NFL. “Ours wasn’t on TV, and the scrutiny isn’t what we have now.”
There were only about 200 fans who heard commissioner Pete Rozelle announce Simms’ name in the ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria on May 3, 1979. So the reaction wasn’t nearly as overpowering as it was on Thursday night, when Jones heard his name called before a shocked crowd of about 150,000 packing the streets of downtown Nashville.
Simms has been told that Rozelle actually repeated the selection for the media’s benefit, grinning as he said his name again.
“If Roger Goodell got up there and said my name again, yeah, in this world, I’d be mad as heck and I’d be ripping him,” Simms said. “That would be uncalled for. I just don’t remember feeling anything about that reception I got. I don’t remember thinking that I can’t believe they’re doing that.”
But Simms can certainly relate – and empathize – with Jones as he begins his NFL career in the New York market, where expectations are big and patience is in short supply. He also realizes that the reaction should be taken with a grain of salt.
“The fans only know what all the experts sitting on the panels are saying and this is how they judge him,” Simms said. “That’s not necessarily how NFL people judge them. It’s sad for the kid, because it’s a great moment for him. He doesn’t want to come into a situation that’s like, ‘Why did we take you?’
“I think I’m very fair and I am critical of people, but moments like this, I think about him and his family,” Simms said. “It’s pretty tough to sit there and this is the dream of your life, your mom and dad are like, ‘Oh, our son’s picked sixth by the Giants … oh, they’re booing.’ It’s still a great moment, but it’s not as great as it should have been.”
But Simms doesn’t expect the ill will to last long, and Jones certainly will have the chance to turn the boos to cheers once he takes over for Eli Manning. And if it’s all too much for Jones, well …
“If the criticism is too much for you, then it wasn’t meant for you,” Simms said. “If the adversity is too much for you, it’s not for you.”
Simms believes Jones is a talented quarterback, although he doesn’t put him at the top of this year’s class.
“Physically, did I think he was the best quarterback in the draft? Of course, I didn’t,” Simms said. “Kyler Murray, Dwayne Haskins and Drew Lock have some really special skills, but the Giants didn’t think Lock and Haskins were as good, and that’s all that matters. Apparently, a lot of people thought Drew Lock wasn’t as good, because he lasted all the way to the second round [to Denver at No. 42 overall].”
The operative word for Jones: patience.
“Let’s wait and see,” Simms said. “The Giants saw something in [Jones], and once you see something, then you keep going in deeper. The more they went in there, the more they found out about the quarterback, and they liked him. Did they want to draft him at six? I don’t know. But if he’s your quarterback, then you take him. You don’t gamble. To me, what’s the difference between six and 12? Nothing. I’m seeing guys drafted in the second round that I thought would go in the first. It’s so thin between some of these slots.”
Simms is convinced that the Giants are sold on Jones’ intangibles, which is such a big part of evaluating quarterbacks.
“You want your quarterback to have that something, a leader of men, that can help your football team,” Simms said. “And only the guys in the organizations can find that out. You can’t and I can’t. Those intangibles that people on TV don’t know and the fans don’t know were big enough for the Giants to go ahead and draft him.”
Giants general manager Dave Gettleman’s comments about a quarterback needing to thrive despite adversity make sense and allowed Simms to connect the dots to Jones.
“When he said you want your quarterback to face adversity, I’m like, ‘Wow, now I understand,’ ” Simms said. “They knew they were going to take him. They’re gonna draft Daniel Jones. He played under tough conditions at Duke, played from behind, getting hit more than you want, and of course, he’ll face adversity in New York.”
It was an inhospitable welcome for Jones, but Simms believes he’ll overcome the ill will. Besides, it could be worse.
“He’ll handle it well,” Simms said. “Hey, what do you want to have – a little adversity from the fans or have no adversity and get picked in the second round? I’ll take the adversity getting picked No. 6.”
Simms overcame his own rude entrée to the New York market by hanging in through injury and ineffectiveness through the early part of his career and leading the Giants to the first Super Bowl victory in franchise history as part of a glorious 15-year career. Now it’s Jones’ turn to see if he can answer the boos with a signature career of his own.