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SportsColumnistsBob Glauber

The Giants have a history in Tampa, and most of it is good

Giants quarterback Daniel Jones runs seven yards for

Giants quarterback Daniel Jones runs seven yards for a touchdown during the second half against the Buccaneers on Sept. 22, 2019, in Tampa, Fla. Credit: AP/Mark LoMoglio

TAMPA, Fla. – A few days before the Giants were set to face the 49ers in the 1990 NFC Championship Game in San Francisco, Bill Parcells showed up to his morning meeting with the players carrying a large plaid suitcase. He placed it next to him and addressed the team.

"You can pack for three days, or you can pack for 10 days," Parcells said. "I’ll tell you what I’m doing. I’m packing for 10."

The message was clear. If the Giants beat the 49ers at Candlestick Park, they’d earn a trip to Super Bowl XXV the following week in Tampa. They did just that, pulling off a 15-13 upset of a 49ers team eyeing its third straight championship and get a shot to play the Bills in the Super Bowl.

And so began an odyssey to a place that has carried special meaning to the Giants – both good and bad. The Giants pulled off another upset in Tampa, as Jeff Hostetler, Ottis Anderson and a relentless defense inspired by Lawrence Taylor teamed to beat the Bills, 20-19, for the team’s second Super Bowl title.

That’s the iconic memory of a trip to Tampa in franchise history, of course, and it was inspired by a coach whose Hall of Fame career was forged in large part because of what happened on Jan. 27, 1991, at Tampa Stadium. But given the fact that this is not a place the Giants have traveled to regularly, there are a surprising number of unique moments in this city nestled by the Gulf of Mexico.

Like the one the season after the Giants won the Super Bowl. Parcells had resigned in May of 1991 because of heart-related issues that required him to undergo surgery, and in his place was Ray Handley, who chose Hostetler over Phil Simms to be his starting quarterback. In a Nov. 24 game in Tampa, Hostetler suffered a back injury, and Simms replaced him in a 21-14 win capped by Simms’ touchdown pass to Stephen Baker with 16 seconds left.

The next day, Handley walked out of a press conference after repeated questions about whether he’d keep Simms in the lineup once Hostetler was ready to return. It was the continuation of a difficult run for Handley, who lasted just two seasons as head coach.

The Giants are hoping to add a more positive memory on Monday night, when they meet Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers, who last season became the first team in Super Bowl history to win a title at its home venue – a newer facility now called Raymond James Stadium.

Tampa was the place the Giants traveled to for their next Super Bowl appearance after Parcells was carried off the field atop the shoulders of his players. Only this one didn’t go as well. Jim Fassel’s team came into a matchup against the Baltimore Ravens after the 2000 season hoping to replicate its 41-0 domination of the Vikings in the NFC Championship Game at Giants Stadium. That was Kerry Collins’ finest day in a Giants uniform, as he threw five touchdown passes to lead one of the most lopsided postseason victories in NFL history.

But Tampa was a much less friendly host in Super Bowl XXXV, as the Ravens’ historically dominant defense completely shut down Collins and the Giants in a 34-7 rout. That game might have turned out differently were it not for a holding penalty that negated Jessie Armstead’s 43-yard interception return for a touchdown in the second quarter. That would have tied the score at 7-7. Instead, the Ravens went on to build a 17-0 lead before Ron Dixon’s 97-yard kickoff return, the team’s only touchdown of the game.

"Yeah, absolutely, it’s a different ball game" if the penalty hadn’t been called Armstead told the DA Show on CBS Radio years later. "It was an uphill climb for our offense and for us as a team after that. We got so much energy after that play, but they took it right away from us."

There was a happier playoff memory in Tampa – and against the Buccaneers – in another Super Bowl run after the 2007 season. This was a week after the Giants had nearly upset the unbeaten Patriots in the regular-season finale, when Tom Coughlin decided not to rest his key starters and play to win against Bill Belichick’s 15-0 team. The Patriots won, 38-35, but the Giants got some much-needed confidence, especially on offense, and took that into a first-round playoff matchup against Jon Gruden’s Bucs.

Eli Manning was terrific in leading the Giants to a 24-14 victory, and he toppled the No. 1-seeded Cowboys and then the Packers in frigid Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game before upsetting the Patriots, 17-14, in Super Bowl XLII.

There haven’t been any more playoff matchups between the teams, but the Giants visits to Tampa in more recent years have been eventful, nonetheless. In 2015, Jason Pierre-Paul made his return from a July 4 fireworks injury in which he lost most of three fingers on one hand. He had just two tackles and no sacks in a 32-18 win but was emotional afterward. Before leaving on the team charter, Pierre-Paul tweeted, "What a day to be alive. My sons first game and my first game back. Blessed. #90PowerCircle."

And who can forget Daniel Jones’ first game as the Giants’ starter in 2019. He replaced Manning just three games into the season and responded with one of the greatest games of his young career. He threw for 336 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another two, including the winning score, in a thrilling 32-31 comeback win. The "Danny Dimes" nickname followed soon thereafter.

Jones’s career hasn’t unfolded the way that game might have foretold, although the team remains hopeful he can be the answer at quarterback.

Then again, this much was clear as Jones prepared for what the Giants hoped would be another positive memory for their latest trip to Tampa: He’s no Tom Brady.

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