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After a seven-year wait, Jeff Hostetler proved he's an NFL quarterback as the Giants beat the 49ers for the NFC title

So what if JeffHostler got straight A's his whole life, when his career as an NFL quarterbackwas one big Incomplete?

So what if hecould run and throw and read defenses as though he had a photographic memory(which he does), when he spent his Sundays welded to a clipboard?

So what if he'dproved himself at every stop, done nothing but make the grade and win the gameand marry the coach's daughter, when he'd spent so much of his time wearing abaseball cap where his helmet should have been?

And so what kepthim from quitting? How did he find the patience to keep from ripping the coachin the papers in an attempt to force his team to trade him?

Maybe Jason,that's what. Maybe he kept thinking that if his son Jason could go through fourheart operations before his first birthday and never quit, then how couldhe?

So Jeff Hostetlerdidn't leave the New York Giants through seven long seasons, even though hewanted to. He held on. He held for kicks and he held his clipboard, and, almostalways, he held his tongue. And as he came into the 1990 season, the one thatwould be the most remarkable in his life, he held the world record forperseverance. Job should have tried a clipboard for seven years.

O.K., it's truethat for the first four years, every year, he told his agent to ask for atrade, but every year the Giants told him no, and pretty soon he got tired ofhearing it. And so he spent his time, most of it as the third-stringquarterback, wondering what the odds were that starter Phil Simms and backupJeff Rutledge would hyperextend something, or what the pay scale would be inthe new World League of American Football.

Hey, you getdesperate when it takes five years to throw your first regular-season pass.Five years! He'd blocked a football (playing on special teams), caught one(lining up at wide receiver) and even recovered one (his own bobble)—but throwone? Not until 1988, in a brief relief job against the Philadelphia Eagles. Andwhen he finally got his first NFL start, later that season against the NewOrleans Saints (Simms was out with a shoulder injury), he threw an 85-yardtouchdown pass in the first half. But after the intermission his coach, BillParcells, decided he wanted to play Rutledge. Hostetler did not take hisbenching well—"I couldn't believe it," he says now—and asked foranother trade right in the locker room after the game. Didn't get it.

Somethingdefinitely funny had happened on his way to Canton. Hostetler was a two-wayplayer in high school, an All-America at linebacker—and a valedictorian, too.He has this photographic memory that makes him one of the all-time greattest-takers. "I can read the question, then flip through the pages of thebook in my mind until I get to the right one," he explains. "Then Ijust read the answer." He's great with the yellow pages.

He went to PennState in 1979 to play quarterback but got stuck behind Todd Blackledge andtransferred to West Virginia, where he led the Mountaineers to an upset ofOklahoma in Norman, took them to two bowl games, put up a 3.95 grade pointaverage while majoring in finance and married coach Don Nehlen's daughter,Vicky. "Transferring to West Virginia really worked out for me," helikes to say with a grin.

Jump ahead to1985, when Vicky delivered what seemed like a perfect baby boy, Jason. Butafter four hours Jason's lips started to turn blue. The infant had pulmonaryand heart problems that required surgery. Fine. Then his heart required anotheroperation. O.K. But then he needed to have his gallbladder removed, and duringthat surgery he lost a kidney. That was real scary. Then he required heartsurgery a third time, which was not so fine but was not as bad as the fourthoperation, for which his body temperature had to be dropped to 30° before thedoctors could start the eight-hour procedure. Then the flu sent him back to thehospital for five days. "All that put everything in perspective for us realquick," Hostetler says. Life was definitely not going the way he'd plannedit.

But Jason gotbetter, and so did the football. When Simms went down with an ankle injury inthe middle of the 1989 season, Parcells finally gave Hostetler a shot. Once hefound his helmet, he started twice and won twice, throwing a touchdown pass ineach game. That was good enough for Parcells, who cut Rutledge loose under PlanB last February and installed Hostetler as quarterback 1-A going into trainingcamp.

So when Simmssuffered a sprained right arch five weeks ago, with the Giants alreadyguaranteed work in the postseason, Hoss, as his teammates call him, found hisship had finally docked. He beat the Phoenix Cardinals and New England Patriotsto end the regular season, and then he wiped out the Chicago Bears in theopening round of the playoffs, running two times to convert fourth downs. Bearscoach Mike Ditka called him the best running quarterback in the league"outside of [Randall] Cunningham."

Yeah, but couldhe beat Joe God and the San Francisco 49ers in The Stick? In the NFCChampionship Game? He could. On Sunday he forgot to wilt in front of the Ninerlegend. Damned if he wasn't still right in it with a quarter to play and SanFrancisco leading 13-9.

Then suddenly itlooked as if his ship had sunk. As Hostetler dropped back to pass, 49ernoseguard Jim Burt, a former Giant, dived at Hostetler's left knee and buckledit. "I figured I was out of the game," Hostetler said afterward.Beautiful. One quarter away from going to The Show and destiny blew byHostetler as if he were a hitchhiker with pets. "It hurt like crazy,"he said after the game, "but at this point in my season and at this pointin the game and, really, at this point in my career, I knew I wasn't comingout."

The backup'sbackup, Matt Cavanaugh, looked catatonic, and New York punted. Defensive endLeonard Marshall of the Giants got a payback on Montana, creaming him frombehind, breaking a bone in his right hand, severely bruising his sternum andgenerally testing his Tylenol supply. "That's what we call justice aroundhere," said New York linebacker Lawrence Taylor afterward. "Jim Burt'shit was a cheap shot."

The Ninerspunted. Destiny made a U-turn.

"Can yougo?" Parcells had asked Hostetler minutes before.

"I thinkso," Hoss said.

"You thinkyou can go?" Parcells asked him one play later.

"Yeah,"Hoss said.

"Can yougo?" Parcells asked again as the offense took the field.

"Bill, I'mgoing!" he barked.

Are you kidding?Hostetler was going if he had to drag a Baldwin behind him. He tested his kneeon the second play, a scramble that was good for six yards. The Giantsscratched out a field goal to close the deficit to 13-12 with 5:47 left.

It's funny aboutdynasties. They roll along smooth as chiffon for three years, and then all of asudden the warranty expires and the lug nuts fall off. All of a sudden thingsgo from threepeat to peat moss. First, Montana got the flu from his little girlon Thursday. He was on an IV as late as Saturday, trying to get his body fluidsback to normal. Then Marshall made him feel worse with that hit. Then RogerCraig decided to fumble at the worst possible moment of the year, which waswith less than three minutes to play. Taylor caught it in mid-drop. Giants'ball.

Here it was forHoss: 57 yards and 2:36 to make a dream come around that he had waited forthrough seven years and 4,000 No. 2 pencils.

All he did wasbecome bulletproof. Rolling right on what remained of his knee, he should havegone out of bounds but instead chose to pivot and fire a rope to tight end MarkBavaro, who was running the other way. Plus 19, first down.

Two plays later,he rolled right and, while still running, threw an NFL Films-type spiral toStephen Baker. Plus 13, to the Niner 29. O.J. Anderson advanced the ball fourmore yards on two carries, then the Giants called timeout with :04 remaining.What's left for Hostetler to do but hold for Matt Bahr's kick?

"All I saidto myself was, Please don't bobble the ball," he said afterward. Amazing,isn't it, Hoss? You hold on to the ball a little tighter when it's your driveyou're trying to finish.

Across the way, agroup of about eight Giants knelt in a semicircle, praying to God for victory.So now God had to worry about a war and the Giants.

So they prayedand the snap came and Hostetler didn't bobble, as he hasn't in his entirecareer as a holder in New York, and Bahr's kick faded left but not left enoughto hurt, and it went through just as the clock ticked down to zero.

Hostetler, whocompleted 15 of 27 pass attempts for 176 yards, was so rusty at being a herothat he actually said hello to his wife and kids on TV, just as a rookie mightdo. Then Bahr, an old friend from Penn State, came up and said, "I'm proudof you," and he wasn't the only one.

"I remembercalling him just about every day during the bad years," said Hostetler'sfather, Norman, who in the uproarious Giants locker room was wearing his son'scap like a souvenir stolen from a long-ago war. "He's been through alot."

Tell him. TellJason, who is 5½ now and might need surgery again. Tell Vicky. She's pregnantagain. This will be their third, after the arrival of another boy, Justin, 3½years ago. Who knows what kind of times are ahead? But for right now, Tampalooks like the prettiest place on earth, and Hoss won't have to sit alone atthose Super Bowl interview tables as he did four years ago when the Giants lastdid this.

Not a bad story.He goes to Tampa not only unbeaten in his career as a starter—6-0; read it andbelieve, Parcells—but also as the third scrub quarterback to take his team tothe Super Bowl, preceded only by the Los Angeles Raiders' Jim Plunkett in 1981and the Washington Redskins' Doug Williams in '88 (page 82).

"I don't wantto just take a team to the Super Bowl," Hostetler says. "I want to winone."

Boy, some guysjust don't know their place.



Hostetler's 15-for-27 passing, good for 176 yards, helped set up five New York field goals.



When Bahr booted the game-winner at the gun, Hoss just flipped.



[See caption above.]