Armed and Ready
Clockwise from top: Phil Simms, James Brown, Bill Cowher, Nate Burleson and Boomer Esiason co-host NFL Today on CBS; Simms’ oldest son Chris who, after a brief stint in the NFL, is now in broadcasting; youngest son Matt, who’s been a member of three NFL teams; Simms in the CBS studio.
Phil Simms was a star during a golden age of NFL quarterbacks, yet his name is oft omitted when the best of the best are discussed. Pundits prefer the flashier career stats posted by the likes of Joe Montana, Dan Marino, John Elway and others to the subdued numbers that Simms logged during his 14 years with the New York Giants. No big deal, says the longtime Bergen resident, because in true New York/New Jersey fashion, he did it (and continues to do it) his way.
The 62-year-old Kentucky native found success through grade-A effort, which yielded a pair of Super Bowl rings, a Super Bowl most valuable player trophy, two Pro Bowl selections and a seat in the Giants’ Ring of Honor, among other personal and team accolades. The same resolve propelled Simms to success in his off-the-field endeavors: He served on CBS Sports’ lead NFL broadcast team from 1998 to 2016 and is now adjusting to a new role as a studio co-host of the network’s The NFL Today.
In an exclusive interview with BERGEN, Simms reminisces about his days on the gridiron (including the opponents who gave him the chills), raising a family of football players, spending time in the TV studio and where he finds a good meal in Bergen County.
You had a terrific career on the field. How do you want to be remembered in football lore?
I wasn’t always the best and didn’t make all the right decisions, but I always gave it my all. I want to be remembered for being on two Super Bowl teams and making many friends on the field and in and around the clubhouse. One thing that football does is it creates life-long bonds.
When you were drafted, you were a young Kentucky kid coming to New York. How did you feel arriving in the Big Apple?
New York was so far away, and I thought, “What is it going to be like there?” I was used to playing in front of 5,000 fans at Morehead State, and now I’d be playing in Giants Stadium. But I was never intimidated because I always had football, which had always been a part of my life. So I remember arriving and going through the Lincoln Tunnel, and the only feeling was excitement.
How did you end up living in Bergen?
In my rookie season, a realtor helped me find a two-bedroom place on Lewandowski Street in Lyndhurst. That made the commute to work very easy—something that, looking back now, I didn’t fully appreciate at the time. I met my future wife there and we moved to Wyckoff, where she’s from, and lived there for three years before moving to Franklin Lakes. When friends from Kentucky visit, they are all caught off guard by how pretty the area is.
What are your favorite places to visit in the area?
My family loves Arturo’s in Midland Park. We’ve been eating there for the past 37 years, and I’d say we’ve gone at least 500 times. The Brick House in Wyckoff is another favorite place to dine out.
Many of your former teammates live in the area. Do you still see them?
I might run into Harry Carson or Jim Burt at a restaurant every once in a while. We also go to many of the same local functions and events. A few of us all got together recently for about five hours, and after all these years it was like we were back joking in the locker room. And the guys who talked trash back then are still talking trash.
Who was your favorite target?
Mark Bavaro. If it wasn’t for injuries, he would’ve been a Hall of Famer. Zeke Mowatt is another guy in the same category—injuries really slowed him down too. Zeke was big and could catch anything. I also loved throwing to Lionel Manuel and Phil McConkey.
Do you ever think about how you would’ve fared in today’s pass-happy offenses?
I think about how much control a quarterback now has over the offense and how they can change and decide plays. It would’ve been interesting to have that type of control. It was incredible if someone threw for 4,000 yards in my day, but now 4,000 is in the middle of the league.
Which defenders made you cringe?
Of course, Reggie White and those Philadelphia Eagles defenses. I played against the great Chicago Bears and Jimmy Johnson’s Dallas Cowboys, whose D-Line was nearly unstoppable.
The offensive line really protected you against those defenses. Is that why you bought “thank you” presents for them?
We kind of started that tradition, and I wanted to give my offensive line a personalized gift. One season I gave each guy a large 3D photo, maybe 3 or 4 feet high, of himself. Some of the guys still have them on display. I should’ve made one for myself because they were so cool.
Did you ever want to become a coach?
While I was in college, I wanted to be a high school coach. When I made it to the NFL, I wanted to be a college coach. Then after a few years in the league, I wanted to coach on the professional level. I had fun coaching my son Matt’s teams, but youth sports can be very dramatic. Of course, I took a different path after I retired from playing.
Were you able to watch many of your sons’ football games?
Because of my schedule, we had to make choices so I couldn’t make it to all of their games. I probably went to about two games a season for both. (Simms’ oldest son, Chris, attended Ramapo High School; youngest son Matt played at Don Bosco in Ramsey.)
But you watched them win state championships?
Yup. Chris won with Ramapo in a game played in Hoboken. I was able to watch Matt win the state title at Giants Stadium, where I played. That was really neat!
Did it feel natural going from the field to the broadcast booth after you retired?
There really was no transition—I got a job and just started going to work. I didn’t receive much direction, just good luck. All I knew was that I would be talking about football. If I wasn’t doing that in the booth, I’d be doing that somewhere else.
What’s the difference between being a game commentator, your first broadcast role, to co-hosting The NFL Today in the CBS studio, where you are now?
In the broadcast booth, you have three hours to talk about one game. In the studio, you have 30 seconds to talk about five games. There are times when I’d rehearse at home with a stopwatch and oh, darn, the piece I thought was perfect was 49 seconds. Making your 20 to 30 seconds as good as possible has been a learning process, but you get used to it. And the guys on set [James Brown, Bill Cowher, Boomer Esiason and Nate Burleson] are all supportive of one another.
You support many benefits and causes. Tell us about your charity work.
I try to attend as many fundraisers and events as possible and give back when I can. I do stay close to several charities and help them raise money. One that’s special to me is IronMatt, run by Greg and Kelly Larson of Franklin Lakes. They’ve been raising money for pediatric brain tumor research for the past 10 years.
Ever have an itch to play again?
It takes a couple of years to get used to not playing, but it’s the last thing I want to do today! When I watch the game today, sometimes I think: “Wow, I can’t believe I used to do that every week!”