Before the 1979 NFL Draft, Bill Walsh, who was the new coach of the San Francisco 49ers, flew to Morehead State University with assistant coach Sam Wyche to work out quarterbackPhil Simms. Walsh was so impressed with him that he planned to draft Simms in the third round, actually preferring him over another young quarterback they scouted and ultimately drafted, future Pro Football Hall of FamerJoe Montana. The Giants, however, decided to make Simms their first-round pick to the surprise of many. As Simms acknowledged, "most people have never heard of me." When Simms' name was announced by Commissioner Pete Rozelle, his selection was booed loudly by Giants fans. However, he became more popular with his teammates, who jokingly dubbed him "Prince Valiant" in his rookie training camp.
Simms won his first five starts in his rookie year. He led the team to a 6–4 record as a starter, throwing for 1,743 yards and 13 touchdownpasses, and was named to the NFL All Rookie Team. According to his 1981Toppstrading card, he was runner-up in 1979 for Rookie of the Year, losing out to future teammate Ottis Anderson.