After the New York Giants traded quarterback Fran Tarkenton back to the Minnesota Vikings in 1972, they began a period called “The Dark Ages” that would see them sink to the NFL’s nadir for the next decade.
Although they received veteran quarterback Norm Snead in the Tarkenton trade and finished a respectable 8-6 behind the 33-year-old Snead, the Giants quickly sunk to the bottom of the league in 1973 and stayed there for the next eight years.
They were on a frantic search for a franchise quarterback, an offensive leader, to complement their talented defense. In 1974, they saw their chance when they sent first and second round draft picks to the Dallas Cowboys for quarterback Craig Morton.
“Morton will bring us experience of playing in big games — the Super Bowl, the playoffs,” said Giants’ head coach Bill Arnsparger.
Morton, a former first round selection by Dallas in 1965, had first played behind Don Meredith and then battled Roger Staubach for the starting job for years before head coach Tom Landry settled on Staubach. Morton flirted with the fledgling WFL in 1974 and then was dealt to the Giants six games into the 1974 season.
As usual, the trade didn’t go well for the Giants and became a legendary coup for the Cowboys. Morton crapped out in New York, getting destroyed on a weekly basis behind the Giants’ shoddy offensive line. He was booed mercilessly and regularly.
After a disastrous 1975 season at Shea Stadium and an even worse 1976 season at the new Giants Stadium, Morton’s time was up in New York. In his two-and-a-half seasons with the Giants, Morton compiled an 8-25-0 record, throwing for a total of 5,734 yards with 29 touchdowns, 49 interceptions and a 52.1 completion percentage.
Meanwhile, in Dallas, the eventual first round selection the Giants surrendered in exchange for Morton, Maryland defensive lineman Randy White, was embarking on his Hall of Fame career.
In 1977, the Giants traded Morton to the Denver Broncos, and as the Giants’ luck would have it, Morton became a star again, winning the NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award and leading the Broncos to the Super Bowl where they faced his old team, the Cowboys.
In that game, Morton looked much like he did as a Giant. The Cowboys swallowed him and the Broncos up on defense and Staubach and rookie running back Tony Dorsett got the job done on offense.
For Giant fans, they got some redemption in seeing Morton crash back down to Earth. At least he didn’t stick the knife all the way in them.
The not so redeeming part? White was named co-MVP of the Super Bowl (along with Harvey Martin), leaving Giants with that empty feeling they experienced all too often in the 1970s.