In my 50-plus years of following the New York Football Giants, there have been many unforgettable moments. The Super Bowls, of course, are at the top, but there are also stunning losses and lows that equal those wins on the list.
One of those games was Nov. 19, 1978, vs. the Philadelphia Eagles.
I rarely write pieces that conjure up the memories of this game. Only because it’s the 40th anniversary of what has become the seminal moment in Giants history do I feel obligated to write about it today.
Some context: In mid-November of 1978, the Giants were 5-3 at the break and actually had playoff aspirations. They would dissipate quickly after three straight road losses dropped them to 5-6 as the 6-5 Philadelphia Eagles came into Giants Stadium with postseason designs of their own. A win over Philadelphia would be an elixir to hopefully right the Giants’ season.
With just seconds to go, the Giants had a 17-12 lead and the football. They had the game all wrapped up. All they needed to do was kneel one more time and let the clock wind down for the win.
But the sideline decided to send a play into the huddle that was against all convention. Then … well, you know the rest. Defensive back Herman Edwards picked up the fumble off the botched handoff and ran it in for a miraculous 19-17 Eagles win. It was the final straw for many Giants fans who were in their 15th consecutive season of not qualifying for the postseason.
Here is an excerpt from the book “The Most Memorable Games in Giants History: The Oral History of a Legendary Team” by Jim Baker and Bernard M. Corbett (Bloomsbury, 2010):
Giants’ QB Joe Pisarcik had been warned by Offensive Coordinator Bob Gibson to stop changing the plays in the huddle. The consequences would be severe — a benching or worse. When Gibson sent TE Al Dixon in with a play with just seconds remaining, the other nine Giants in the huddle implored Pisarcik to simply fall on the ball, including Super Bowl-winning players such as Jim Clack and Larry Csonka …
Giants’ OT Brad Benson: “He (Dixon) brought the play in and Pisarcik said, “What?” It was supposed to be a dive — just a very simple dive play for the the fullback, Csonka. And Dixon said, “Bob Gibson said make sure you hand the ball off.” And Pisarcik said, “I’m not handing the ball off.”
Dixon said, “You better hand it off.”
The Eagles’ MLB Bill Bergey: “The guys on the Giants were coming to the line of scrimmage yelling, “Joe, just kneel down,” and Joe was saying, “No, I gotta do what coach says.”
Play-by-play announcer Don Criqui: “My spotter at the time was John Mara. He was the best spotter I ever had. He was so disappointed, he got up and left the booth. After that game, he never spotted again.”
Giants’ QB Joe Pisarcik: “After the game, I was hiding in the training room. Wellington Mara came to me and said, ‘You have nothing to be ashamed of. Just keep your head high and you’ll get through it. Just walk out there and tell those reporters what happened.’”
The Giants would go on to win just one more game that season and finish 6-10. Fans would revolt, burning tickets, flying banners over the stadium and sparsely attending the remaining home games.
New York would end up restructuring their whole organization, firing their coaches and hiring George Young as the general manager. After the 1986 season, the Giants would win their first NFL championship in 30 years.