Sunday, February 19, 2012

Miracle at the Meadowlands

Eagles vs. Giants at the Meadowlands, November 19, 1978

I was initially not very excited about watching this game, not so much because it involved two mediocre teams (the Giants came in at 5-6 and the Eagles at 6-5, though the Eagles rallied to make the playoffs as a Wild Card) but because I knew who won, the final score, and the very play that ended the game. I much prefer to watch games whose outcomes are a mystery to me.

The mythology around this game holds that it was the nadir of Giantsdom, resulting in the teardown that led directly to the Parcells-led renaissance, but that wasn't quite true. The loss dropped the Giants to 5-7, on their way to a 6-10 finish. It did lead to coach John McVay's firing, but he was replaced by Ray Perkins, not Parcells, who didn't arrive until 1983. By my count, there were only two members of the Giants Super Bowl team on the field for the Miracle: Harry Carson and Brad Benson.

Sure enough, the game seemed like kind of a bore, with the Giants jumping out to an early 14-0 lead then cruising along with a 17-6 lead until late in the fourth quarter. Then, things got very interesting, with Ron Jaworski leading the Eagles down the field for a touchdown with about five minutes left. Twice the Giants seemed to have the drive stopped only to commit a huge penalty on third down (pass interference against Harold Carmichael and roughing the passer on Jaworski), although in neither instance did CBS have the wherewithal to show us a replay of the foul. With Don Criqui and Sonny Jurgensen in the booth, I think we can assume CBS assigned this game to its last-string team. Criqui at one point did note that Carmichael, who was of course six-foot-eight to begin with, like to go around in his off-field hours in high heels and a feathered hat, which must have made him clear seven feet.

The touchdown brought the Eagles to within 17-12, but Louie Giammona couldn’t handle the snap on the extra point, and in the ensuing confusion, kicker Nick Mike-Mayer tried to throw a pass and ended up on the ground with some kind of leg injury, his season over. This would have tremendous implications on the Eagles’ season going forward, but at the moment, it seemed kind of irrelevant; the Eagles were going to be down a TD whether they made the XP or not.

When the Giants started running the ball, up by five, with five minutes left in the game, I figured I knew exactly how this one was going to end. But then Giants tailback Doug Kotar fumbled, and the Eagles recovered on the Giants 30, with just over three minutes to go. Suddenly, I didn’t know what was going to happen. The Eagles (who would have been down by just a field goal if they hadn’t honked two extra points by this point) started driving, but one of their running backs (I think it was Mike Hogan) coughed up the ball – only to have an Eagles lineman fall on the ball. Then Jaworski rifled a ball off a receiver’s hands into the hands of Giants DB Odis McKinney. With 1:22 left, the Giants took over on their own 10. The Eagles had one timeout left.

On the first snap, Jersey Joe Pisarcik just fell on the ball, only to get crunched by Eagles linebacker Frank LeMaster. The Eagles took their last timeout. On the next play, perhaps to avoid getting crushed, Pisarcik handed off to Larry Csonka, who tore up the middle for 11 yards. The clock was still ticking; the Giants needed to run one more play. CBS rolled the credits. Pisarcik took the snap and turned to hand off again to Csonka, who wasn’t expecting the ball and ran right past him. It deflected off his elbow and fell to the ground. Herman Edwards scooped up the ball and ran in untouched.

One wonders why Csonka was in the game in the first place. Even within the Giants committee of running backs, he was clearly a backup. The 11-yard run was only his second carry of the day. Maybe McVay felt like he needed some veteran presence to help close out the game.

“An incredible development!” Criqui screamed. The cameras caught Dick Vermeil completely blissed out, hugging random players, but they never did show anyone in the stands. It would have been fun to see Giants rooters staring into nothingness.

Special thanks to Dan Lee for his invaluable assistance

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