By Pat Costello
The New York Giants are first in the NFC East. At 5-5, they are far from a sure thing to make it to the playoffs. Trailing right behind them are their rivals from right down I-95, the Philadelphia Eagles, who are 4-5. This is far from the first time that the Giants have had a small lead on the Birds. Thirty-seven years ago this week, however, a Giants lead resulted in a giant folly, one of the most infamous plays in the history of the NFL.
Nov. 19, 1978: Giants v. Eagles at the Meadowlands. Big Blue was attempting to keep their playoff hopes alive against a very formidable Eagles team, led by Quarterback Ron Jaworski. With the game hanging in the balance, and the ball in his hands, Jaws threw an interception that seemingly sealed a Giants win. With just over a minute remaining, it seemed as though the fat lady had sung for the Eagles. All the Giants had to do was fall on the ball and victory would be theirs. Simple, right?
On first down, Giants Quarterback Joe Pisarcik fell on the ball, as everyone had expected. Eagles linebackers Bill Bergey and Frank Lemaster were not content to just watch the clock tick down and all-out blitzed, knocking down Pisarcik and angering the Giants. On second down, not wanting his team to get in a fight, offensive coordinator Bob Gibson called a run for Larry Csonka, who gained 11 yards. In the huddle before the play, Csonka implored his quarterback to simply take the snap and fall down, but Pisacik did not oblige.
With 31 seconds remaining, the game still seemed out of reach when the impossible happened. Pisarcik turned to once again hand the ball to Csonka, but the snap was wide, causing him to be late on the exchange. The ball hit off Csonka’s right hip and fell to the ground. Pisarcik desperately dove to try to regain possession, but the ball bounced through his hands and into the hands of an Eagles linebacker. That linebacker was Herman Edwards, who would eventually return to the Meadowlands as the coach of the New York Jets. Edwards scooped up the ball and ran 26 yards into the endzone, immediately silencing the previously euphoric Giants fans. Immediately following the game Gibson was fired, and never coached another down in football.
Since that infamous play, teams have started using the victory formation, in which the quarterback, surrounded by three other players, takes the snap and simply kneels down. There has never been another play quite like the Miracle at the Meadowlands.
The Giants have a good chance to win the division. They control their own destiny, but the Eagles will not making it easy. They will keep coming until they have no hope left, and if the Giants are lucky, they’ll be able to finish better than they did on that fateful day 37 years ago.