Nov 172016
 
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Leonard Marshall and Bill Parcells, New York Giants (December 23, 1984)

Leonard Marshall and Bill Parcells, New York Giants (December 23, 1984)

By Larry Schmitt, with contributions from Matt Michelman

The day after the close of the 1978 season, and 29 days after The Fumble, December 18, 1978, John McVay was released as head coach of the New York Giants and Andy Robustelli resigned as director of football operations, pending the acquisition of his successor. The once proud franchise, last place finishers in five of the previous six football season, were the league punch line. The co-owners, Wellington and Tim Mara, had not spoken to one another in almost a full calendar year.

The two leading candidates for the new coaching position were from the college ranks: Joe Paterno of Penn State and Bill Walsh of Stanford. Both men were involved in preparation of their programs’ respective bowl games and would not interview until after January 1. Dan Reeves, an assistant coach on Dallas was also in the running, and would not become available until the Cowboys post season had concluded.

Robustelli’s recommendations for the director of football operations position were Bobby Beathard, personnel director of the Miami Dolphins, and Jan Van Duser, head of the NFL’s personnel office. Regarding his five year tenure with the New York Giants, which involved a major restructuring of the scouting department, Robustelli said, “It was tough trying to tear down the old building and attempt to build it again while people were living in it. It meant catching a lot of hell and maybe losing a couple of friends.”

Veteran player Jack Gregory said of the changes, “The Maras are great people. I think they’re kinda fed up with the fans getting on them. I guess it was their only choice left. I don’t know it its entirely justified, but what else can you do?”

Robustelli felt optimistic on what he was leaving behind. The organizational structure, while imperfect, had been modernized and reorganized. Player prospects were now seen by multiple scouts, who all reported up to a chief scout. Coaches were able to operate without interference from ownership. Wellington Mara said, “I told Andy all I just would like to have is veto power over trades, and I think we all should agree on the head coach.”

Getting “all” to agree was going to prove to be the most elusive of ideals.

Robustelli, fed up with the infighting, walked away from the Giants on December 31, leaving the quarrelsome Maras on their own. He wrote years later, “During my five seasons as director of operations, the games played behind the games played on Sunday were far tougher and costlier to the franchise than anything that happened on the field. Like the games on the field, there were soon two teams in our office.”

The New Year was filled with rumors and innuendo. Press conferences were called and little substance was revealed, consternation abounded, and potential candidates vanished. Paterno, who wanted full control of the football organization, ultimately refuted the Giants courting, while Walsh went to San Francisco. Reeves felt uncomfortable with the feuding owners and chose to remain in Dallas. The frustration boiled over. Tim Mara said of Paterno, “I don’t know what job or jobs my uncle offered him. My gut reaction is that Joe Paterno never was going to come to the Giants anyway.”

All the elder Mara would say is, “We don’t always agree.”

Rumors from unnamed sources suggested the two owners were conducting their own searches in solitary.

Wellington declared, “I am the president of the Giants. The office was given me by election. Even though the shareholding is equal, having been made president, I’m chief operating officer. It’s my responsibility, when there is a deadlock, to make the final decision…I want to get a man who can run this franchise the next 10 or 20 years, a good man whom I can trust.”

Tim Mara, who was titled as vice president and treasurer, retorted, “No. No. Nobody can make that final decision. We’ve had 15 years of losing, six straight years of being in the cellar. If he picks the man it will be the same old story. Business as usual.”

Wellington said, “I think there is a difference between an equal voice and the ability to immobilize an organization.”

Don Smith, the Giants former press director said, “The inviolate Mara bond has come apart. Blood was always thicker than water. The sense of family is being disrupted, shattered in the press.”

Tim Mara said, “Of course, there’s some strain. It’s been going on for some time now, and now it’s out. Now we have to go from here.”

John Mara, Wellington’s eldest son and law student at Fordham said, “The most disturbing thing is that we’ve prided ourselves as being a family. We’ve always been able to work things out and now we can’t. It’s pretty much torn the families apart. It’s unlikely that we’ll ever be able to live together peacefully again.”

The state of stasis became a stare-down contest over the potential appointment of Assistant Director of Operations Terry Bledsoe, who Wellington Mara preferred as Robustelli’s successor. Tim Mara countered with Gill Brandt from Dallas.

On February 9th, following back-to-back press conferences by the two Maras, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle stepped in to arbitrate what had become a public embarrassment to the league. Rozelle told the two owners to each draw up a list of their preferred candidates. Two names that appeared on each were Van Dueser and former San Diego coach Tommy Prothro. Van Dueser, however, chose not to get involved in the dysfunctional situation and withdrew his name from consideration after interviewing, “It was partly for personal reasons and partly for professional reasons.” Prothro declined outright, choosing to remain in retirement.

Wellington Mara said, “Some people who were prime candidates did not want to become referees.”

Tim Mara conceded that the franchise was beginning to be perceived as “foolish and ridiculous.” Wellington announced that since the two could not agree on a director of operations, that he would find the team a head coach, which incensed Tim.

Wellington: “It’s like taking an exam. When you can’t answer the second question, you go ahead and answer the third and fourth.”

An incredulous Tim said, “This was unexpected. Well just told me an hour ago. Naturally, I’m going to take this up with the commissioner. I think the coach is only one part of a football organization. The D.O. is the one who’s going to have to pull it all together…I want to have a winner. Well wants to have a winner, his way. Well’s way has had us in the cellar the last 15 years. I think the people he wants have only been linked to failure.”

On February 10th, the embarrassment reached its zenith. New Jersey Governor Brendan Byrne spoke on behalf of his populace and proposed a solution while at the NJSEA: “I have not excluded the possibility of a public or private buyout of the Giants to solve their ridiculous disputes. The sports complex is a first-class, professional operation and New Jersey had expected a similarly professional performance from the Giants.”

Tim Mara told reporters that former Washington coach George Allen inquired about the vacant coaching position, but that very well may have been in response to Tim’s learning of Wellington having had a clandestine meeting with Reeves. Tim said, “It seems we’ve been growing farther apart.”

The only thing the two seemed to agree upon was mediation from Rozelle.

Wellington: “(I) would prefer the commissioner come over and run the team, I could prefer that to just sitting here and doing nothing.”

Tim: “The only person who has that power is the commissioner.”

A disgusted Rozelle had also grown tired of the feuding in public: “I’m going to continue working with both of (the Maras), but the less said, the better.”

A Great Compromise

Wellington Mara had received a recommendation from Bobby Beathard about his director of scouting, George Young. Wellington was familiar with Young’s detailed reports on college and pro players, and told Rozelle that he wanted Young, but that he couldn’t suggest anyone to Tim because it would be automatically rejected. Wellington told Rozelle that the Young recommendation had to come from him.

Rozelle told Tim Mara that he needed to choose between Young and Yale Athletic Director and former Cleveland Browns quarterback Frank Ryan. Tim said, “I had Frank Gifford check out Young for me. He called Bobby Beathard and got a glowing report, and he told me that he was definitely the man.”

On the 58th day of the bitter impasse, Young, showing the attributes of both Paul Brown and Henry Kissinger, came to Rozelle’s office in New York to meet with the Maras. The way the meeting unfolded spoke volumes to how desperate Rozelle was to have this saga finished forever.

Tim Mara recalled: “…we go on Wednesday to the Drake Hotel and we interview Young for two hours. We’re impressed and we go to Rozelle’s office. We’re sitting there and we have to go over the new resolutions about how the club shall be governed and who has right of first refusal in the event of a stockholder’s death and things like that. It also placed the football operation in the hands of whoever would get the general manager’s job.

“George wants to go home and talk it over with his wife but Pete wants it settled tonight. So George is in the other room and we’re dotting i’s and crossing t’s…Now it’s like 7:00 p.m. and nobody is in the league office, so Pete walks over to the typewriter and he starts to type out the press release for that night. It’s probably the first one he wrote in 25 years and the last one he ever wrote. While he’s writing, he suddenly looks up and says, ‘This is a great way to spend today. It’s my wedding anniversary.’”

A hastily scheduled news conference was called to get the word out immediately. An exhausted, horse-voiced Wellington Mara proudly boasted in front of the cameras and reporters, “It’s a sign the Giants are conforming with the rest of the league.”

The fallout from the Wellington-Tim Mara feud is forever be remembered in a document residing at the NFL’s office. In it are guidelines on ownership, drawn up by Rozelle, that decree any changes in the ownership of an existing franchise, or a new charter being drawn up for an expansion franchise, must have a majority owner. There will never be another 50-50 split ownership. Wellington said, “I regard it as a personal tragedy that our club provided the wisdom for that rule.”

Tim Mara said, “Sure, there were differences. But I always said that once we solved this problem, it would be behind us.”

Young came to the Giants with universal approval. Don Shula called Young, “A walking encyclopedia of information,” and added, “We went into games well-prepared basically because of George. He was my right-hand man.” Former Kansas City coach Hank Stram said, “George is in the good position of coming to a team that needs his kind of help. He knows football inside and out. He comes to the Giants well prepared.”

Regarding what promised to be a sometimes precarious man-in-the-middle between the often ornery owners, Young was appropriately diplomatic: “(I am) very happy to be with the Giants. I read the New York papers…But I know a good job when I see one. This is a wonderful opportunity and the Maras are one of the greatest families in pro football.”

On his credentials, Young said, “My experience is in personnel, waivers, things I can help a coach with. Some head coaches are excellent coaches, but are not good evaluators of personnel. Others are not good at talking to other people about trades. I don’t care who gets credit for anything, as long as we’re going in the same direction. That’s more important than any ego trip.”

The bruised egos of the two owners, however, would never completely heal. Wellington and Tim would remain on non-speaking terms for the remainder of Tim’s ownership (he sold his interest to Bob Tisch in March 1991), and one of Young’s responsibilities was to serve as their intermediary. While unease permeated the Giants offices with little respite, the feuding in public was over for good.

Establishing Order

While it took the owners 58 days to find their man, it took Young only eight days to find his. This bold and decisive move exemplified Young’s conviction and underscored his authority.

Ray Perkins was named the 11th head coach of the Giants, but was only the second to come from outside the organization (Bill Arnsparger being the first). Young was acquainted with Perkins when they were both in Baltimore with the Colts in the late 1960’s. The always quotable Young said, “Always hire a guy you know.”

Perkins had gained a strong reputation as a hardworking and studious wide receiver with the Colts, as a position coach with New England and as the offensive coordinator with San Diego. That his name had little resonance with the general public did not faze the owners, who were thrilled with the addition to their staff.

Wellington Mara: “Ray Perkins is very impressive in an unimpressive way.”

Tim Mara: “We have two people who I feel have credibility. They may not be that well-known by the man in the street, but the people in football, the people whose life is football, the people from the other 27 teams, know about them.”

One of the Giants rival executives, Gil Brandt of Dallas, ironically had given The New York Times a very candid and detailed analysis on his thoughts of the Giants a month earlier, during the Mara’s standoff. In it, he cited New York’s three chief failings:

(1) Organizational stability – the Giants were looking for their fifth head coach in 10 years. “When you pick a coach, you’ve got to pick the right man. If you pick somebody and he stays for two years and you’re not satisfied and then go to someone else, you’re back starting from scratch again.”

(2) Player acquisition and development – “When you draft top choices like Rocky Thompson, Eldridge Small, Al Simpson, guys who should be playing for you now and are no longer there, you get wiped out….Sometimes poor choices are not entirely on the scouting department. We’ve made some choices that we were high on that never improved. You have to find a way to make players compete so that they’re not just satisfied with what they’ve done but want to improve all the time.”

(3) Find the long term answer at quarterback – “Number one, they have to improve the quarterback situation, and they have to strengthen the wide receivers. Their running backs are adequate, the offensive line is coming together. Defensively, they’re pretty well set. They have the nucleus of doing well. I would try to trade or draft a quarterback. When you draft a quarterback, he’s usually not ready to play, but you can build with him. If you trade for one, it’s harder because nobody wants to give up a player like Danny White, our backup.”

In the short time since that interview was published the organization had become remarkably stabilized by Young’s presence, and a demanding coach was in place who would make players accountable. The third piece of the puzzle, that had proved to be elusive for the previous regime, was still missing.

Robustelli said as he exited his post, “When I came here, we were two years behind any expansion team. We had to tear down an organization and we had nothing to trade. If you add seven players a year, in five years you should have 35 players. Right now I would say the Giants are in a position for the first time to draft for depth. There’s only about four positions where we really need help at.”

The most critical of those positions was quarterback, which had been a revolving door since the departure of Fran Tarkenton after the 1971 season. Norm Snead, Randy Johnson, Craig Morton, Jim Del Gaizo, Joe Pisarcik, Jerry Golsteyn and Randy Dean all took their turns as starters over the ensuing seven seasons; results were routinely inconsistent and usually disappointing. The man on Young’s and Perkins’ radar would be another name the public was not familiar with, yet had the people in the know in the football world enamored. He was a strong-armed quarterback at a small school in Kentucky with a losing record (10-27 the past four seasons) that ran the ball more than they threw it.

Phil Simms’ final semester at Morehead State was a hectic one. He was continuously visited by NFL scouts and coaches.

Simms recalled: “There was no combine then, so the coaches and scouts who wanted to see me came to Morehead…I had worked out for about nine teams, and every single person who came to Morehead wanted to see how hard I could throw. In fact, when I asked Ray Perkins, the Giants coach at the time, how he wanted me to throw the ball, he said, ‘Son, I want you to throw that ball as hard as you can every time.’ ‘Even short passes?,’ I asked. ‘I want you to knock ‘em down.’

“Then Bill Walsh came along. I started working out, throwing hard as usual, and Bill said, ‘Oh that’s wayyy to hard. Throw a little softer. Throw with a little more rhythm. I want you to drop back gracefully. Be light on your feet. And I want you to throw with beautiful rhythm. I want your passes to be really pretty. I want nice spirals.’…After about 10 minutes I finally got it. I finally got to a speed that he liked. For the next 30 minutes I threw just the way he wanted me to. The results were awesome. That was one of the most enjoyable days I’ve ever had as a quarterback.”

“Bill came back to Morehead to work me out a second time. Afterward, he said, ‘Phil, if we draft you you’re going to lead the league in passing every year.’ The Forty-Niners didn’t have a first round pick that year. They had the first pick of the second round, and Bill told me he was confident I would be there. He was wrong. I wound up being a first round pick of the Giants.”

The most familiar name to football fans hoping for a quarterback in the spring of 1979 was Jack Thompson of Washington State. When Rozelle called the Giants first pick – the seventh overall – the boisterous reaction of the approximately 200 fans on hand at the Waldorf-Astoria ballroom surprised everyone in the room. The New York press was so amazed, that they pleaded with the commissioner for a second-take. Rozelle obliged, and as he stepped up to re-announce the Giants pick with a wry smile, anticipating another lively response, he got that and more.

The riled Giants fans jeered before Rozelle even said Simms’ name, and the commissioner chuckled his way off the stage while they howled defiantly. That group of Giants fans left an indelible impression on Rozelle, and he looked to capitalize on their passion. The next year, Rozelle had the draft moved to the New York Sheraton hotel, which possessed a gallery that could accommodate up to 750 people. Also, for the first time, fans could watch the selection process from home as the draft was broadcast live on television.

Despite what the fans thought, everyone in the Giants organization was thrilled to have Simms.

Perkins said, “I think Phil Simms, at some point in time, has a chance to be a great quarterback… We had good reason to believe he would not be there in the second round.”

Ray Perkins and Phil Simms, New York Giants (1979)

Ray Perkins and Phil Simms, New York Giants (1979)

Former Giants coach John McVay, who was now the director of player personnel for San Francisco, told Perkins, “You guys made one hell of a pick.”

Young said, “Once in a while you get to get a guy with a great arm and great potential and you darn better take it. Names, that’s just feeding Pablum to the fans.”

Just weeks following the draft, tragedy struck the Giants. On June 22nd, defensive tackle Troy Archer was killed when his pickup truck struck a telephone pole in North Bergen, New Jersey. Archer died from severe head trauma. Another passenger was also killed and a third went to the hospital with critical injuries. Archer lost control of the vehicle on a rain-slicked road, alcohol and drug involvement were ruled out by investigators. The loss of the young, talented player was a harbinger of personal loss that was going to linger with the franchise.

Welcome to the Big Time

The Giants brought five quarterbacks to camp and the three who made the opening day roster were Simms, Pisarcik and Dean. Pisarcik was a sub-50% passer with two touchdowns and four interceptions as the Giants began the campaign 0-2. Perkins sat Pisarcik and started Dean after the Week 3 27-0 disaster at Washington on Monday Night Football. While the stat sheet was ugly – 7-of-24 with two more interceptions – it was believed that Pisarcik’s confidence was shot as the line was not protecting him. He’d been sacked 17 times over the first three games and the physical beating was becoming overwhelming. Dean didn’t fare much better in Week 4, he was 10-of-22 and two interceptions in a home loss to Philadelphia.

Pisarcik got the start for the Week 5 game at New Orleans, and Giants fans got a glimpse of the future.

The game did not appear to be anything out of the ordinary at first. New Orleans led 7-0 midway through the second quarter. Pisarcik, who had entered the game with a sore knee, struggled going to 3-of-9 for 39 yards. After he took a hard hit and bruised his shoulder, Perkins sent in Simms.

Immediately there was a noticeable lift in New York’s energy. Simms connected on two deep throws to Johnny Perkins and had the Giants in position to tie the game, but an underthrown pass toward the end zone was intercepted. New Orleans kicked a field goal and led 10-0 at the half. Simms said, “I underthrew the ball. Instead of going ahead and throwing it, I tried to make it perfect.”

The Saints widened the margin to 17-0 to start the third quarter, but the Giants matched that with Simms’ first touchdown drive for the Giants. The defense held and Simms brought New York downfield for a field goal attempt that would’ve made it a one-score game at 17-10, but Joe Danelo’s 43-yard kick missed the mark.

A linebacker Harry Carson interception gave the Giants the ball right back and this time Simms delivered with his first NFL touchdown pass, an 11-yarder to running back Ken Johnson. With 11:00 left in the game, Brian Kelley recovered a New Orleans fumble, and again Simms drove the Giants into scoring territory. Running back Doug Kotar caught a pass at the Saints 15-yard line, but the ball was jarred loose on the tackle and the Saints recovered and ultimately held on for a 24-14 victory.

Although New York was 0-5, the locker room was not despondent. Perkins was initially non-committal, but Simms was given the start the next week at Giants Stadium against 5-0 Tampa Bay. Despite failing to score more than 17 points for the 17th straight game, the Giants upset the Buccaneers 17-14. Simms statistics were not impressive, 6-of-12 for 37 yards, as Billy Taylor ran the ball 33 times for 148 yards and both Giant touchdowns.

The following week Simms aired it out for 300 yards and two touchdowns against San Francisco in a 32-14 win. Two more wins at Kansas City and Los Angeles saw the Giants at 4-5 and thinking about the possibility of the playoffs. The four-game win streak for Simms set an NFL standard for rookie quarterbacks that would stand for 25 years.

The streak nearly reached five. A Giants Stadium record crowd of 76,490 erupted joyously with 8:33 to play in the fourth quarter when Simms hit Taylor for a 23-yard touchdown and 14-6 led over heavily-favored Dallas. However, the Cowboys, led by Giant nemesis Roger Staubach, led Dallas to 10 points in the last three minutes to pull out the victory, with the winning points coming on a 22-yard field goal with three seconds to play. Linebacker Brad Van Pelt said, “I don’t want to say it was our Super Bowl, but we treated it like it was a Super Bowl.”

The Giants won two of their next three before falling out of contention after a second loss to Dallas and ended the year 6-10, their seventh consecutive losing record. Simms finished second in Rookie of the Year voting to the St. Louis Cardinals Ottis Anderson. The decade of despair ended with a sense of optimism heading into 1980.

Another brush with personal loss put a scare into the Giants in March when linebacker Dan Lloyd was diagnosed with lymphoma. The Giants maintained his locker during his treatment and recovery in anticipation of his return the following year. Ultimately, Lloyd also sat out the 1981 season, and was declared cured of cancer by his doctors in 1982. A knee injury forced him to miss the 1982 season, after which he was released by the Giants. Lloyd retired from football after playing in the USFL during the 1983 season.

Simms opened the 1980 season with a five-touchdown, 280-yard performance at St. Louis in a 41-35 victory, the best passing day for a Giant since Fran Tarkenton in 1970. A last-second loss at home to the Redskins sent the Giants into a tailspin that nearly cost them their team captain.

Phil Simms, New York Giants (October 26, 1980)

Phil Simms, New York Giants (October 26, 1980)

Harry Carson recalled: “When I played badly in our third game of the season in 1980, a 35-3 loss at Philadelphia on a Monday night, I considered retiring. At the time football wasn’t much fun. I was tired of doing the same thing day after day for a losing team (New York’s record at that point since Carson had joined the team in 1976 was 21-43). Then I spent 10 minutes closeted alone with Perkins. I suggested that the Giants donate my game check to charity because I had played so badly. I told him I wanted to quit, to go home and get away from football for a while. He told me to wait and come see him the next morning at the stadium…Perk did not try to talk me out of quitting. He just told me to make sure of what I was doing. I know he cared for me as a person, not just as a player. I’ll always respect him for that.”

Carson remained a Giant but had a frustrating, injury-marred season that included two stays on the injured reserve list. An eight-game losing streak ended with a thrilling 38-35 upset of heavily favored Dallas at home, the Giants first win over the Cowboys since 1974. Simms had a 300-yard passing day in that victory and the next week as well over Green Bay. However, his season ended abruptly in a loss to St. Louis with a bruised collar bone. Rookie Scott Brunner quarterbacked the Giants the rest of the way to their woeful 4-12 record. It seemed like the languishing from 1970’s would never end.

Sudden Impact

Ironically, the rancor surrounding the Giants number one pick – and second overall – in the 1981 draft came from within the organization rather than outside it. Specifically, the veterans of the defensive unit, several of which had All-Pro credentials, were displeased with the notion of a rookie coming in as the team’s highest paid player.

Young seemed unmoved, and made no public statements to quell the rumors: “Our approach will be to try to get as many quality players as we can and not be dictated to by the need-for-position board. It’s my experience when you bring the position board into the draft room, you’re in trouble.”

Young never hesitated with the selection after New Orleans took George Rogers first overall, but he deflected praise when asked about taking linebacker Lawrence Taylor, who was regarded by most as the best athlete in the draft, “Today we are all just as smart or just as dumb as one another.”

Perkins reminisced years later: “I’ve never looked at game films and been as totally impressed as I was with (Taylor). I stayed up all night before the draft hoping and praying and crossing my legs, fingers, and everything else, that (New Orleans coach) Bum Phillips would take George Rogers. And he did.”

Taylor had been uneasy on becoming a focal point of distraction: “I heard the talk that some of the Giants would walk out if I got a lot of money. I didn’t want people to be mad at me. So I sent the Giants a telegram Monday saying I would rather not be drafted by them. Monday night I got calls from some of the players, on offense and defense and some coaches. They said there was nothing to the story, and there would be no walkout. They said they wanted me here.”

He also discussed the move from his college position of defensive end to outside linebacker: “I feel at home in that position. I know what’s going on there. The block can only come from one direction.” Veteran Brian Kelley was expected to vacate his outside position and move to one of the inside spots as the Giants converted full-time to the 3-4 defense under new defensive coordinator Bill Parcells.

To say Taylor’s transition to a new position and gaining acceptance from the veterans went smoothly would be an understatement of the grandest proportions.

Carson: “When we arrived at training camp, it didn’t take us long to see what the guys in scouting and personnel already knew. Once we took the field, you couldn’t help but watch him as he went through drills. He made some agility drills look easy…I had never seen a player so big, so fast and so strong move the way Lawrence Taylor moved on the football field. He would make plays that would make players turn to one another and ask, ‘Man, did you see that shit?’ Lawrence Taylor was something special.”

Simms: “From what I saw in person, I can’t think of another player that compares with Lawrence Taylor. My gosh! Even if you knew nothing about football, you could see that he was different from anybody else that you had ever practiced or played with. He had skill that was unique and new to the NFL…When you played us, you actually had to change your offensive philosophy, just because you had to find a different way to deal with him…Lawrence was a ferocious competitor. He loved to win and he never turned that off.”

New York started the 1981 season unevenly at 2-2. Clearly, the defense was the strength of the team and largely responsible for the two wins, where a combined 14 points were allowed, and had kept the Giants close in two tough losses to division powerhouses Philadelphia and Dallas.

Lawrence Taylor, New York Giants (September 13, 1981)

Lawrence Taylor, New York Giants (September 13, 1981)

Carson: “With each game we players that 1981 season, we could all see Lawrence Taylor was the real deal. We saw week in and week out an athlete with superb mental and physical abilities will himself, like an artist, to be better than most other players on the same field…I remember thinking, ‘Damn, I’m glad he’s on my side!’”

Perkins: “(Taylor) makes the offenses study how they’ll attack him and how they’ll try to keep him from attacking them. When you do that you have to put two men on him, which starts to restrict their offensive schemes.”

Brian Kelley said, “Looking at it on paper, you wouldn’t believe a weak-side linebacker could affect a defense so much. Watching it on film, it’s obvious. With Lawrence out there, he completely changes the whole offense.”

Simms: “(Taylor) was not only good. He was frightening.”

That week Young traded for Rob Carpenter, a big, versatile fullback who suddenly became available from the Houston Oilers. Young said, “Ray asked me last spring about getting him. We talked to the Oilers as soon as they named their new coach, but he wanted to look over his team first. He’s a real all-round back. He’s a good blocker, has good running moves and excellent hands.”

Carpenter sat on the bench as New York lost to Green Bay at home, as well as the first half the following week against St. Louis. Perkins sent Carpenter out with the first team to start the third quarter and the lift he gave the offense was not unlike the one Taylor had given the defense. Suddenly, the Giants rushing attack was consistent and reliable. Big gains on first down were followed-up with crucial pick-ups in short yardage. The Giants controlled the clock, gave the defense much needed rest, and energized the Giants Stadium crowd who cheered every time the chains moved. In 30 minutes of action, Carpenter totaled 104 yards on 14 carries and caught two passes for 23 yards as the Giants rolled to a confidence-boosting 34-14 victory.

The next week was even better. On the road in Seattle, Carpenter started and had a 122-yard rushing day on 21 carries, the first a Giant had consecutive 100-yard rushing games since Ron Johnson in 1972. The defense smothered the Seahawks and registered five sacks and four takeaways, giving New York its first shutout in three years. Taylor said, “It’s hard to complete a lot of passes if someone’s in your face all the time.”

The next week, New York won on the road against heavily-favored Atlanta. The victory was the franchise’s first in overtime. All this newfound success proved to be fleeting however, as the Giants lost three in a row. The first setback was a physical beating by the Jets where Simms was injured while enduring a nine-sack barrage. The second was a late loss following a Brunner-led comeback in Green Bay, and the third an overtime loss set up by a botched squib kick at home to Washington. The Giants also lost Simms for the second season in a row in the Washington game with a separated shoulder.

Now 5-6, many felt this was the same old Giants team on the verge of another late-season collapse as they had done so many times before. Next up was 9-2 Philadelphia, owners of a 12-game win streak over New York.

Character and Guts

The first three quarters at Philadelphia’s Veterans Stadium saw the defenses dominate a gritty 10-10 stalemate. The Giants front seven made life miserable for Philadelphia quarterback Ron Jaworski, who was sacked three times en route to a 20-of-45 passing day. New York played it close to the vest and relied on the running of Carpenter, who would finish the day with 111 yards on 24 carries.

The tipping point came early in the fourth quarter. On 3rd-and-1 for Philadelphia on their own 23-yard line, running back Wilbert Montgomery was stopped inches short of the yard marker. Eagles coach Dick Vermeil expectedly sent out his punting unit, but result turned out to be puzzling. Vermeil called for a snap to the up-back for a run, but the center misinterpreted the call and snapped the ball to a very surprised punter Max Runnager, who then shanked the kick for a net gain of nine yards.

New York took over on the Eagles 32-yard line and sent Carpenter into the line five successive times. After an incomplete third down pass, Joe Danelo kicked a 30-yard field goal for a 13-10 New York advantage. Philadelphia advanced the ball as far as their 45-yard line on their next possession, then the Giants defense took over the game.

Scott Brunner (12), Jim Clack (58), New York Giants (November 22, 1981)

Scott Brunner (12), Jim Clack (58), New York Giants (November 22, 1981)

Back-to-back holding penalties and a Brad Van Pelt sack of Jaworski set up a third-and-39 for the Eagles from their own 16-yard line. On the next snap, cornerback Terry Jackson jumped an out-route, picked the ball cleanly, and raced down the sideline 32 yards untouched for a touchdown and 20-10 lead. Jackson said, “They put two guys in my deep zone. He had to throw the ball across the field, and when he let it go I knew I had it. I also knew I would score because all the other Eagles were blocking on the other side of the field.”

The Eagles mustered up one last desperation drive that ended with a missed field goal. The Giants then ran off most of the final three minutes from the clock with Carpenter plunges and a prevent defense.

This game was almost three years to the date after “The Fumble.” It was quite ironic that the Veterans Stadium crowd began to chant “WE WANT JOE! WE WANT JOE!” as Jaworski dumped off short passes against New York’s soft zone defense. The Joe they called for was none other than Joe Pisarcik, who had been Philadelphia’s backup quarterback after a trade with the Giants during the 1980 draft.

After the game, the New York locker room was buoyant:

Taylor: “The defensive game plan was take it to them. If we lost this game, we had no chance for the playoffs.”

Van Pelt: “We started slow, but we should be proud of our performance.”

Perkins: “I don’t think the score indicates just how bad we beat them. We showed a lot of character and guts. We could have bit the dust and played the last five games and gone home for Christmas. I told our guys Monday we were going to shock the world today.”

Ironically, in the midst of New York’s most prosperous season in over a decade, hard feelings over an old grudge surfaced, when Wellington Mara sent a letter to Commissioner Rozelle, stating that the state of the franchise was being compromised by the divided ownership. In the letter, Mara wrote, “I am convinced that the absence of acknowledgement of authority will not change, and that under the circumstances, the 50%-50% ownership balance is a fatal blow to the ability of the Giants to cope with the demands of the future.”

Essentially, Wellington was asking that his title of President be officially recognized in a hierarchical manner over Tim’s titles of Vice President and Treasurer. Rozelle took no action. Prior to this, Frank Gifford attempted to mediate the situation between the owners. Tim Mara said, “Just before Thanksgiving, Frank Gifford talked to Well, he wanted to patch things up…He spent three hours with Well, and he told me that Well listened. He didn’t commit himself one way or the other…It turned out he had already written that letter to Rozelle before he spoke to Gifford. Except neither Gifford nor I knew that until I got ‘copied’ with the letter. I think Pete was great, he was diplomatic, he just let it ride.”

Ultimately, the Giants ownership situation was settled. Wellington would make one final plea to Rozelle late in the 1983 season, only to have Rozelle decree with full certainty that the agreement made in 1979 during the hiring of George Young would be upheld in perpetuity.

After a tough 17-10 loss at San Francisco, the Giants won two more defensive struggles to enter the final week of the season 8-7. A Saturday win at home against 12-3 Dallas guaranteed a winning record, but nothing more. New York also needed the Jets to defeat Green Bay on Sunday, as the Packers owned a tie breaker over the Giants.

The lead-up to Week 16 was unlike anything New York had ever seen. Both franchises had been absent from the post season since the 1960s and combined for two winning season during the abysmal decade of the 1970s (both by the Giants, in 1970 and 1972). Newspapers and local news broadcasts gleefully speculated on the possibility of a Giants-Jets Super Bowl.

The legend of “Giants Stadium Weather” was born on December 19, 1981. Kick-off temperatures in the upper 20s dropped steadily throughout the contest. Winds in the 15-23 mph range gusted to 40 mph with a chill factor registered in the low single digits. New York’s squad, whose strength was defense and power running, would be largely unaffected. Over the 3-1 stretch after Simms was lost for the season, the Giants offense averaged 2.5 turnovers per game while scoring 15 points. But the defense only allowed 11 points per game. The Cowboys potent passing offense would be challenged by the elements. Perkins said his approach for the pivotal contest was, “…just like a playoff game. You win or you go home for Christmas.”

An unnamed member of the New York defense told Sports Illustrated’s Paul Zimmerman, “When you hit the Cowboys early, and keep hitting them, they’ll lose interest – particularly if it’s a game they’re not totally committed to.”

The game started with the Giants blowing Dallas off the ball on both sides of the line of scrimmage. New York drove deep into Dallas territory twice in the first quarter but came up empty both times. After Johnny Perkins dropped a sure touchdown pass in the end zone, Danelo sliced a 21-yard field goal attempt wide left. On the next possession he missed twice, first from 32 yards, and then from 27 yards after a Dallas offsides penalty. Danelo said, “I just blew that first one (first possession), no excuses. I jumped at the ball instead of kicking it. I tried to guide that one through (third miss), steer it.”  Most disheartening for New York was those kicks were attempted with the wind at Danelo’s back.

The Giants defense, however kept the Dallas offense in check. George Martin and Taylor combined for three first half sacks and the teams entered the second half tied 0-0. The Giants broke the stalemate with just under five minutes left in the third quarter on a 62-yard drive that featured a good break when a flea-flicker pass from Brunner was tipped by Ed “Too Tall” Jones and landed in the arms of running back Leon Perry, who advanced for a 16-yard gain. Two plays later, Brunner hit tight end Tom Mullady for a 20-yard touchdown pass at the pylon for a 7-0 lead.

The raucousness at Giants Stadium was short lived however, as immediately Dallas responded with an 80-yard drive that was completed with a three-yard touchdown pass from White to tight end Doug Cosbie. The Giants seemed rattled, as on the kickoff, the return man muffed, bobbled and eventually fell on the ball on the one-yard line. Two plays later Dallas intercepted a Brunner pass and converted it into three points and a 10-7 lead with 9:12 on the clock.

New York drove into Dallas territory, but a third down sack forced a punt and the Cowboys took over on their own five-yard line. Running back Tony Dorsett ran the ball on first and second down before White completed a third down pass to move the chains. The next three downs repeated the pattern, and New York took a time out with 2:14 on the clock with Dallas on their own 45-yard line. Another first down would all but doom the Giants.

Dire circumstances notwithstanding, the following sequence of plays hinted that for the first time in 18 years, the football gods were about to smile upon the Giants.

New York Giants Defense (December 19, 1981)

New York Giants Defense (December 19, 1981)

On 1st-and-10, Dorsett bobbled a pitch out that Martin recovered for the Giants on the Dallas 45-yard line with 2:08 to go in the game. A holding penalty and incompletions on first and second down preceded a seven yard pass from Brunner to wide receiver John Mistler on third down. On f4th-and-13 from the Cowboys 48-yard line, Brunner stepped up under heavy pressure and completed a pass to Mistler late crossing the field. Mistler ran out of bounds at the Dallas 27-yard line to stop the clock at 1:35.

Two runs and an incomplete pass set New York up with a fourth-and-three on the Dallas 20-yard line. Danelo had his first chance at redemption with 0:30 on the clock and the fierce wind blowing in his face. Defying history, Danelo sent the ball cleanly through the uprights and Giants Stadium into a state of pandemonium as the score was tied 10-10 at 0:25.

The Cowboys won the overtime coin toss and strategically chose to defend the East end zone with the wind at their backs. New York went three and out, and Dave Jennings’ punt into the wind was short and gave Dallas the ball at their 40-yard line.

On 2nd-and-three from their own 47-yard line, Dorsett again mishandled a pitchout. This time he nearly recovered it, but Lawrence Taylor hit him while on the ground and freed the ball for Taylor himself to recover at the Cowboys 39-yard line.

New York ran the ball five consecutive plays, including a surprise naked bootleg for 19 yards by Brunner on third down, to set Danelo up for a 33-yard field goal. The attempt to give the Giants their first winning season in nine years and maintain their playoff dreams another 24 hours came on third down. Brunner said, “There really was little choice, the wind had become too much of a factor.”

The ball was spotted on the left hash and Danelo’s kick seemed headed toward center most of its flight, but at the very last moment sliced to the right, and clanged off the upright. The game remained tied and the Cowboys took over possession of the ball.

Danelo said, “I saw the Cowboys jumping around like they just won the Super Bowl, but Coach Perkins came over to me on the sideline and said, ‘Don’t be down, you’re going to get another chance.’…All I was doing was praying that I’d get another shot. It was killing me that I was letting down my teammates.”

The Giants defense made certain that was the case. On first down, White was sacked and fumbled, but Dallas recovered. On second down, White hurried a pass from a collapsing pocket and Byron Hunt intercepted for New York and gave the Giants possession on the Cowboys 24-yard line. After two short rushes and an incomplete pass, Perkins sent Danelo out to win the game from 35 yards out.

This time, set up on the right hash mark, Danelo drove the ball with authority toward center and it stayed true. The Giants won 13-10 and bedlam reigned in Giants Stadium. Teammates mobbed Danelo and Perkins carried him off the field on his shoulders. Perkins said, “I felt like I had to carry him off the field.”

Danelo said, “I just kept my head down and kicked it through. I knew if I got under the ball too much, it would hang up in the air like the first one in overtime did.”

Aside from the kicking drama, the story of the Giants success again was centered on their defense. Dorsett came into the game leading the NFL with 1,607 yards rushing, but was held to 39 yards on 21 carries with two lost fumbles. Perkins said, “We knew we had to stop Dorsett. If you don’t stop their running game, you don’t have to worry about their passing game.”

The final three Cowboys possessions all ended with turnovers. Safety Beasley Reece said, “Tony Hill, Drew Pearson, a couple of the others, they all made mention of how we had been hitting, ‘You guys are flying all over the field,’ and, ‘You guys are hitting everything that moves,’ those kinds of things. It’s an image we’re proud of.”

Bill Parcells said, “We’re not even close to the way I’d like us to be, either.”

Encore

The next afternoon at Shea Stadium the Jets punched the Giants first ticket to the post season since 1963 with a 28-3 win over Green Bay. Dave Jennings said, “I’m glad it wasn’t thrilling. I wasn’t ready for two in a row like that. You don’t know how many years I’ve gone home and watched the first round of the playoffs on TV and been sick to my stomach…When it was over I let out a yell, a small one.”

Lawrence Taylor said, “This is something that hasn’t gone on around here in a long time. I can’t really comprehend what it means to the veterans. My happiness couldn’t be one-tenth of the other players’ happiness.”

After winning four of their last five games, the Giants were a confident group heading to Philadelphia to face the reigning NFC Champions in the Wild Card Game. The wave of momentum New York had ridden during the end of the Dallas game swelled to a tsunami during the first quarter against the Eagles.

After having the opening drive of the game stall at their own 40-yard line, New York punted. Eagles returner Wally Henry fumbled and the Giants recovered at the Eagles 25-yard line. Carpenter carried five times for 21 yards before Brunner threw a touchdown pass to Mistler for a 6-0 lead (the hold on the extra point was fumbled) less than five minutes into the game.

Following a Philadelphia three-and-out, Brunner engineered a 12-play, 62-yard drive that consumed almost the remainder of the first quarter clock. A 10-yard touchdown pass to Mistler increased the lead to 13-0. It only took the Giants six seconds to add to it. Henry fumbled the kickoff on the Philadelphia three-yard line, and while attempting to recover at the five-yard line, he was crashed into by Mike Dennis. Mark Haynes recovered the free ball just inside the pylon at the corner of the end zone for a touchdown and 20-0 New York advantage.

Rob Carpenter, New York Giants (December 27, 1981)

Rob Carpenter, New York Giants (December 27, 1981)

The statistics told the story. At the end of the first quarter the Eagles had run three offensive plays for a gross of 10 yards, but lost nine on a George Martin sack of Ron Jaworski, and had two turnovers by their special teams. After trading touchdowns just before halftime New York led 27-7 and held advantages over Philadelphia in first downs (11 to 4), net yards (188-74), and time of possession (19:07 – 10:53). The Eagles also fumbled three more times in the second quarter, but recovered them all.

Philadelphia scored early in the third quarter and again late in the fourth but New York was able to hold on, as the game plan was apparently to run out the clock for the final 30 minutes. The Giants ran 18 offensive plays in the second half (not including punts and kneel downs), 16 of which were Carpenter rushes. The other two plays were a rush by Leon Perry and a Brunner pass to Carpenter.

Carpenter registered 33 carries for 161, both Giants post-season records. Not only was Carpenter’s 100-yard rushing day a franchise first in the post season, but the 27-21 victory was also the Giants first on the road in their history, and first overall since 1958. Between the years 1933 and 1963, New York had gone 0-8 away as post season visitors.

The following week the Giants saw their season come to an end with a 38-24 setback to the eventual Super Bowl champion 49ers in San Francisco. New York was actually hanging in the game at 24-17 midway through the fourth quarter, but a pair of quick touchdowns by the 49ers sealed their fate. Regardless, the 1981 season was considered an unqualified success by all.

Bumps in the Road

It is not at all an exaggeration to suggest that if the Giants 1982 season wasn’t over before it even began, there were a number of underlying circumstances conspiring against it.

  • Phil Simms was lost for the year with torn knee ligaments suffered in the preseason game against the Jets.
  • Rob Carpenter held out for a new contract, and wouldn’t return to the playing field until December.
  • The NFL Players Association staged a 57-day, eight-week strike that obliterated seven games from the league schedule.
  • Ray Perkins resigned as head coach on December 15, with three weeks left to play, effective after the conclusion of the Giants season to take over as the head coach of the University of Alabama.

The Giants began the season losing their first two home games in frustrating fashion, with late-game collapses in contests where they had statistically dominated their opponents. After the players strike, New York was beaten badly at Giants Stadium by Washington and was buried in a 0-3 hole.

Lawrence Taylor, New York Giants (December 5, 1982)

Lawrence Taylor, New York Giants (December 5, 1982)

A win on Thanksgiving at Detroit and a home victory over the Eagles had the Giants hopeful at 2-3, but four days later Perkins announced his intention to leave after the season. He said, “I’m leaving the Giants with mixed emotions… This new job does me great honor for many reasons, being my alma mater and a great university in the part of the country where I was raised…Deep down, it was what I wanted to do more than anything in the world. This is simply something that’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me. If it was any other place, college or pro, it would not have lured me away. I’ve always told my players to do something you enjoy. Don’t do something because it will be rewarded with money. This is something I want do.”

New York released Perkins from his contract, which included a three-year extension that was given after the 1981 season and which had bound his services to New York through the 1985 season.

Young immediately named defensive coordinator Bill Parcells as New York’s head coach in-waiting.

Young said, “Bill Parcells was first on my list, and it was a short list…I didn’t want to run the risk losing (Parcells). Somehow people always think a stranger is a better guy. In Baltimore, we had a guy named Chuck Noll sitting on our staff and we let him get away…Continuity is important, but you want to get the best guy. If he contributes to the continuity, fine, but you want to get the best guy. You don’t get the continuity first; you get the best guy first.”

A New Jersey native, and acknowledged Giant fan during his youth, Parcells said, “Coaching the New York Giants for Bill Parcells is what Alabama is for Ray Perkins.”

After climbing back to 3-3, New York dropped two more late decisions before winning at Philadelphia in the finale. The Giants finished 4-5 and just missed out on a playoff berth in the one-season-only expanded format where divisions had been eliminated.

The Longest Season

The 1982 season was seen as something of a fluke and expectations were high heading into 1983. After a 2-2 September, the Giants went 1-10-1 over the remained of the schedule. As bad as the football was at times, an accumulation of off-field losses and behind-the-scenes chicanery probably made Sunday afternoons seem like a refuge from the tumult.

Taylor said, “Sunday is a different world. It’s like a fantasy world, which I’d rather live in. Then I go back to the rest of the world and that’s when the trouble starts.”

The streak of personal misfortune continued for the Giants as backfield coach Bob Ledbetter passed away on October 9, at the age of 49, from complications resulting from a stroke he had suffered on September 24th. Players and coaches were distraught at the news. Beginning with the Week 6 game the following day against the Eagles, New York wore a black stripe over the right shoulder as a symbol of mourning, which remained throughout season.

The biggest on-field loss was of Phil Simms, again with a season ending injury. Brunner, who had begun the season as the starter, was benched in the third quarter of the Philadelphia game. After leading a touchdown drive to get the Giants back in the game, Simms had New York on the move again. But after throwing an incompletion, he knew something was wrong: “As I followed through, I brought my hand down and Dennis Harrison brought his arm up. My hand and his arm collided, and I said, ‘Damn, that hurt,’ and then looked down and saw the bone sticking out of my right thumb, and I said, ‘Holy shit, oh my God,’ and I started screaming.”

While the losses piled up through October and November, few outside the organization were aware that Parcells mother Ida was terminally ill. She passed away at the age of 71 from a form of bone cancer in mid-November, only weeks after being diagnosed. At the same time, Parcells’ father Charles was undergoing treatment for a blood infection incurred after bypass surgery.

None of this was reported in the New York sports pages at the time, but Parcells recalled years later, “I had the feeling that the world was crashing down on my head. It was one thing after another, and I didn’t handle it well. But what are you going to do? They’re not going to cancel the football games. In this business you don’t ever stop. You can’t stop. You’ve just got to keep going…You’ve got to be able to deal with it. The poor-me syndrome is very damaging psychologically, and it loves company.” Charles Parcells passed away in February 1984.

1983 New York Giants Media Guide

1983 New York Giants Media Guide

Giants fans found themselves making NFL history on December 4, when 51,589 ticket holders decided to stay home instead of watching the Giants and Cardinals play in person. While the miserable weather, that included driving rain and temperatures dropping from the low 40’s into the upper 30’s, was certainly a factor, the memory of the infamous 20-20 tie the two teams were involved in on Monday Night Football six week earlier couldn’t have helped. Brad Van Pelt said, “If I was a fan and my seats weren’t covered, I wouldn’t have shown up either.” In the post-game locker room, Harry Carson told reporters he wanted to be traded, “As far as I’m concerned, next week’s game will be my last at Giants Stadium. I don’t deserve this. I don’t think anybody does.”

With morale at an all-time low, Parcells had his confidence shaken by a tip from his agent, Robert Frahley, the week after the Cardinal game. Frahley told Parcells that George Young had inquired with former Miami Dolphin acquaintance and current University of Miami Head Coach Howard Schellenberger on his possible interest in the Giants head coaching position if it were to become available after the season.

The news was leaked to the popular CBS pre-game show The NFL Today, and was broadcast in a segment by Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder. After an ugly 17-12 loss to Seattle, in which the dissatisfied Giants Stadium crowd chanted for broadcaster John Madden (who was in the CBS booth providing color analysis of the game), the press peppered Young on the rumor. A visibly perturbed Young said, “Bill is the coach. I don’t want to comment on anything that is speculative.”

Schellenberger was also mentioned as a potential coaching candidate for the New Jersey Generals of the USFL, but ultimately declined both offers and stayed with the University of Miami. Parcells recalled in his biography: “I never met Howard Schellenberger, but to his credit, he told my agent, ‘These guys are offering me the job, and I’m not going to take it. You need to tell Bill that’s what they’re doing.’ So he was really a coach’s coach, and I’ve admired him for that.”

Another member of the Giants family was lost on December 17th, the day of the season finale. Recently retired back Doug Kotar passed away, 16 months after being diagnosed with a malignant, inoperable brain tumor. Kotar had played for the Giants from 1974 through 1981, and retired early during the 1982 training camp as he struggled to return from shoulder and knee injuries. Shortly thereafter he had complained of persistent headaches, which led to his diagnosis.

When the melancholy 1983 campaign mercifully came to a close, those who were left standing – which weren’t many as New York ended the year with a league-high 25 players on injured reserve – likely entered the offseason with a sense of relief.

Makeover

The first change Parcells made was within. He recalled years later: “I think in ’83, I was trying to be a head coach. In ’84, I decided to be Bill Parcells. And I kind of made a little promise with myself that I would try to do things my way, and I gave my best effort in that regard. And I really dispensed with the feelings of doing what a head coach was supposed to do.”

The next change was the roster. Nearly 50% of the previous season’s team was gone by Week 1 of the 1984 season, with many of the missing faces having been familiar ones like Brad Van Pelt and Brian Kelley. In their place were young, untested players with great potential like Carl Banks and Gary Reasons.

Carson said, “I could definitely sense a change in the attitude of the coaching staff, but I also saw a shift in the player’s personalities…The competition for jobs had gotten more intense with younger players vying for a spot on the roster.”

Despite the pressure to win now, growing pains were not unexpected. It would take some time for the mental toughness and discipline to match the physical talent. To that end, Parcells leaned heavily on his staff of assistants.

Simms said, “I tell people all the time that the hardest part of playing under that coaching staff wasn’t Bill Parcells. It was his assistants: Al Groh, Bill Belichick, Romeo Crennel, Mike Pope, Ron Erhardt. They were all vocal. They were all rough. They all could generate some fear. Ron Erhardt, man he was old school. He would call your ass out on the field. He would call your ass out in the meeting room in front of the whole team.

“We watched more films than I ever had watched before. There was a real sense of urgency for everybody involved, for me, for Ron, for Parcells. Our jobs were at stake. If we didn’t go out and get it done, we knew there would were going to be new people around.”

The work paid tremendous dividends early for Simms and the Giants. Employing a new vertical-attack passing game, Simms threw for nearly 600 yards and seven touchdowns and no interceptions against Philadelphia and Dallas to open the season 2-0, New York’s best start in sixteen years.

Phil Simms, Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants (September 2, 1984)

Phil Simms, Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants (September 2, 1984)

Simms said, “There were times I thought I’d never have the chance to show what I thought I could do. There were other times I began to wonder if I was really as good as I thought I was, that I might not have what it takes to play in this league.”

The NFL initiated a new recognition program for players in 1984, where four players who had noteworthy games – one each on offense and defense from each conference – were given a “Player of the Week” award. Lawrence Taylor was the first Giant to be named the “NFC Defensive Player of the Week” for his three sack, two-forced fumble effort against the Cowboys in Week 2.

Paul Zimmerman, who covered the game for Sports Illustrated, described Taylor’s play that afternoon eloquently: “There are blitzes and there are blitzes. There are safety blitzes and maniac blitzes, single linebacker blitzes and delayed blitzes; there are blitzes that look like blintzes because they’re so ineffective. Then there are Lawrence Taylor blitzes. They are like nothing else in the NFL, or any other FL. They are like messages from Thor, or as Taylor’s former New York Giant teammate Beasley Reece once said, ‘When Lawrence is coming, you can hear sirens going off.’ Random House’s unabridged dictionary defines a blitz this way: ‘War waged by surprise, swiftly and violently, as by the use of aircraft, tanks, etc.’ Etcetera stands for Lawrence Taylor.”

A portent of an arising ritual was also noted by Zimmerman: “With 52 seconds left Sunday, the Cowboys got the ball on their 26-yard line. They had their regulars in, and they were throwing passes out of the shotgun and calling time-outs to stop the clock, but on the sideline the Giants had already begun celebrating. Carson went around with a bucket of water and a sponge, anointing teammates, coaches, everyone. He gave Parcells a dousing. The coach laughed. Carson laughed. The bitterness of last month was forgotten.”

The Giants eventually found themselves at 4-4 midway through the season and in the thick of the postseason hunt. The turning point of the 1984 season, and the Parcells-era Giants, is looked upon as the October 28 meeting with Washington at Giants Stadium.

The week leading up to the game, Parcells rode nose tackle Jim Burt particularly hard. Burt said the coach had been, “using me like a tool to get to the team.”

Carson: “Bill told Burt that if he wasn’t ready to play, (Redskins center Jeff) Bostic was going to embarrass him on the field…This back-and-forth went on all week. While Jim tried to play it off, I could tell it was getting to him. At one point Jim was coming out of his stance using dumbbells to improve his quickness on the snap. Parcells; was getting into Burt’s head and Bill knew it.”

Simms: “Bill’s always looking for your hot button, whatever it takes to get to you. There are a lot of buttons for him to push. The most important one is always the one that makes you play better. And he’ll always find it. He knew what my hot button was before I knew it. He figured me out before I figured myself out. That’s one of his gifts.”

Burt: “It was brutal. (Parcells) screamed at me every minute. I knew why he did it, but I didn’t like it.”

The tactic worked, and then some. The Giants led 23-0 late in the second quarter and 37-6 one play into the fourth quarter. New York not only handily defeated the Redskins 37-13, they physically punished them. New York dominated every statistical category, and according to plan, stuffed the Washington rush. John Riggins was held to 51 yards on 16 carries and the Redskins for 79 yards as a team. They also held Washington to 4-of-17 on third down conversions. Parcells said, “It was our best performance of the year, and I thought our defense was magnificent.”

The win broke a six-game losing streak to the Redskins and the 37 points were the most a Giants team had scored in a game in four years. New York broke from its usual tendencies and employed a new offense, running from the three-wide receiver set the entire game. Simms said, “We tried to spread things out to make their defense cover the whole field.”

Simms was the first Giant to be named the “NFC Offensive Player of the Week” with his 18-29-338-2-0 performance, despite being sacked seven times. Parcells said, “I thought Phil Simms showed outstanding courage under quite a bit of pressure.”

Halfback Joe Morris also tied a club record with three rushing touchdowns, being the first to do so since 1971. Erhardt said, “The pass opened up the running game for us. We picked our spots.”

As the game clock was expiring and most of the Giants sideline was celebrating, Burt felt an unsettled urge that required closure. He stood near Parcells on the sideline, “He gave me a big smile and said, ‘I got you ready, didn’t I?’ I didn’t say anything. I just gave him a halfway smile and looked for a water bucket.”

Burt sought assistance. According to Carson, “(Burt) said, ‘We should get him.’ I said, ‘What do you mean, we?’ Jim said, ‘C’mon Harry, you know you’re one of Parcells’ guys. If I did something by myself, he would have my ass! But if you did it with me, he wouldn’t do anything to us.’”

Burt told the press several days later, “It was cold. There was a lot of ice.”

Parcells said: “And without looking, I knew it was Jim Burt.” When asked after the game if he expected to be dunked after every victory, the coach replied, “I hope so.”

Bill Parcells, Harry Carson, Lawrence Taylor; New York Giants (November 11, 1984)

Bill Parcells, Harry Carson, Lawrence Taylor; New York Giants (November 11, 1984)

He received his wish four of the next five weeks, a run that had New York in the three-way tie for first place with Washington and Dallas at 9-5, and 8-6 St. Louis right behind, with two games left to play. A Week 15 loss at St. Louis all but eliminated the Giants from an NFC East title, but with help they could qualify as a Wild Card entry.

The Giants sleep-walked their way through a dreary 10-3 loss to New Orleans at home on a cold, wet Saturday afternoon in a game that meant nothing in the playoff chase. The 9-7 record would get New York into the post season if Washington defeated St. Louis on Sunday and Miami defeated Dallas Monday night.

The Sunday afternoon game looked to be a one-sided affair in New York’s favor as Washington dominated the first half and led 23-7 at halftime. It could have been 24-7 if not for a missed point-after in the first quarter. That missing point proved critical during the Cardinals’ come-back bid in the second half.

St. Louis chipped away at the lead, cutting the deficit to 23-17 late in the third quarter, before moving ahead 27-26 with 6:15 to play. Washington responded with a long drive that ended with a 33-yard field goal for a 29-27 lead with 1:33 on the clock. St. Louis was not yet finished, however. A nine-play, 47-yard desperation drive moved them into Redskins territory and a 50-yard field goal attempt as the clock expired missed wide left. Washington locked up first place, St. Louis was eliminated, and the Giants chances were extended another day.

The Monday night game in Miami was no less exasperating for those with outside interests, although it took a while before it got going. The Dolphins led 7-0 at halftime and 14-7 at the end of the third period. After intercepting a Dan Marino pass deep in Miami territory, Dallas tied the game 14-14 with 7:28 to play. Marino responded with a nine-play drive to put Miami back ahead 21-14 with 2:31 left to play.

The Cowboys first play after the two-minute warning was a 66-yard touchdown pass on a tipped ball to Tony Hill, tying the game 21-21. The Dolphins seemed to be playing for overtime with two short passes that kept the clock moving, but on third-and-one Marino connected with Mark Clayton on a 63-yard touchdown pass that vaulted Miami to the lead 28-21 for good. Dallas missed the playoffs for the first time in ten years and the Giants were back in for the second time in four years.

The Giants traveled to Los Angeles to face the Rams, who had beaten New York badly in early October. That had been before the Giants had galvanized, and the hardened New York team upset the favored Rams 16-13.

Phil Simms and Zeke Mowatt, New York Giants (December 23, 1984)

Phil Simms and Zeke Mowatt, New York Giants (December 23, 1984)

Harry Carson, who had demanded to be traded in 1983 and walked out of camp in July, was all-in with his team of underdogs. After the game he proclaimed, “We don’t care who gives up on us. We didn’t give up on ourselves. We can’t worry about what people think. We’re more together and have more talent than any team I’ve been associated with. We’re going to stick together.”

The Giants did stick together, and they gave the 15-1 49ers all they could handle in the NFC Divisional Playoff. After San Francisco jumped out to a fast 14-0 lead, the game settled into a plodding slugfest on Candlestick Park’s soft sod. The 49ers moved on toward their Super Bowl title with a 21-10 victory over New York, but the Giants exit wasn’t without merit. Simms said, “The 49ers are a good team and deserved to win today, but I still think we can play with them. I wish we had put more offensive pressure on them.”

San Francisco coach Bill Walsh said, “The Giants are a team of the future.”

A Giant Leap Forward

Not unlike the year before, the 1985 Giants started fast in September. The season opener, in a hot and muggy Giants Stadium, saw the ferocious New York defense terrorize Philadelphia quarterbacks with eight sacks in a 21-0 win. Carson christened the new season and his coach with douse of water from a Gatorade bucket – a ritual that still had gone largely unnoticed excepting the fans at the home games.

Although the Giants seemed mediocre at 3-3 in mid-October, this team felt different than any in recent memory. The victories were convincing, the losses were close, usually decided late with a gaffe or mental error. Nobody in the NFL took the Giants lightly any longer. The days of New York being a doormat were in the rear view mirror.

The biggest difference from 1984 to 1985 were three players: defensive end Leonard Marshall, who was leading the NFL in sacks and had been named the “NFC Defensive Player of the Month” for September; halfback Joe Morris, who had become a consistent ground gainer who possessed cutting ability and speed to give New York explosiveness on the rush; and rookie tight end Mark Bavaro, who was pressed into service when starter Zeke Mowatt injured his knee in the final preseason game and was out for the season. Bavaro impressed coaches with his toughness and blocking ability, but surprised them with his knack for getting open and soft hands to give Simms a safe option in the passing game.

Leonard Marshall, Lawrence Taylor, Jim Burt; New York Giants (November 10, 1985)

Leonard Marshall, Lawrence Taylor, Jim Burt; New York Giants (November 10, 1985)

A four-game win streak – the Giants longest since 1970 – put New York at 7-3 in November. That streak ended on a Monday night at Washington’s RFK Stadium in a game mostly remembered for Taylor’s career ending sack of Redskin quarterback Joe Theisman. Morris had another three-touchdown game, including one from 51 yards and another 41 yards, but the difference was Washington coach Joe Gibbs willingness to gamble and swing momentum his team’s direction when they needed it most. The Redskins converted two onside kicks and a fake punt, all of which led to touchdown drives in their 23-21 win. Parcells was measured in post-game comments, “I don’t think we were horrendous. I don’t think anyone was outstanding. I think we got outplayed. We had our chances to win the game and we couldn’t do it.”

New York rebounded and won two of their next three, and scored over 30 points in all three games (the first such scoring streak for the Giants since 1968), and headed to Dallas with the opportunity to win their first NFC East Division title. (The only other non-expansion teams not to have won their division since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 at that time were the Houston Oilers, New York Jets and New Orleans Saints.)

The entire saga of game can be encapsulated in a maddening sequence of plays that took place in the fourteenth minute of the second quarter.

The Giants had opened a 14-7 lead just over five minutes into the quarter. The defense forced a Dallas punt that resulted in a touchback. Simms then engineered an eight-play drive that had New York with a 1st-and-10 at the Dallas 22-yard line with two minutes to go before halftime. The ninth play of the drive initiated the nightmarish descent. Defensive end Ed “Too Tall” Jones batted a Simms pass up into the air that defensive end Jim Jeffcoat caught on the rebound and rumbled 64 yards for the tying touchdown.

The Giants three-and-out after the kickoff involved two sacks of Simms, one each by Jones and Jeffcoat. From the New York 12-yard line, punter Sean Landetta was pressured after a high snap threw off his timing, and a desperation shovel pass fell incomplete. The Cowboys took over on downs and scored on their first play, a 12-yard strike from Danny White to wide receiver Mike Renfro. In just 59 seconds the Giants went from being on the verge of a two score lead to trailing 21-14. Defensive end Casey Merrill said, “We were dominating them in every phase of the game, and then wham, bam, and we’re behind.”

The emotional toll of the scoring splurge was far greater than the seven point deficit. The Giants played unconfidently the majority of the final 30 minutes, until a late surge with Dallas ahead 28-21. A Simms pass toward the end zone was intercepted and the Cowboys won the division, despite the fact that starting quarterback White and his backup Gary Hogeboom both left the game with injuries. The fourth and decisive Dallas touchdown drive came with third stringer Steve Pelluer under center, who had never appeared in a regular season game before.

The New York locker room was mostly despondent afterward.

Taylor: “Every time we play those guys we beat ourselves.”

George Martin: “It was the toughest loss of my career.”

Carson: “It was the toughest loss since I’ve been here. I feel so bad because those cheap touchdowns beat us.”

Simms was refreshingly defiant: “I’m proud of myself and the team. I’m tired of hearing the Giants can’t win the big game.”

Parcells put the outcome into perspective succinctly: “We’re not through yet.”

Giants Again

Not all was lost for New York. Although they had lost out on the division title, a win in the season finale against Pittsburgh would send the Giants to the playoffs as a Wild Card. It would be the first time New York qualified for the post season in consecutive seasons since the three-year run of 1961-1963. It would also give the Giants a 10-6 record, their first double digit total in the win column since 1963. A loss for the Giants would open the door for Washington and San Francisco, who were also 9-6 and vying for Wild Card status.

Recalling the 1981 season finale, “Giants Stadium Weather” arrived in full force. At kickoff the temperature was 28 degrees with sustained winds at 12 mph. The team that was built for those conditions played with the same brutality as the unforgiving wind chill.

The Giants received the opening kickoff and pounded their way up and down field on a 71-yard, 11-play drive, nine of which were runs. Morris closed the drive with his 19th rushing touchdown of the season.

The teams exchanged punts twice and the Steelers put together a drive that ended with a field goal early in the second quarter. After the kickoff, New York looked to be headed for a three-and-out, but a third down pass interference penalty on Pittsburgh gave the Giants a second chance, and Morris made them pay. On first-and-10 from the Giants 35-yard line, Morris ran behind right guard, cut left, and while sprinting past a diving tackler, had his shoe knocked off and ran the remaining 52 yards on his sock.

Joe Morris, New York Giants (December 21, 1985)

Joe Morris, New York Giants (December 21, 1985)

The next time New York had the ball, Rob Carpenter’s 46-yard run set up a short dive for Morris’ third touchdown of the half and 21st of the year. The Giants added another touchdown before halftime and won the game comfortably 28-10.

Morris rushed for 202 yards on the day, second most in team history behind Gene Roberts’ 218 set in 1950, and 1,336 for the season, a new team record. He was the first Giant to reach the 1,000 plateau since Ron Johnson in 1972. As a team, New York ran the ball 53 times for 289 yards and held the ball for 38:04. The final game of the regular season finished just like the first one, with Parcells receiving a Gatorade dunk, though this time Lawrence Taylor was the one with the bucket.

Simms: “The whole game was a tribute to our line blocking.”

Morris: “I just did what I’m supposed to do when I get that kind of blocking.”

Jim Burt: “We played a total game offensively and defensively. It shows what we can do when we’re on.”

Parcells: “We’ve had some tough times this year, but more good times than tough. I’m happy for the older guys – Harry Carson, George Martin, Brad Benson. It’s nice to see them smile.”

San Francisco and Washington both won their final games as well, and the three-way tie of 10-6 teams meant the Giants would host San Francisco in the NFC Wild Card Game the next week. It would be the first home post-season contest for New York since the 1962 NFL Championship Game at Yankee Stadium.

The jubilation was short lived, and the Giants adopted the motto “Strictly Business” which they had printed on hats that also read “New York Giants Playoffs 1985” to prove they were not just happy to be a participant. Rob Carpenter said, “I think we’re going to find out how good we are, and there’s no better way than playing the 49ers because of what they’ve done to us in the past. This will be a test of how much we’ve progressed.”

Harry Carson said, “The last couple of times we played them we sat back to see what they were going to do, and then we would adjust. By the time we adjusted they were up 14 or 21 points. This time, I don’t think we’ll sit back.”

Bill Walsh said, “The Giants have a dramatically different offense this year. They have a great runner and they’re taking advantage of it. It’ll be our job to corral Joe.”

While not quite as cold as the previous week, the game time temperature of 32 degrees with a nine mph wind ensured the 49ers were likely to see plenty of Morris. The greeting that welcomed the Giants was something that had not been heard at a Giant game in two decades. Simms said, “I knew what Tittle and Gifford and Huff must’ve felt like. When we came out of the tunnel at Giants Stadium, the crowd greeted us with the loudest roar I’d ever heard. I knew there was no way we were going to lose.”

The defense set the tone early. They sent the 49ers off of the field after a rare three-and-out to start the game, and the fans behind the Giants bench gave the defense a standing ovation. The Giants took over on their own 36-yard line. Two Morris rushes gained 14 yards and Giants Stadium again roared as the chains moved. Four plays later Eric Schubert kicked a 47-yard field goal and New York had a 3-0 advantage less than five minutes into the game. Carson said, “I couldn’t remember the last time we had a lead against the 49ers.”

Leonard Marshall (70) and Jim Burt (64), New York Giants (December 29, 1985)

Leonard Marshall (70) and Jim Burt (64), New York Giants (December 29, 1985)

San Francisco gained two first downs during their next possession, and pinned New York on their own two-yard line after a punt. The Giants ran 13 plays and crossed mid-field, but punted the ball back. The pass rush began getting to quarterback Joe Montana. After completing a pass while being hit by linebacker Andy Headen, Montana was sacked by Burt. Two plays later, now in the second quarter, Montana’s third down pass was batted down by George Martin who was crashing the pocket. San Francisco punted, and New York drove from their 20-yard line to the 49ers 26-yard line, largely on the legs of Morris, but Schubert’s 43-yard field goal missed wide left.

Montana’s second pass of the next possession was tipped by Gary Reasons and intercepted by Terry Kinard, who advanced the ball to San Francisco’s 38-yard line. Four plays later, the Giants struck pay dirt when Simms led Mark Bavaro down the right seam for a one-handed catch over safety Ronnie Lott in the end zone, sending Giants Stadium into a state of near bedlam. The Giants led 10-0 with 8:11 to play in the half.

Bavaro said, “I thought it was over my head. It hit my forearm and started rolling down to my wrist…Phil just threw the ball over Lott’s head and that was it.”

San Francisco received the kickoff and took over at their own 12-yard line. On the first play, Montana completed a pass for eight yards that had 15 more tacked on as Leonard Marshall was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct when he threw a punch at a San Francisco lineman.

Three plays later the drive seemed to come to a halt when Marshall sacked Montana. But defensive end Casey Merrill was flagged for unnecessary roughness for a late hit when he also hit Montana, which gave the 49ers a first down on their own 41-yard line. The 49ers converted their next third down without the aid of a penalty and advanced into New York territory. The Giants defense seemed to be tiring as they allowed back-to-back 10-yard runs by Wendell Tyler.

Two more Tyler rushes gained one-yard each, and the clock stopped at the two minute warning. Montana’s third-and-eight pass was high and went through the back of the end, but the 49ers received a new set of downs for the third time on the drive via penalty as cornerback Ted Watts was called for defensive holding. San Francisco took over first-and-goal on the nine-yard line.

On first down Roger Craig rushed for two yards and a second down pass intended for Craig was incomplete. A false start penalty on the 49ers moved the ball back to the Giants 12-yard line, and Montana completed a pass to wide receiver Dwight Clark at the three-yard line on third down. New York managed to keep San Francisco out of the end zone and Ray Wersching kicked a 21-yard field goal with 0:25 on the clock.

The 49ers ran 16 plays (not including penalties), advanced the ball 85 yards and possessed the ball for 7:58. But he Giants defense felt rejuvenated as they headed to the locker room. Burt said, “That was the biggest mental boost of the game. We stopped them for three points. They had eight cracks at us inside the 20. It was exhausting and it was getting chaotic.”

The emotional boost carried over to the offense after the intermission. Simms engineered an eight play, 77-yard drive to start the second half, and finished it with a three-yard touchdown pass to tight end Don Hasselbeck. The 17-3 lead ended up being the final score, despite sustained drives by both teams. Schubert missed two more field goals for the Giants, and all three 49er drives in the fourth quarter ended on downs in New York territory.

The Giants first home post-season game since 1962 was also their first home post-season win since 1958. Parcells received a double-dunk from Carson and Casey Merrill as the final seconds ticked off of the clock.

Bill Parcells, New York Giants (December 29, 1985)

Bill Parcells, New York Giants (December 29, 1985)

Despite the 49ers intent to control the Giants rushing attack, Morris had a big day with 141 yards rushing yards, which surpassed the game totals of 13 of San Francisco’s 16 regular season opponents.

Simms: “It was a big win. We beat a team a lot of people didn’t think we could beat. There’s no question the difference is our offensive line. Last year we couldn’t do anything. This year we beat ‘em up front physically.”

The other side of the coin was the defense, which held the 49ers without a touchdown for only the second time since Walsh became their coach in 1979.

Parcells: “I thought our defense did as good as it ever did. Those were the World Champions. Somebody had to get rid of them. I’m glad we did.”

Bill Belichick: “There were people in Montana’s face. We got good pressure up the middle from Burt and Marshall and Martin, something we had a problem with in the past.”

Carson: “We had confidence. We put pressure on (Montana). We tried to tag him, to rattle him.”

Martin: “(Montana) was more concerned about me than he was about throwing the ball. We just kept coming.”

Simms: “That was the best I’ve ever seen our defense play, the most aggressive. Our defense was so aggressive the 49ers were looking over their shoulders.”

Taylor: “We were awesome. We kicked their ass. That’s all there is to it.”

A Hard Lesson

The Giants reward for their victory over the 49ers was a trip to Chicago to face the ferocious 15-1 Bears. They were a juggernaut that recalled the legendary Monsters of the Midway teams of the 1940’s that physically whipped the opposition. Wellington Mara said, “(The Late Bears owner George) Halas would have beaming at this Bears team. It’s his kind of team and Mike Ditka is his kind of coach.”

Ditka was also complimentary of the Giants, “They got a lot of good athletes on that football team. They’ve got a great offense. They’ve got good balance in throwing and running the football. They play defense the way it’s supposed to be played. They come after you and they take no prisoners.”

The Bears were the team that took no prisoners on a frigid day at Soldier Field. The temperature was 14 degrees at kickoff with a 13 mph wind that sent the chill factor below zero. The Giants received the kickoff and seemed to gain some momentum after two Morris rushes gave New York a first down at their 40-yard line. On second down Carpenter fumbled after catching a pass. Chicago recovered the ball and New York never recaptured that initial burst.

The teams exchanged three three-and-outs, with the field position tipped in Chicago’s favor. The Giants had a 4th-and-20 from their own 12-yard line after Simms had been sacked. Punter Sean Landetta’s drop was affected by the wind and the ball grazed the side of his foot. The Bears Shaun Gayle scooped up the loose ball and returned it five yards into the end zone for a 7-0 lead that was as improbable as it was sudden.

Landetta said, “The wind just blew it. I did everything normal, but when I dropped the ball, I saw it moving. I tried to swing my leg into it. I missed it, or maybe I grazed it with my foot. That’s something that not only never happened to me before, but I never thought it could happen.”

The defenses and wind continued to dominate the first half. A Chicago drive to New York’s eight-yard line ended with a 26-yard Kevin Butler field goal attempt sailing wide left. A Giants drive just before halftime, set up by a 25-yard Bears punt giving New York the ball on the Chicago 45-yard line, ended with Schubert’s 19-yard attempt striking the left upright.

The Bears 7-0 lead held thought he third quarter and Chicago put the Giants away with two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter. The game summed up the 1985 Giants when they were not at their best: the defense played hard but the offense and special teams were undone by a few untimely errors.

The difference in the contest jumped off of the stat sheet. Chicago, with the benefit of the early lead, ran the ball 44 times while New York passed the ball 53 times, including six sacks of Simms. The Bears were 7-of-16 on third down attempts while the Giants combined to go 0-of-14 on third and fourth down attempts, skewing the time of possession 37:14 – 22:46 in Chicago’s favor. Essentially, the Bears beat the Giants at their own game.

Tackle Karl Nelson: “We were hoping to run the ball more on them, and we wanted to give Phil more time. We didn’t do either.”

Center Bart Oates: “Our protection was a disappointment, we made too many mental breakdowns.”

Ditka: “It wasn’t easy winning. We beat a good football team today.”

The day after the game the Giants got their start on the 1986 season. For the third time in in five years, they ended their season against the team that ultimately went on to win the Super Bowl.

Parcells: “Riding home on the plane last night, you think it’s another offseason, another training camp, another preseason schedule, another 16 games just to stand where you were standing yesterday. You never know when that opportunity is going to come again.”

Guard Billy Ard: “I think it was a good season. Next season, we definitely will go further.”

Tackle Brad Benson: “We’re close to having it all together. We need a little bit of time. We placed higher expectations on ourselves this year, so losing was a disappointment. But that doesn’t spoil the year, and to think that would be a big mistake. This has given us an idea of what we have to do.”

Wellington Mara: “Go back to last year. The Bears lost to the 49ers for the NFC title 23-0. If they can improve that much, we can, too. You’re certainly not satisfied unless you’re number one. But let’s face it. Only four teams went further than we did. And a lot of our young players haven’t reached their potential.”

Parcells: “You don’t get any satisfaction out of winning Wild Card games. I just want to get into a championship game, and I’m not going to rest ‘til I get there.”

The Giants had come a long way since the ownership feud was brokered almost seven earlier. The hardest part of climbing a mountain is when one nears the summit – when one first sees the peak, but it feels just out of reach. The 1986 offseason was the Giants opportunity to pause, take a deep breath, and recharge for one final surge.

************************************************************************

Sources:

“It’s Just One Man’s Family”
Robert H. Boyle, Sep. 25, 1972, Sports Illustrated

“New York Giants 1979 Media Guide”
New York Football Giants, Inc., 1979

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Paul Zimmerman, Oct. 15, 1979, Sports Illustrated

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New York Football Giants, Inc., 1980

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New York Football Giants, Inc., 1981

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Paul Zimmerman, Dec. 28, 1981, Sports Illustrated

“New York Giants 1981 Media Guide”
New York Football Giants, Inc., 1981

“Giants Again!”
Dave Klein, 1982, Signet

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New York Football Giants, Inc., 1982

“Pro Football’s Great Moments”
Jack Clary, 1982, Bonanza Books

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New York Football Giants, Inc., 1983

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New York Football Giants, Inc., 1984

“They Lowered The Boom On Hogeboom”
Paul Zimmerman, Sep. 17, 1984, Sports Illustrated

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Frank Deford, Dec. 16, 1985, Sports Illustrated

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Paul Zimmerman, Jan. 6, 1986, Sports Illustrated

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Laura A. Thorpe, 1986, Woodward Publishing

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Richard Whittingham, 1987, Harper Collins

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Kevin Lamb, 1987, Macmillan Publishing Co.

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Phil Simms, Phil McConkey with Dick Schapp, 1987, Crown Publishers, Inc.

“Once A Giant, Always…”
Andy Robustelli with Jack Clary, 1987, Quinlan Press

“Tuff Stuff”
Sam Huff, 1988, St. Martin’s Press

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Dan Daly & Bob O’Donnell, 1990, Collier Books

“No Medals for Trying: A Week in the Life of a Pro Football Team”
Jerry Izenberg, 1990, Macmillan Pub Co

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“Wellington: The Maras, the Giants, and the City of New York”
Carlo DeVito, 2006, Triumph Books

“Captain For Life”
Harry Carson, 2011, St. Martin’s Press

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2016, NFL Communications Dept.

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Going Back Through the VCR Archives: Looking Back at 25 Years of Giants Games on Tape
Giants-Dallas, December 19, 1981

Aug 132016
 
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Stansly Maponga, New York Giants (August 12 2016)

Stansly Maponga – © USA TODAY Sports Images

SATURDAY BEN MCADOO CONFERENCE CALL…
New York Giants Head Coach Ben McAdoo addressed the media by conference call on Saturday to discuss the team’s 27-10 preseason loss to the Miami Dolphins. Coach McAdoo provided an injury update on CB Eli Apple (knee), WR Sterling Shepard (groin), WR Geremy Davis (hamstring), and TE Will Johnson (burner).

Opening Statement: I thought last night what we did well, as a team, we rolled with the punches early on with the weather delay. Something that’s challenging to do. You know, you go out, you warm-up, you cool down and you have to go back out and do it again. I thought the first units came out of the gate fairly quickly, fast, and were physical. From a substitution perspective, communication and focus was on point. We had 11 on all of our snaps, which is encouraging for the first game…easier said than done. From a game management perspective, we were clean.

Some things we need to work on: obviously the most important thing is taking care of The Duke, didn’t do a great job of that, put the ball on the ground way too much, too many turnovers. Sudden change defense, something we need to work on as well. They’re tied together there, so when the offense turns the ball over, return team turns the ball over, the defense picks it up. With that being said, we were minus-three on the turnover ratio, and if you were minus-three last year, the teams were 2-46, so tough to win football games that way. Tackling, and long stride, short stride need to improve for 60 minutes. We started well, but we let it slip as the game went on. Our blocking fundamentals and physicality and pass protecting needs to improve. We weren’t firm up inside the pocket, especially when the second group got in there, we need to firm that up. We need to cut out the pre-snap penalties. Where we go from here, we’re going to throw effort at everything. It’s going to be hot this week, we’re going to work through it and we look forward to moving on.

Q: With Ryan Nassib’s performance last night, how much of that was him and how much of that was a lack of solid protection?

A: He didn’t always have clean protection, but Ryan still had an opportunity to make some plays. He needs to throw the balls out there a couple of times and I think he would have had an opportunity to make some big plays. I would have liked to see him hit the post to Sterling (Shepard). Ryan’s going to move on, he’s going to learn from this experience and he’s going to bounce back.

Q: Speaking of Sterling, do you have an update on injured players?

A: Sterling, we don’t think it’s serious. He’s a guy that we’re going to put through individual tomorrow, we’re going to wrap him up and see if he can practice after the individual.

Q: What about some of the other guys? Eli Apple?

A: Eli went for a scan; I don’t have anything new on Eli at this point. Geremy Davis doesn’t look like he’s going to practice tomorrow but has a mild strain. Will Johnson, we’re waiting to hear more back there, but it looks like he’ll be out at this point.

Q: You said Apple’s going to get a scan?

A: Yeah, Eli Apple is going to get a scan, I haven’t heard anything since the scan.

Q: On what? What is he getting a scan on?

A: On his knee… His left knee.

Q: What positions do you feel that you are deep in? Do you feel any of the units have a big drop off?

A:  When you take a look at it, I think the receiver group is fairly decent. We are young there at some spots, but I think we have some good depth there. We have some depth at the running back position. The tight end group, I think, has some nice depth and competition. We have some young players on the defensive line; it was encouraging to see them take a step forward yesterday. The cornerback group is an interesting group as well. The second offensive line stepped in there and we need to see some more out of them, we need to make some progress there. We need to develop those guys. They certainly have it in them, but we didn’t play that way last night in the passing game. We did run the ball well, so we don’t have to throw the baby out to the bath water, if you know what I am saying. We just need to get on those guys, develop them, we get the pads on this week and get going there. The linebacker group is a group where there is a lot of competition, we just need to get healthier.

Q: How did Darian Thompson do in his first extended game action?

A: Darian had a good start. He was out there; he was 100 percent in his assignments or close to it. He communicated well. Special teams, he has some improvement to do there, so he can get better in special teams, but he had a nice night from a defensive perspective. And again, it is just a starting point.

Q: Was that what you were looking for the most? The 100 percent on his assignments.

A: Yes. We want guys to play well, grade out assignment-wise and it is about – they have to know what we are asking them to do and then being able to do it the way we are asking them to do it, so it is assignment and technique. Obviously, as a young player he has some things to clean up from a technique perspective, but his assignments were clean.

Q: Where does everyone stand behind those two guys (Landon Collins and Darian Thompson) at safety?

A: Yes, Darian and Landon, again they were solid. Nat Berhe got some good snaps in there, as did Mykkele Thompson. It is really an open competition there. Cooper Taylor, you can throw in the mix, (Andrew) Adams, Bennett Jackson and (Justin) Currie — it is an open competition there behind them.

Q: Was the touchdown before the half, is that something where Berhe needs to stick with the ball and not the player?

A: Yeah, that is a fluke play. The quarterback tried to fit it into tight coverage. You would like to see the corner hang with that number one receiver a little longer. It was more – chalk that one up to the football gods, but that was a heck of a happening there. That is what that was.

Q:  How do you feel about your depth at offensive line?

A: Again, I think that we have guys who we feel can compete at a high level. They had a bad night in pass protection last night, they played better in the run game than they did in pass protection and we need to put the pads on and get back to work. That is what I see.

Q: Is there anything more on Victor Cruz and his status?

A: We are going to throw Victor out and do individual with him and see how he gets through individual and then we will take it from there.

Q: Aside from losing the game, was there anything that was a real disappointment to you?

A: Yeah. Taking care of the football. As much time and energy as we spend on the football and taking care of The Duke in practice, for us to be that careless with the ball is very disappointing and it will be fixed and it will be addressed.

ARTICLES…

Aug 072016
 
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Spider Lockhart, Brad Van Pelt, Jack Gregory; New York Giants (1975)

Spider Lockhart, Brad Van Pelt, Jack Gregory; New York Giants (1975)

The first chapter of the New York Football Giants history closed on December 29, 1963. Up until that time, one of the cornerstone franchises of the NFL, the Giants prospered on the field while they regularly struggled financially to stay afloat. The franchise nearly went bankrupt fending off four American Football Leagues (AFL) and the All-America Football Conference (AAFC), all of which placed one or more teams in the New York market. No other franchise had as many direct competitors as the Giants; 13 in all attempted to carve out their own niche in the greater New York area after Tim Mara, Billy Gibbons and Dr. Harry March purchased the rights to establish an NFL franchise in New York in 1925.

A significant number of these incursions took place during the circuit’s leanest years during the Great Depression in the 1930’s and World War II in the early 1940’s. These were times when a pro football team’s primary source of income was ticket sales. Radio and newspaper were the forms of communication and promotion, and bad weather would keep turnstile counts low.

The AAFC proved to be the most formidable foe to the NFL, and to the Giants in particular. The Maras were forced to take out a significant loan to keep the franchise solvent as escalating player salaries rose disproportionately against the modest income stream that had yet to be augmented by lucrative television money.

The decade of the 1950s was a rare period where both the NFL and Giants remained free from competition. After the New York Yanks franchise relocated to Dallas in 1952, the Giants were the lone football team in New York for eight years, their longest stretch as New York’s long pro football team.

The fourth AFL in 1960 was initially considered little more than a nuisance to the Giants, who were a star-studded outfit that regularly contended for the NFL Championship, and crossed over into popular culture with numerous players receiving advertising and media opportunities. For the first time since Red Grange in the 1920s, pro football players became household names, and the first among them were Giants like Frank Gifford, Sam Huff and Pat Summerall.

On the field, the period between 1925 and 1963, the Giants were among the NFL’s “Big Four” that dominated the gridiron circuit, along with the Packers, Bears and Redskins. The Giants overall record of 294-156-27 over 38 seasons gave them a winning percentage of 0.645. Included were 16 postseason appearances, more than any other franchise, 14 league championship games, and four NFL titles. The first championship in 1927 was played before there was a post season; the other three were all won on the Giants home fields in the Polo Grounds in 1934 and 1938 and Yankee Stadium in 1956. The Giants lost four other titles games on their home field, but established league records for attendance until the NFL moved into the enormous Los Angeles Coliseum which held over 100,000 patrons.

The ultimate recognition for the best-of-the-best is induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. The Giants were invited to play in the first Hall of Fame Game in 1962 and had three charter members in the inaugural class of 1963: founder Tim Mara, center Mel Hein and tackle Cal Hubbard. There would be many more to follow. Today, the Giants total number of enshrines of 22 rates third, behind only the Bears and Packers. Of the Giants 12 retired numbers, 10 were worn by players from this era.

Foreshadowing

Many believe the Giants demise was initiated with the trading of linebacker Sam Huff to Washington and defensive tackle Dick Modzelewski to Cleveland during the 1964 offseason. That may be true, but there were warning signs that went unnoticed, obscured by the team’s success and record-setting passing performances by Y.A. Tittle during the 1962 and 1963 seasons.

The 1959 offseason with the departure of offensive coordinator Vince Lombardi to Green Bay began a sequence of miscalculations, untimely misfortunes, unusual circumstances, and poor drafting. New York continued to succeed despite second-choice staffing and unsatisfactory talent backing up an aging, though talented and championship-hardened, roster.

Owners Jack and Wellington Mara had anticipated Lombardi assuming the head coach position when Jim Lee Howell retired. Lombardi had long been frustrated by his inability to land a head spot in the NFL, and prior to the 1958 season had been offered the head coaching job in Philadelphia. Lombardi was advised by Wellington not to take it and wait for a better opportunity. That chance came the following year, and according to Wellington, there had been an oral agreement with the Packers’ board of directors that they would release Lombardi back to the Giants when the New York head coaching position became available.

Howell stepped down from coaching after the 1960 season and moved into the Giants player personnel department. Green Bay refused to relinquish Lombardi to the Giants after he led the Packers to the NFL Championship Game that season. The Maras then turned to offensive coordinator Allie Sherman, considered by many around the league to be a brilliant offensive mind. Sherman would become the most controversial and polarizing figure in franchise history.

Sherman originally came to New York in 1949 as a specialist to help Single Wing and A-Formation tailback Charlie Conerly transition into a contemporary T-Formation quarterback. Giants Head Coach Steve Owen, while being a revolutionary genius with defenses, had dated ideas on offense and relied on concepts that were comfortable to him. Sherman was a prized possession of Philadelphia head coach Earl “Greasy” Neal as an undersized quarterback and later assistant coach. Sherman helped the Eagles become an offensive power and advance to the NFL title game in 1947. Neal told Owen, “Take Sherman as your assistant. He knows more about (the T-Formation) than anyone.”

Sherman and the Giants were mostly successful, albeit never fully committing to either Conerly or the T-Formation, over the next four seasons. A disastrous and injury-riddled 1953 campaign led to Owen’s departure. After being passed over for the head coaching positon for Jim Lee Howell, Sherman coached the Canadian Football League’s (CFL) Winnipeg Blue Bombers for three seasons. His teams featured imaginative offensive concepts with multiple men in motion that took advantage of the CFL’s more liberal rules, and qualified for the post season all three years.

Despite his success, Sherman desired to return to the NFL and accepted a scouting position with the Giants in 1957, while also coaching Conerly part-time. When Lombardi left for Green Bay in 1959, Sherman assumed the Giants offensive coordinator role. Under his tutelage, Conerly enjoyed a career year and was awarded the NFL’s MVP trophy as the Giants won the Eastern Conference title.

After Howell stepped down as head coach, Sherman signed a three-year contract as head coach of the Giants on January 10, 1961. Before Sherman became official, there were many behind-the-scenes machinations where the Mara’s attempted to extract Lombardi, who was entering the third year of a five-year contract to coach Green Bay. Once the futility of that exercise was accepted, Sherman became the eighth head coach of the Giants.

The roster Sherman inherited had plenty of championship experience. Many of the Giants starters, including the core of the defensive front seven, were on the Yankee Stadium field when they won the NFL Championship in 1956. That was also the team’s biggest problem – their best players were their oldest. There hadn’t been a rookie drafted that made an impact on the Giants since Sam Huff.

Most troubling, many of New York’s draft picks produced for other teams. Wide receiver Buddy Dial (2nd round 1959) had an eight-year career in Pittsburgh and Dallas, and appeared in two Pro Bowls. Wide receiver Bobby Joe Conrad (5th round, 1958) had a 12-year career with the Cardinals and Dallas, was All Pro once and played in another Pro Bowl. Don Maynard (9th round 1957) was a reserve and kick returner on the 1958 Giants, but he went on to a Hall of Fame career as a wide receiver with the New York Titans/Jets. In 1959 the Giants first round choice (10th overall) was used on quarterback Lee Grosscup as an heir apparent to aging Conerly. Grosscup appeared in eight games and amassed a total of 47 pass attempts as a Giant through 1961, his last year on the team. He was out of football altogether following the 1962 season.

What the Giants did do well, and what sustained them for a terrific three-year run, was execute exceptional trades. The Y.A. Tittle deal with San Francisco for tackle Lou Cordileone turned out to be a first-rate heist in New York’s favor. Soon after, a trade with Los Angeles for Del Shofner in exchange for a first round pick completed the key components of what would become a record-setting offense.

While the roster still lacked the desperately needed infusion of youth, there was no wanting for talent among the starting eleven, regardless of the dates on their birth certificates. New York’s average age was 29½ with 6½ seasons of NFL experience for their starting lineup in the 1962 NFL Championship Game versus Green Bay. The Packers, by comparison, were just under 28 years with five years of experience. That does not appear to be a significant difference on paper, but once the Giants over-30 crowd began to leave following the 1963 and 1964 seasons the decline in performance was precipitous. Green Bay’s core remained mostly intact through a run of five championships over seven years, which ultimately saw them be honored with the unofficial title of Team of the Sixties.

Duplicitous Eccentric or Misunderstood Genius?

Sherman’s first three seasons at the helm were unqualified successes. The Giants 33-8-1 record earned them three Eastern Conference titles. Despite losing all three championship games, Sherman was recognized as one of the game’s best and brightest coaches. He was voted NFL Coach of the Year in 1961 and 1962, and remains the only coach in history to have won in consecutive years. Wellington Mara quipped years later, “Allie might have been the best second choice since John Alden.”

Tittle certainly was appreciative of what Sherman meant to his career. The reborn quarterback established the NFL record for touchdown passes in a season with 33 in 1962, then reset it with 36 in 1963, during 14 game seasons. Those still stand today as the Giants franchise standard. Tittle said, “(Sherman) never looked upon the Giants as a team but as 40 men – each with a unique personality. Sherman realized early in his career that a successful club depended on the system adapting to the players, not the other way around.” The Giants were so confident in Sherman, they tore up his contract after the 1962 season and locked him up with a new five-year deal.

Y.A. Tittle, Allie Sherman, and Kyle Rote, New York Giants (1963)

Y.A. Tittle, Allie Sherman, and Kyle Rote, New York Giants (1963)

Not everyone behind the scenes were as generous sending adulation Sherman’s way. Halfback and wide receiver Frank Gifford saw two sides to the coach: “Allie was a terrific offensive coach but not a great head coach. Allie had a good sense of the passing game, and he loved to employ it. But when it came to dealing with real players rather than with blackboard X’s and O’s, Allie’s style hurt him a great deal. Instead of saying, ‘this is the way it’s going to be,’ he tried to cajole the players.”

Defensive end Andy Robustelli described the first three years of Sherman’s tenure as “an era of agony and ecstasy for all of us connected with the Giants – the agony often taking place in our locker room while the fans were in ecstasy over the wondrous feats our team performed.

“We freely wondered whether the head coach had a hang-up about the defense, and after a while we simply accepted the fact that we would never be his favorite. It was plain to us that he couldn’t handle the defense’s notoriety. My role as a coach offered me a unique perspective as well as some agonizing dealings with Sherman. Al was not the kind of person with whom you could disagree and feel it was for the good of the team. That was a tough situation for me because I felt one of the prerequisites of being a good assistant coach was to express freely an opinion that was based on experience and knowledge.”

Robustelli placed most of the credit on Tittle. “Y.A. was more than just an efficient quarterback. His personality carried over to the field, where there was no doubt who was in charge.” (Y.A. Tittle’s Incomparable 1962 and 1963 Seasons)

Defensive tackle Rosey Grier was traded to Los Angeles after the 1962 season for John Lovetere, who was younger and more athletic than Grier, who suffered from chronic weight issues. Lovetere had a strong 1963 season but suffered a knee injury the following year and never returned to form. This was only the first of many moves that would backfire on New York for one reason or another. Wellington’s uncanny knack for getting the right player at just the right time had escaped him.

By far, the most shocking and controversial transaction in Giants history was the trading of star middle linebacker Sam Huff to Washington after the 1963 season. The grudge Huff held against Sherman eventually became a legend that took on a life of its own. In return, New York received two journeymen players, defensive end Andy Stynchula and halfback Dick James, who brought youth but little impact. Rookie Lou Slaby inherited Huff’s position as the man in the middle but only lasted one season as the starter, and two overall in New York. He was out of football by 1967.

The friction between Huff and Sherman began before the 1962 season with a change in scheme that confounded the All Pro. In the new defense, Huff was required to fill the strong-side gap between the guard and center, regardless of where the play was going. The reading of offensive keys that Huff had executed to near-perfection in the Landry 4-3 defense was now nullified after the snap. Near the end of the exhibition schedule Huff confided his discontent with defensive captain and coordinator Robustelli, who told him, “I agree with you, but this is the defense Allie wants you to play, and you’re just going to have to do it.” (New York Giants – Cleveland Browns 1950-1959)

Huff eventually voiced his dissenting opinion to Sherman, despite the predictable result being all but assured. No changes were made and the Giants once impermeable defense began to show signs of leakage. Over the 1960 and 1961 seasons, when the NFL schedule expanded to the 14-game schedule, the Giants surrendered an average of 17 points per game with the Landry-created 4-3 defense (this despite its originator now in Dallas with the expansion Cowboys). The next two seasons with the Sherman defense, the total went just upwards of 20 points per game. The won-loss record didn’t suffer as the potent Tittle-to-Shofner connection kept the Giants just ahead of the opponents on the scoreboard.

Also traded away that portentous offseason was defensive tackle Dick Modzelewski. He went to Cleveland for tight end Bobby Crespino, a serviceable if unspectacular player who remained with New York through 1968. The foundation of the Giants 4-3 defense, defensive tackles Grier and Modzelweski backed by Huff, had been gutted.

If the Giants hadn’t felt like they went into games with one hand tied behind their back going into the 1964 season, it probably didn’t take long soon after it started. The injuries that depleted the roster were symbolized in perpetuity with the crushing John Baker hit on Tittle in the Pittsburgh end zone. Tittle and fellow former heroes Shofner, Gifford, fullback Alex Webster, defensive end Jim Katcavage, cornerback Dick Lynch and cornerback Jimmy Patton all missed significant time or their seasons ended prematurely. Robustelli said with his tongue only partially in-cheek: “It seemed we won because of ‘experience’ and lost because of ‘age.’”

New York’s 2-10-2 record in 1964 was as abysmal as it was unexpected. Never before had a Giants team had a double-digit figure in the loss column, and the 399 points surrendered by the sieve-like defense averaged nearly 29 points per game. The inconsistent offense with rotating personnel was unable to bail them out this time. When the season mercifully closed, Webster, Tittle, Robustelli and Gifford all retired. It would be a long time before those shoes were filled.

Wandering into the Wilderness

New York had the first pick in the 1965 draft (which was held in November 1964). The Giants have had the number one overall choice twice in their history, and ironically, both times they selected highly regarded backs whose careers were altered by untimely and severe knee injuries. The first was Kyle Rote in 1951, and the second was Tucker Frederickson.

Frederickson was of a much higher pedigree than New York’s recent run of failed first round picks: Lee Grosscup (1959), offensive tackle Lou Cordileone (1960), running back Bob Gaiters (1961), linebacker Jerry Hillebrand (1962), offensive tackle Frank Lasky (1963) and running back Joe Don Looney (1964), all of whom were deemed questionable choices at the time. Frederickson was an impressive athlete with all of the necessary credentials. Many other teams were envious of the Giants at the time and stated they would have taken the back from Auburn given the chance. Denver of the AFL, which held its own draft the same day, inquired about Frederickson, but he told them he preferred to sign with the NFL’s Giants.

The celebration of the touted pick was short lived. Team president Jack Mara passed away from cancer on June 29 at the age of 57. The loss was devastating to Wellington, who had shared the duties of running the Giants with his brother for 29 years. Jack handled the business side and Wellington the football operations. With no succession plan in place, Wellington dutifully, if somewhat reluctantly, assumed stewardship of everything involved with the franchise. The strain of handling all aspects of the team over time impeded New York’s growth as a franchise during an era where the more successful franchises diversified and modernized their approach in areas such as player evaluation and acquisition. The Giants became stuck in what was often referred to as “old ways.”

While Wellington burned the candle at both ends, he craved a sense of stability and security after the loss of his brother. To that end, he tore up Sherman’s contract on July 26 and signed the coach to a new 10-year deal. Mara said, “The most important thing we could do was get the best possible leadership on the field. That’s why we have given Al a new contract.”

Sherman said, “I think any coach in the business would envy me today. We have the kind of ball club that can give the city what it has come to expect and want in the way of a winning team. We have the ingredients to come back quicker than a lot of people might think.”

Improve the Giants did in 1965, to 7-7 which was good for a second place tie in the mediocre NFL Eastern Conference. Veteran Earl Morrall started every game and stabilized the quarterback position. Homer Jones flashed some big play potential as a wide out and Frederickson made the Pro Bowl as a rookie. The defense continued to struggle, but the kicking game was far and away the weakest link. As a team, New York made an embarrassing four of 25 field goal attempts on the season, a figure that would have been unacceptable even in the drop-kick era of the 1920’s.

Mara reconciled that on-field problem by signing Pete Gogolak from the AFL’s Buffalo Bills to a three-year contract. That move also created a typhoon of issues for NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, which ultimately led to the AFL-NFL merger. The two leagues agreed to have their respective champions meet in a unifying professional football title game after the 1966 season, and would follow with a common draft beginning in 1967. Teams from both leagues were also free to schedule preseason exhibition matches against one another that same year. (History of New York Giants Place Kickers: Drop Kicks, Placements and the Sidewinder)

The Chasm

The Giants 1966 preseason was an unmitigated disaster. Frederickson strained knee ligaments in a scrimmage with Green Bay and sat out almost all of the remaining practice sessions. He returned for the final preseason contest, a 37-10 annihilation at the hands of the Packers, and was lost for the year when that same knee was severely reinjured.

The season opener, a 34-34 tie at Pittsburgh, was at the very least entertaining. The New York Times likened the proceedings of the turnover- and mistake-filled game as a skit by either Laurel and Hardy or Abbot and Costello. The dour Sherman was more succinct, “Sloppy.” Statistically, New York was terribly outplayed. The Steelers had the edge in first downs 25 to eight and rushing yards 138 to 32. Big plays kept the Giants close. Despite being under constant pressure, Morrall connected with Jones twice for touchdowns – one for 98 yards, a new club record, and the other for 75 yards.

There were no such silver linings the following week. The Giants traveled to Dallas and were so soundly beaten (52-7), that the New York media for the first time since Red Grange’s New York Yankees in 1926, began to turn their attention to another team – the New York Jets and their flamboyant young star Joe Namath. The Giants two biggest problems would haunt them the entire season: a weak offensive line that provided no pass protection, and porous defense that offered no resistance and couldn’t get off of the field.

Chuck Mercein (29), New York Giants (October 16, 1966)

Chuck Mercein (29), New York Giants (October 16, 1966)

The points allowed in succession following the Cowboy game were 35, 28, and 24 – all losses. For one game, somehow, the Giants defense plugged the leaks in a game against Washington. New York’s front seven played as if they were inspired by the presence of old friend Sam Huff, and held the Redskins to 179 total yards and nine first downs. Giants quarterback Gary Wood, who entered the game in the second quarter, was battered by the opposing pass rush and gave way to original starter Morrall early in the fourth quarter. Morrall led the Giants to 10 points and a 13-10 win.

That was the season’s highlight, as the following week the point parade marched on. A five-game span in November and December saw the Giants surrender a mind boggling 250 points, an aggregate higher than four teams yielded over their entire 14-game schedules! In two of those games New York scored at least 40 points and still lost. To put this perspective, the average points allowed for the NFL in 1966 was 301. The Giants surrendered 501, a record for a 14-game season. The 500-point plateau has only been passed twice since the 16-game schedule began in 1978: the 1981 Baltimore Colts and the 2008 Detroit Lions.

The entire 1966 campaign was best symbolized by the November 27 game at Washington, a 72-41 loss. Three records were set that still stand today: 113 total points scored, 16 total touchdowns, 72 points scored by one team in a regular season game. The record scoring cost Washington $315 in lost footballs. Thirteen of the 14 were lost on point-after attempts kicked into the stands and the other was thrown into the stands by an enthusiastic Redskin player after a touchdown. The embarrassment reached a ludicrous level when Huff called a time out with 0:07 left in the game and sent the field goal unit onto the field, despite Washington being comfortably ahead 69-41.

Huff remained unapologetic years later: “On the field before the game, Kyle Rote interviewed me for his pre-game radio show. ‘What do you think about the game?’ he asked. ‘We’ll score sixty,’ I said into the microphone for all my friends back in New York. As we were doing our calisthenics, (Head Coach) Otto (Graham) asked me what I thought. ‘Otto,’ I told him, ‘we’re gonna kill ‘em’. And Otto, I want to ask you one more thing: show no mercy. Show no mercy to that little son-of-a-bitch across the field, because this is our day.’”

Regarding the time out call, Huff said, “While Otto was talking to (quarterback) Sonny (Jurgensen), I took it upon myself to yell for the field goal team to get out there. After the game, Otto took a lot of heat for kicking the field goal and rubbing it in. But that wasn’t Otto’s decision, it was all mine. The 72 points we scored were for a lot of people: me, Mo, Livingston, Rosey, and all the old Giants. That was a day of judgment, and in my mind, justice was finally done.”

Giants fans seemed to begin to see things thought Huff’s eyes. The derisive “Good-bye Allie” sing-along (to the tune of “Good Night, Ladies”) began to echo through the Yankee Stadium. At the conclusion of the season’s final game, Sherman required a police escort to walk off of the field through angry mobs of fans.

The Trade

The move to assuage the fan base, as well as divert the city’s fascination with the ascending Jets, was as bold as it was costly. On March 7, 1967, the Giants dealt for Pro Bowl quarterback Fran Tarkenton.

In a football sense this made sense, as the fearless and mobile Tarkenton would be able to be productive behind New York’s weak line. However, the cost of their first and second round choices in the 1967 draft, first round pick in the 1968 draft and a player to be named later was exorbitant. This signaled the start of an era Wellington later termed “the patchwork system”, a repetitious cycle of get-better-now moves that eschewed long term growth and ultimately stability. The 1967 Giants were far from a win-now team that would become a contender with the addition of a single player, even if that player was a Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback.

Wellington Mara confessed years later: “I didn’t want to have a loser while the Jets had a winner.”

For his part, Tarkenton did everything he was brought to New York to do. He gave the Giants instant credibility – on and off of the field – and stabilized the quarterback position, something that was desperately needed, as the majority of the roster seemed to be a revolving door over his tenure.

Schematically, the Giants became a diagonal offense, employing short routes and slants to get the ball out of Tarkenton’s hands quickly. He developed a certain chemistry with Homer Jones, who had his most productive years with Tarkenton. Jones set team records in 14-game seasons that stood for decades, even though his penchant for freelancing routes got on his quarterback’s and coaches’ nerves.

The 1967 and 1968 seasons were an even 14-14 for New York in the won-lost column. The difference between the 7-7 campaigns was the latter season had New York 7-3 with a chance for a trip to the post season in the realigned NFL. A four-game losing skid to close the schedule had the anti-Sherman throng at full throat again. Meanwhile, the Jets shocked the world at large with their victory over Baltimore in Super Bowl III.

The pressure on Sherman to turn the Giants around was unprecedented, as was the hype before the August 17, 1969 preseason game between the Giants and Jets at the Yale Bowl. Giants President Wellington Mara posed alongside his Jets counterpart Philip Iselin, each holding their respective team’s helmet, as if it were Super Bowl 3½. The New York Times featured a column speculating what the world would be like if Namath were a Giant, alongside an article expressing traffic concerns of the New Haven Police Department and providing contingency plans and alternate routes. Nobody in the world could be convinced this game didn’t count for something, if not everything.

Both teams were prepared and up for the game in front of a standing room only crowd of 70,874. However, once the game started, the mistake-prone Giants must have felt helpless under the wheels of a green steamroller. Namath and the Jets led 24-0 two minutes into the second quarter and cruised to a 37-14 victory that gave them the neighborhood “bragging rights.”

Despite the one-sided score and Giants frequent ineptitude, the game remained a gritty and spirited affair. The New York Times game summary stated: “Although the contest was in truth a mere preseason game, the coaches, Weeb Ewbank of the Jets and Al Sherman of the Giants, used their personnel as though a Super Bowl were at stake. Perspiring regulars on both sides stayed in action until late in the fourth period.”

New York Giants vs. New York Jets (1969 Preseason)

New York Giants vs. New York Jets (1969 Preseason)

Aside from botched kick returns, poor punts and turnovers, the Giants main culprit was again their ineffective defense. Namath enjoyed a pristine pocket to read through progressions and deliver strikes to open receivers. He finished the day 14-of-16 for 188 yards with three touchdowns and a clean jersey. The Giants were humbled and humiliated, and several of the Jets, including former Giant Don Maynard, said the win over the Giants was more gratifying than Super Bowl III. “The Super Bowl was one thing, but playing in the Yale Bowl before 70,000 people for an exhibition…that was another kind of Super Bowl,” said Maynard.

The dismal preseason began to take on the feel of a funeral procession as the dispirited Giants trudged along and accumulated losses. New York was 0-5 after dropping an awful 17-13 game to Pittsburgh in front of a sparse crowd in Montreal on September 22. Coupled with the 0-4 slide to close the 1968 season, the Giants had gone winless over their last nine contests. Wellington Mara’s sense of loyalty and patience had reached its limits.

The Change

The next day Sherman was fired. A sullen Mara said at the press conference, “Sometime between 2am and 6am I reached my decision. There was no straw, no camel’s back. We just weren’t winning enough football games. The sole reason for our existence is to please our fans. If we’re not pleasing our fans we’ve got to find out why.”

Sherman said, “I was a little surprised, but, heck, that’s football.”

The new coach was offensive assistant, and longtime star fullback, Alex Webster. While Sherman had five years remaining on his 10-year deal, Webster was given a two-year contract to run the team. He said, “I feel like I’m part of the family. We’ve got one of the best offensive teams in the league. We’re going to win some games.”

Mara also said there would be a new hire to work between himself and Webster. This person would focus on “evaluation, selection and procurement of players” and feature “a more distinct approach, a new outlook.” However, it would be several years before Wellington actually added this new director of football operations position.

Later Mara confided there was another candidate strongly in the running for the head coaching job “It was late in the preseason, and we didn’t have a wide choice to begin with. Somebody I would have considered very strongly was Andy Robustelli, but he was in Japan at the time and we just had to do it immediately.”

The former Giant great-turned successful businessman Robustelli years later said, “My biggest disappointment was not being made the head coach of the Giants when Sherman was fired. I was the right choice. I would have done the job.”

Behind the scenes, dissatisfaction and frustration were percolating. Wellington’s nephew Tim Mara, who had been passive with the franchise since his father Jack’s passing, began to feel the need to interject his influence. “From Allie’s later years on, I felt like I wanted to be more involved. And when we finally had to let Sherman go, I was one hundred percent for it. A change was really necessary.”

What Webster the coach lacked in organizational experience, he made up for with personal connections. Wellington said, “I thought the guy on our staff who could get the most out of the players, the guy they would most want to play for, was Alex. Alex had a great grasp of people and players and of offensive football. He was a fine offensive coach. The players knew what a great player he had been, too, and they respected him for that.”

Webster said years later, “Basically the team I took over was an average team. There were some players, but not enough. We had a few…they were offensive players, the defense was weaker. The hardest thing was taking over nine days before the season. I couldn’t put in anything of my own, I had to go along with Allie’s theories.”

Despite the sudden change and numerous challenges to overcome, the season opener at Yankee Stadium was as rousing as it was surprising. A thrilling come-from-behind win over the powerful Minnesota Vikings was highlighted by two late fourth quarter touchdown passes by Tarkenton, the second with 0:59 on the clock. The dark cloud that had hovered over the Giants since the previous November parted, and the jubilant players carried Webster off of the field on their shoulders. Yankee Stadium reverberated with cheers rather than boos and sarcastic sing-alongs.

The celebration was short lived, however. The Giants were whipped 24-0 in Detroit the following week. A seven-game losing streak in the middle of the season buried New York in a deep hole, but a three-game winning streak and a season ending win over rival Cleveland gave some hope going into the offseason.

Fred Dryer, New York Giants (December 21, 1969)

Fred Dryer, New York Giants (December 21, 1969)

Webster’s first move to mold the Giants in his image was obtaining a reliable running back. To that end he traded the prolific, yet inconsistent, receiver Homer Jones to Cleveland for halfback Ron Johnson, defensive tackle Jim Kanicki and linebacker Wayne Meylan. The idea was to have more balance on offense, and hold the ball to keep the defense off of the field. To assist Webster with game planning and scheming, former Giants tight end Joe Walton was promoted, and he coordinated the new passing attack and based the offense around the I-Formation.

The new-look 1970 team had an up-and-down preseason, but it included a win over the Jets (who were without an injured Namath). The Giants endured a disappointing 0-3 start to the regular season and inspired little optimism. But, before going down in flames, Webster’s team started to click. Johnson had the Giants first 100-yard rushing game in three years during a win against Philadelphia. The next week’s 16-0 win over the Boston Patriots was New York’s first shutout since 1961, and the following week Tarkenton became the first Giant to throw five touchdown passes in a game since YA Tittle in 1962. Finally, comparisons to the past were favorable. After evening their record at 3-3, the first regular season showdown with the Jets took place at Shea Stadium on November 1.

Some of the luster of the matchup was missing as Namath watched the game from the sidelines in street clothes, but the demand for tickets was so strong that the Jets management installed temporary seating to meet the demand.

The Shea Stadium record crowd of 63,903 witnessed a mostly non-descript game until a fist-fight erupted between Tarkenton and Jets linebacker Larry Grantham. The Jets led 10-3 in the third quarter and just halted a Giants drive when they stopped Tucker Frederickson on fourth-and-goal from the one-yard line. Tarkenton felt he had been hit after the whistle by Grantham, and the two ignited a skirmish between the teams. After order was restored, Jim Files tackled former Giants running back Chuck Mercein in the end zone for a safety. Now with momentum with the Giants, Tarkenton exacted some revenge by hitting Johnson down the sideline for a 50-yard gain and then Bob Tucker for a 9-yard touchdown. The two-play drive following the free kick gave the Giants a 12-10 lead.

Fran Tarkenton and Tucker Frederickson, New York Giants (November 1, 1970)

Fran Tarkenton and Tucker Frederickson, New York Giants (November 1, 1970)

Cornerback Willie Williams then intercepted Al Woodall’s first down pass after the kickoff and returned it to the Jets 29-yard line. Three plays later Tarkenton connected with wide receiver Clifton McNeil for an 11-yard touchdown and 19-10 advantage. The 16-pojnt eruption came with just 77 elapsing from the clock. The Giants added a field goal in the fourth quarter for the 22-10 final score. More importantly, the 4-3 Giants were in playoff contention.

Back-to-back come-from-behind wins at Yankee Stadium against division rivals Dallas and Washington set the Giants up for a meaningful December. The Giants had won nine of their last 10 games heading into the season finale against the Los Angeles Rams, and a win would earn their first division title and playoff berth since 1963. Their prospects looked good after Gogolak gave New York a 3-0 early in the first quarter but the game unraveled quickly after that. Los Angeles led 24-3 at the half, as they took advantage of numerous Giants miscues. New York lost five fumbles on the day and lost 31-3.

Regardless of that final game, the Giants had a lot to feel good about. The 9-5 record was their first winning mark since 1963, Johnson was the first 1,000 yard rusher in franchise history and Gogolak set a team scoring record with 107 points.

But New York soon discovered their success was fleeting. Distractions that made the action on the field seem secondary in importance were lurking just around the corner.

The Move

On March 25, 1971, to the surprise of all, The New York Times published an article stating the Giants had forged a verbal agreement with the state of New Jersey to explore future options of constructing a football-only stadium on the other side of the Hudson River.

Backlash came fast and hard. Editorials in all the area papers criticized the Giants for “abandoning” the city and accused the Maras as being “opportunists.” All of these emotionally based assaults ignored the fact that the Giants had indeed explored options construction in Uniondale and Yonkers, New York, and only after refurbishment requests to the city to upgrade the aging Yankee Stadium were refused.

The official announcement of the Giants partnership with the newly created New Jersey Sports and Exhibition Authority (NJSEA) came on August 26, and ended a summer of rumor and speculation.

Immediately following the announcement, New York Mayor John Lindsay attempted to evoke a clause in the Giants contract with the Yankees, after finally authorizing a $24 million upgrade to Yankee Stadium, to evict the Giants from the city limits. Lindsay also petitioned NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle to bring an expansion franchise to New York and demanded the Giants drop “New York” from their name.

In a public statement, an irate Lindsay said, “In taking this action the Giant management crossed the line that distinguishes a sport from a business. I am today directing the Corporation Counsel to initiate proceedings to restrict the rights of the Giants to call themselves the name of the city they have chosen to leave.”

The expansion prospect proved unrealistic. The NFL established home markets as a 75-mile radius from the location of home game sites – regardless of political boarders. Any team staging a league contest within that radius would need the approval of both the Giants and Jets. This concept also played into the Giants keeping their identity with New York after moving the short distance to New Jersey.

At the press conference with New Jersey Governor William Cahill and NJSEA chairman Sonny Werblin (former owner of the AFL New York Titans), Wellington Mara cited the positive aspects of the new football-only stadium: more and better seating, easy access from the highway and more parking close to the stadium. The football Giants had been perennial tenants to the baseball Giants and Yankees since 1925, and they were ready for a state-of-the-art home of their own.

William Cahill, Wellington Mara, David Werblin; Meadowlands Announcement (October 27, 1971)

William Cahill, Wellington Mara, David Werblin; Meadowlands Announcement (October 27, 1971)

Wellington Mara said: “In going around the circuit, we felt other clubs were able to take a lot better care of their fans. We had a lot of obstructed view seats in Yankee Stadium. And we had a huge waiting list for tickets. We thought if we could get better locations for more people, it was something we were very interested in.”

No doubt, part of the vitriol public officials directed toward Mara and the Giants came from the sting still felt by the departure of the baseball Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers in 1957. The financially troubled city that was struggling to compete with other markets just learned they were losing their third professional team in 14 years. Bronx Borough President Robert Abrams curtly stated, “We made them a successful operation, now they want to leave. If they want to play in a swamp, let them play in a swamp right now.”

All of this commotion obscured the actual game of football for the next several years. In retrospect, that may have been a blessing in disguise. The surprise winning season of 1970 proved to be little more than a mirage, as the 1971 Giants crumbled on the field and were a discontented rabble off of it.

Johnson appeared in only two games while rehabbing a knee injury, and Tarkenton and defensive end Fred Dyer forced their way out of New York via trades after the season. A rift between Tarkenton and Mara over a financial disagreement caused the quarterback to go AWOL during the preseason, and apparently affected his performance during what would be his statistically poorest campaign. Dryer was simply fed up with what he considered a poorly-run operation, “I had to get out of that place while I had my sanity.”

The Giants rebounded to their second winning record in three seasons in 1972, as the healthy Johnson returned better than ever and had another 1,000-yard season. However, that too turned out to be another tease. While the 1966 embarrassment remains the single-season low point for the Giants, the 1973 and 1974 seasons are the worst back-to-back campaigns in franchise history. The combined 4-23-1 record bridged the Giants exodus from Yankee Stadium – where they started the 1973 season with a win and a tie – to the Yale Bowl in New Haven, Connecticut.

Ron Johnson, New York Giants (September 23, 1973)

Ron Johnson, New York Giants (September 23, 1973)

The Giants had explored many options for a location suitable for their temporary home games. These included Downing Stadium at Randall’s Island, Michie Stadium at West Point and Palmer Stadium at Princeton University, but all proved unsatisfactory for one reason or another. While the Yale Bowl lacked its own locker room facilities – the teams changed and showered at a field house approximately 200 yards away – the seating capacity accommodated just over 70,000 patrons.

The Giants residence at Yale featured two head coaches (Webster was released after the 1974 season), one victory (24-13 over the St. Louis Cardinals on November 18, 1973) and zero Pro Bowlers – the first time since that event’s inception in 1950 that no New York player was invited.

Linebacker Brian Kelley recalled, “My rookie year was ’73 and the first couple of games of the regular season we played in Yankee Stadium. From there, it started going downhill pretty quick. We went to the Yale Bowl. Not that it’s a bad place, but it was more like an away game, because we had to drive two-and-a-half hours from our practice fields to go to a home game.”

An Anguished Disorganization

The Giants – somewhat reluctantly and not without consternation – named Andy Robustelli as their first Director of Football Operations prior to the 1974 season.

Robustelli said of his hiring, “During the previous week Well and Tim had discussed what might be done to revive the team, and Tim suggested someone with a football background was needed to run that side of the organization. When Wellington and Jack ran the team, Well was the vice president, but in effect his duties were those of a director of football operations. When he succeeded Jack as president, Wellington thought he could continue to specialize in that area and allow Tim to take over the business side; as club president Well would continue to oversee as necessary. Those plans fell apart when everyone in the organization turned to Wellington to solve every problem.”

Wellington Mara said, “It became obvious to me that I had to step back, that I had to bring someone in to run the team. Because of the closeness and length of my association with all of the people on the staff, where I thought I was just giving an opinion, it was being taken as an instruction. It wasn’t meant to be that way.”

Tim Mara said, “I It became clear we needed a football man to run the team, a general manager. I suggested that and Well agreed with it…(Robustelli) was what I thought we needed…during that time I was still more or less dealing with the business aspect of the team.”

Robustelli said the most difficult aspect of integrating with the organization was the displacement of Wellington’s long-time friend Ray Walsh, who possessed the title of general manager. In Robustelli’s words: “In reality, he was the business manager. Unlike most general managers in professional sports, he did not deal with the players’ contracts, make trades or involve himself in any way with the football operation.” Walsh received a vice president title and continued to deal with non-football responsibilities.

Robustelli’s first major move was finding the Giants next head coach, and for the first time since 1930, a candidate from outside the Giants organization was chosen. Bill Arnsparger, the architect of the Miami Dolphins dominant defense, was a hot commodity following three consecutive Super Bowl appearances, including two victories. Arnsparger was renowned for both his tactical skills as well as his patience, a necessary trait for the massive rebuild that loomed.

Wellington Mara said, “Tim, Andy and I drew up lists (of the) men we thought should be considered as the new coach. Bill Arnsparger was at the head of all three lists.”

Once Arnsparger was on board, Robustelli got to work on a complete overhaul of the Giants organizational structure. This included everything from player personnel evaluation (which included the difficult removal of the current head of player evaluation – Jim Lee Howell), building modern training facilities (which led the forging of a partnership with Pace University in Pleasantville, New York) and right up to the division of responsibilities between the team’s two owners. Robustelli even had a hand in the Giants new look on the field, and radically changed their logo and uniforms in time for the 1975 season.

The Giants on-field fortunes were not unexpectedly familiar. The lingering effects of the back-to-back 2-11-1 and 2-12 seasons were at least temporarily assuaged after the removal of Lindsay from the mayor’s office. New Mayor Abe Beame allowed the Giants back into New York to play at Shea Stadium in 1975. Robustelli said, “Nothing ever compared to Yankee Stadium, but in 1975 any permanent move was at least a year away, and we needed an immediate psychological boost.”

Not surprisingly, under Arnsparger’s direction, New York’s defense began to show significant improvement. Players either acquired or developed under Arnsparger included: defensive end Jack Gregory, defensive tackle John Mendenhall, linebacker Brian Kelley, linebacker Brad Van Pelt, punter Dave Jennings, defensive end George Martin and linebacker Harry Carson.

Bill Arnsparger (1974)

Bill Arnsparger (1974)

Unfortunately, at the same time the once-potent offense began to falter. Finding a long-term replacement for Tarkenton proved to be both difficult and costly. Norm Snead, who came from Minnesota in the Tarkenton deal, had a strong 1972 season (where he set a franchise mark with a 60.3 completion percentage) but slumped badly in 1973 while struggling with knee troubles and weak pass protection. His seven touchdown passes to 22 interception ratio underscored the need for new blood.

The Giants number one draft choice in the 1975 draft was sent to Dallas for quarterback Craig Morton, who had battled on and off for years with Roger Staubach for the Cowboys starting position. Morton possessed all the necessary physical attributes required for the position, but lacked some of the intangibles the rebuilding Giants needed to reverse their fortunes.

“We needed Morton, we had to have a competent quarterback. Maybe we paid too much for him. We probably did. But there was no choice, not really, and I’d do it again,” Robustelli said years later. “I think Morton was the right guy but on the wrong team.”

Arnsparger echoed that assessment, “It was the feeling of everybody that we had to have a quarterback of (Morton’s) capability, and we had to spend an awful lot to get him. But we were trying to do something that had to be done, but I don’t know if our team was ready for him. We probably needed a different type of quarterback, because we weren’t good enough to play with Craig.”

Robustelli said, “Craig often needed a kick in the ass to get his attention and let him know he couldn’t call his own tune. Instead of being the positive influence I had sought, the opposite occurred. I take nothing away from Craig’s football abilities, but he was not the kind of leader we sought.”

At the same time, Robustelli began to have concerns with Arnsparger’s sometime passive approach in dealing with issues. He also sometimes thought the Giants were a soft team and undisciplined team. “Bill was very stubborn about many things and very fixed in his ways, often unwilling to change or even compromise. It was exasperating at times.”

The Giants record improved marginally to 5-9 in 1975. The next desperate move caused reverberations that initiated an irreparable rift in ownership.

New Home, Old Ways

Fullback Larry Csonka, former Super Bowl MVP and associate of Arnsparger in Miami, was a free agent following the demise of the World Football League (WFL). New York’s major overseers, the head coach, general manager and principal owner were all interested in adding him to the roster for both his muscle in the run game as well fostering some as instant credibility with a disenchanted fan base.

Typical of the Giants internal climate at the time, how the Csonka signing came about is a matter of whom you believe.

Tim Mara: “We had a meeting, the three of us, and went over the players that were available.” After reviewing what were believed to be unreasonable contract demands, “…we decided not to pursue it; it might have been the shortest meeting we ever had.”

Later that week, Tim Mara said that while attending a meeting with the NJSEA, Wellington called and informed him the Giants were close to signing Csonka. Tim was incredulous, believing the patchwork system of paying for today’s short-term fix later had to stop. He attested that Wellington assured him the deal would be called off.

“But then the next call I got was that we had signed him, and we were having a press conference that night,” Tim said.

Robustelli: “Wellington became more and more enthusiastic as the negotiations progressed…Tim Mara was another matter. He didn’t even involve himself in the negotiations despite my urgings. During the Csonka negotiations, he chose to be a ‘convenient’ owner – one who was visible in the good times but never around to help make the tough decisions or take his share of the flak when (things went) badly. I believe his non participation was strategic; he left himself in a perfect position to second-guess the move, which he frequently did.”

Robustelli also said this pattern repeated itself during the renegotiation of Brad Van Pelt’s contract and the signing of first round draft pick defensive end Gary Jeter.

As uncomfortable as things were in the front office, they may have been even worse on the field during the 1976 season.

Harry Carson recalled the climate of his first NFL training camp: “Coach Arnsparger indicated that all positions were up for grabs. He wanted players to compete and didn’t care who started as long as they could get the job done. Arnsparger really didn’t have a choice; he needed players willing to shake things up as he had experienced two prior seasons that only netted him seven wins against 21 losses. He knew his ass was on the hot seat and he was in jeopardy of losing his job if things didn’t get better fast.”

The Giants began the season with a four-game road trip. Despite outplaying the Redskins for 59 minutes, New York collapsed late and surrendered the deciding touchdown with 45 seconds left in the game for a tone-setting 19-17 loss. The games at Philadelphia, Los Angeles and St. Louis were never that close, and neither was the home opener. All the compliments following the 24-14 loss to Dallas were paid to the brand new, state-of-the-art football-only stadium. Nobody had anything good to say regarding the overmatched team on the field.

“It became a growing concern, that Andy was right, when the 1976 season started. The lack of success had gotten to the point that, not that he didn’t have the respect of the players, but he couldn’t command their attention,” Wellington Mara said. “The idea of changing in midstream was not appealing, but I felt that if we continued to go downhill, some of the good young players might have been lost beyond recall.”

After closing 1975 with three straight defeats, and opening the 1976 with seven more, it had been over 11 months since a Giants team had tasted a victory. The strain was becoming unbearable.

Carson said, “The team had not won one game, and it was frustrating to lose week in and week out. I could sense that the coaches were under pressure to win…The atmosphere between coaches and players, as well as between offense and defense, was getting more hostile than earlier in the season,”

The time for change came the Monday morning after a 27-0 loss to Pittsburgh.

Arnsparger said, “…when we lost our first seven games, I came in one morning and Andy told me it was over.

Starting Over…Again

John McVay, who had head coaching experience in the WFL and had been brought to the staff as an insurance policy as a coach-in-waiting by Robustelli, was quickly promoted as head coach on an interim basis.

McVay recalled the moment: “(Robustelli) looked at me and said: ‘Bill’s leaving, and you’re it.’ Just like that. They never told me anything beforehand, never asked me if I’d take the job. I mean, they fired Bill and they decided I’d be the coach…It was the most painful, dire circumstance in which you can be cast into the job of head coach. There has been no time to anticipate it, to prepare for it, to even think about it. The shock and surprise are, well, indescribable.”

Following two more losses, McVay’s first win, a 12-9 win over Washington, was a milestone on several levels. It ended an 11-game losing streak to their division rival, marked their first win at Giants Stadium, and ended the franchise record nine-game losing streak.

Wellington Mara, Giants Stadium (1976)

Wellington Mara, Giants Stadium (1976)

Carson said, “With that first victory, you could feel the weight being lifted off our backs and especially off the shoulders of the coaches. With a win, people start to smile and feel better about themselves.”

The Giants finished the season winning three of their last five games. McVay received a new two-year contract to coach the Giants, though not necessarily on a permanent basis. McVay was seen as someone who would ascend to management and run the Giants football operations when Robustelli, who was growing weary of being caught between the bickering Maras, ultimately left to return to his private businesses.

Once again, the paramount offseason need was a new quarterback. This time around however, character was deemed the higher priority above physical ability. The Giants looked north of the border to find their man, Joe Pisarcik, a three-year veteran of the CFL.

Robustelli said, “Pisarcik was a very methodical, strong-armed quarterback who was never going to be exceptional, but he was tough and he’d fight right to the end of the game. I liked him right from the start because I thought he was the right kind of player for our situation – someone who was could hang tough and absorb some of the pounding while we bought time, upgraded other positions and got ourselves the star quarterback of the future.”

The 1977 Giants had a roster that had been largely turned over since the 1974 season. One of the pre-Robustelli players, tight end Bob Tucker, forced a trade in the middle of the season by acting out as a malcontent. His frustration was understandable – most of the promising talent on the team was on the defensive side of the ball, and the offensive line was a perpetual ongoing project. Ageless veteran offensive lineman Doug Van Horn was still reliable, but the pieces around him always seemed to be shuffling as draft picks and free agents came and went. The 5-9 season marked the fifth-consecutive sub-0.500 record for New York, but things did seem to be stabilizing. For the first time anyone could remember, there was hope heading into the offseason.

We’ve Had Enough

The 1978 Giants were 5-3 at the halfway point of the NFL’s first 16-game season. Granted, most of the wins came against the lower half of the league echelon – two of the losses came at the hands of the defending Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys. A three-game road trip turned into a three-game skid. Yet, the Giants still in remained in position for wild card contention at 5-6. A home victory against Philadelphia would tie the division rivals for second place.

For just over 59 minutes, that seemed to be a near certainty.

The Giants Stadium sensed all was right, to the point where many began leaving their seats to beat the traffic.

The Giants defense had just turned the ball over to the offense after stopping Philadelphia on fourth down just inside the New York 30-yard line.

Then everything began to go wrong.

On first down, Pisarcik fell on the ball for a three-yard loss, but Philadelphia linebacker Frank LeMaster blitzed and hit Pisarcik while he was lying on the ground, breaking the normal protocol on such a play. The officials stopped the clock to separate the two teams as members of the Giants, who were angered by what they believed was unnecessary roughness, defended their quarterback. Giants center Jim Clack said, “Usually, when the quarterback is just going to fall on the ball, we tell the other team to take it easy and not bury him.”

The Giants ran the ball on second down, ostensibly to protect Pisarcik from an over-aggressive defense. New York players in the huddle disagreed with the call, and told him to just fall on the ball. Pisarcik though, ran the play from the coaches as directed, and Csonka ran behind left guard for an 11-yard gain, setting up a 3rd and two. Philadelphia used their third and final time out. All that was required for New York to secure the victory was run one more play, keep the ball in bounds, and allow the remaining time to expire.

What could possibly go wrong?

The same run play was called. The results changed the fortunes of the Giants forever.

The fateful play was run with 0:31 on the clock from their own 29-yard line.

The snap from center was slightly off, Pisarcik said it was high and hit his right forearm. Unable to handle the ball cleanly, Pisarcik never had firm control as he pivoted to hand-off to Csonka, who was charging toward the hole full-speed. The mistimed exchange caused the ball to hit Csonka’s right hip and bounce away on the hard artificial surface. Eagles safety Herman Edwards scooped up the loose ball after its second bounce and sprinted across the goal line with 20 seconds left on the clock for the game-winning score.

McVay explained the controversial play call after the game, “We didn’t want to get the clock stopped by them faking an injury. Our thought was to get the first down and not have to worry about it.”

Offensive coordinator Bob Gibson said, “It was a safe play. We’ve used that play 500 times this season. It was safe. Csonka never fumbles.”

Others who were there recall the moment vividly.

Jim Clack: “Never in my life have I seen anything like it. It’d make a good movie. We’d write a good book on how to lose.”

Pisarcik: “I should’ve fallen on it. That’s what I should have done. But my job is to call the play that comes in. I don’t really have the freedom to change a play just because I don’t like it.”

Doug Van Horn: “But damn, we beat that team yesterday. Physically we beat ‘em up, only to lose in a horrible, horrible way.”

Harry Carson: “I was stunned, just like everyone else in the stadium. At the conclusion of the game I could not move. I sat on the bench for another 15 minutes staring at the ground.”

Andy Robustelli: “Using the clock in the final minutes of a game is a delicate art, even when your team has the ball and your opponents have no time outs. Plays must be called that use a maximum of time with a minimum of risk.

“However, the play that required Pisarcik to make a reverse spin – that is, he took the ball and spun in the opposite direction from where Csonka was running before wheeling around and placing the ball in his hands. I cringed when I saw that reverse pivot. I would have accepted even a simple handoff with its smaller margin of error, particularly with a back like Csonka who had done it thousands of times in his career.

“I was stunned to the point where I didn’t want to believe that the impossible had actually happened.”

New York’s post-game locker room was frenetic. The press badgered players for an explanation, but most wanted the same answers themselves. Many were too shocked to respond, others lashed out in anger. Pisarcik was coaxed out from the solitude of the trainer’s room by Robustelli and into the fray.

The next morning the decision was made by Robustelli and Wellington Mara to fire Gibson, the man responsible for the call. McVay defended his coach and offered to resign himself.

McVay was retained but fired shortly after the season’s conclusion as the Giants lost three of their four remaining games. The 6-10 record was their sixth consecutive losing season, and the fourth within that streak with losses tallying in the double digits.

Robustelli, as planned, officially resigned early in the 1979 offseason, allowing ownership to initiate their quest for a new successor. Many of the plans Robustelli had made in modernizing and restructuring the Giants organization were underway and beginning to bear fruits, especially the overhauled player development department. But he was unable to overcome the uneasiness and lack of trust between the two feuding owners who had been on non-speaking terms for nearly a full year.

The pathos became overwhelming during the Giants final two home games.

Prior to the game against the Los Angeles Rams on December 3, approximately 100 fans held an organized burning of their normally prized season tickets in a trash barrel on the sidewalk adjacent to the stadium. Their protest was, “in memory of Giant teams of the past,” fan Ron Livingston was quoted as saying in the next day’s New York Times.

Wellington Mara said, “You never like to know that what you’re trying to sell is not what they want to buy. And that’s what it means to me. You listen and you read your mail.”

The following week, during the game against the St. Louis Cardinals on December 10, another fan made sure Wellington got the message loud and clear.

Leaflets were passed out in the parking lot to tailgaters that alerted them to look skyward during the first half of the game. If they agreed with the messaged, they were encouraged to stand and cheer.

Indeed, probably the loudest ovation in the first three years of Giants Stadium occurred when the single engine plane towing the sign that read “15 YEARS OF LOUSY FOOTBALL…WE’VE HAD ENOUGH” slowly and agonizingly circled the stadium. The majority of the 52,226 fans in attendance (there were over 24,000 no-shows) not only stood and applauded, they spontaneously erupted in a thunderous chant of “We’ve had enough…We’ve had enough…” for several minutes.

After the game, the Giants humiliated principal owner Wellington Mara said he was aware of the plane, but did not actually see it, and uncharacteristically declined to comment further.

The Giants looked ahead in need of the three vital components of any successful football program: a general manager, a head coach and a quarterback. The strain they were now under would make the next two months feel like another 15 years.

************************************************************************
Sources:

“A Pedantic Professor Who Likes To Buck Long Odds”
Tex Maule, Sep. 7, 1964, Sports Illustrated

“The Giants Grow Up”
Mark Mulvoy, Dec. 4, 1967, Sports Illustrated

7 Days To Sunday: Crisis Week with the New York Football Giants
Eliot Asinoff, 1968, Ace Books

New York Football Giants 1971 Press, Radio and Television Guide
New York Football Giants, Inc., 1971

“Scramble Back to the Deep Purple”
Tex Maul, Feb. 7 1972, Sports Illustrated

New York Football Giants 1972 Press, Radio and Television Guide
New York Football Giants, Inc., 1973

“It’s Just One Man’s Family”
Robert H. Boyle, Sep. 25, 1972, Sports Illustrated

New York Football Giants 1973 Press, Radio and Television Guide
New York Football Giants, Inc., 1973

New York Football Giants 1974 Press, Radio and Television Guide
New York Football Giants, Inc., 1974

New York Giants 1975 Media Guide
New York Football Giants, Inc., 1975

New York Giants 1976 Media Guide
New York Football Giants, Inc., 1976

New York Giants 1977 Media Guide
New York Football Giants, Inc., 1977

New York Giants 1978 Media Guide
New York Football Giants, Inc., 1978

The Encyclopedia Of Football – 16th Revised Edition
Roger Treat, Suzanne Treat, Pete Palmer; 1979; A. S. Barnes & Co.

Giants Again!
Dave Klein, 1982, Signet

“Up, Down And Up Again”
Ron Fimrite, Jan. 26, 1987, Sports Illustrated

Illustrated History of the New York Giants: From The Polo Grounds To Super Bowl XXI
Richard Whittingham, 1987, Harper Collins

Once A Giant, Always…
Andy Robustelli with Jack Clary, 1987, Quinlan Press

Tuff Stuff
Sam Huff, 1988, St. Martins Press

The Pro Football Chronicle
Dan Daly & Bob O’Donnell, 1990, Collier Books

No Medals for Trying: A Week in the Life of a Pro Football Team
Jerry Izenberg, 1990, MacMillan Pub Company

The Whole Ten Yards
Frank Gifford with Harry Waters, 1993, Giff & Golda Productions

“William T. Cahill: Bringing Professional Football to New Jersey”
Michael Eisen, Gameday, Sept.29, 1996, New York Football Giants, Inc.

Wellington: The Maras, the Giants, and the City of New York
Carlo DeVito,  2006, Triumph Books

Nothing Comes Easy: My Life in Football
Y.A. Tittle, 2009, Triumph Books

Captain For Life
Harry Carson, 2011,  St. Martins Press

2015 New York Football Giants Information Guide
Micheal Eisen, Dandre Phillips, Corey Rush; 2015; New York Football Giants, Inc.

Official 2015 NFL Record & Fact Book
2015, NFL Communications Department

Historical New York Times searchable archive (via ProQuest)

Pro Football Reference
New York Giants Franchise Encyclopedia

Jul 312013
 
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Adrian Tracy (98), Mathias Kiwanuka (94), Jason Pierre-Paul (90), Linval Joseph (97), New York Giants (July 27, 2013)

Tracy, Kiwanuka, Pierre-Paul, and Joseph – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants Return to Practice on Thursday: The Giants did not practice on Wednesday. The next practice is on Thursday from 1:30-3:45PM. For a complete training camp schedule and Giants.com Q&A guide, see the Training Camp section of the website.

Inside Football Q&A With CB Trumaine McBride: Quick Hits with Cornerback Trumaine McBride by Patricia Traina of InsideFootball.com

Article on Giants’ Training Camp Battles: Best Giants Camp Battles by Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPNNewYork.com

Articles on the Wide Receivers:

Article on DE Justin Tuck: Critics a Giant Motivator for Tuck by Ralph Vacchiano of The Daily News

Article/Video on the Defensive Backs:

Articles on Bill Parcells’ Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony:

Oct 252005
 
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By David Oliver

It is a day we all knew was coming; it comes for each of us. That doesn’t make it any less sad. Notwithstanding the Irish tradition of sending a loved one on his way with celebration and telling of tales, I must take a moment to grieve for football, for fans of the game, for us as Giants fans and family. Each of us here has been born to the Blue. Wellington Mara was the essence of Blue. He was the owner of our team, but more than that, as we do, he cheered, he mourned, he angered, he reveled in the game and in his players. Mr. Mara was not perfect; no man is. But his last action as scion of the Giants speaks volumes of the man. He hired a coach in whom he believed; a Coach he hoped in his heart could bring us a return to the Glory Days of Giants football. It was his final gift to us.

Those of us who have reached a certain age cannot remember a time when there were no Giants; and concomitant with that remembrance, there was Wellington Mara. He, Mr. Rooney and Papa Bear Halas were the NFL. They were patricians and they were Gentlemen. In a violent world, in a violent sport, Wellington Mara and his cohorts maintained a sense of dignity, a style, and as my mother once told me, you have to know your place in the world; Wellington Mara knew his place. He sacrificed personal gain for the good of the sport and although the sport was good to him, there may not have been a sport without him.

I spoke very little with Mr. Mara. We would nod to each other, say hello or good morning and pass on our respective ways. But he knew I was a long time fan and he smiled at me a lot. He would smile and nod as he walked the field at mini-camp, or summer camp; he would nod and smile in the locker room after a Giants win; and he smiled and nodded that cold day in February as I was leaving the Meadowlands after interviewing a Coach and he was coming to work, walking into the Stadium alone.

He loved his team and his players and the team’s fans. Every day, at practice, when he was younger, he would pace up and down the field; later he would be stationary, but intent on watching every player, every play. Although not gregarious with strangers, he was not isolated. He would answer a question; sign an autograph, treat each fan as if he was, what we are, members of the Giants’ family. I have seen him sign autographs for young men and I have seen him sign autographs for fans wearing the jersey of another team. Everyone respected him, and he respected everyone.

The game is changing once again. The players are different, the owners are different, and the fans are different. With the coming of free agency, heroes come and go. In the age of entertainment, PSLs are the acronym of the day, the cost of taking a family of four to a game is astronomical. Players take pens out of their socks or cell phones from hidden places. But I remember a day when players and fans took the same subway to the stadium, when Frank Gifford regaled us with stories of Wellington Mara slipping enough C notes in his shoes to enable him to go home to California or buy a present for his family, and when Wellington Mara answered the cry of the fans to end the horrid days of the 60s and 70s and return football, Giants’ football, to its proper place.

But most of all, I will remember a courtly middle aged man as he, and I, aged, walking the field before his players arrived, watching every practice, nodding and smiling in my direction. As he always thought of us as family, we likewise count him in our families. So for a moment we will grieve; then we will celebrate a life well lived. Thank you, Mr. Mara, and God Speed on your final journey.