Though it hardly seemed possible, things were about to get markedly
Behind a solid defensive effort, the Giants managed to build a 17-12
lead and were in the process of running out the clock against
Philadelphia. Less than a minute remained when the team huddled for the
last time, the ball at its 29-yard line. The Eagles were out of
timeouts. Relieved fans shuffled toward the exits of Giants Stadium,
expecting quarterback Joe Pisarcik to take the snap and dip to one knee.
But offensive coordinator Bob Gibson had other ideas. Hadn't Pisarcik
taken a knee on the previous play? And hadn't Eagles middle linebacker
Bill Bergey drilled center Jim Clack, knocking him into the quarterback
and inciting a tussle? Gibson wasn't going to let that happen twice. He
called a handoff to the fullback.
The Giants were horrified when the call came to the huddle. "Don't give
me the football," fullback Larry Csonka insisted.
But Gibson had upbraided Pisarcik for changing a play against Washington
a week earlier. The quarterback wasn't about to do it again.
Out on the left wing, Giants running back Doug Kotar looked across the
line at second-year Eagles cornerback Herman Edwards. "We're practically
shaking hands," said Edwards, now head coach of the New York Jets. "We
had hardly huddled on defense."
The Giants had spent too much time in the huddle. When they finally got
to the line, Clack looked to the play clock and saw it winding down.
Fearing a clock-stopping delay-of-game penalty, he snapped the ball.
Unfortunately, Pisarcik was peeking back at Csonka, wondering if the
famed fullback had accepted his assignment. The timing was shot.
Pisarcik bobbled the snap, then hurriedly attempted to hand off to
Csonka, planting the ball on the big man's right hip.
Kotar, who died of brain cancer in 1983, never saw the bounding fumble.
But Edwards did. He sped into the backfield and fielded it cleanly.
"That was the beautiful part," Edwards said. "It came to me on the first
As the remaining crowd gaped in stunned silence, Edwards dashed 26 yards
into the end zone for the improbable winning touchdown with 20 seconds
remaining. Eagles 19, Giants 17.
Among those who missed the play was Philadelphia head coach Dick
Vermeil, who had turned away in frustration. "It dawned on him when he
noticed people running by him," Edwards said. "He said, 'What are you
doing?' And someone said, 'Herman ran it in for a touchdown!' He never
saw it until he watched the tape."
The goofball play became an instant, tragicomic sensation. And the
"Miracle of the Meadowlands," as sports fans soon called it, still
resonates in Philadelphia and greater New York City.
|Dick Vermeil and Herman Edwards reunited on Nov. 11, 2001, when they opposed each other as head coaches at the Meadowlands. || |
"There are two versions of the story," Edwards said. "One is, 'I was at
the game.' And that can't all be true, because there weren't enough
people at the game for all the times I've heard it. The second is, they
know where they were. They'll tell you, 'I was in a mall, standing in
front of the TV,' or, 'I was in the parking lot. I turned the radio on
and heard what happened.' "
Edwards' touchdown had ramifications both immediate and delayed. The
Giants fired Gibson the next day. He never worked in football again. Not
long after the game, outraged fans burned tickets in a bonfire outside
the stadium. The Giants declined to renew the contract of head coach
John McVay after the season. He joined the 49ers' front office in 1979
and became an integral part of that team's budding dynasty.
On the other side, Edwards is convinced the lucky bounce propelled the
Eagles to new heights.
"We won the game at the end, and we went on to the playoffs," he
explains. "The next thing, we're playing in the Super Bowl [two years
later]. You see that in sports. One play gets you feeling like you have
confidence. You're not worried about losing anymore; now you're thinking
about how you can win."
The Miracle of the Meadowlands had another, longer-lasting effect on the
NFL. Watch teams kneel down to kill the clock these days, and you'll
almost always notice one player, usually a running back or defensive
back, standing 5 to 10 yards behind the quarterback. As Pisarcik,
Csonka, and their Giants cohorts learned the hard way, it never hurts to
prepare for the worst.