Sunday, October 28, 2007

The New York Giants Five Worst Losses, Part Five

1) 1963 NFL Championship Game
Chicago 14—New York 10

Could any loss actually be more gut-wrenching than the loss the Giants suffered in the 1958 Championship Game? The goal-line stand, the comeback, the controversial ball placement erasing a seeming victory, and then the first overtime loss in National Football League history. It’s hard to top that. But rather than think of that heartbreaking defeat as just as a loss, consider it as the mere beginning of an era of championship game failure unmatched in the annals of football. The 1958 defeat didn’t demoralize the Giants. Far from it. They returned to the title game in 1959. This time the Colts crushed them. After a year away from the postseason, New York returned for the 1961 championship game. Lombardi’s Packers overwhelmed them. They did the same to New York in the 1962 title game. Five years. Four championship game losses. The last three games weren’t close. The 1963 Championship Game would be different.

The Giants returned to the title game one more time to battle for that elusive ring. Their leader: 37-year-old quarterback Y.A. Tittle. Tittle posted one of the greatest seasons any quarterback has ever had, throwing a then record 36 TD passes and winning the MVP award. Facing brutally cold weather and the league’s best defense, Tittle opened the 1963 title game by leading his team on an impressive 83-yard drive ending with a 14-yard TD pass from Tittle to Frank Gifford. Later in the quarter, New York recovered a fumble at the Chicago 31. Tittle immediately found his great receiver Del Shofner wide open in the end zone. According to Bears’ defensive end Doug Atkins:

I don't know if his hands were cold or what, but it bounced right off them. Hell, I could have caught that one. If he would have caught that pass, the Giants would have been in command, and I think they would have won. But that's what kind of a season it was for us. We got just about every break.

The Giants didn’t score. Shortly thereafter, Bears linebacker Larry Morris picked off a screen pass and ran 61 yards to the New York 5-yard line. Two plays later Bears’ QB Billy Wade scored the tying TD on a quarterback sneak. In the 2d quarter, Tittle and the Giants drove to the Bears’ 3 but the Bears held and New York settled for a field goal and a 10-7 lead. When New York got the ball back again, Tittle moved his team to a first down at the Chicago 32. On his next pass, Tittle got blasted as he threw and he limped off the field with torn knee ligaments. The Giants' drive ended in a missed field goal. Tittle came back in the 3d quarter after getting some pain-killing injections but he wasn’t the same player. He couldn’t plant his leg and he later admitted he knew he should have come out of the game. Late in the quarter, the Bears picked off a Tittle lob and set themselves up at the New York 14. Five plays later, Wade scored on his second sneak of the game and Chicago took the lead 14-10. Tittle kept fighting but he couldn’t stop throwing interceptions (five on the day), the final one coming in the Bears’ end zone with 10 seconds left, sealing the win for the Bears, and giving George Halas his final NFL championship.

The Giants were left with plenty of what-might-have-beens: What if Shofner held onto that ball? What if Tittle had come out of the game after the injury? What if New York had just run the ball more? This crushing defeat proved to be the capstone to a spectacular era of championship game losing, the likes of which the NFL has never seen before or since. The Buffalo Bills lost four Super Bowls in a row, but the New York Giants lost five title games in six years! The 1958 defeat had to hurt. The 1963 loss, magnified by years of disappointment leading up the game combined with the defeat itself, had to be absolutely devastating. Especially since that great Giants team had reached the end. They wouldn’t return to the title game for almost three decades, and would need another 18 years just to reach the playoffs.

Related Posts:

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The New York Giants Five Worst Losses, Part Four

2) 1958 NFL Championship Game
Baltimore 23—New York 17 OT

Though we now refer to it as the “Greatest Game Ever Played”, for most of three quarters this game was anything but. Frank Gifford’s two 2d quarter fumbles led to two Baltimore touchdowns and a 14-3 halftime lead for the Colts. In the 3d quarter, Baltimore drove to the Giants’ 1-yard line with a chance for the knockout blow. Instead the Giants’ defense stopped Alan Ameche for a loss on 4th down. Moments later, the game began to turn in the Giants' favor. New York QB Charlie Conerly hit Kyle Rote with a 62-yard pass that Rote fumbled at the Colts’ 25. Alex Webster alertly picked up the ball and took it to the Colts’ 1-yard-line where the Giants scored on the next play, completing a 95-yard drive. Early in the 4th quarter, Gifford, trying to atone for his earlier fumbles, caught a 15-yard TD pass that gave New York a 17-14 lead.

The game then settled into a defensive struggle. With less than three minutes to go, the Giants faced a third-and-4 from their own 40. A first down would allow them to all but run out the clock. With a chance to wipe away all memory of his earlier fumbles, Gifford got the ball on a sweep and appeared to make it just past the first down marker as he was tackled by Colts defensive end Gino Marchetti. Marchetti caught a bad break, literally, when his teammate "Big Daddy" Lipscomb then fell on him and broke his leg. But Gifford may have caught a worse break. Marchetti's scream of pain supposedly distracted the official who spotted the ball because where that official marked the spot left the Giants inches short of the clinching first down. Years later, Giants announcer Chris Schenkel said it was the worst placement he’d ever seen. But the refs ignored Gifford’s protest and Colts DT Art Donovan told him to "stop crying and get off the field!" To this day Gifford swears he made that first down (of course Giff probably also swore to his wife that he wasn’t banging that airline stewardess a few years back either).

The Giants chose to punt it away and Baltimore took over at their own 14 with one last shot to pull it out. Colts receiver Raymond Berry thought the Giants’ goalposts “looked a million miles away", but Unitas quickly took advantage of the Giants’ prevent defense with several underneath throws to Berry. The Colts reached the New York 13 with 20 seconds left. Out of time outs, Baltimore’s kicking team ran out onto the field and Steve Myhra kicked a 20-yard field goal to tie the game and force the first sudden-death overtime in NFL history. The Giants won the OT toss but went three-plays-and-out. The Colts took over on their own 20 and Unitas choreographed a legendary 13-play drive. The biggest play was a 21-yarder to Berry on 3d-and-14 that put the Colts into Giants’ territory. Mixing runs and passes perfectly, Unitas drove his team to the Giants’ 1 where Ameche ended the game with a TD run (“16 Power”). Colt fans swarmed the field and tore down the goalposts as NFL Commissioner Bert Bell shouted out to anyone who could hear him: “This is the greatest day in the history of professional football”. He may have been right. The high drama of the game captured the attention of the TV-watching public like no other NFL contest ever had and sent pro football on its way to becoming America’s most popular sport. It’s a loss no Giants fan could ever forget. How could they? Even the generations of Giants fans born since that game are probably sick of hearing about it and dealing with the countless books, articles, and TV shows endlessly rehashing “The Greatest Game Ever Played”.

Related Posts:

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Five

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The New York Giants Five Worst Losses, Part Three

3) 2002 NFC Wildcard Game
San Francisco 39—New York 38

Late in the 3d quarter, with his team leading 35-14, Giants tight end Jeremy Shockey dropped what should have been an easy 3-yard touchdown catch and his team settled for a field goal. But really, what could it have mattered? A 38-14 lead late in the third quarter already had Giants fans looking ahead to the divisional playoffs. Maybe they should have remembered they were Giants’ fans. The Niners proceeded to score on their next three drives, 19 points in all, and suddenly it was 38-33. Finally responding to San Francisco’s assault, the Giants put together a drive and moved from their own 36 to the San Francisco 24. The Niners stopped Tiki Barber a yard shy of a first down on third-and-two. With just over three minutes left, kicker Matt Bryant came on to try a field goal with Trey Junkin snapping the ball. Earlier in the week, New York signed Junkin to replace their regular snapper who had torn his thumb ligaments. Junkin's snap was bad and Bryant consequently hooked the 42-yard field goal attempt. No good. With a chance to take the lead, San Francisco QB Jeff Garcia drove his team 68 yards in two minutes, tossing a 13-yard TD pass to Tai Streets for the go-ahead score with only a minute left. The Niners missed the two-point conversion though, allowing the Giants a chance to win the game with just a field goal. Racing against the clock, Kerry Collins drove his team deep into Niners’ territory. Six seconds remained, enough time for a 41-yard field goal attempt. Enter Trey Junkin. Once again he made a terrible snap, one that holder Matt Allen couldn't handle to set up the kick in time. Grabbing the ball, Allen alertly ran to his right and lofted a desperation pass downfield to guard Rich Seubert. With the ball still in the air, San Francisco defensive end Chike Okeafor blatantly pushed Seubert to prevent a catch. Obvious pass interference. The officials threw a flag, but not for pass interference! No, the refs caught Giants’ guard Tam Hopkins illegally running downfield on the pass attempt. Penalty declined. Game over. The Giants had blown a 24-point lead, the second-biggest collapse in NFL postseason history and the biggest collapse by any Giants’ team anytime, anywhere. To rub further salt in the wound, the next day the NFL's director of officiating admitted the refs should have indeed called a defensive pass interference penalty on the final play of the game. That would have resulted in offsetting penalties and given the Giants a second shot at a field goal. Apparently the officials mistakenly believed Seubert to be an ineligible receiver even though he’d reported to the officiating crew prior to the game as an eligible receiver on field goal attempts. After it was all over Giants coach Jim Fassell said the game, Trey Junkin’s NFL swan song, was about the worst loss he’d ever felt in his entire life.

Related Posts:

Part One

Part Two

Part Four

Part Five

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The New York Giants Five Worst Losses, Part Two

4) 1978 Week 12
Philadelphia 19—New York 17

From the 1950's through the early 1960's, the New York Giants were perennial title contenders. In the 1970's the only thing the Giants regularly competed for was the title of Worst Team in Football. After five straight losing seasons, the Giants came out of the gates decently (for them) in 1978 and at 5-6 remained in the playoff hunt as they hosted their bitter rivals from Philadelphia in Week 12. The Giants jumped out to a big early lead and as the game wound down they still held a 17-12 advantage with 31 seconds left to play in the game. Needing only to run out the clock to preserve a win, Giants’ offensive coach Bob Gibson sent in an unusual play. For reasons unclear to this day Gibson ordered a handoff rather than have QB Joe Pisarcik just take a kneel down. Back then there was no kneel down rule so a QB could be hit if he went to the ground with the ball. That may have been the reason for the simple handoff call. Did I say simple? Things suddenly became complicated. The Giants players were shocked by the play call and Csonka told Pisarcik NOT to give him the ball! But Pisarcik had gotten in trouble for changing a play a week earlier and decided to follow orders this time out. With the play clock winding down, Pisarcik quicky called for the snap. Not even knowing if Csonka was going to take the ball, Pisarcik slightly bobbled the snap and he hurriedly handed the ball to Csonka even though Csonka was speeding past the spot where a smooth handoff could be executed. Shoving the ball into Csonka's right hip anyway, the ball bounced off of Csonka onto the turf. Pisarcik dove for the ball, couldn't corral it, and it was picked up by Eagles cornerback (and future NFL coach) Herman Edwards, who ran 26 yards untouched for an absolutely shocking jaw-dropping game-winning TD! The humiliated Giants fired Gibson the following day while Head Coach John McVay followed him at the end of the season after his team collapsed and finished at 6-10. Meanwhile, the win propelled the hated Eagles into the playoffs for the first time in 18 years. Edwards' incredible score became one of the most famous plays in NFL history right up there with the Immaculate Reception. Giants' fans must particularly enjoy the shots of Eagles' Coach Dick Vermeil, who hadn't even seen the play, laughing and giddily jumping into his player's arms, forever immortalized by NFL Films. The loss perfectly epitomized how low the Giants' franchise had sunk by the late 70's. Years later, when Edwards became coach of the New York Jets, New Yorkers were once again forced to endure the highlights of Herm’s starring role in the “Miracle at the Meadowlands” (which bitter Giant fans refer to only as "the fumble").

See it for yourself

Related Posts:

Part One

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The New York Giants Five Worst Losses, Part One

This week, the Miami Dolphins travel to London, England, to battle the New York Giants in the NFL's first-ever regular season game to take place outside North America. There's no way any Dolphins fans can possibly be looking forward to this or any other game remaining on the team's 2007 schedule. It's all over and we know it. Every keystroke expended in writing about this current Dolphins team is painful so for this week allow me to turn my attention to their opponents: the Giants. The two teams have little history together, but the Giants certainly do have a lot of history. The New York franchise entered the NFL in 1925, over 40 years before there was a Miami Dolphins team. And in that lengthy timespan, the Giants have managed to lose an astonishing 12 Championship games, plus 11 other playoff games and 502 regular season losses. Now which of these losses were the worst? And by worst I don't mean lopsided. I mean losses that were heartbreaking, gut-wrenching, or downright embarrassing. Losses people will still be talking about as long as there are New York Giants games to talk about. After reviewing 82 years of New York Giant football, I've narrowed down what I believe are the five toughest losses. (You could make a list of five heartbreakers all played before I was born but I tried to mix it up). Here's #5 to start off with:

5) 1997 NFC Wildcard Game
Minnesota 23—New York 22

Thanks to three turnovers by Vikings QB Randall Cunningham, the Giants comfortably led Minnesota at the half of their wildcard playoff game: 19-3. Minnesota chipped away, closing the gap to 19-13 by the 4th quarter, but the Giants responded with a field goal midway through the quarter to give them a seemingly secure 9-point lead. The Vikings needed only needed 90 seconds to shatter that security. Cunningham caught fire late in the game and with 1:30 left he hit Jake Reed with a 30-yard TD pass. With time running out, the Vikings tried an onside kick. New York's usually sure-handed Chris Calloway muffed the kick and the Vikings recovered. Cunningham moved his team deep into Giants territory against the tiring New York defense and with 10 seconds left Eddie Murray kicked a game winning 24-yard field goal. Shortly after the game ended, I called up my friend Wayne and the very first thing my shell-shocked buddy said to me was: "How did that just happen?"

Related Posts:

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

Worst...Dolphins Team...Ever

What's there to say? Sunday's Dolphins-Patriots game was like watching a major college power take on a small lower division college. The outcome's preordained, you just pity the lesser opponent getting its brains beat in, and, no matter who you're rooting for, after awhile you just want the carnage to end. Unfortunately it didn't end soon enough before the worst possible carnage happened: Ronnie Brown's season-ending ACL tear. Not long ago I wrote it was silly to think Miami could be the first 0-16 team in NFL history. Well, the team's now placed its starting QB on IR, traded away its best WR, and lost it's best player and star RB who just happened to be having an incredible season. Suddenly, 0-16 seems all too possible. This is the lowest point in franchise history and that statement is not something that can even be debated. There's no hope on the horizon and nothing to be optimistic about. Nothing. Starting with his forcing out of Don Shula, Wayne Huizenga's made nothing but one disastrous hire after another, and each of those hires has in turn made bad decision after bad decision until finally the franchise has completely collapsed, fielding a team completely hollowed out and devoid of talent. But let's put a hold on analyzing exactly what's gone wrong (like it's not obvious), and look forward to some football history in the making next Sunday as the Miami Dolphins travel to London to show those teabags what bad American Football's all about in the first NFL game ever played outside North America! Yeah baby. (Once Miami's 0-8 we'll have an in depth mid-season review, see you then).

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Garo Yepremian, The Man Who Saved The Perfect Season

Garabed Sarkis Yepremian. Cypriot of Armenian descent, creator of hand-painted ties, and one hell of a kicker. So good that Pro Football Hall of Fame voters selected him for their All-Decade Team of the 1970’s.

Today, most people know Garo Yepremian for two things:

1) “I Keek A Touchdown”. As Garo’s former Detroit Lions’ teammate Alex Karras told the story, Garo (who’d never even seen a pro football game before he suited up as a Lion), kicked a last-second game-winning extra point. As he ran off the field with his arms raised in triumph, Karras asked him, "What the hell are you celebrating?" Yepremian replied “I keek a touchdown”. As you might imagine, Johnny Carson loved this and thanks to him it wound up as a catch phrase symbolizing the influx of all the foreign-born kickers entering the NFL back then. To me, the story sounds just a little too good to be true (and I’ve also seen Tony Fritsch’s name associated with the quote). Regardless, Garo titled his autobiography “I Keek a Touchdown” and if he didn’t really ever say it, he should have.

2) Inexplicably handing the Washington Redskins a free touchdown in Super Bowl VII that briefly endangered the Miami Dolphins’ Perfect Season. Wikipedia describes it this way:

After Miami moved the ball to the 34-yard line on their ensuing drive, kicker Garo Yepremian attempted a 42-yard field goal in what is now remembered as one of the most famous blunders in NFL lore: "Garo's Gaffe". As had been the case all day, Yepremian's kick was too low, and it was blocked by Washington defensive tackle Bill Brundige. The ball bounced to Yepremian's right and he reached it before holder Earl Morrall. But instead of falling on the ball, Yepremian picked it up and, with Brundige bearing down on him, made a frantic attempt to pass the ball to Csonka,[11] who blocked on field goals. Unfortunately for Miami, the ball slipped out of his hands and went straight up in the air. Yepremain attempted to bat the ball out of bounds,[12] but instead batted it back up into the air, and it went right into the arms of Redskins cornerback Mike Bass, who easily avoided Yepremian's feeble attempt at a tackle and returned the fumble 49 yards for a touchdown to make the score 14-7 with 2:07 left in the game.

You know, reading about that play again convinces me that it's clearly the stupidest, most asinine play in football history. What are the other candidates? The Miracle in the Meadowlands? Yeah, the Giants should have knelt down but I'm not sure that was the standard strategy back then and still, how hard is it to just execute avsimple handoff? Marshall's wrong-way fumble return? He just got disoriented and ran the wrong way. An understandable mistake. But Yepremian's play...the whole thing makes no sense. It's 14-0 with just a little over two minutes left. Why try to do anything with ball? Garo said he was trying to turn a negative into a positive. But who the hell needed a positive? The game was over. Why would he try to throw a pass? He'd never thrown one in his entire career! He knew he couldn't throw. And who would he have thrown it to? It wasn't a fake. Nobody was going out to catch the ball. And once the kick was blocked, everyone would be running back to the ball, not turning into an open receiver with an insurmountable lead. And once Garo whiffed on the throw, why'd he bat it up into the air? KNOCK IT DOWN! The whole thing was completely insane! Following the TD Manny Fernandez threatened Garo with death if Miami ended up losing that game. No jury in the world would have convicted Manny! Sure they won in the end but Miami would have had the first and still only shutout in Super Bowl history and the 14-7 final score now forever belies just how dominant Miami actually was in that game.

But I digress. Despite those two legendary infamous moments, we must credit Garo as the man who saved the perfect season. As you might expect from arguably the greatest team of all time, few teams played competitive football with the 1972 Dolphins (until the playoffs). Only three of their games were decided by a less than a touchdown but, without Garo, Miami might well have lost two of them.

Game 3, at Minnesota
Trailing 14-6 late in the 4th quarter, a Miami drive stalled at the Vikings 44-yard-line. Coach Don Shula had Yepremian try a 51-yard field goal (the goal posts were at the goal line back then), even though his career longest was 48. Garo made it, Miami then forced a punt, drove the ball down the field, and scored the winning TD with 88 seconds left.

Game 6, vs. Buffalo
Miami won 24-23. The big play in the game? Yepremian’s 54-yard field goal, his new all-time longest kick. ''I remember later reading our yearbook about the unbeaten season,'' Yepremian said, ''and thinking, My god, what if I didn't make the 54-yarder?''

So remember Garo if you will as the little foreign kicker who barely understood football and made the stupidest play in NFL history. But don’t forget, without Garo, no Perfect Season.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Another Perfect Season?

It’s been hard to bring myself to write much about the 2007 Miami Dolphins. They’re terrible. And it’s not much fun watching your team when it’s terrible. If the team at least showed signs that the rebuilding was going in the right direction that would be one thing, but the only player making any noise is Ronnie Brown and in his third season, who knows if he’ll still be around by the team he’s surrounded by any other young talent?

But just how bad is this Miami team? I’ve seen columns this week from both Don Banks and Greg Cote wondering if this team will join their 1972 predecessors in posting a perfect season. Except this time an 0-16 season. Now that’s just stupid. It’s just as hard to lose all your games as it is to win them all. Since the merger, only the ’72 Dolphins have won ‘em all, and only the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers have lost ‘em all.

To go 0-16 a team would have to be historically bad, the worst collection of professional football talent ever assembled in the free agency era. Is this Dolphins team that bad? Of course not. Look at that Bucs team. An expansion team. Shut out five times. Lost 10 games by double digits. Only three losses by a touchdown or less. Outscored by an average of 20.5 points game. The Bucs got crushed week in and week out. They finished the year last in points scored and second to last in points allowed.

The Dolphins aren’t even close to being that inept. Yeah, they’re also second to last in defense but they are currently 11th in points scored. Not bad. Cameron was brought into improve the offense and so far he looks to be doing it. Miami’s only losing by an average of 9 points. Half of their losses have come down to a field goal. They’ve certainly had some bad luck. (Kris Brown makes 54, 54, and 57 yard FG’s in the same game?! C’mon!) . Not to make excuses (I already said they were terrible), but they’re not historically awful. The Bucs didn’t have anybody as good as Ronnie Brown, or Jason Taylor, or Chris Chambers (whoops. So long Chris). They’re good enough to post a few wins before the season is out and I suspect that’s what they’ll do.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Chatting About the Worst Team in Football

No need to beat a dead Dolphin by rehashing yesterday's disaster in too much detail. Before the game I wrote, “If they’re not good enough to beat the freaking Raiders then a one-win season could be a real possibility.” The only question I have now is which of their remaining opponents is Miami good enough to beat to earn that one win? Actually, I have two questions. The other is, who will the Dolphins take next year with the #1 draft pick?

Culpepper’s 5 TD revenge-day naturally topped the game headlines, but really, he hardly threw the ball, he looked slow, and had some wide open lanes to run to for easy scores. Yet, compared to his opposite number Trent Green, C-Pep performed like a Hall of Famer. Let’s go through the Green checklist: Throws balls off his back foot for easy interceptions, check; Takes forever to get rid of the ball, check. Defenders repeatedly bat his passes down at the line of scrimmage, check; Slow as molasses, check. And what about the real cause of the defeat--that poor excuse for a rushing defense. 299 yards!!! Are you kidding me? Bad enough when a good back like Lamont Jordan plays well but 179 yards for Huggy Bear’s son!???

Ah, enough of this rehashing that I said I wouldn't do. If you missed the game (lucky) and want to get the flavor of what happened, here’s various excerpts from mine and Jeff’s in-game online chat:

Jeff: why are the cheers so loud for the Raiders?
Rob: Good god we stink
Rob: What? [A] flag on them?

Jeff: DB keeping [his] back to ball [was a] really good idea
Jeff: I think we were offsides there

Rob: Pep as mobile as he was for us last year.
Rob: Green will lead us back! [haha]
Jeff: Sure. We are just instilling them with a false sense of security. Wonder if the crowd would cheer any Dolphins' successes?

Rob: Nice of Green to elude the rush and run backwards to lose even more yards on the sack.

Jeff: I like the laser lock Daunte had on our LB's helmet. These two are both sucking.

Rob: Green slow as molasses. Hey, our 8th straight game without [a] 1st quarter TD.

Jeff: Chatman comes in, thud.

Rob: Green, YOU SUCK!!!!!

Jeff: when did we lose all ability to stop the run?
Rob: This year.

Rob: Nice pass rush.
Jeff: Our secret weapon on "D"? Donovan Darius, a DB the Raiders cut in preseason! What a personnel genius! And Jesse Chatman and Jerry Porter are the only free agents to make the team! And they're doing f#####g great!!!

Rob: BUF wins. If ATL wins are we the last winless team?
Jeff: The Rams are also 0-4.
Jeff: No s###, sherlock. I can't believe how pitiful we are. I want Cameron fired now.
Rob: I want Shula back. Even David Shula would be better.