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The Miracle at the Meadowlands refers to an infamous play on November 19, 1978 that involved a fumble by Giants quarterback Joe Pisarcik and a recovery by Eagles defensive back Herman Edwards who made a last minute touchdown.
The Giants, who at the time had been leading 17-12 only needed to see out the clock but ultimately made the wrong call and relinquished the lead, denying them a stab at playoff football.
Perhaps the biggest casualty from that game was Giants offensive coordinator Bob Gibson who was held responsible for the call and fired the next day.
Lead-up to the Miracle at the Meadowlands
Coming into the game, the Eagles were third in the NFC East division while the Giants were in fourth. Both teams were hopeful of making the playoffs and it was highly probable that the team that came out on top would run away with the third playoff spot. The Giants were on a three game losing streak, which had dimmed their playoff prospects considerably. They were now on their fifteenth year without playoff football, having failed to make the cut since 1963. The Eagles who were on a 6-5 record, looked more in the frame for the postseason than their visitors. They were clear favorites for this game, having beaten the Giants in all their encounters since 1975.
Come the game, the Giants started well, scoring two touchdowns from two Pisarcik passes in the first quarter. In the second quarter, the Eagles made a touchdown but failed to convert the extra point, leaving them with a 14-6 deficit at the half. In the third quarter, the Giants extended the lead through a field goal. Another touch down and missed extra point play in the fourth quarter saw the Eagles come back to within a 5 point margin, but it still meant that they had to make a touchdown to win the game.
With just over a minute remaining, Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski threw a pass that was intercepted and seemed to all but confirm a Giants win. The Giants just had to fall on the ball to wind down the clock and assure them of victory. Since the rules allowing quarterbacks to kneel only came into effect in 1987, falling on the ball was the most common strategy to see out games in the final minutes. Fall on the ball they did through Pisarcik but the Eagles linebackers Frank Lemaster and Bill Bergey refused to just watch the clock tick away, instead charging and knocking down Pisarcik.
In that era, there tended to be a gentleman’s agreement of sorts where defensive players did not rush because they were not blocked. The Giants had just broken that code to try and force a fumble and this was usually a recipe for conflict. Gibson knew this and in order to avoid a fight or risk of injury to his quarterback he called for fullback Larry Csonka to take a handoff and rush through the middle. This was a risky play but with just 30 seconds left on the clock, Gibson figured it was worth it.
Unfortunately everything that could go wrong went wrong for the Eagles. As Pisarcik turned to hand the ball to Csonka, he inadvertently hit Csonka’s right hip and the ball fell to the ground. Pisarcik dived desperately in an attempt to recover the ball but it bounced through his hands and was picked up by a grateful Edwards who wasted no time in rushing 26 yards to the end zone, to silence the Giant Stadium. the game ended 19-17 in favor of the Eagles.
The first neck on the line as the backlash for the fumble started to unfold was that of Bob Gibson, who was fired first thing after the Giants landed in New York. Some of the players felt that he had been unfairly scapegoated because the poor execution of the play was the involved players.
Regardless of that sentiment, that would be the end of Gibson’s NFL career as he never coached in any other team after that. The father of three grown children, he retreated to Sanibel Island in Florida where he opened a liquor store, restaurant and a bait shop. He refused to talk about the way his career ended and skirted the topic until his death in 2015.
The next game for the Giants was a home fixture against the LA Rams. Fans showed their displeasure over the Eagles game by burning their tickets in a born fire outside the stadium, and 24000 seats were empty for the Rams game. After a 17-0 shutout victory over the Rams, the Giants lost the final three games of the season to finish with a 6-10 record, which placed them last in the division.
Meanwhile the Eagles finished 9-7 after a fairly impressive finishing run including a 20-3 win over the Giants. In the playoffs, they were eliminated by the Atlanta Falcons with further field goal and extra point woes being their undoing.