EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Every NFL fan of every team has that unforgettable moment.
Pittsburgh’s Immaculate Reception. Dallas’ Hail Mary. Tennessee’s Music City Miracle.
For New York Giants’ fans, there is The Fumble .
Not quite the legacy you embrace.
On Monday, the 40th anniversary hit of what might be the most infamous moment in the history of one of league’s oldest franchises.
It was on Nov. 19, 1978 in the waning seconds against the Philadelphia Eagles. New York, which was going through tough times, had a surprising 17-12 lead.
With the Eagles void of timeouts, all the Giants had to do was run out the final minute on the clock. Joe Pisarcik, a young quarterback out of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and New Mexico State, botched a handoff with veteran Larry Csonka with less than 30 seconds to play, and cornerback Herm Edwards picked up the loose ball and ran it into the end zone, giving the Eagles a stunning win.
Eagles fans call it “The Miracle at the Meadowlands.”
For Giants fans, it was one of those moments you never forget what you were doing. For some, it still stings.
Giants co-owner John Mara says it might be his least favorite play and the low point in franchise history, which dates to 1925. He was in his third year of law school at Fordham and was working the game for CBS at Giants Stadium in the broadcast booth as a spotter for play-by-play man Don Criqui.
“I remember it happening,” Mara said. “I remember thinking we had the game won. It should come as no surprise to you, I remember slamming my fist down on the table and, back then, they had the actual microphones on the table instead of the headsets they wear now, and I think the microphones ended up falling all over the place.”
Mara never worked another game, assuming that CBS didn’t want him back.
“That’s probably the last place I should be, in a broadcast booth during a game,” Mara said, laughing. “It was a pretty miserable feeling for quite some time.”
It only got worse the next day, sitting in the library at law school.
“I felt like the world had just ended, and I had a professor at the time, he was my evidence professor. He was a wise guy and walked in the library and looked at me. He was about 20 feet away, and he pointed at me and just started laughing. I wanted to kill him. If I didn’t have one of my closest friends trying to calm me down, I might have. It was the wrong moment on the wrong day.”
Four decades later, Edwards says he was just in the right place at the right time with the Eagles in an all-out blitz.
“For me personally, you’re always going to be subject of that play,” said Edwards, who now coaches Arizona State. “There’s kind of an irony to it all because all of a sudden, you play in the league for as long as I played, never missed a down, never missed a start, and that’s kind of the play that defines my career. Then again I look at it, too, it was a good play and not a play that’s not so good. In my position, you could be on the bad end of some of those plays, you know?”
Edwards, who was beaten on one of Pisarcik’s two touchdown passes earlier in the game, still hears stories about the game.
“One guy told me, ‘My dad was watching it when he saw it, he threw his television and broke the television.’ You get all kinds of stories like that,” he said.
Giants fans have tons of stories, too.
Terry Reddington, of Ridgefield, Conn., didn’t blink when asked the significance of Nov. 19, 1978 when asked before Sunday’s game against Tampa Bay.
“Pisarcik,” the 66-year-old accountant answered.
Reddington has missed only seven games since becoming a season ticket holder, and he was at that one with Kevin Kolmer, a former classmate at Villanova. They had a $20 bet on the outcome.
“I’m sitting with him and he’s an Eagles fan. He hands me $20. Right! The game was over,” Reddington said. “All the sudden I see the thing go right in front of me. I am looking around in disbelief. I had a Styrofoam cooler. I crushed that, and now I have to give him $40. It was something else that day.”
Tony Mancuso, who shares season tickets now, wasn’t at that game. He was a corrections officer finishing a hospital duty shift. He was paying at toll on the Tappan Zee Bridge and listening to Jim Gordon doing the play by play on radio when the fumble happened.
“I just sat there and I got yelled at by the guy in the booth because I was just sitting there screaming at the radio,” said Mancuso, a 68-year-old who now lives in Goshen, New York.
Henry Pontilione, 87, of Rutherford, N.J., was on the escalator leaving the stadium when the groans started.
“We tried to get back to take a look at what happened and all I could see were the Eagles getting ready to kick the point after,” he said. “I would have never thought they could actually fumble the ball and lose the game. All they had to do was take a knee. It was incredible. I’ve been asked so many times, too many to count, if I was there for The Fumble, and I have to tell people that I was. As a lifelong Giants fan and season ticket holder, I was never more embarrassed. It was actually sad.”
“It was like getting kicked in the gut,” said Kathy Dunn of Montvale, N.J., who was at Sunday’s game with her husband, Ken.
Anthony Cardino, 72, of Hoboken, N.J., was getting ready to leave the stadium. Suddenly, the ball was on the ground, Edwards was sprinting toward the end zone and “all hell broke loose.” It turned Giants fans against the organization. Some burned their tickets. Others refused to go to games.
“Unfortunately, Pisarcik’s legacy will always be that play,” Cardino said. “There was the ball, sitting on the ground. I still can’t believe it happened.”
Jim Scully of Freehold, N.J., wasn’t at the game but he remembered it while sitting in the parking lot at MetLife Stadium on Sunday. His grandfather was hospitalized in Jersey Shore Medical Center on the day of the game. One of his nurses was Pisarcik’s aunt.
“She was heartbroken,” said Scully, a, retired member of the Monmouth County prosecutor’s office. “I remember her telling me, her dad, his grandfather, had tears in his eyes.”
The play had its fallout, too.
The Giants fired offensive coordinator Bob Gibson the following day. He was old school and didn’t believe in taking a knee. So he called a running play to Csonka. There was talk in the huddle of changing the call, but the play was run and the fumble happened.
In the aftermath, taking a knee became an accepted norm in the league.
After the season, the Giants did not renew the contract of coach John McVay and released Andy Robustelli, the team’s director of operations.
With co-owners Wellington and Tim Mara feuding, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle worked out an agreement for them to hire George Young as general manager for the 1979 season. New York won its first Super Bowl after the 1986 season.
“Some people claim it (The Fumble) was the best thing that ever happened to us,” John Mara said. “For those of us who were there and experienced that, it’s pretty hard to accept that.”
Edwards said the win catapulted the Eagles to the playoffs and then a Super Bowl appearance in January 1981.
“We had a heck of a playoff run the next four years,” Edwards said. “It was the play where it looks like we’re not going to win, another tough loss and … I was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time. You move on, and that season and the following seasons, we start making plays, winning close games.”
No Fumbles required.