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Raiders 31 Jets 28: Rock Bottom

Los Vegas Raiders v New York Jets Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

November 19, 1978

The Meadowlands

The 5-6 New York Giants hosted the Philadelphia Eagles. The Giants led 17-12 in the final minute of the game. They had the ball and were running out the clock. It appeared they were on their way to victory. Then the following happened.

Joe Pisarcik’s attempted handoff to Larry Csonka was fumbled. Eagles defensive back and future Jets head coach Herman Edwards scooped up the fumble and returned it for a game-winning touchdown.

It was an iconic moment in NFL history. Remembered as The Miracle at the Meadowlands, it changed NFL history. The fumble helped bring the eventual rise of the quarterback kneel at the end of the game for a team looking to run the clock out.

For the Giants in particular the loss had long term consequences. This was a dark era in the franchise’s history. They were in a fifteen year Playoff drought and were one of the laughingstocks of the league.

Fans became so fed up with the inept family that owned the team that the next week somebody actually paid an airplane to fly over the stadium during a game with a banner that said, “15 Yrs. Of Lousy Football. We’ve Had Enough.”

The Giants won only once more that season. A coaching change followed. John McVay left the franchise. Ray Perkins was hired to replace him. Perkins added a young coach named Bill Parcells to his staff. Parcells coached linebackers for the Giants. After leaving for a year, Perkins brought him back as defensive coordinator in 1981. Two years later Perkins left the Giants to become the head coach at the University of Alabama. Parcells was promoted to replace him.

Success didn’t happen overnight, but eight years after that disastrous loss to the Eagles, Parcells led the Giants to a Super Bowl. He added another championship four years later.

By the time he passed away in 2005 one of the owners ridiculed by that airplane banner, Wellington Mara, was regarded as an NFL icon and was a beloved figure by the Giants fanbase.

Nobody will ever know what would have happened if the Giants had beaten the Eagles that day. Perhaps things would have played out the exact same way.

What I can say with confidence is that loss was rock bottom for the franchise, and it was a catalyst for change. The rise that followed wasn’t quick, and it wasn’t always easy. There was more losing in the years ahead. However, I think it is reasonable to conclude losing that game was ultimately a positive for the Giants.

I couldn’t help but think about that game as I watched the Raiders celebrate in the end zone after Derek Carr’s improbable 46 yard touchdown pass to Henry Ruggs with 5 seconds in the game. It took place mere feet away from where Edwards and the Eagles celebrated in the old stadium over four decades earlier.

For most Jets fans this loss wasn’t anywhere near as gut-wrenching as Pisarcik’s fumble was for Giants fans in 1978. The majority of Jets fans are either emotionally disengaged, rooting for losses, or some combination of the two.

In the NFL teams frequently need to hit rock bottom before necessary changes are made. There are numerous applicable situations. The team that went 10-6 on a soft schedule the previous year might overspend in free agency thinking it is closer to a Super Bowl than it really is.

The Jets haven’t been successful over the last decade. They will be home from the postseason for a tenth straight time in 2020. While this represents an extreme lack of success, it still has frequently felt like the people in charge have frequently failed to comprehend how broken the franchise was.

Minor accomplishments have been inflated. 8-8 and 5-11 seasons have been held up as successes simply because during the preseason some pundits expected the team to be worse. Meaningless end of season winning streaks have been used as excuses to give a failed general manager, head coach, or quarterback another year. Failures have been rationalized. Major mistakes have been both obvious and egregious at the time they were made.

For all of the failures there was always a way to spin things. During this run of futility there was always a team in the NFL that was worse. Things might have been bad, but at least the Jets weren’t the Browns, the Raiders, the Buccaneers, or Washington. There always seemed to be a late season string of wins that made things seem better even if they really weren’t.

I have seen a lot of losing Jets football over the last two and a half decades, but I honestly can’t remember a loss as ludicrous as the one we saw today.

We might ultimately remember it as a positive. The pass from Carr to Ruggs kept the Jets in position to land Trevor Lawrence. The need for a new franchise quarterback becomes more obvious by the week as Sam Darnold added three more turnovers to his total today.

As much as Draft positioning, there is nowhere for ownership to hide. The Jets are the worst team in the NFL and one of the worst teams in the modern history of the league. The case that they are the absolute worst gets stronger with each game. The talent level is remarkably low. The coaching staff ownership vouched for is in over its head. This week on the game’s deciding play they sent a zero blitz in a Hail Mary situation with rookie cornerbacks deep.

There are no more excuses. Changes must be made. It isn’t debatable, not after that. Anybody can see it.

Maybe one day we will look back on today’s as the necessary embarrassment that finally got the Jets pointed in the right direction.