The Eagles make their annual trip up the NJ Turnpike to the Meadowlands this weekend to face the Giants. It may not feel like it, but the game may go a long way into who wins the mediocre (at best) NFC East this year.
As with most Philadelphia-New York rivalries, the Eagles-Giants battles are always some of the fiercest in the NFL, going back to the days of Chuck Bednarik and Frank Gifford. It’s also one of the few rivalries where the Eagles seem to always get the best of the opponent in big moments. And even better, the most memorable of those games took place right off Exit 16W.
The most famous of these, on Nov. 19, 1978, of course came to be known as the “Miracle at the Meadowlands” after Herm Edwards scooped up a botched handoff by Joe Pisarcik, as the Giants were just running out the clock, and ran it in for a TD with 20 seconds remaining to pull out a Birds 19-17 victory. It changed the way teams handled end-of-game situations and was the last game Giants offensive coordinator Bob Gibson ever coached. It’s one of the most famous plays in NFL history.
Of more recent vintage, many fans remember Oct. 10, 2003, as Brian Westbrook ran back a punt and bolted down the sideline with just over a minute to go to win it. You couldn’t believe the Giants would punt it anywhere near B-West.
Which of course leads to the dramatic scene on Dec. 19, 2010. Old Giants Stadium was gone, replaced by the modern MetLife Stadium. But it didn’t matter. Michal Vick led an unbelievable fourth-quarter comeback that culminated in DeSean Jackson returning the NFL’s first “walk-off” punt return TD. You remember everything about it. Much like Westbrook’s return, you first thought, “Did they just kick it to him?" Then Jackson fumbled it for a moment, backed up, and took off up the middle. Jason Avant laid out a Giant on a block, and then Jackson ran along the goal line to run out the clock.
All the while, Giants coach Tom Coughlin couldn’t have looked more disgusted as he sought out his punter Matt Dodge to yell at him for not kicking it out of bounds. Some called it the “Miracle at the New Meadowlands." Mike Quick, on the Eagles' radio broadcast, called it the “Miracle at the Meadowlands No. 2!"
But, I argue, the real Miracle No. 2 happened 22 years earlier, when a defensive end scored an overtime touchdown with a key block by the punter after the Eagles' kicker had his field goal attempt blocked. It’s kind of been forgotten among the other great endings between these two teams, but it’s the type of TD that has not happened since.
On Nov. 20, 1988, just about 10 years to the day of the original “Miracle at the Meadowlands," the Eagles and Giants met at Giants Stadium with first place in the NFC East in the line. The Giants were about a year and a half removed from winning their first Super Bowl, and many of the key members of that team were still around. Bill Parcells was the head coach and Bill Belichick was the defensive coordinator. The offense was led by QB Phil Simms, and the defense still had Lawrence Taylor, the most feared and disruptive player on that side of the ball for most of the '80s.
The Eagles had not made the playoffs in seven years, but Buddy Ryan was building his own monster defense, led by the new Minister of Defense, Reggie White. The Birds entered the day one game back of New York in the NFC East. This was their opportunity to jump in the driver’s seat, since they had beaten the Giants earlier in the year at the Vet, in the game where Randall Cunningham made one of the most acrobatic plays in Monday Night Football history when he threw a TD pass to Jimmie Giles after somehow not going down on a hit by Carl Banks. This was probably the biggest game for the Eagles since that 1981 playoff game. You certainly knew it was big when Pat Summerall and John Madden were on the call.
The first half played out like an old-school, NFC East battle. The score was tied 10-10 at halftime. The Eagles' TD was set up by Seth Joyner batting a Simms pass in the air, picking it off and returning it down to the 2-yard line. Cunningham then snuck in from the 1 (or not — no replay back then) for the score. In the third, Simms found Stephen Baker for a TD, but later in the quarter he was hit by White and taken to the turf as he threw a pass, knocking him out of the game. The Giants took a seven-point lead into the fourth quarter with backup QB Jeff Hostetler at the helm.
After trading drives and turnovers in the first part of the quarter, Cunningham moved the Birds into the red zone. He then hit his leading receiver, rookie TE Keith Jackson, across the middle. Jackson was hit and fumbled just inside the 5-yard line, but WR Cris Carter fell on it in the end zone for a touchdown. Made sense — “all he did” was score touchdowns — and it wouldn’t even end up as the Eagles' most unusual TD of the day. But the Birds tied it up, and eventually went to OT tied at 17.
The Eagles won the toss but did nothing with their first possession. The Giants took over deep in their own territory, but Hostetler’s pass was picked off for the second time in the game by safety Terry Hoage around midfield. The Eagles moved the ball inside of the Giants' 15 and decided to try a game-winning field goal on third down. Usually, the reason given for kicking on third down is that, in case something goes wrong with the snap or the hold, you can just fall on it or throw it away and get another down to kick it. Turns out, there’s something else that can happen.
Clyde Simmons was the bookend opposite Reggie White on arguably the most imposing defensive line of that era. When he finished his career, he was No. 2 on the Eagles' all-time sack list (Trent Cole passed him, so Simmons is now No. 3). But he also would help block for kicks, so he was on the field as Luis Zendejas set up to try to win the game for the Eagles.
John Teltschik was the Eagles' punter, but of course was also the holder for FGs. Teltschik caught the snap, put the ball down and Zendejas’ kick was away. But the Giants were able to block it, and it hit the ground at the 15, behind the line of scrimmage.
As Simmons turned, the ball bounced right into his hands, and he took off toward the pylon with Teltschik as his lead blocker. Telstchik took out a Giant right at the goal line as Simmons broke the plane before losing the ball as he hit the ground. Chaos ensued, as the Eagles' bench ran to the end zone and started celebrating an unbelievable win, and the Giants were confused about what had just happened.
Parcells came running into the end zone and was yelling at anyone in a striped shirt that Simmons should not be allowed to advance the ball. John Madden pointed out that is the rule on fourth down, but not third down. Finally, after some discussion, the referee stood under the goal post, amidst multiple players, coaches, and even media who had come onto the field, turned on his mic and announced that since it was picked up behind the line of scrimmage, it was a touchdown.
It was a touchdown that helped catapult the Eagles to a division title. According to the NFL and Elias, it was just the second time on record the offense had scored a TD on a blocked FG in history, and it hasn’t happened since. And it was scored by a defensive end, carrying the ball and shedding tacklers like a tight end, following the punter, throwing a block like a fullback.
I’ve never understood how it is kind of lost in the shuffle of the other great Eagles endings at the Meadowlands. To me, it may have been the greatest miracle of them all.