A Date To Remember is an occasional series Big Blue View will be running through the Super Bowl, highlighting the glory of the Giants’ past and celebrating the biggest playoff wins in franchise history.
The Return of the Giants
Dec. 27, 1981
NFC Wild Card game
Giants 27, Eagles 21
The drought had lasted nearly two decades.
The run of futility had stretched on for so long, co-owner John Mara would later admit that the Giants had become “the laughingstock of the NFL.”
They had not reached the playoffs since 1963.
But 18 years of losing finally came to an end in 1981, thanks to a legendary, devastating fumble three years earlier and a gruff character wearing 1950s-style browline eyeglasses named George Young.
The first sign that the new era — the George Young era — would bear fruit came in a Wild Card game upset of the arch-rival Eagles.
But the road to reach that playoff game was long and seriously bumpy.
The triggering event was The Fumble — or if you’re an Eagles fan, the Miracle at the Meadowlands.
A disastrous botched handoff between Joe Pisarcik and Larry Csonka in the waning seconds of a 1978 game resulted in a Herm Edwards 26-yard fumble return touchdown for the Eagles and a nearly-impossible Giants defeat.
More importantly, the debacle and an ensuing fan uprising forced meaningful and irrevocable change within the organization after decades of ineptitude.
Fans burned tickets in the Giants Stadium parking lot. They even flew a plane over the Meadowlands hauling the banner, “15 Years of Lousy Football — We’ve Had Enough.”
It sent a message loud enough to reach the commissioner’s office, and Pete Rozelle heard them.
In 1979, he suggested to the infighting Wellington Mara and Tim Mara that they hire Young as general manager to revamp the wayward franchise.
Of all the decisions that preceded the 1986 and 1990 Super Bowl seasons — including the hiring of Bill Parcells, the drafting Lawrence Taylor and the reinstating of Phil Simms as starter after he was benched in 1983 — the addition of Young might have been the most important.
After all, it was Young who drafted Taylor and Simms and hired Parcells.
“I’ll always revere him for what he did, because he took us from being the laughingstock of the NFL to the top of the mountain,” Mara told Newsday in 2014 about Young, who died in 2001 at age 71. “The effect he had on us made us a better organization for years to come after he left. I’ll always appreciate that.”
Hope finally arrived in 1981 at Veterans Stadium in front of 71,611 fans.
Philadelphia was the clear favorite, having reached the Super Bowl in 1980. The Giants had snuck into the playoffs at 9-7, after winning their final three games behind a stout defense.
But they made a statement in the upset, taking leads of 20-0 in the first-quarter and 27-7 at halftime.
Scott Brunner threw three first-half touchdown passes, despite completing just 9-of-14 attempts for 96 yards.
Rob Carpenter — who Young acquired in October from Houston — helped the Giants eat the clock with 161 of their 183 rushing yards. And Mark Haynes recovered a fumbled kickoff in the end zone for a touchdown.
The Giants would not make the playoffs again for another three years. They were hardly a perennial power. Not yet. But the foundation was set.
Parcells (then the defensive coordinator) and Bill Belichick (linebackers and special teams coach) were only just beginning to show their genius in 1981 under head coach Ray Perkins.
The defense was starting to build an identity as a physical unit behind Harry Carson, just as the 1950s-era team did behind Sam Huff. Taylor was making quite an impression as a rookie, registering 9.5 sacks (even if it wasn’t an official NFL stat until the next season).
But it was Young who was the architect, changing the organization’s culture and fortunes from behind the scenes — and from behind those browline glasses.
“I don’t know if there’s a day that goes by when somebody in our office doesn’t quote George Young or refer to him in some way,” Mara told Newsday. “Some of them are repeatable. Some of them are not.”