Big Blue blues: Once-proud Giants bottom out

Oct 6, 2013; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; A fan of the New York Giants reacts during the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Before the 2017 season, the New York Football Giants were being touted as the team to beat in the NFC East. Some of the experts went a step further, writing Big Blue a ticket to the Super Bowl. Yet last than halfway through the year, it’s all come tumbling down.

Forget about contending for a title. These Giants are an embarrassment, bottoming out with new lows in team history. Both head coach Ben McAdoo and general manager Jerry Reese will take a fall in all likelihood. Players are already turning mutinous. A once-proud franchise has bottomed out.

The last time the Giants lost their first four home games and started a season 1-7 was 1980. That year the Giants finished 4-12, but help was on the way in the person of linebacker Lawrence Taylor, the second overall pick in the draft.

This Giants team, a two-point underdog to the winless 49ers on Sunday, is threatening to finish with the worst overall record in team history. In 1966, the Giants were 1-12-1 under coach Allie Sherman, a mere three years after losing the NFL championship game to the Bears.

Other bad finishes included 2-12 in 1974, 2-11-1 in 1973, 2-10-2 in 1964, 2-8-2 in 1947, and 3-11 in 1976, the team’s first year in Giants Stadium. The Giants were 3-12-1 in coach Bill Parcells’ first year (1983) and 4-12 in coach Jim Fassel’s final year (2003).

Victimized at home

Wait, it gets worse. Last week’s 51-17 loss to the Rams marked the most points the Giants surrendered in a home game since 1964.

On a cold, rainy Saturday afternoon nearly 53 years ago, the Cleveland Browns destroyed the Giants 52-20 at Yankee Stadium. Quarterback Frank Ryan tossed five touchdown passes for the Browns that day. Cleveland went on to win its last NFL championship a couple of weeks later, blanking the Baltimore Colts 27-0.

Back-up quarterback Gary Woods, replacing Y.A. Tittle, threw a pair of TDs to tight end Aaron Thomas for Big Blue in the fourth quarter to make the final score more respectable.

I remember listening to the game on radio that day while helping my father make lasagna. The NFL blacked out home games in 1964, which was probably a good thing – at least we didn’t have to watch.

The Giants record for most points given up in a home game took place in 1948 in a 63-35 loss to the Chicago Cardinals at the Polo Grounds. The Giants also lost 56-7 to the Bears in 1943, and 52-27 to the Rams in 1948, both at home.

Big Blue Bummers: 20 worst losses in Giants history

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The top 10 NFL draft classes

With the NFL draft on tap next week, what better time to review the top 10 drafts in NFL history.

Players are ultimately judged by election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and that’s the main criteria for this exercise. It’s difficult to rate and rank recent drafts, since many of those players – at least the good ones – are still active and years from Hall of Fame eligibility. Here’s the SL top 10:

1. 1957 – Green Bay selected Heisman Trophy winner Paul Hornung of Notre Dame with the first overall pick. Len Dawson (5th), Jimmy Brown (6th), right, and Jim Parker (8th) were also first rounders and Hall of Famers. In all, eight eventual Hall of Famers were picked, including Tommy McDonald in the third round, Sonny Jurgensen in the fourth, Henry Jordan in the fifth and Gene Hickerson in the seventh. Cleveland had three Hall of Fame picks in Brown, generally considered the best running back in history, Jordan, a defensive tackle, and Hickerson, who played offensive guard. Jordan played two years with the Browns before being traded to the Packers. Jon Arnett, John Brodie and Ron Kramer, standouts in their own right, were the second, third and fourth overall selections.

2. 1967 – This class also had eight Hall of Famers, four of them — Bob Griese, Floyd Little, Alan Page and Gene Upshaw – going in the first round. Ken Houston, Willie Lanier, Lem Barney and Rayfield Wright were the other HOFers in this draft class. Bubba Smith was the first overall pick, and other notables included Gene Washington, John Gilliam and Rick Volk. The classes of 1957 and 1967 have more Hall of Fame inductees than any others in NFL history.

3. 1983 – The greatest quarterback class ever. Hall of Famers John Elway, #1 overall, Jim Kelly (14th) and Dan Marino (27th) were all drafted in the first round, along with Todd Blackledge (7th), Tony Eason (15th) and Ken O’Brien (27th). HOFers Eric Dickerson (2nd), Bruce Matthews (9th) and Darnell Green,(28th) were also drafted in the first round. In total, a record six Hall of Famers were picked in round one. Richard Dent, another Hall of Famer, went in the eighth round.

4. 1974 – Pittsburgh built a dynasty with this draft, as wide receiver Lynn Swann (1st round), left, linebacker Jack Lambert (2nd), wide receiver John Stallworth (4th) and center Mike Webster (5th) were all eventually enshrined in Canton. Dave Casper of Oakland was drafted in the second round.

5. 1968: There weren’t a ton of iconic stats in this class, but there were six Hall of Famers – Elvin Bethea, Art Shell, Ron Yary, Charlie Sanders, Curley Culp and Larry Csonka. Ron Yary was the first overall pick, and Ken Stabler, Claude Humphrey and Harold Jackson were also 1968 class members.

6. 1981 – The Giants picked linebacker Lawrence Taylor second overall after the Saints selected running back George Rogers. Taylor and San Francisco first round pick safety Ronnie Lott were Hall of Famers, along with defenders Mike Singletary, Howie Long and Rickey Jackson, all picked in round two, and offensive guard Russ Grimm, a third-round selection. Perhaps the greatest defensive draft class ever.

7. 1989 – This top-heavy draft saw four Hall of Fame players selected in the first five picks – Troy Aikman (1st), Barry Sanders (3rd), Derrick Thomas (4th) and Deion Sanders (5th). Lem Barney and Willie Lanier, both second-round selections, are now enshrined in Canton as well.

8. 1964 – Bob Brown, Charley Taylor, Carl Eller and Paul Warfield were drafted in round one, Mel Renfro and Paul Krause in round two.

1952 – Les Richter, Ollie Matson, Huge McElheney and Frank Gifford were first-round selections and Gino Marchetti, right, was the first pick in round two. Marchetti and Matson played together at the University of San Francisco in 1951 before the Dons dropped football. A third member of that team, offensive tackle Bob St. Clair who passed away this week, was drafted in 1953. No other college football team ever had three future Pro Football Hall of Famers on the roster at the same time.

10. 1961 – Mike Ditka, Jimmy Johnson, Herb Adderley and Bob Lilly all went in the first round. Scrambling quarterback Fran Tarkenton was top pick in round three.

Recent vintage drafts

1992 – Four Hall of Famers were drafted — Willie Roaf and Jerome Bettis in round one, Michael Strahan in round two and Will Shields in round three.

1995 – Tampa Bay had two HOF picks in the first round, Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks. Running back Curtis Martin went to New England in round three.

1998 – Peyton Manning was the first overall pick by Indianapolis. Charles Woodson went number four overall. Ryan Leaf, number two overall, was a huge bust.

2004 – Eli Manning went first overall to San Diego, then was shipped to the Giants for Philip Rivers. A third quarterback, Ben Rothelsberger, went 11th overall to Pittsburgh.

2007 – Some solid first round picks, including Calvin Johnson (2nd overall), Joe Thomas (3rd), Adrian Peterson (7th) and Marshawn Lynch (12th). All have worked out good. The first overall pick JaMarcus Russell by Oakland — not so good.

2011 – Cam Newton (1st), AJ Green (4th), Julio Jones (6th) and JJ Watt (11th) were starry first-round picks in this class.

The first draft

The first NFL draft was held in 1936. Hall of Fame tackle Joe Stydahar was picked by the Bears in the first round, #6 overall. Alphonse “Tuffy” Leemans (2nd round), Wayne Millner Boston Redskins (8th) and Dan Fortmann (9th) were the other future Hall of Famers from this inaugural class.

The first overall pick that year was Jay Berwanger, the University of Chicago halfback and winner of the first Heisman Trophy. Berwanger was picked by the Eagles, who traded his rights to the Bears. However owner and coach George Halas could not convince Berwanger to sign with Chicago. He reputedly wanted $1,000 per game.

Berwanger later expressed regret that he did not accept Halas’ offer. After graduating, Berwanger worked briefly as a sportswriter (reputedly he wrote one of the first blogs) and later became a manufacturer of plastic car parts. He was very modest about the Heisman, and used the trophy as a doorstop in his library.


New York athletes by the numbers

Over the years, New York athletes have worn some of the most famous numbers in all of sports. Icons like Babe Ruth (#3), Lou Gehrig (#4) and Joe DiMaggio (#5) sit atop a long and storied list of Yankees, who will have retired all single digit numbers as soon as they get around to Derek Jeter (#2). Brooklyn Dodger Jackie Robinson wore #42, which has now been retired by major league baseball. Willie Mays wore #24 when he roamed center field for the New York Giants.

And there are so many more. Legends such as Lawrence Taylor (#56) with the New York Football Giants, Joe Namath (#12) with the Jets, Walt Frazier (#10) with the Knicks and Wayne Gretzky (#99) with the Rangers, just to name a few.

As you might expect, since there are more players per team and higher numbers in football, the Giants top our list of top New York athletes by number with 36. Every team is represented, even the Giants and Dodgers, who left New York for California in 1958. There are 21 Yankees, 16 Jets, 7 Mets, 6 Knicks, 5 Rangers, 3 Dodgers and Nets, 2 Devils and an Islander and baseball Giant on the list. If you’re counting with me that adds up to 101, with Casey Stengel (#37) getting the nod as both Yankee and Met manager.

Here are the top New York players by number from 0-99, with other candidates also listed. Competition was tough in some spots, most notably #10, where Walt Frazier edged out Pele, Eli Manning, Phil Rizzuto and Fran Tarkenton, and #42, where Mariano Rivera and Charlie Conerly failed to make the cut.

The New York numbers list:

0 – Orlando Woolridge (Nets)

Shane Larkin

1 – Pee Wee Reese (Dodgers)

Eddie Giacomin, Billy Martin, Earle Combs

2 – Derek Jeter (Yankees)

Brian Leetch

3 – Babe Ruth (Yankees)

Bill Terry, Harry Howell, Ken Daneyko

4 – Lou Gehrig (Yankees)

Mel Ott, Duke Snider, Tuffy Leemans, Scott Stevens

5 – Joe DiMaggio (Yankees)

Denis Potvin, David Wright

6 – Joe Torre (Yankees)

Tony Lazzeri, Carl Furillo

7 – Mickey Mantle (Yankees)

Mel Hein, Rod Gilbert, Ken O’Brien, Carmelo Anthony

8 – Yogi Berra (Yankees)

Bill Dickey, Walt Bellamy, Gary Carter

9 – Richie Guerin (Knicks)

Roger Maris, Graig Nettles, Andy Bathgate, Adam Graves, Clark Gillies, Hank Bauer, Charlie Keller

10 – Walt Frazier (Knicks)

Pele, Eli Manning, Phil Rizzuto, Fran Tarkenton, Brad van Pelt

11 – Mark Messier (Rangers)

Carl Hubbell, Lefty Gomez, Phil Simms

12 – Joe Namath (Jets)

Dick Barnett

13 – Don Maynard (Jets)

Alex Rodriguez, Mark Jackson, Odell Beckham, Dave Jennings

14 – Gil Hodges (Dodgers)

YA Tittle, Bill Skowron

15 – Thurman Munson (Yankees)

Red Ruffing, Earl Monroe, Dick Mcguire, Jeff Hostetler, John McLean

16 – Frank Gifford (Giants)

Whitey Ford, Dwight Gooden

17 – Keith Hernandez (Mets)

Vic Raschi

18 – Darryl Strawberry (Mets)

Don Larsen, Phil Jackson

19 – Willis Reed (Knicks)

Bryan Trottier, Dave Righetti, Jean Ratelle

20 –Allan Houston (Knicks)

Jorge Posada, Monte Irvin, Jimmy Patton, Joe Morris

21 – Paul O’Neill (Yankees)

Tiki Barber

22 – Mike Bossy (Islanders)

Dave DeBusschere, Allie Reynolds, Dick Lynch

23 – Don Mattingly (Yankees)

Bobby Nystrom

24 – Willie Mays (Giants)

Bill Bradley, Derrell Revis, Robinson Cano, Ottis Anderson

25 – Bill Mclchionni (Nets)

Dick Nolan, Jason Giambi, Joe Pepitone, Bill Cartwright, Mark Collins

26 – Patrik Elias (Devils)

Wade Boggs, Orlando Hernandez

27 – Rodney Hampton (Giants)

Scott Niedermayer, Alexi Kovalev

28 – Curtis Martin (Jets)

Al Leiter

29 – Catfish Hunter (Yankees)

Alex Webser

30 – Martin Brodeur (Devils)

Bernard King, Henrik Lundqvist, Dave Meggett, Eddie Lopat, John Davidson

31 – Dave Winfield (Yankees)

John Franco, Mike Piazza, Billy Smith

32 – Julius Erving (Nets)

Elston Howard, Sandy Koufax, Al Blozis

33 – Patrick Ewing (Knicks)

David Wells

34 – Charles Oakley (Knicks)

John Vanbiesbrouck, Don Chandler

35—Mike Richter (Rangers)

Mike Mussina

36 – David Cone (Yankees)

Jerry Koosman

37 – Casey Stengel (Yankees/Mets)

38 – Bob Tucker (Giants)

Johnny Blanchard

39 – Roy Campanella (Dodgers)

40 – Joe Morrison

Lindy McDaniel, Mark Pavelich

41 – Tom Seaver (Mets)

Matt Snell

42 –Jackie Robinson (Dodgers)

Mariano Rivera, Charlie Conerly

43 – Spider Lockhart (Giants)

Jeff Nelson

44 – Reggie Jackson (Yankees)

John Riggins, Ahmad Bradshaw

45 – Emlen Tunnell (Giants)

Tug McGraw, John Franco

46 – Andy Pettitte (Yankees)

Bill Baird

47 – Luis Arroyo (Yankees)

48 – Jacob deGrom (Mets)

Andy Pafko, Kenny Hill, Bobby Humphrey

49 – Ron Guidry (Yankees)

Erich Barnes

50 – Ken Strong (Giants)

51 – Bernie Williams (Yankees)

52– Buck Williams (Nets)

Jon Schmitt, CC Sabathia

53 – Harry Carson (Giants)

Don Drysdale

54 – Goose Gossage (Yankees)

55—Hideki Matsui (Yankees)

Ray Wietecha

56 –Lawrence Taylor (Giants)

57 – Johan Santana (Mets)

John Wetteland, Mo Lewis

58 – Carl Banks (Giants)

59 – Kyle Clifton (Giants)

Michael Boley

60 – Larry Grantham (Jets)

D’Brickeshaw Ferguson, Brad Benson

61 – Rick Nash (Rangers)

62 – Al Atkinson (Jets)

Joba Chamberlain, Carl Hagelin

63 – Karl Nelson (Giants)

64 – Jim Burt (Giants)

65 – Joe Fields (Jets)

Bart Oates

66 – Jack Stroud (Giants)

David Diehl, Randy Rasmussen

67 – Dave Herman (Jets)

Bill Ard, Kareem McKenzie

68 – Kevin Mawae (Jets)

Jaromir Jagr,Dellin Betances

69 – Rich Seubert (Giants)

70 – Sam Huff (Giants)

Leonard Marshall

71 – Dave Tollefson (Giants)

72 – Ose Umenyiora (Giants)

73 – Joe Klecko (Jets)

74 – Nick Mangold (Jets)

75 – George Martin (Giants)

Jim Katcavage, Winston Hill

76 – Rosey Grier (Giants)

Jumbo Elliott, Chris Snee

77 – Phil Esposito (Rangers)

Dick Modzelewski

78 – Jerome Salley (Giants)

Marvin Powell

79 – Roosevelt Brown (Giants)

80 – Victor Cruz (Giants)

John Elliott, Wayne Chrebet, Jeremy Shockey

81 – Andy Robustelli (Giants)

Amani Toomer, Gerry Philbin

82 – Mario Manningham (Giants)

Mark Ingram

83 – George Sauer (Jets)

84 – Harland Svare (Giants)

Zeke Mowatt

85 – Del Shofner (Giants)

Wesley Walker

86 – Verlon Bigggs (Jets)

Lionel Manuel

87 – Howard Cross (Giants)

Pete Lammons, Domenik Hixon

88 – Al Toon (Jets)

Pat Summerall, Eric Lindros

89 – Mark Bavaro (Giants)

90 – Jason Pierre-Paul (Giants)

Dennis Byrd

91 – Justin Tuck (Giants)

John Tavares

92 – Michael Strahan (Giants)

93 – Marty Lyons (Jets)

94 – John Abraham (Jets)

95 – Frank Ferrera (Giants)

96 – Barry Cofield (Giants)

97 – Mathias Kiwanuka (Giants)

98 – Jesse Armstead (Giants)

Fred Robbins

99 – Wayne Gretzky (Rangers)

Mark Gastineau, Steve DeOssie


The Glass Is Half Full for Giants

What a week for the Giants.

First the San Francisco Baseball entry wins its first World Series in 56 years….and the first ever for the City by the Bay.

Then the New York Football Giants play perhaps the greatest first half in their 85-year history, taking a 35-0 lead against the Seattle Seahawks. Three touchdown passes from Eli Manning and a pair of touchdown runs by Ahmad Bradshaw led the way in an eventual 41-7 win.

The 35-0 halftime lead was the largest the Giants have enjoyed since 1959, when three TD passes by Charlie Conerly, two to Bob Schnelker, and a fourth by Frank Gifford gave Big Blue a 38-0 lead over the Washington Redskins. The Giants eventually won that game, 45-14, at Yankee Stadium. The Giants finished 10-2 that year before losing to the Colts in the NFL championship game for the second year in a row.

The glass has been half full before for the Giants. In 1963, already saddled with two losses, the Giants marched into Cleveland, caused an early Jim Brown fumble, and rumbled to a 23-0 halftime lead over the unbeaten Browns. The Giants won 33-6 holding Brown to a mere 40 yards rushing and even blocking the extra point after Cleveland scored late in the game. That Giants team won the Eastern Conference before losing to the Chicago Bears in the NFL title game at Wrigley Field.

In the first round of the 1986 playoffs, the Giants recovered an early Jerry Rice fumble and took a 28-3 lead at the half when Jeff Burt’s hit knocked Joe Montana out of the game and Lawrence Taylor intercepted the wobbly Montana pass and returned it 34 yards for a  touchdown. The G-Men went on to win the game 49-3 on the way to their first Super Bowl

And in the 2000 NFC championship game, Kerry Collins threw four of his five touchdown passes in the first half, two to Ike Hilliard, and the Giants took a 34-0 lead into the locker room. The final 41-0 shutout win remains the largest shutout in NFC championship game history. The Giants went to the Super Bowl that year but were trounced by the Baltimore Ravens.


Giants Van Pelt Helped Anchor Crunch Bunch

The Crunch Bunch: Harry Carson, Brian Kelley, Lawrence Taylor and Brad Van Pelt

Brad Van Pelt was one of those rare great athletes who had a long, successful career but missed out on the glory of a championship. Now he’s left us far too soon, victim of an apparent heart attack at the age of 57.

Van Pelt was generally considered the New York Giants best player during the 70s — a decade in which the Giants failed to make a single playoff appearance.

A Maxwell Award winner and a second-round draft pick out of Michigan State in 1973, Van Pelt was the first of the great Giants linebackers that included Brian Kelley and Hall of Famers Harry Carson and Lawrence Taylor. Kelley was drafted in the 14th round in 1973, Carson joined the team three years later, and Taylor was the second pick overall in the 1981 draft. The four were known as the Crunch Bunch, perhaps the finest linebacker group in NFL history.

And they remained extremely close over the years.  “I feel as comfortable with them as I do with my brothers,” Van Pelt said in a 2004 interview. “Obviously, your brothers are your brothers. But these three are probably the closest thing to them. Brian and I played 11 years together. I played nine with Harry. Lawrence being the guy, it didn’t take long for him to fit right in and become one of the guys. I can’t really explain why but they’re the only three I stay close with.”

Turning the Corner with LT
The Giants struggled mightily before Taylor joined the team, winning a total of just 24 games between 1976 and 1980. But Van Pelt made five Pro Bowls and Carson two during that stretch, as the Giants began to build a defense around their linebacking corps, a defense that would eventually win two Super Bowls.

Van Pelt, who wore number 10, unusual for a linebacker, played on just one winning team during his 11-year career with the Giants, in 1981. That team ended an 18-year playoff drought for the G-Men.

Following the 1983 season, Van Pelt and Kelley both left New York. Van Pelt played two years with the Raiders and finished his career with the Browns in 1986.

The Giants, buttressed by another Michigan State linebacker, Carl Banks, won the Super Bowl in 1986 and again in 1990. Banks and Taylor played on both those championship teams, along with linebackers Gary Reasons and Pepper Johnson. Carson retired following the 1988 season.

Van Pelt finished his career with 20 interceptions and 14 fumble recoveries, but was never able to win that championship ring. He’s one of few Giants to call four different fields home — Yankee Stadium, the Yale Bowl, Shea Stadium and Giants Stadium.


The Lifeline That Is Football

On a November afternoon in 1963, five days before President John F. Kennedy is assassinated, a 12-year old with this mother, father and cousin sees Y.A. Tittle and the Giants pound the 49ers in Yankee Stadium.

A son arrives in May of 1986, and that fall Big Blue, fueled by the great Lawrence Taylor, dominates the NFL and cruises through the Super Bowl against the Denver Broncos, ending a 30-year title drought.

Early in February of 2008, a middle-aged man kneels in front of a television, emotionally spent, as the Giants rally and upset the previously unbeaten Patriots to snap a budding dynasty and win Super Bowl XLII.

It’s a tie that binds generations…

Football is the tie that binds generations. From father to son, brother to brother, family to family, friend to friend. There is a fabric that weaves through all of us who follow this tough sport. Professional football in America is a special game, a unique game, a game that threads a story through our lives.

So the 7-year-old kid remembers sitting in the backseat as his father drove the family Blue Dodge through the snow to Brooklyn to visit relatives, and on the car radio a football game between the Giants and the Browns. The famous game, where Pat Summerall kicked the winning field goal in a swirling Bronx snowstorm to propel the G-Men into a playoff game … again with Cleveland….and then ultimately to face the Baltimore Colts in the fabled sudden death overtime game of 1958, the greatest game ever played according to some.

That was his first football memory. Fast forward three years and a 3,000 miles later, New Year’s Eve in Daly City, California, where the houses look alike, palm trees in front, and the hills are steep. Vince Lombardi’s Packers are crushing the Giants 37-0 for the NFL title. And a future Hall of Fame offensive tackle Bob St. Clair of the 49ers and his family are living right next door.

lombardi.jpg

Vince Lombardi

It’s 1962 and the matchup is the same. Only it’s blacked out in New York, and there’s a newspaper strike as well. There was a time, before ESPN and cell phones and the Internet, when sports events were not always online…or even on television. So classic games like Giants-Colts in 1958, Giants-Packers in 1962, and the 1967 Ice Bowl in Green Bay, went un-televised to large partisan home audiences. There was a time when games were seen on the radio. That was 1962, listening to Marty Glickman call the play at grandmother’s house. The Giants lost a hard-fought 16-7 battle on a brutally cold, windy Sunday afternoon.

The 1963 Giants should have won, but an injury to Tittle’s knee early in the championship game doomed the G-men, who lost 14-10 to the Bears in a bitter battle at Wrigley Field in the days when baseball diamonds often doubled as gridirons. That day an altar boy rushed home from the one o’clock Mass at St. Bernard’s in White Plains to catch the game, and though disappointed, figured there was always next year.

ya.jpg

Y.A. Tittle

Painful lessons
Next year was a long time coming, and a painful lesson was learned. Oh, they came close to the post-season a couple of times, like 1970, when all they had to do was beat the Rams at home in the final game of the season. That game too was blacked out in New York, so the college student, a sophomore at Holy Cross, home for the holidays, went to cousin Frankie’s in Valhalla with the 60-foot tall antenna to catch the scratchy TV signal from Hartford on a black and white Philco. The Rams won 31-3.

Don’t take for granted the good years, you never know when another playoff run is coming. “15 years of lousy football is long enough” read the banner trailing the biplane circling Giants Stadium in 1978, barely a week after the Miracle at the Meadowlands — when an improbable Giant fumble led to a shocking, last-second loss to the Eagles.

But help was on the way in the form of Lawrence Taylor, the #2 overall pack in the 1981 draft out of North Carolina, Lawrence of the Meadowlands, destined to be the greatest defensive player in the history of the National Football League. LT burst onto the scene in 1981 and almost immediately changed the mindset of a team that hadn’t made the playoffs in 18 years. That December, a 30-year-old sportswriter watched transfixed on a Saturday afternoon in Florida as the Giants beat the Dallas Cowboys in overtime, and with some help from their crosstown rivals the Jets, made the post-season the next day.

lt.jpg

Lawrence Taylor

The first Super Bowl came five years later in a dominant display of power — a 14-2 regular season, then 49-3 over the 49ers, a 17-0 shutout of the Redskins, and the Phil Simms game, a 39-20 win against Denver. Giants among men.

Four years later, another title. Matt Bahr’s field goal at the gun ends the 49ers three-peat effort at muddy Candlestick Park, followed by the 20-19 upset win over the Bills in Super Bowl XXV, aka as Wide Right..

They came close in 2000, only to face the crunch of the Ravens defense in the only Super Bowl this fan has ever attended. Meeting Joe Namath, Dan Rather, Adam Sandler and other celebs in Tampa was a thrill, but the 34-7 result was not. It was a long plane ride home.

eli.jpg

Eli Manning, Super Bowl XLII MVP

And then along came 2007. Every once in a while a team comes out of nowhere to make an unexpected run, surprising even its most ardent fans. A team that gave up 80 points in the first two games. A team that couldn’t win at home and couldn’t lose on the road. A team that gathers momentum at the end like a snowball running down a hill, that keeps getting better and better. A team that embodies the essence of the word. A team that makes a city proud.

This year, the Giants buried ghosts and slew dragons in the playoffs after first beating Tampa Bay. Then they tripped the archrival Cowboys to leave TO in tears and Jerry Jones in stunned disbelief on the sidelines (for all we know, he’s still standing there, glaring out on the field).

Next, with the NFC title on the line, making amends for those losses to the great Green Bay Lombardi teams in the 60s as Eli Manning outplayed the great Brett Favre in one of the coldest games ever played. Few gave them a chance against the Cowboys in Dallas or the Packers in Lambeau, but the Giants prevailed. It took more than 45 years and an overtime for the Giants to avenge those playoff losses to Green Bay, but third-times-the-charm Lawrence Tynes kicked Big Blue to the Super Bowl.

And finally, in one of the biggest upsets in NFL history, the Giants shocked the world, beating the heretofore unbeaten New England Patriots 17-14 with a last-minute touchdown to win the Super Bowl. A fearsome pass rush that battered New England’s Tom Brady, a miracle catch by David Tyree and the poise of MVP Eli Manning helped write the final script.

If you’re a football fan, you have to love it. You have to love football. And you have to love life.