One of three articles on the Eagles’ rivalry with the New York Giants.
The Eagles had just won a game against the New York Giants that would springboard them to their first postseason appearance in nearly two decades. It took an absolute miracle that will be remembered long after all of them are gone, but the Eagles walked out of Giants Stadium on Nov. 19, 1978, with a 19-17 victory.
Maybe it had something to do with divine intervention, but absolute stupidity certainly played a part in the mind-shattering conclusion, too.
“I don’t believe it,” legendary Eagles broadcaster Merrill Reese told his radio audience. “I don’t believe it. I do not believe what has occurred here, ladies and gentlemen.”
Equally as fascinating after the first Miracle at the Meadowlands was the reaction from one of the meanest and toughest Eagles of all-time. Sure, linebacker Bill Bergey felt joy and relief after Joe Pisarcik’s attempted handoff to Larry Csonka bounced twice off the turf and into the hands of Herman Edwards, who returned the most serendipitous fumble recovery in franchise history for a 26-yard touchdown.
Herman Edwards (46) pounces on a fumble by Giants quarterback Joe Pisarcik (9) for the first Miracle at the Meadowlands.Like everyone else in the stadium, except for soon-to-be-fired Giants offensive coordinator Bob Gibson, Bergey thought Pisarcik should have taken the snap and flopped to the ground, as he had done on first down. But Bergey also had one other thought that seems blasphemous given what has transpired since the first of so many Eagles miracles at the Meadowlands.
“I’ll tell you what … I feel sorry for those guys over there,” Bergey said. “I’m really sick it was the Giants. I wish it was Dallas or Washington.”
He felt sorry? For the Giants?
“We were always getting our butts beat by everybody, but we knew we could always count on beating the Giants twice,” Bergey said during a recent phone interview. “We had their number.”
For the most part, the Eagles have long had the Giants’ number. New York holds an 84-81-2 advantage in the series, but that’s based on the early days of the rivalry. The Giants went 17-3 in the first 10 years of a rivalry that started in 1933. The Giants, by that point, had been in the NFL for eight years. Since the dawn of the Super Bowl era in 1966, the Eagles have a 60-44-1 record against their closest NFC East rival. All the miracles at the Meadowlands belong to the Eagles, and the vast majority of the unforgettable moments and unbelievable victories have gone the Eagles’ way, too.
But, still, there is that Giant fly in the ointment.
“They can always flash that they’ve got the rings, and, in Philadelphia, we still don’t have that jewelry that everybody wants,” said Mike Quick, the former Eagles wide receiver and current radio analyst.
In a nutshell, the Eagles’ rivalry with the Giants is a story of so much joy when the teams meet on the field and so much pain when viewing the bigger picture.
The Eagles, for instance, just won their eighth NFC East title in this century, compared to just four for the Giants, who will take a 2-11 record into Sunday’s game at MetLife Stadium. And yet it is the Giants who have won two Super Bowls in the last decade, adding to the two they won during an era when they were so often beaten by the super-human performances of Randall Cunningham and a dominating Eagles defense.
Cunningham was 7-5 against the Giants as a starter during his time with the Eagles, and Buddy Ryan went 5-5 against New York during his five seasons as head coach and chief agitator in Philadelphia. The Giants, of course, won two Super Bowls in that time period, and Ryan did not win a single playoff game. Randall’s only playoff victory with the Eagles came after Buddy’s departure.
Andy Reid went 12-8 against Tom Coughlin, including a couple of playoff victories, but it is the Giants former coach who has two Super Bowl rings and is more likely to be fitted for one of those gold Hall of Fame jackets. Donovan McNabb went 11-7 against the Giants and 6-4 against Eli Manning, but only the Giants quarterback has jewelry and a shot at a trip to Canton, Ohio, site of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Oddly, the Eagles’ miracles in the swamps of Jersey have caused initial misery for the Giants and their fans, but also led to championship moments.
“The Miracle at the Meadowlands changed the Giants’ fortunes,” recalled Stan Walters, a left tackle on the Eagles teams of coach Dick Vermeil.
Walters knows the history well, because he grew up in Rutherford, N.J., and his father was a hardcore Giants fan.
“After that season, the Giants fired everybody, and Wellington Mara asked the commissioner [Pete Rozelle] for help in hiring a new general manager,” Walters said. “The commissioner recommended George Young.”
Young would remain with the Giants for nearly two decades and eventually hire coach Bill Parcells and draft Lawrence Taylor and Phil Simms.
The Eagles won on a miracle again in 2003, when Brian Westbrook returned a Jeff Feagles punt 84 yards for a touchdown. Coach Jim Fassel was fired after the Giants went 4-12 that season, and his replacement, Coughlin, led the team to two more Super Bowl titles. The year after a DeSean Jackson punt return capped a miracle Eagles comeback in 2010, the Giants won their second Super Bowl under Coughlin. During the Tom Brady era in New England, the Patriots have won five Super Bowls, including one over the Eagles in 2005. They’ve also lost twice, both to the Giants.
It all adds up to the searing pain of Eagles fans, most of whom have friends, relatives, or work colleagues who are Giants fans.
“It is a painful thing,” former Eagles linebacker Ike Reese said. “Go back to 2000, and we’ve won the most division championships. We’ve been the dominant team. If anybody should have won the Super Bowl from our division, it should have been us. But they’ve won two of them, and I do think about that. Eli is lucky enough to have the two he has, and we have to get at least one.”
Bill Bergey is 72 now, and his days as a nasty linebacker with the Eagles have been followed by a lifelong allegiance to his former team. His empathy for the Giants is long gone.
“Let’s face it, the Giants hate us, and their fans hate us, and we hate the Giants, and we hate their fans,” Bergey said. “The worst thing in the world is an 8 o’clock game against the Giants in Philadelphia.”
Like all Eagles fans, Bergey has one hope for the near future.
“I know you’ll hear people say this about every fan base, but I really do believe that the Eagles have the most passionate fans,” Bergey said. “Eagles fans won’t take a vacation, they won’t buy a new car or new furniture, but they will renew their season tickets every year.
“I mean, look at the Northeast Corridor. New England has multiple Super Bowls. The Giants have multiple Super Bowls. Baltimore has won two Super Bowls. Washington has multiple Super Bowls. Even the Jets have a Super Bowl. Go across the state to Pittsburgh, and they have multiple Super Bowls.
“Before I check out, I’d love to see a Super Bowl in this town more than anything. It would be the greatest happening ever.”
For now, however, Eagles fans must settle for all those miracles at the Meadowlands.
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