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3. The Fumble: Nov. 19, 1978
The victory was in the bag and much of the crowd was happily on its way to the exits. The Giants faced third-and-two on their own 29-yard line with 31 seconds left and a 17-12 lead over Philadelphia, which had no timeouts left. All quarterback Joe Pisarcik had to do was take the snap and kneel. What happened next is the very definition of hapless.
Pisarcik relayed to his incredulous teammates a handoff call from offensive coordinator Bob Gibson, who had been on the QB's butt about changing plays in the huddle. "Don't give me the ball," running back Larry Csonka implored, but Pisarcik, the good soldier, tried anyway, and The Fumble went down, in cornerback Herman Edwards' hands as well as in infamy. "Off-Broadway Joe," as he was derisively called, needed a police escort to get to his car after the 19-17 loss. Gibson was fired the next day.
The Fumble was the manifestation of all that ailed the proud old Giants franchise. The three-time NFL champions were suffering through their 15th consecutive playoff-less season, paralyzed by a bitter, unseemly internal feud between co-owners Wellington Mara and his nephew Tim. Three weeks and two losses later, Giants fans revolted, burning season tickets in the parking lot. Those who entered the stadium -- there were 24,000 empty seats for the game against the Cardinals -- cheered when a plane flew over toting a banner that read "15 Years of Lousy Football, We've Had Enough."
4. Jim Marshall's Wrong-Way Run: Oct. 25, 1964
Behold defensive end Jim Marshall: proud member of the Minnesota Vikings' legendary Purple People Eaters defensive line, former owner of the NFL's Iron Man streak (282 consecutive games, since surpassed by Jeff Feagles) and holder of the career record for fumble recoveries (29), one of which earned him the thoroughly unwelcome moniker Wrong Way Marshall.
In the fourth quarter at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco, Marshall snatched a fumble by 49ers quarterback Billy Kilmer and -- continuing in the direction of his pursuit -- galloped 66 yards while his teammates hooted, hollered and made an awful fuss. Then he celebrated by tossing the pigskin into the stands.
"My first inkling that something was wrong was when a 49er player gave me a hug in the end zone," Marshall said after the game, which -- to his lasting relief -- the Vikings won, 27-22.
His safety -- the longest in league history -- was NFL Films' runaway No.1 pick for the 1994 video 100 Greatest Follies. "That is something I would rather forget, although it's not going to happen," Marshall told Viking Update in 2001. "In the years I spent playing football, trying to play the best I could play, to have that all overshadowed by one play...it's not the ideal situation."
5. Colts sneak out of Baltimore: March 29, 1984
NFL owners have a deserved reputation as mercenary vagabonds. In their long history of breaking hearts in the most devoted cities, no case is more notorious than Robert Irsay sneaking the Colts out of Baltimore, their home of 31 years, under the cover of darkness. Beset by a consistently lousy team, falling attendance and an aging stadium, Irsay tried to flee to Phoenix and flirted with New York. Indianapolis reportedly offered less dough than Baltimore, but Irsay was smitten by the warm confines of the Hoosier Dome, not to mention a market of eager fans willing to ignore his team's aroma.
The Maryland legislature tried to keep the Colts in place by passing a law that allowed Baltimore to seize the team by eminent domain, but Irsay beat the city to the grab. The day after the law passed, movers dismantled the team's offices and training facility in Owings Mills, Md. A convoy of 15 moving vans rolled west not long past midnight. The reaction in Baltimore was swift, furious and lasting -- Colts legend Johnny Unitas refused to acknowledge the Indy version of the franchise -- but the NFL, cowed by its stinging defeat the previous month at the hands of Al Davis and his Oakland-to-Los Angeles Raiders in a $35-million federal anti-trust suit, merely waved its hanky in farewell as it declined trying to block the move, as it did with Davis.
6. The Replacements: Oct. 4, 1987
Unlike their baseball brethren, NFL players are accomplished at failed uprisings. Four training-camp strikes between 1968 and 1975 as well as a 57-day walk-off that shut down the league for eight weeks of the 1982 season did little to improve salaries, free-agency rights, severance pay, pensions or the issue of artificial turf. By 1987 only one free agent had actually changed teams, the median salary was a modest $170,000 and owners were reaping $17 million apiece from the NFL's TV contract. So once again, the players walked off during the season -- on Tuesday, Sept. 22 -- having neglected to cover their caboose.
Without the leverage of the rival USFL to flee to (that league went belly-up in 1986) or a strike fund to absorb their eventual $80 million losses in salary -- and with public sentiment strongly in favor of the owners -- the NFL Players Association succeeded only in canceling the Week 3 games. Its minions watched forlornly as the NFL returned on Replacement Sunday with teams of construction workers and barkeeps, many of whom the owners had put on stand-by during training camp for the low price of $1,000.
Attendance and TV ratings were low at first, and play was shoddy, earning the replacement teams charming nicknames such as the San Francisco Phoney Niners and Los Angeles Shams. But with the regular broadcasters and refs still on the job, interest began to rise. Meanwhile, NFL stars on picket lines outside stadiums spat at busloads of scab players. By Oct. 15, serious cracks appeared in their ranks as 89 players crossed the line, some fearful that their teams would stop funding their annuities.
Desperate union boss Gene Upshaw appeared on Monday Night Football to propose an end to the strike, but the owners had dug in with canary-eating smiles. After 24 days the players sheepishly returned without a collective bargaining agreement -- they would play without one until 1992 -- only to learn that they would not be allowed to play for another week because they had failed to report by the owners' Oct. 14 deadline. The NFLPA immediately filed a bad-faith bargaining complaint with the National Labor Relations Board and an antitrust suit that succeeded, years later, in winning their battle for them, leading to the current free-agency and salary-cap systems.
7. Aints fans bag it: 1980
Fans in New Orleans suffered through 13 losing seasons after they were blessed with the Saints in 1967. As their sad-sack team proceeded to lose its first 14 games in 1980, local columnist/broadcaster Buddy Dilaberto urged the faithful to put a bag on -- literally -- at home games. Humble paper grocery sacks adorned with "Aints," the team's fleur-de-lis emblem and tears flowing from the eyeholes became an enduring symbol of Sainthood while establishing a universal display of martyrdom that can be found to this day anywhere lousy teams ply their trade.