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Austin Murphy
September 30, 1996
The New York-New York game lived up to its billing
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September 30, 1996

The Stupor Bowl

The New York-New York game lived up to its billing

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Here it was, just in time for the new fall lineup, yet another Big Apple-based comedy. Where Seinfeld is a show about nothing, this was a show about nothing going right.

But what to name it? Sunday's matchup of bumbling Meadowlands cotenants, the 0-3 New York Giants and the 0-3 New York Jets, inspired many cruel suggestions—the Peyton Manning Bowl, the Stupor Bowl, the Movable Object versus the Resistible Force—and resulted in some hilarious slapstick. Dick Van Dyke at his loopiest had nothing on Jets rookie Alex Van Dyke, who, after flying downfield in punt coverage during the fourth quarter, dived on teammate Brian Hansen's punt at the Giants two-yard line and, inexplicably, carried the ball into the end zone, resulting in a touchback.

Following their sloppy 13-6 win, the Giants were, quite possibly, the most jubilant 1-3 team in NFL history. "Maybe David Letterman will start picking on the Jets now," said Giants linebacker Corey Miller. The win earned the Giants the title of Jersey State Champs and allowed them to escape—for seven days, anyway—the pitiless glare of the New York media, which will now focus its abuse on the team that one Gotham tabloid dubbed "Kotite's Klowns."

The defeat was Jets coach Rich Kotite's eighth straight and his 17th in 20 games since going to New York. His Klowns, who haven't scored a rushing touchdown this season, were limited on Sunday to a pair of Nick Lowery field goals. This was not what fossil-fuel magnate—and fossil—Leon Hess, the team's 82-year-old owner, had in mind when he spent 80 million petrodollars in the off-season to upgrade the team's talent.

Last Friday rookie wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson stood up in the Jets locker room and addressed his elders. The night before, Johnson and fellow wideout Jeff Graham had been out on the town with some Chicago Bulls. (Scottie Pippen was in the party, Michael Jordan wasn't.) "They were killing us," recounted Johnson. "Blowing cigar smoke in our faces, saying stuff like, 'We have more championships than you guys have wins.' " After relating to his teammates how humiliating this had been, Johnson warned them: "If we go 0-4, there are going to be some real problems around here with me."

Conspicuously unmotivated by the rookie's pep talk was quarterback Neil O'Donnell, who spent all day Sunday alternately overthrowing him, underthrowing him and ignoring him. Johnson caught one pass for 14 yards. To the assembled media after the game he refused to criticize Kotite or O'Donnell. In private he was less circumspect. "Why draft me if you're not gonna give me the rock?" he said. "I mean, c'mon. Give me the goddam ball and let me do my thing."

O'Donnell was looking for Johnson as he faced a fourth-and-four on his own 19 with just under two minutes to play. But before O'Donnell could find Johnson, Giants defensive end Michael Strahan found O'Donnell. Strahan's sack sealed the Giants victory. In celebration he stabbed at the sky with his right forefinger.

The Giants, No. 1? It was nice to see that, despite his team's struggles this season, Strahan had not lost his sense of humor.