"Just fall on it" his teammates implored in the huddle. The game was over, for God's sake. But Joe Pisarcik had no choice. A week earlier, in a loss to the Washington Redskins, New York Giants offensive coordinator Bob Gibson had screamed at his quarterback for changing a play. So on this frigid Nov. 19, 1978, afternoon at Giants Stadium, even though New York led 17-12 with 31 seconds left and had the ball on its own 29-yard line (and coach Dick Vermeil's Philadelphia Eagles were out of timeouts), Pisarcik followed Gibson's instructions and called Pro Up 65, a play that called for a handoff to the fullback.
"It was total chaos in the huddle," says Jim Clack, the Giants' center that day and now director of national accounts for the Brooks Group, a sales consulting firm in Greensboro, N.C. "No one was sure what was going on. [Fullback Larry] Csonka said, 'Don't give me the football.' " What ensued—as New York fans were heading for the exits and celebrating a victory—was the low point in a miserable era for the Giants, who had not had a winning season since 1972 and had last tasted the playoffs in '63.
Pisarcik mishandled the ball and made a clumsy handoff to Csonka, who dived for the football after it bounced off his right hip and fell to the turf. Eagles cornerback Herman Edwards picked it up and raced 26 yards into the end zone. Now the game was over. The 19-17 loss marked a dark turn for New York, which lost three of its final four games and finished 6-10.
The Miracle of the Meadowlands was the last straw for even the most loyal Giants fans. The next few weeks saw a mass ticket-burning outside Giants Stadium and a banner flown over the Meadowlands proclaiming 15 YEARS OF LOUSY FOOTBALL: WE'VE HAD ENOUGH. Coach John McVay's contract was not renewed at year's end. Director of operations Andy Robustelli, who in the previous off-season had decided that 1978 would be his last year with the team, remains philosophical about the fumble. "A play like that is part of the game," says Robustelli, 74, now semiretired and living in Stamford, Conn. "I'm somewhat surprised that people are still talking about it."
"It was just one play in a person's career," Pisarcik says, "but it changed the fortunes of an organization, and it changed people's lives." The play's greatest victim was Gibson, who was canned the day afterward and never worked in football again. "I've lived a secluded life since," says Gibson, 74, who lives with his wife, Cynthia, in Sanibel, Fla., where he owns two rental condominiums. "It's taken everyone a hell of a long time to forget about me. My football career is long gone."