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News » Memories of the Miracle live on and on

Memories of the Miracle live on and on

Memories of the Miracle live on and on
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Herm Edwards leans back in his chair and imagines his daughter bringing a boyfriend home to meet the family in 20 years or so.

"He goes, 'Say, aren't you the guy who picked up the fumble?"' Edwards says with a wry smile.

"I tell him, 'Yes, son, that was me."'

Indeed, it was. Thirty years after fate cast him as the central figure in one of football's most celebrated plays, Edwards knows he'll always be defined by those fleeting, incredible seconds of Nov. 19, 1978.

And to his misfortune, so will Joe Pisarcik, the man who fumbled. A happy memory for Edwards is a dark one for Pisarcik.

"People like to make fun," Pisarcik said. "Bringing people down, it brings them up."

Dubbed by history as "The Miracle at the Meadowlands," the play turned out be more than a strange-but-true football story. Its impact resonated throughout the NFL for years and it even changed the game down to the high school level.

For those who don't know what happened, the short version is that, with the clock winding down and the New York Giants about to pull off an upset of the Philadelphia Eagles, Pisarcik fumbled a handoff to Larry Csonka. Edwards scooped up the ball and streaked 26 yards into the end zone, giving Philadelphia a mind-boggling victory.

But there's much more to the story - and to what happened next.

For one thing, the play ended, enhanced or redirected the football careers of men standing slack-jawed on both sides of the field that day.

For another, it created the breakthrough season the long-suffering Eagles had waited years for. It shocked and embarrassed the Giants like a cruel slap across the face. That sting provided the catalyst for a house-cleaning that ultimately returned the storied franchise to greatness.

And teams at all levels handle late-game leads differently now because of what happened in the Meadowlands.

"It is amazing," said Edwards, "how many things have turned on that one play."

People who wore Giants uniforms that fateful day have a recollection which is understandably less benign.

"It was devastating," said Hall of Fame linebacker Harry Carson. "The Giants have been around since 1925. That was probably the worst play in franchise history."

No player was more adversely affected than Pisarcik.

"We were basically embarrassed. I know I was," he said. "The play should never have been called."

Thirty years ago, many coaches, fans and players still considered it cowardly to simply kneel down in the dying seconds to preserve a win.

But not after the Miracle.

Also, that's when teams began carefully positioning one or more tacklers behind the quarterback taking the knee, lest someone deal the same anguish that Edwards inflicted on the Giants.

"That was when people realized they'd better approach that last play with more serious thought, or there could be trouble," said Dick Vermeil, then the Eagles head coach.

Philadelphia went on to win the NFC wild-card berth by one game, ending an 18-year postseason drought. Two years later, Vermeil, Edwards and the Eagles rode their momentum all the way to the city's first Super Bowl appearance, where they lost to Oakland.

The Giants will always be laughed at for trying a handoff instead of just kneeling down. But one of the great ironies is that Edwards shouldn't even have been in the game to take advantage of the miscue.

Out of timeouts and trailing 17-12 with 31 seconds left, the Eagles put in their goal-line defense, which called for Edwards to come out. But the second-year cornerback, torched earlier for a touchdown, waved off his replacement.

Meanwhile in the Giants' huddle, players were surprised at which play was sent in.

"Guys in the huddle were saying, 'Just fall on the ball,"' said Pisarcik. "I was one of them."

As Pisarcik approached the line of scrimmage and settled under center, Edwards crept up close. The snap from center, from the late Jim Clack, was not clean.

"I didn't get a good grip on it and that's basically what caused the fumble," Pisarcik said. "I turned around late and hit Larry on the hip."

Then, unable to regain control, he stumbled, fumbled, and saw the ball bounce neatly into the arms of No. 46.

Giants fans watched in horror and disbelief at what happened next. Edwards, as though he'd been practicing this moment all his life, took the ball and bounded 26 yards into history.

The Eagles, unbelievably, had a 19-17 victory.

"I remember how deathly quiet the stadium was," Edwards said. "People were stunned. Back then there was no ESPN, no highlight shows. But that play was shown the next day on 'Good Morning America.' "

Carson, head bowed, sat on the bench for about 10 minutes.

"I was in shock," he said. "I couldn't move. I was numb. It's going to be a good week because you won. Then you turn around and you see Herman Edwards running down the field. It was devastating."

For outraged Giants fans, shock turned very quickly to fury. Some even tried to stage organized protests at the next home game.

Life for many people would never be quite the same.

Offensive coordinator Bob Gibson was fired the next morning. When the Giants ended the season a few weeks later, head coach John McVay was not retained. Also gone was director of operations Andy Robustelli.

"Bob was really the fall guy," said Carson. "Heads had to roll, and his was the first. Then at the end of the season, it was a complete overhaul."

If Edwards had done what he'd been coached to do, everyone might have kept their jobs.

"They'd always taught me to fall on the ball and never try to run with it," he said. "But my only thought was to get it and go."

As soon as he scored, Edwards looked back toward his bench thinking he was in trouble.

"I spiked the ball. Coach Vermeil was very strict about not doing that."

Three decades later, Vermeil still laughs at that one.

"Herm Edwards was the last man in the world who was going to get in trouble," he said.

The aftermath of the play produced plenty of ironic twists. The Eagles, of all teams, acquired Pisarcik in 1980 and went to the Super Bowl with him as a backup.

Today he works on Wall Street, selling bonds in economically troubled times.

"Yeah, there's another fumble," he said in an interview with The Associated Press.

The Miracle at the Meadowlands has exposed Pisarcik to an unflattering side of human nature.

"Some people talk about it respectfully. Some people are just stupid," he said.

He recalled signing autographs once with other retired NFL players when an older man walked up and exclaimed, "Hey, you were the 'Miracle at the Meadowlands' guy," Pisarcik recalled.

"He was a nice guy. He probably didn't mean any harm. I said, 'Oh, I hadn't heard that one all day today. Glad you brought that to my attention. Thank you for sharing.' He looks at me like I've got four eyes.

"Then there was the guy who just walked up to me and said, 'You're the guy who fumbled the ball! You're the guy who fumbled the ball!'

"I told him, 'When I was your age I was the starting quarterback for the New York Giants of the National Football League. What are you doing?"'

The former quarterback, who is on friendly terms with Edwards, said this week that he was never talking about the play again.

"You're it," he told the AP. "This is it.

"I played seven years in the NFL. That play can be tagged on me, if you want. But that play doesn't make Herman Edwards a great football player. He was in the right place at the right time and he picked up a perfect bounce.

"But it changed a lot of things."

McVay never again was an NFL head coach. But he got a job as a front office executive in San Francisco and had the satisfaction of helping develop the 49ers into the NFL's most dominant team of the following decade.

"McVay came out better than anybody," Pisarcik said.

The Giants, shut out of the postseason since 1963, were not in turmoil long. Robustelli was replaced by the late George Young, and a new era dawned for football in New York.

Young, along with coach Bill Parcells, built the Giants into a great team, capturing Super Bowl championships following the 1986 and 1990 seasons and easing - though never fully erasing - the pain of what many Giants fans prefer to call "The Fumble."

The success of the Eagles led to many career boosts. Vermeil remains one of the most popular figures in Philadelphia and took the St. Louis Rams to a Super Bowl title decades later.

Edwards retired as a player in 1986 and joined the Chiefs as a scout. By 2001 he was head coach of the New York Jets. After the 2005 season, he followed Vermeil as coach of the Chiefs.

He has noticed that as time goes by, interest in the Miracle at the Meadowlands only seems to grow.

"Every year people send me pictures of that play and ask me to autograph them," he said. "I sign my name and send them back. So many of us are linked by that one play. That play had so much to do with so many careers."

And it all happened because somebody 30 years ago dropped a ball and somebody else grabbed it and ran.

"Isn't it amazing," said Edwards, "how big moments in your life can happen without you even realizing it at the time?"


Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: November 14, 2008

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