1978 will always be remembered as the last year the Giants would operate as a clueless organization. After the “Fumble” game in November against Philadelphia, Giant fans would revolt, burning tickets, bashing the team and even calling for the Maras to sell the club.
That is when NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle stepped in and mediated the cold war between team’s two owners, Wellington Mara and his nephew, Tim.
The result of that intervention was the hiring of George Young as GM and the rest, as they say, is history. Young’s first three drafts would change the team forever. In 1979, his top selection was QB Phil Simms out of little Morehead State in Kentucky. In 1980, took Colorado CB Mark Haynes in the first round. In ’81, Young had North Carolina defensive terror Lawrence Taylor fall into his lap after New Orleans chose RB George Rogers first overall instead of Taylor.
But before all of that, expectations were at an all-time low. 1978 was the first year of the 16-game schedule era and the Giants, who had been doormats for better part of the past fifteen seasons, were 5-3 after eight games. The fans, who had little to root for, were brimming with optimism. The defense had always been solid, but they needed an offense to match. If they could figure that out, they just might be contenders.
In the first half of 1978, it appeared that offense had finally arrived. With Joe Pisarcik at the helm at QB, the Giants’ offense had the leader they had lacked since they foolishly traded Fran Tarkenton back to Minnesota earlier in the decade.
Pisarcik’s numbers were nothing to brag about, but the offense scored when they needed to. They were winning games that in years past, they would have lost. As we would find out later on, Pisarcik was going rogue on his head coach John McVay and his OC Bob Gibson by frequently changing the plays that were being sent in. As the season went on, McVay threatened to bench Pisarcik if he continued this practice.
Ironically, he did not change the play vs the Eagles in which he famously fumbled, in fear of losing his job. That, of course was inevitable but one Sunday near midseason, Pisarcik would have his day.
October 22nd, 1978: Jersey Joe’s Day in the Sun
The Giants were 4-3 coming into their Week 8 matchup with the 6-1 Washington Redskins at the Meadowlands. Their four wins had come over the have-nots of the league: Kansas City, San Francisco and Tampa Bay twice. Their losses were to the good teams. They dropped a tough one in Atlanta and were schooled by Dallas (as usual) in both meetings. If they could knock off the Redskins they would not only have a victory over a winning club, they’d be 5-3 at the turn and in position for the wildcard.
The Giants appeared to be turning things around behind Pisarcik, a CFL refugee out of New Mexico State by way of a town called Kingston, Pennsylvania. He had guts and guile and won the fans over to point where he earned the moniker “Jersey Joe”.
I recall the day was a bright, sunny one and we were late as usual for the 1:00pm game because of mass – and because I drove and always got lost. My father and I were in a group that shared a block of three tickets in the lower tier on the 10-yard-line behind the visitor’s bench. We were with perhaps the greatest of Giant fans in my dad’s friend Ben. Ben was season ticket holder from the Polo Grounds days and was always preceded by the waft of his Churchill cigar.
Dad and Ben were as critical and as loyal as Giant fans come. They lived and died with the team every Sunday. They were the last of a generation that referred to Giants in one syllable: Jints (pronounced with a long I – homonym: pints).
There was a lot excitement in the air when we got to the seats. The Giants’ defense was putting up its usual effort. They would eventually force Redskins’ QB Joe Theismann into three INTs and kept Washington out of the end zone the entire afternoon.
The Giants jumped out to a 10-0 first quarter lead. Pisarcik hit little Jimmy Robinson for 43-yard TD to light up the crowd. The Skins could only manage two Mark Moseley FGs.
The biggest play of the game was in the second quarter when Pisarcik scored on a naked bootleg from the three-yard line to widen the lead to 17-6. He ran untouched into the corner of the end zone with the ball held high in his right hand as the place erupted.
Pisarcik was the hero of the day and made all the back pages of the local newspapers the next morning, even though he completed only three passes on the day.
Neither team would score in the second half. The Giants were 5-3 for the first time since 1972 and had a shot at the playoffs if they stayed the course. We all know that was not meant to be. The Jints lost seven of their last eight, including the “fumble” game, costing everyone in the organization their jobs.
That aside, we Giant fans also had our day in the sun thanks to Pisarcik and his maverick ways. It felt good. The long ride home wasn’t as painful that day.
Unfortunately, that was the highlight of the season. 1978 took a nasty turn after that sunny Sunday. Pisarcik would split time with backup Randy Dean the rest of the season. The next year, with a new front office and Ray Perkins as head coach, Pisarcik was unseated by Simms. By 1980, Jersey Joe was sent south to Philadelphia, where he served as Ron Jaworski’s backup until 1984.