The Fumble It was one of the great blunders in NFL history. All the Giants had to do was run out the clock. Instead they unleashed a disaster that altered the course of several careers

July 01, 2001

"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."

--Albert Chen

B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY G. PAUL BURNETT/AP UNFORGETTABLE "The first time I meet people, especially in New York, it's very funny," says Edwards (46, outreaching Pisarcik). "They say, 'You're the guy!'" COLOR PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: COURTESY OF JOSEPH A. PISARCIK COLOR PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: AP COLOR PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: CSONKA PROMOTIONS COLOR PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

TWENTY-THREE YEARS LATER...

Joe Pisarcik, 58
Financial adviser for Legg Mason in Moorestown, N.J.; divorced
with five children.

"Something to be learned from this play is that what seems to be
important in life is not what happened but how you react to what
happened. Do you go home and forget about it? Does it make you
stronger? It made me stronger."

Herman Edwards, 47
New York Jets coach; lives on Long Island, N.Y., with wife Lia
and son Marcus, 19.

"I made a charge around [running back] Doug [Kotar, who died of
brain cancer in 1983], saw the ball on the ground and picked it
up. The next thing I know I'm in the end zone, and I'm thinking,
This didn't really happen. It was like I was hallucinating."

Larry Csonka, 54
Hosts two fishing-and-hunting shows on TNN; lives in Oak Hill,
Fla.; divorced with three children.

"I don't like talking about the play. I will say this: For every
high point, there must be a low point. To appreciate the best,
you have to experience the worst. The one thing I find
irritating about the play is people say that I fumbled it. I
didn't fumble it."

Dick Vermeil, 64
Kansas City Chiefs coach; lives in Kansas City with wife Carol;
three children and 11 grandchildren.

"It was the same day that [Eagles] owner Leonard Tose had his
heart valve repaired by that famous Dr. [Michael] DeBakey, the
heart surgeon. I remember calling him and saying, 'Good thing you
weren't at the game. You would have never made it with your old
valve.'"

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)