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Super Bowl Betting: Steeped in History
A memorable play 30 years ago led to this year’s matchup between the Giants and Patriots
What does Joe Pisarcik have to do with Super Bowl XLII? Nothing and everything.
This Sunday’s matchup between the Giants and Patriots is unique because its point of origin can be traced back 30 years to one of the most infamous plays in NFL history. On Nov. 19, 1978, Pisarcik botched an attempted handoff to running back Larry Csonka with only seconds remaining and the Giants up 17-12. Herm Edwards of the Eagles recovered the fumble and ran the ball back 26 yards for a touchdown, giving Philadelphia an improbable 19-17 victory at Giants Stadium.
It’s the lowest moment in the history of Big Blue. From it came ignominy, humiliation, a playbook-sized lexicon of jokes and change. Fans roasted tickets during tailgating parties, a component of a boycott that left nearly 25,000 seats empty for one of the team’s final home games that season. The Mara clan who owned the team got the message.
They went outside the organization looking for a general manager to rebuild what was one of the most moribund franchises in the NFL. With the help of Pete Rozzelle, the Maras were directed to George Young, who in turn hired coach Ray Perkins, who in turn championed the appointment of a 26-year-old football junkie named Bill Belichick to special teams coach.
Would the Maras have sought or welcomed intervention if it weren’t for Pisarcik’s gaffe? If the state of affairs in the Meadowlands were less dire, would there not have been more opposition to hiring a kid to coach one of the three units? The questions are rhetorical. Had it not been for that sports blooper, history wouldn’t have unfolded as it did, and we wouldn’t be on the verge of a contest with a three-decades-long genesis.
Belichick eventually earned a promotion to defensive coordinator after Bill Parcells was elevated from that role to head coach following the departure of Perkins in 1982. Under Belichick, the Giants’ defense became a juggernaut, reaching its peak in 1986, the team’s first Super Bowl season. Led by Lawrence Taylor, the Giants held opponents to under 10 points five times during the regular season. Then in the NFC playoffs, they beat San Francisco and Washington by a combined score of 66-3. In Super Bowl XXI, New York allowed the Broncos to score 10 points in the first and fourth quarters but nothing in between during a 39-20 victory.
Parcells, Taylor and MVP quarterback Phil Simms got the credit for the win as New York covered the nine-point spread. So muted was Belichick’s role in the team’s success that even some of the Giants didn’t think much of him.
“It took me a while to figure out that Belichick was behind the success of those guys. I figured if you had Lawrence Taylor, what could go wrong?” former Giants tight end Mark Bavaro told the New York Post last week when asked what he thought of the team’s defense in the ’80s. “It took me getting a little older to understand it wasn’t that easy.”
Super Bowl XLII Schedule
New England Patriots vs. New York Giants
Where: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.
When: Sunday, Feb. 3, 6:30 p.m. EST (Fox)
Line: Patriots by 11
Halftime show: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Four years later, Belichick got his deserved accolades when he orchestrated a remarkable defensive scheme against the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXV. The Giants entered as a heavy underdog against the spread but won 20-19 largely because of Belichick’s game plan, a document that is encased in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Parcells retired after the game, citing health problems. The team opted to hire Ray Handley as his replacement, a move that quickly sank the franchise. Most of Parcells’ staff, including Belichick and receivers coach Tom Coughlin, left New York. Following an unsuccessful stint as Cleveland’s head coach, Belichick rejoined Parcells in New England for an AFC Championship run, and then the duo jumped to the Jets. Their relationship ended awkwardly with Belichick’s decision to go back to New England rather than succeed Parcells as head coach of Gang Green.
Without Parcells or Belichick, the Giants have mostly struggled. In the 17 years since their last Super Bowl win, the G-men have totaled seven winning seasons and advanced beyond the wild-card round of the playoffs three times. On two of those occasions, they reached the Super Bowl. The first came under Jim Fassel in 2000-01, when the Baltimore Ravens crushed them 34-7. The second time occurs this weekend in Glendale, Ariz., when Coughlin will meet his former New York coaching cohort.
“Tom and I have a good relationship,” Belichick told the media last week. “We go way back to the ’80s there at the Giants. We worked together closely, as a secondary coach and a receiver coach would. He’s a good personal friend.”
Both Coughlin and Belichick admit to being competitive with each other back then and today. But the truth is that their matchup is one-sided and so is the focus of the spotlight heading into this game. Super Bowl XLII is about Belichick. His past is on display, as well as his future. A win and he’ll outdo every other coach in the history of the game, sealing his legacy.
That twist may be the finest irony of this whole scenario. If things unfold the way the oddsmakers predict, the Patriots will win with relative ease, capping the first 19-0 season in league history. And Giants fans will watch the celebration on the opposing sideline, and some will feel the way they did after Pisarcik’s miscue. At least they should feel ill. Like the ball on that day, Belichick got away too. And these days, New Yorkers must wonder why.
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Random Thoughts on the Super Bowl
# Corey Webster will get the chance to play one-on-one with Randy Moss for at least a couple of plays. The Giants’ DB has earned that respect from his coaches. He’s effectively shut down Joey Galloway and Terrell Owens in man coverage during the playoffs. Although Donald Driver burned him in the NFC Championship Game, he made two big interceptions during the win over Green Bay. He’ll bump Moss at the line, which could force Tom Brady to look in other directions. If Webster does a good enough job early without the help of a double team, the Giants can spread their coverage out to limit the effectiveness of Wes Welker and Ben Watson underneath.
# The Giants have had a bizarre season, and no player has gone from low to high like kick returner Domenik Hixon. He was the player who was tackled by the Bills’ Kevin Everett in September, leading to Everett’s spinal cord injury. Hixon was with the Broncos then and was cut shortly afterward. Rescued by the Giants, he’s turned into a dependable weapon. If he busts one the way Devin Hester did in last year’s Super Bowl, the Giants could win the crucial special teams battle.
# One good news for Giants bettors: They are stronger against the spread in the playoffs than the Patriots. New York is 4-0 ATS in their last four postseason appearances and 2-1 in Super Bowls. The Patriots are 1-4 ATS in Super Bowls.
That’s upsetting: Did someone in Atlanta make a booking error? Who the heck thought Ne-Yo and his marching-band getup would be the perfect intermission performance for the NHL All-Star Game?
Proof of disorder in the universe: Peyton Manning is playing scalper. He says that he’s called up his Colts teammates to ask if they’ve got a pair. Every NFL player is allotted two Super Bowl tickets, and Manning is trying to secure as many ducets as he can for his brother Eli to distribute to friends. Maybe it hasn’t dawned on Peyton that he makes $11 million and can afford to buy out every seat and luxury box at the University of Phoenix Stadium a few times over.
Coolest song of the week: Superconnected by Broken Social Scene (last week: Perfect by Smashing Pumpkins).
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