- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 23, 2008

Some football players are permanently identified with the biggest moments of their careers. John Elway will always be remembered for The Drive and Dwight Clark for The Catch - positive accomplishments that lifted their teams onward and upward.

Then there’s the negative side. Poor Joe Pisarcik’s name is still spoken through clenched teeth by those who were fans of the New York Giants three decades ago. The poor guy remains accursed for something that really wasn’t his fault.

Thirty years ago this month, on Nov. 19, 1978, the Giants were leading the Philadelphia Eagles 17-12 at the Meadowlands with less than 30 seconds left and seemingly in contention for their first playoff berth in 15 long years. All Pisarcik had to do was take a knee on third-and-2 and let the clock run out. But such a move was considered cowardly in some macho circles, so offensive coordinator Bob Gibson called for “pro 65 up,” which dictated a handoff from Pisarcik to fullback Larry Csonka.

When a lineman ran into the huddle with the designated play, his teammates couldn’t believe it. Csonka, one of the toughest men ever to play the game, begged Pisarcik to change the call and threatened not to take the handoff. Said another player: “Screw it! Just kneel down, Joe.”

Pisarcik, a journeyman from New Mexico State in his second NFL season, felt he lacked the stature and resume to overrule Gibson. So he barked out the signals for “pro 65 up” and the Giants went down almost before spectators in a throng of 70,318 realized what had happened.

The Eagles mounted an all-out blitz as Pisarcik handed the ball to Csonka a split second late, and the fullback failed to hold it. Defensive back Herm Edwards scooped up the pigskin on one bounce and rambled 26 yards to the end zone. Final score: Eagles 19, Giants 17, with Philly en route to an NFC wild card berth and the end of an 18-year playoff drought.

Giants fans were shocked and outraged. Many shouted epithets at Gibson and Pisarcik, and the quarterback required an escort to his car by three policemen an hour after the game. We don’t know how fast he drove out of the parking lot, but it didn’t matter. Forever after, his name would be anathema to those who consider the team’s fortunes important - as he learned less than 24 hours later.

The Giants were off for the next two days, and Pisarcik was attempting to relax on a beach near his home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., when a man approached and asked angrily, “Why didn’t you just fall on the ball?”

Probably, Joe just ignored him. In the ensuing decades, long after his career ended in 1984, he mostly refused to discuss the game and the play. Now the anniversary has brought the subject to public attention once more. Yet his pain and anger remain.

“People like to make fun of you,” he told the Associated Press this month. “Bringing you down, it brings them up. … We were basically embarrassed. The play never should have been called.”

Long out of football, Pisarcik works as a stockbroker in New Jersey. Edwards, the man who took dramatic advantage of the fumble, is much more publicly visible as coach of the Kansas City Chiefs. And he pictures his young daughter someday bringing home a boyfriend who inquires, “Say, aren’t the guy who picked up the fumble?”

Edwards smiled as he told the story recently and said, “I’ll tell him, ‘Yes, son, that was me.’”

Of course, none of the old Giants are smiling. Linebacker Harry Carson, who sat in disbelief on the bench for 15 minutes after the game, recalled: “It was devastating. The Giants have been around since 1925, and that probably was the worst play in franchise history.”

However, an upside was on the distant horizon. The Giants fired the hapless Gibson the next day, then canned head coach John McVay and allowed general manager Andy Robustelli to leave after their 6-10 season ended. Phil Simms replaced Pisarcik as starting quarterback in 1979, beginning a stellar career that someday might land him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

By the late 1980s, the proud Giants were winners again with George Young as GM and Bill Parcells as coach. The franchise captured Super Bowls under Parcells after the 1986 and 1990 seasons and Tom Coughlin in February. But the misfortunes and frustrations of the 1970s still sting for fans from that era.

And nowadays, quarterbacks at all levels take a knee when victory is assured and the clock is ticking toward zero.

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