Saturday, January 1, 2011

Taking the bad with the good

  The football season ends this week and it looks like my favorite team, the New York Giants will miss the playoffs for the second year in a row. They had a 3 touchdown lead against the hated Philadelphia Eagles with 7 minutes left and gave up 4 touchdowns to lose the game. With just a few seconds left and the score tied, The Giants punted as the last play of the game before overtime. The punter was instructed to just kick the ball out of bounds, but missed his punt and the Eagles managed to return the kick all the way into the end zone. I don’t think the Giants would have won in overtime, but losing on the last play of the game in such a dramatic way will ensure that I can be reminded of this painful loss whenever a sports show discusses football comebacks.

  My son Matt was especially disgusted by the loss, but I had to tell him that this was only 3rd on my list of hideous Giant losses. In 1978, when the giants were winning only a couple of games a year and the Eagles were a playoff contending team, the Giants had a 5 point lead with 30 seconds left in the game and were ready to pull off a big upset. Instead of kneeling on the ball, the coaches called for a hand off to the reliable Larry Czonka to run out the clock. Quarterback Joe Pisarcik fumbled the snap, the ball bounced into the hands of an Eagles defender, he scored the touchdown and the Giants lost 19-17 in a game that was referred to the ‘Pisarcik Bowl’. It was straight out of a Charlie Brown comic and became a symbol of a generation of Giant ineptitude.

  In 2003, the Giants were leading the San Francisco 49ers 38-14 in the second half of a playoff game when Terrell Owens of the 49ers caught a touchdown pass and did one of his prancing choreographed touchdown dances. This infuriated Giant’s defensive end Mike Strahan, who emphatically pointed to the scoreboard which read 38-20 Giants. This just made Owens prance all the more. The 49ers managed to win the game 39 to 38 and at the end it was Owens pointing to the scoreboard. I thought that collapse was worse than this year’s Eagles debacle since it was a playoff game, not just a game to get into the playoffs.

  While it is easy to just remember these awful Giant losses, I also remember some games that the Giants had no business winning. In 1990, the Giants were playing the 49ers for the right to go to the Super Bowl and were losing 14 to 9 with just a few minutes left. The 49er’s had the ball, but the Giants’ Leonard Marshall caught the great Joe Montana from behind, pancaked him to the ground. Montana not only fumbled the ball, but he broke his hand and was done for the day. The Giants got a field goal, got the ball back, and won the game 15-14 with another field goal as time expired. The very next week in the Super Bowl against the Buffalo Bills, the Giants were clinging to a 20-19 lead, but the Bills were driving down the field at the end of the game. With 9 seconds left, they sent their kicker out to make a 47-yeard field goal to win the Super Bowl, but he missed and the Giants won instead.

  The most recent miracle win was the 2008 Super Bowl, when with a minute left and the Giants losing to the unbeaten Patriots, Eli Manning was flung around like a rag doll by the Patriots defense, but managed to stay on his feet, and fired a long pass that David Tyree caught one-handed by pinning the ball against his helmet while being slammed to the ground. The Giants managed to score the winning touchdown to not only win the Super Bowl, but deny the Patriot's bid to be only the second undefeated team in NFL history.

  I got to thinking about these disasters and triumphs after our weekly chess tournament on Thursday. I was playing my one-time gadfly and now rival Jaleb Jay in the second round. The winner of this game would likely win the tournament. Twice in the first 6 moves I touched a piece I didn’t mean to move, and according to the rules, I had to move the piece I touched. I got this terrible position...
  ...and to boot I only had 1 second left on my clock. There was a 2 second delay before the second ran off, so I wouldn’t run out of time as long as I made every move in 2 seconds or less. Jaleb had 3 minutes left, but tried to rush his moves so I couldn’t think on his time. The computer thinks this position is holdable, but in a game between humans, Black should be able to find a way to get his king into the White position and win the game. I managed to reel off 20 or 30 moves without running out of time, and when Jaleb sacrificed a couple of pawns to break into my position with his king, I managed to sacrifice my knight for the 2 center pawns, got a passed pawn on both sides of the board, and won the game when Jaleb didn’t blockade them in time. This is the second time in a month I rescued a desperate position against Jaleb. I hope I can remember my good fortune the next time I lose or draw a game I should win.