If you go back to the Giants championship core team from 1988 - 1990, that group had put up an impressive regular season record (35-13). However, there were two teams which gave Parcells’ teams fits. One was the John Robinson/Jim Everett Rams, who had blown out the Giants in 1988 (45-31 @ Giants Stadium) and in 1989 (31-10 @ LA) and had knocked the Giants out of the playoffs on Flipper’s OT touchdown catch. The other was the Buddy Ryan/Randall Cunningham Philly Eagles.
What made it worse was that the Giants would find new and mindnumbing ways to lose to the Eagles during this time. In 1988, the Giants infamously missed the playoffs when they blew a late lead to the Jets in the final game, when Al Toon caught a TD over Tom Flynn, and the Niners “laid down like dogs” on Sunday Night vs. the Rams. So how did a 10 win team miss the playoffs? Because the 1988 Eagles swept the Giants. The first game in Philly was a Monday Night win by the Eagles, highlighted by Randall Cunningham, getting hit around his legs by Carl Banks, but somehow keeping his balance by holding himself up using the football, and just avoided Harry Carson before hitting Jimmie Giles for a TD. When the Giants closed the score to 17-13 in the 4th Quarter, Randall hit Cris Carter for an 80 yard TD to put that game away. In the second game, in the cold and rain of Giants Stadium, the Giants blew a 4th quarter lead, with Carter recovering a fumble in the end zone to tie the game at 17-17 late. In in OT, LT blocked a Luis Zendejas FG, however it bounced right to Clyde Simmons who ran it in for a 15 yard TD return and a 23-17 Eagles win. I happened to be at that game that day and the crowd was completely stunned, I can’t recall that ever happening before, or since, blocking a FG and seeing the kicking team pick it up and run it in to win a game.
In 1989, the Giants were ready for the Eagles. The first game in Philly, the Giants went to their bag of tricks, with a Jeff Hostetler to Carl Banks pass for a TD on a fake FG to make it a 10-0 lead early which the Giants increased to a 16-7 4th quarter advantage. However, a Randall TD run and then a late drive resulting in an Anthony Toney 2 yard TD had the Eagles snatch a heartbreaking 21-19 win when the Giants were in control most of the day. The second game at Giants Stadium was played in a typical cold and windy day (25+ mph winds). The Giants were getting an emotional boost from LT playing on a broken ankle, which he broke on the Monday Night previous at San Francisco. But the Eagles defense, which had given Simms and the Giants fits for years, jumped all over the Giants early. Andre Waters took a fumble near the Giants goal line and ran it in from 3 yards out for a 7-0 lead, and then Clyde Simmons picked off a pass and ran it in for a 60 yard TD to go up 14-0. The crowd was stunned and angry, but the Giants battled back, with Simms hitting Ingram on a 41 yard TD and the defense clamping down on the Eagles. The Giants finally battled back to a 17-17 tie in the 3rd quarter. The Giants defense had pinned the Eagles back near their own goal line and forced a punt, and then came the turning point of that game. Instead of sending out Max Runager to punt with the wind at his back, the Eagles kept Randall in to punt. Randall launched a rocket of a punt, which was misplayed by Dave Meggett and resulted in a 91 yard yard punt and changed the field position and complexion of the game. Ultimately, 5 Eagles sacks and 5 Giants turnovers were too much as the Eagles got a TD from Byars and won the game 24-17 to sweep the series again. Fortunately for the Giants, they righted themselves and won their last 3 games, and the Eagles lost a Monday Night game to the Saints, which gave the Giants the NFC East title.
So this was the backdrop for the 1990 opener. The Giants had gone out and brought in more veterans to the defense in former Pro Bowlers Everson Walls from the Cowboys and Dave Duerson from the Bears. They drafted Rodney Hampton to get some more youth at RB and a much needed offensive weapon. The Giants and their fans had enough of the Eagles and had them in Giants Stadium to start the season with revenge on the Giants minds and a need to get the 1990 campaign off on the right foot.
The Game Highlights
The Giants and Eagles opened the season with a Sunday Night game in Giants Stadium. A typical warm night with early September, with a little rain shower mixed in. The Eagles won the toss and Fred Barnett returned a Raul Allegre kick off to the 13. On the first play of the season, Randall got tripped up but got a throw off to Toney for a 3 yard gain. Toney was stuffed on a run up the middle on the next play, which set up a 3rd and 5. The Giants, who were concerned with Randalls’ ability to scramble and hurt them on 3rd downs, decided to rush with just 1 DL (Erik Howard) and Pepper and LT as stand up DEs. Dave Duerson was used as a spy just shadowing Randall. And the defensive alignment paid off early
Randall was flushed out of the pocket, and with Duerson closing on him, floated a pass to former Jet Mickey Shuler which was picked off by Everson Walls. A few things about this play. Shuler was in at TE because the Eagles regular TE was Pro Bowler Keith Jackson was holding out in a contract dispute. So Randall really didn’t have the familiarity with him as of yet, and in the meantime Everson Walls, who was brought in as a veteran corner and first thought to be a nickel back, but he outplayed Perry Williams in camp and claimed the starting job, made the play. Walls was a great compliment at one corner compared with Mark Collins on the other side. Collins was a physical corner, who could get up on run support and would lock down on receivers, however he wasn’t very good at picking the ball off. Conversely, Walls was not a physical corner, but rather played with veteran saavy and was a ball hawk.
Walls INT set the Giants up at the Eagles 33. Simms started with a dump off pass to Lewis Tillman for 1 yard. The next play, Tillman took a sweep and ran around by Jumbo Elliott’s side to the 25. With 3rd and inches, Parcells brought out the 3 TEs and OJ at running back, however he was stuffed by the Eagles. Parcells decided to challenge his team and went for it on 4th down, passing on a medium range FG, and OJ got 2 yards and a first. However, the momentum would not last, 2 Simms incompletions in the end zone to Odessa Turner and Simms missed a wide open Hampton in the flat. Raul came on and calmly hit a 38 yard FG to make the score 3-0, so the Giants at the very least came away with points on the turnover.
Barnett would return the kickoff to the 27 and the Eagles would start out with a 3 yard run by Toney. A holding penalty on Philly erased a near first down reception by Mike Quick, which was compounded by Toney getting stuffed on a draw by Erik Howard. On 3rd and 16, Randall was under pressure by Pepper and dumped a pass off to Keith Byars, short of a first. On came a young punter named Jeff Feagles, who’s kick was returned by Meggett to the 28.
The Giants started with a pitch to Tillman for 3 yards and then a pass to Howard Cross over the middle for 17 more. Simms, known as a prototypical pocket passer, showed off his wheels (and strength) as he scrambled for 20 yards, and actually stiff armed Eagles first round pick, rookie corner Ben Smith to the ground. With the ball at the Eagles 35, a dump off pass to Carthon gained 5 yards, but the drive would again stall as Tillman was stuffed for no gain and Simms again missed an open Hampton on 3rd down. Allegre came on and drilled a 46 yard FG right down the middle to help the Giants build their lead to 6-0.
Barnett got the kickoff out to the 21, where he was hammered down by Tillman and Thompson. And then the Giants and Eagles started playing turnover tag
Randall’s first pass was an ill fated throw to Quick, who was blanketed by Collins and the underthrown ball was picked off by the Giants’ CB. However, the Giants good fortune wouldn’t last long. The Eagles, as was their way, had owned the Giants in recent years thanks to their defense making big plays and getting turnovers. Simms’ pass up the seam to Cross was overthrown and intercepted by Wes Hopkins who ran the ball back to the 43. The Eagles had dodged a bullet.
On first down, Toney burst up the middle to near mid field. Randall then hit Byars in the flat out to the 37 and a first down, and followed that up with a scramble of his own, as he broke containment and got it down to the 21. LT stopped Toney for a short loss on first down, and after an incompletion and a penalty, the Eagles were forced to try for a field goal, which Roger Ruzek converted to cut the lead to 6-3.
Meggett returned the ball to the 23, and Rodney Hampton got his first NFL carry, which went for 3 yards and Hampton then caught a pass out to near the 30 yard line to end the First Quarter. On 3rd and 3, Meggett was drilled by William Frizzell on a dump off pass, and that brought on Sean Landeta to kick it away to Sean Bellamy, who had a nice 21 yard return, getting the ball out to the Eagles 40.
On first down, Randall saw Myron Guyton coming over into the passing lane, so he held up on the pass and it slipped out of his hands for an incompletion. After that, LT got involved
LT, who held out in training camp in what was a contract dispute, and also likely involved the tactic that he’d rather just skip two-a-days in Madison, NJ, swooped in on Randall as the coverage held up. It was 3rd and 22, but an encroachment on Howard gave the Eagles 5 more yards, and Randall drilled a pass into Shuler for 24 yards and a first down. Randall again showed his elusiveness, avoiding a free rush by Banks, and connecting with Quick to the 34, and Toney would convert the first down on the next play. On first down, LT would again make a play, with an assist by the refs
It’s not just today that the NFL has tried to protect the QB. Back in the 1980s, in order to keep QBs from taking unnecessary hits, they instituted the “in the grasp” sack. Essentially, the rule was that a defensive player had to have grasp and control of a QB. Sounds straight forward enough, and while the rule would help a non-mobile QB like Simms or Marino, it would hurt the playmaking abilities of a more mobile QB like Randall, John Elway, or Steve Young. And the implementation of it was subjective as well. It was reasons such as this “sack” of Randall by LT, that the NFL ditched the in the grasp sack rule. Which is was a good thing for the Giants in 2007. If there was in the grasp back then, there would be no Eli ripping away from the Patriots, no helmet catch by Tyree, and probably no Super Bowl title for the Giants.
On 2nd and 15, Randall hit Byars to the 26 to make it 3rd and 6, and that combo hooked up again, for another first down, this time down to the 18.
It was then that new offensive coordinator Rich Kotite went to his bag of tricks
Keith Byars took the handoff and rolled to his right, which brought up Myron Guyton and allowed Anthony Toney to get behind the defense for an easy 18 yard TD. The Eagles had stunned the crowd and grabbed a 10-6 lead.
The Giants tried to respond, Meggett returned the ball to the 24 yard line and Hampton would only get a 1 yard gain on first down. Simms hit Carthon out of the backfield for a first down to the 43. A short Hampton run and an incompletion to Cross set up a 3rd and long. Simms actually had Meggett open and behind the defense, but the ball just went through Meggett’s hands, and prevented a 50+ yard TD strike. Landeta’s punt was downed at the 23 yard line as the Eagles offense came back out.
This time, the Giants defense stiffened, and the Eagles running game was bottled up, resulting n a 3 and out and a Feagles punt to the 30. The Giants offense though, thanks to a holding penalty on Jumbo, sputtered as well and they too went 3 and out and punted it back to Philly and the ball was muffed by Calvin Williams. The ball actually bounced into the hands of Reyna Thompson, but he couldn’t control it and the ball went out of bounds, allowing the Eagles to retain possession at the 44.
The Eagles offense continued to struggle, as Randall missed a wide open Quick and Byars dropped a first down, and had to punt back to the Giants, who got the ball at the 12 with 1:55 to go in the half.
The Giants got lucky on first down. Simms hit Tillman on a screen and a yard loss, but Tillman was hit by Byron Evans and actually fumbled the ball, which was recovered by Seth Joyner and run in for a TD. The refs ruled, incorrectly, that Tillman was down by contact and the whistle had blown. The Eagles should have been up 17-6, but the Giants kept the ball. Tillman ran to the 18 on the next play and from there Simms was under pressure and missed Bavaro on a dump off. Landeta punted the ball away to the 40 and the half was over, with the Eagles in the lead, 10-6.
The Giants would get the ball to start the 2nd half. Meggett powered the ball out to the 30 and on first down Simms would be sacked by Eagles DT Mike Pitts for a short loss. A Hampton draw play went for 5 yards and set up a 3rd down. Simms would finally have time and was able to hit Turner for 18 yards out to the 47. It was the Giants first reception by a WR and their first 3rd down conversion in the game. Hampton would make a nice catch and a good move to juke away from an Eagle defender to get to the 35. A Tillman sweep for 3 and an incompletion to Cross set up another 3rd down, though this time Simms drilled it in to Lionel Manuel coming over the middle for 19 yards down to the 12 yard line. Simms first down pass to the end zone was intended for Turner, but was knocked down by Eagles safety Terry Hoage. On second down though, the Giants would go to their rookie
Simms threw a flare out to Hampton, who caught it, and turned up field where he jumped/ran over CB Eric Allen and stretched the ball over the goal line for a TD and the Giants had retaken the lead, 13-10.
The Giants and the crowd were into the game. Former Jet first round pick Roger Vick returned the ball out the 16, where he was dropped by Thompson. Pepper and the rest of the Giants defense swarmed all over Drummond for a 1 yard gain. Randall hit Toney out of the backfield to the 22 to set up a 3rd and 4. Cunningham would again go to Shuler deep down field, but the ball was tipped by Perry Williams, and then batted by Shuler, and nearly picked off by Guyton before falling to the ground. Feagles came on the field and the Giants lead would soon grow larger
Meggett fielded it at the 32, got a huge block by Duerson on former Giants draft pick Sammy Lilly, and with an escort of other blocks, such as the one provided by Walls, allowed Meggett to get to a one on one spot with Feagles. Once Meggett got around him, it was a 68 yard TD and Giants Stadium was up for grabs. 20-10 Giants.
On the subsequent kickoff, Barnett was blasted by rookie LB Bobby Abrams at the 18. Toney was gangtackled by 5 Giants and a 1 yard gain. Randall was then forced to scramble as LT put pressure on him in the pocket and chased him down, forcing a fumble, but it bounced right back to Cunningham. On 3rd and 7, Randall hit Williams for a first down to the 36, and then the Giants defense put the clamps down
Now this was Giants defense. LT registering his 3rd sack of the night, Reyna Thompson flying in for the back-to-back sacks, and then on 3rd down, Guyton (who was a very underrated hitter) drilling Williams and forcing another Eagles punt as the Giants Stadium crowd gave their defense a well deserved Standing O.
Meggett fair caught the ball at the 37, however the Eagles defense also made a stand, forcing a 3 and out and a Giants punt, out to the Eagles 21. Randall started out with a pass to Shuler to the 25. Toney ripped off a nice run for a first down to the 34. The Giants defense then locked down again, Johnie Cooks stuffed Toney for 1 yard, a Randall incompletion and a short gain by Drummond brought Feagles out and punted the ball back to the Giants 26 yard line.
Tillman started off with a 6 yard gain around the corner, and follow that with a burst up the middle to the 35 and a first down to end a very productive 3rd quarter for the Giants. To start the 4th quarter, Tillman was nailed by Simmons for no gain. Simms dumped the ball off to Carthon, who gained 7 yards, but a late hit out of bounds by Ben Smith tacked 15 more yards on and the Giants got it at the Eagles 41. After a run for no gain by Tillman, the Giants decided to go up top
Simms was able to get just enough protection, as Reggie White was in his face when he released the ball, and hit a streaking Ingram for a TD. Dave Meggett was actually running a post pattern of his own and was near the ball too, but he ended up tripping Eric Allen and Ingram went in untouched for a huge 27-10 lead. The Giants fans wanted blood, and they were getting it so far.
Vick returned the kickoff to the 13 yard line and the Eagles needed 3 scores to get back in the game. Randall started out by hitting Drummond to the 20 and Toney followed it up with a run to the 27 and a first down. Cunningham avoided the rush and just got a yard as Pepper was bearing down on him, but passes to Shuler and Toney were good for another first down. A scramble by Randall and another catch by Shuler had the ball on the 47. The Eagles kept moving, thanks to a questionable pass interference on Banks and a Randall scramble out to the 22 yard line, where he actually fumbled from a hit from behind by LT and the ball was recovered by Duerson, however an offsides on Pepper kept the ball with Philly. Another catch by Byers got the ball back to the 21 and 2 plays later a pass to Quick has the ball on the 2 yard line for first and goal. On first down, Randall ran around the end and tried to leap past Pepper Johnson, but Pepper caught him in mid air and spun him around and slammed him to the ground for a great play, but an Eagles hold put them back at the 12. Byars made another catch to the 4 yard line which set up a pass to Quick, who was interfered with by Duerson in the end zone and the ball was placed at the 1 yard line. LT stuffed an sweep to Vick and knocked him out short of the goal line. On 2nd down, the Eagles would finally break through
Randall jumped over/into the pile for a TD, and despite a delayed reaction by the refs and Cunningham coming out of the fracas and spike the ball, the TD was correctly given to the Eagles. 27-17 Giants in the lead.
Unfortunately for the Eagles, the drive took nearly 6 minutes, and they were forced to try an onside, which was recovered by the Giants rookie safety David Whitmore. From this point, Parcells got very conservative. Calling 3 straight short runs by Tillman, and forced the Eagles to use 2 time outs and a Landeta punt was nearly downed at the one by Ingram after Thompson batted it back in play, but it rolled into the end zone for a touchback.
With 4:03 to go, Randall’s pass was incomplete to Byars, as Duerson shadowed him and forced him to throw off balance. Another incompletion set up a big gain to Drummond for a first down near midfield, however an illegal forward lateral to Williams brought the ball back, though they kept the first down. Randall than evaded several sack attempts by LT and Pepper slipped out for a 5 yard run and a draw to Toney got another first down. After a Byars drop, Randall hit Williams and Barnett and got the ball to the 30, with an extra 15 added to the play thanks to a personal foul for a headslap on the Eagles OT by LT. With 2:46 to go, the Eagles had it on the 15 yard line. An incompletion in the end zone to Shuler and then a near interception by Walls by the goal line set up a 3rd down. The pass was completed to Byars, but he was short of the first. With the Eagles needing 2 scores, Buddy Ryan opted for the FG first and Ruzek nailed a 29 yarder to make it 27-20 with 1:56 to go.
The Eagles set up for another onside kick, which was really just a pop up that was caught on a fair catch by Guyton, who was popped by former Giant Rickey Shaw. After a mild fight, the refs sorted it out and called a penalty on Shaw, giving the ball to the Giants on the Eagles 43. Parcells continued to stay conservative, slamming Tillman into the line 3 times and forcing the Eagles to use their final time out. The Giants then took a delay of game and had Landeta on to punt the ball with :13 to go in the game. The Eagles went for an all out block, no return man, and Landeta got it off and kicked it for a touchback. With :04 to go in the game, the Eagles had only one shot at a miracle, but Randall’s Hail Mary was picked off by Greg Jackson and the Giants had gotten a hard fought 27-20 win to start the season off the right way, setting the stage for a season which would end with a championship in Super Bowl XXV.
Interesting Tidbits/ Post Mortem
- Hampton’s TD catch was his first in the NFL. It was one of 2 receiving TDs by Hampton in his rookie season. He caught his second one, a 27 yarder vs. Dallas in Week 4.
- Ingram’s 41 yard TD catch was his longest catch of the 1990 season.
- Despite holding out of camp, LT registered 3 sacks vs. the Eagles. LT hounded the Eagles QBs over his career, registering 25 sacks vs. Philly in his career. The 3 sack game would be the 8th time that he had a multiple sack game against the Eagles. In fact, his career high in sacks in a game (4) was done against Philly in 1986 (and also against Tampa Bay in 1984). Interestingly enough though, this game would be the final game in which LT would register a sack vs. Philly.
- Reyna Thompson, a Pro Bowl selection as a special teamer, registered the first sack of his NFL career in the game. Thompson would only have one more sack in his career, in 1993 as a member of Parcells’ Patriots, when he got a sack in a loss to Seattle.
- Phil Simms’ 20 yard run was his longest of the 1990 season. It would prove to be the longest run that he would have for the remainder of his career. His career long run though: 28 yards in a win vs. Washington in 1985.
- Lewis Tillman was the starter in this game and “led” the Giants with 39 yards on 15 carries vs. a very tough Eagles defense. Hampton was second with 6 carries. Meanwhile OJ Anderson, coming off a 1000 yard season in 1989 was an afterthought, with 2 carries for 3 yards. Hardly a workload for a guy who would go on to win the MVP in Super Bowl XXV a few months later.
- Raul Allegre was the kicker for the Giants in this game. Allegre would be the kicker for the first three games, until an injury forced him out and Matt Bahr, released by the Browns, took over as kicker in Week 4 vs. Dallas. Bahr would keep the job until 1993, when he was let go by Dan Reeves in order to bring in David Treadwell, his former kicker in Denver.
- Despite ending his holdout before the game, Leonard Marshall did not start the game for the Giants. Parcells started John Washington instead, and Marshall played sparingly in some pass rush situations.
- Meggett’s punt return TD was technically his second straight game in which he did so. He returned a punt for a TD in the season finale vs. the Raiders in 1989.
- Byars’ TD pass was the first of 4 he would throw in 1990. In all, Byars threw 6 TD passes on the halfback option (he did also throw 1 INT). It was not his first TD pass though, that had happened in his rookie year of 1986, when he threw a 55 yarder to Mike Quick in a win over the Rams, in what would be Buddy Ryan’s first win as coach of the Eagles.
- This was also Rick Kotite’s first game as offensive coordinator for the Eagles. Kotite would replace Ryan as head coach of the Eagles after the 1990 season, when Ryan had worn out his welcome after a third straight one and done playoff run.
- The game was broadcast on TNT, and it was their first NFL regular season game shown on the network. TNT would share Sunday Night games (and some Thursday Night as well) with ESPN, as TNT would broadcast games the first half of the season, and ESPN would broadcast the second half. TNT would broadcast games up through 1997.
- Lastly, since 1981, the Giants opened at home vs. the Eagles 6 times. They lost to the defending NFC Champion Eagles in 1981, but then went on to win 5 straight vs. the Eagles after that. In 1997, Jim Fassel’s first game as head coach was vs. the Eagles, and the Giants won that game 31-17. The only time since 1981 that the Giants and Eagles opened the season in Philly? 2004, in Tom Coughlin’s first game as head coach of the Giants. The Giants lost that day 31-17.