Wednesday, June 25, 2014

1996 Giants vs Cowboys

Week 13

The Setup
When you get what you want in your search for self, and the world makes you King for a day.
Go to the mirror and look at yourself, and see what that guy has to say.
It isn't your father, mother, or wife upon whose judgement you must pass.
Because the fellow whose verdict counts most in your life is the fellow staring back in the glass
-- The Man In the Mirror this a Giants blog or a beatnik poetry reading?  Well, football has many methods of motivation.  Some coaches give firey speeches.  Some coaches give a quiet, but thoughtful and stern speech.  Some go bananas and throw things off walls.  Some say nothing at all and let the players and team leaders handle it.  In this case, it was Dan Reeves playing the role of Poet Laureate.  And it was this peom that Reeves left on the chairs of every player in the lockeroom leading up their home game against the defending World Champion Dallas Cowboys, who were still in their dynasty mode led by Hall of Famers Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin.

Why is Dan Reeves turning to deep introspective literature before a big rivalry matchup?  Well, go back to 1996, and nothing else really worked up until that point.  The 1996 Giants team looked rudderless.  By this time, the bloom was long off the rose for Reeves.  He was in the 4th year of a 5 year contract with the team.  After winning records in 1993 (winning Coach of the Year) and 1994, the Giants crashed and burned in 1995.  In the first game of the season, with a festive crowd on hand for a Monday Night against Dallas, with Phil Simms jersey retirement cerimony at halftime, it was all set up for the Giants to establish themselves as challenge to the Cowboys dominance of the NFC East.  The Giants would give up a 60 yard TD run to Emmitt in the first quarter, be down 21-0 at the half on their way to a 35-0 beat down as Smith ran for 4 TDs on the day.  The Giants never recovered after that, going 5-11 in 1995.  Losing tends to magnify the problems, and the rifts over player control was showing between Reeves and George Young.  Reeves didn't like the style the Giants organization had, which was defned by Young in 1979 when he joined the team.  In the Young structure, it's very simple: Owners own, GMs GM, Coaches coach, Players play.  The GM picks the players and the coach is responsible for coaching them.  Reeves knew this when he took the job in 1993 after the Giants missed out on their first two choices (Coughlin and Wannstedt).  He said he'd be willing to accept that, and perhaps he thought his first 2 seasons would offer him more power, but it never came.

Entering 1996, pretty much everyone knew Reeves would be fired.  The Giants organization was not willing to pay a guy 2 years salary to sit around and do nothing.  So Reeves coached.  And the Giants and their fans were miserable as a result of this lame duck status.  The fans had grown tired of Dave Brown at QB, who after some flashes in 1994, didn't make anyone forget about Phil Simms or Jeff Hostetler.  Going into this game against the Cowboys, the Giants were 4-7, came off a loss at Arizona which put them in last place in the NFC East.  By this time, the fans just wanted the season to be over and clean house.

On the other side of the field however, were the Cowboys, winners of 3 of the last 4 Super Bowls.  What stung most during the Giants decline from power in the 1980s to also-rans in the 1990s was that the Cowboys had turned into a Dynasty.  Dallas owned the NFC East and were the dominant force in the entire NFL.  From 1991- 1995, the Cowboys accomplished the following:

  • 5 straight playoff appearances, including winning 13 games once, 12 games 3 times, and 11 games once (which was good enough for a Wild Card in 1991)
  • 4 straight NFC East Titles
  • 3 Super Bowl championships (and lost an NFC Title Game at San Francisco in 1994)

However, by 1996, though the Cowboys were get again defending champions, some cracks began to finally show in their armor.  To start with, they were led by Barry Switzer, who took over for Jimmy Johnson after an ego clash with Jerry Jones proved too much for them both to handle.  Switzer was a big time college coach (similar to Johnson) and while he did in fact win with Dallas, he really did so with Johnson's team.  Ray Handley coul have coached the early/mid 1990s Cowboys team and won a Super Bowl.  Switzer, on his own, was kind of a clown, and a loud mouth, and out of touch.  In other words, perfect for the Cowboys.

Beyond Switzer's questionable leadership, was the real issue...Dallas was getting old.  Aikman, Irvin and Daryl Johnston all turned 30 years old in 1996.  Emmitt was 27, but the milage was piling up.  Charles Haley was 32.  Deion was 29.  Aikman's security blanket TE Jay Novachek retired before the season.  But the biggest culprit might have been on their massive offensive line, a staple during Dallas' dominant run.  Mark Tuinei was 36.  Nate Newton was 35.  Ray Donaldson was 38.

Despite their age issues and perceived problems, the Cowboys had looked like they finally righted their ship after a very poor start to the season.  They began the year at 1-3.  After a 4 game winning streak had brought them to 5-3, they dropped a home game to the Eagles and looked like a very mediocre 5-4 team.  Shocking when you consider this was a team that would routinely go 12-4.

Following the Eagles loss, the Cowboys started to fall back on their championship pedigree.  They faced their two biggest threats in the NFC in successive weeks.  Dallas would beat the 49ers in an OT game by the score of 20-17, and then take on the young, upstart Brett Favre and the Packers at Texas Stadium on a Monday Night and handled them 21-6.  They were sitting at 7-4 and looked like a team that was ready to kick it into gear.

After facing the last place Giants, the Cowboys were looking at a Thanksgiving game against their hated rival, the Redskins, who were sporting an 8-3 record at the time, so were a real threat to the Cowboys conference crown.

The Cowboys had pasted the Giants in their previous meeting, a Week 2 beat down that was not even as close as the 27-0 score indicated.  The Giants "offense" managed 7 first downs the entire game and 105 yards in total offense. Deion Sanders would score his first TD as an offensive player for the 'Boys and it was 21-0 at halftime.  You get the drift.

So here were the Giants.  With little to play for behind a coach that was on his way out the door, with not much at his disposal to motivate the team beyond poetry.  The Cowboys, facing several playoff teams in a row and then more to come after this game knew what everyone was saying.  This is a trap game.  Don't let down.  Don't come out flat.  The Giants only playing the role of spoiler.  Everyone figured the Cowboys would simply pulverize the Giants and continue their march for another championship with their aging core.  As ESPN's Chris Berman is fond of saying " why they play the game."
The Game Highlights

The game would start with the Cowboys Chris Boniol kicking off, where it was fielded by Conrad Hamilton at the 5 yard line, and was able to get a good return, all the way out to the 32 yard line.  On came Dave Brown, going up against the NFL's #1 ranked defense.  The Giants would begin with a draw to Rodney Hampton, going over left end, and was able to make a nice 7 yard gain, all the way out to the 39 before he was taken down by Chad Hennings and Randall Godfrey.  Hampton would get the ball on the next play, and would shrug off a hit in the backfield by Leon Lett, but was able to push the pocket for 2 yards, setting up a 3rd and 1.  Reeves would decide to stick with the ground game, and a 3rd straight Hampton carry behind Ron Stone would get him to the 42 yard line, and a first down.  With a new set of downs, Brown would play action fake to Charles Way, and with plenty of time to throw, Brown tried to connect with Lawrence Dawsey, and the ball fell incomplete.  However, George Teague, beaten by Dawsey on the play, decided to pull down the former Buccaneer WR and the Giants got 5 yards and a first down on the penalty.  At the 47, Brown took a short drop and tried to connect with Chris Calloway on a deep fade, but with Deion Sanders blanketing him, he wasn't close to open and the ball fell incomplete, as Brown was knocked down behind the play.  On 2nd and 10, a draw to Hampton, again running left, was only able to gain about 3 yards to midfield, stopped by LB Fred Strickland.  On 3rd and 7, Brown was able to draw Jim Schwantz offsides with a hard count, making it a more managable 3rd and 2 at the 45.  Brown had some pressure right up the gut and showed happy feet and hurried the pass, which was tipped and nearly picked off by Strickland, as he tried to sneak a pass in to Howard Cross.  Mike Horan came on to punt to Deion, and got off a spectacular kick, right in front of the goal line, where it bounced up and Hamilton ran over and knocked it back to the 2 yard line where it was downed.

Troy Aikman would lead his team out, in the shadow of his own goal posts.  On first down, Emmitt Smith took a carry and dove into the middle of the line, but was stopped after just 1 yard by Keith Hamilton and Robert Harris.  On 2nd and 9, a playaction fake to Emmitt and a dump off pass to Daryl "Moose" Johnston got the ball out to the 7 yard line, before he as dropped by Corey Widmer.  On 3rd and 5, Aikman would have plenty of time to throw, and hit Kelvin Martin for a 6 yard gain and a first down to the 14 yard line, where Jesse Armstead would take him down.  On first down, Emmitt would find a hole around the right end and burst through for a 5 yard gain, stopped by Armstead and Tito Wooten.  On 2nd and 5, Emmitt would take another draw, find another lane, and take it to the 25 for a first down, where Jason Sehorn made the stop.  Aikman's pass on the next play was an underthrown incompletion to Williams on a comeback route.  Now 2nd and 10, Emmitt would gain 4 yards around left end, beating Marcus Buckley to the corner and get shoved out by Sehorn.  Now with a 3rd and 6 at the 28 yard line, Aikman would find a wide open Kevin Williams over the middle for another first down, where he was dropped by Armstead.  On first down, Emmitt would get drilled by Harris and Chad Bratzke, however, an offsides on Harris would wipe out the nice play, making it 1st and 5 at the 40.

The Cowboys decided to take a deep shot, and this time Aikman was able to rainbow a long pass down the field to Irvin on the right sidelines for a big 38 yard gain, beating Phillippi Sparks on the play and took it out of bounds at the 22 yard line.  Dallas would stay to the air, with Aikman dumping off to Johnston for just 2 yards, before he was drilled by Widmer.  On 2nd and 8, Emmitt took the handoff and was caught for no gain by Armstead and Bratzke.  Now 3rd and 8, Aikman again had time to throw, dumped the ball off to Johnston over the middle and he was able to get 7 yards, but was stopped by Armstead and Wooten just short of the first down.  Boniol who kicked 7 field goals the previous week against the Packers, was able to easily convert the 31 yard kick, his 20th straight field goal, and gave Dallas a 3-0 lead on a long, time consuming drive.

With 4:30 to go in the first quarter, Boniol kicked it off to Hamilton at the 9 yard line and it was returned out to the 29 before he was surrounded and engulfed by the Dallas special teams unit.  The Giants offense would begin with a play action to Hampton and a pass out to an open Cross in the flat, and he took it up the field for an 11 yard gain and a first down before Godfrey shoved him out.  Hampton would pick up 3 yards, getting tripped up by Kevin Smith, who came up from his corner spot in run support.  On 2nd and 7, another play action pass resulted in yet another completion to Cross and the resulting 7 yard gain was good for another first down.  On first down, Hampton would get stopped by Tony Tolbert after a 3 yard gain.  Brown would try to hit Hampton in the flat on 2nd down, however he was drilled in the face on a nasty hit by Kevin Smith (that would have been an easy penalty) and the ball fell incomplete, but a hold on Scott Gragg set the Giants back to a 2nd and 17.

One play after avoiding a penalty that would have resulted in a fine for himself, Smith was able to make an impact.  With time to throw, Brown rifled a pass, I guess in the general direction of Dawsey, but it was overthrown and picked off by Smith at the 28.  His momentum took him up the field, but he changed course and was able to return it down the sidelines and out of bounds near midfield, good for a 17 yard return and stopped the clock with 1:47 to go in the first quarter.

After the turnover, the Cowboys got the ball at the 48 yard line and looked to extend their lead.  Emmitt started off with a carry but was quickly brought down by Armstead and Bratzke.  On 2nd and 9, Aikman would pass over the middle to Irvin for a 10 yard gain and a first down, taken down by Wooten at the 41.  Bringing in Herschel, playing at fullback, the Cowboys seemed confused with the playcall and Aikman called a timeout with :26 to go in the first quarter.  Coming out of the timeout, perhaps Switzer should have come up with a better play.

For the first time in the game, Aikman actually had some pressure on him, this time in the form of Keith Hamilton right in his face, and knocked him down after the throw was away.  Aikman attempted to lob a deep pass down the left sidelines, and again it was a shot towards Irvin.  However, unlike the previous time when he was throwing against Sparks, this time Irvin was matched up with the physically bigger corner in Sehorn.  Sehorn would adjust to the pass and pick it off at the 14 yard line, get up and run it back to the 32 yard line.

The Giants had dodged a bullet and their offense took the field.  This time Tyrone Wheatley was in the game for Hampton, and began with a run up the gut for 5 yards to end the First Quarter.  The Giants would start the 2nd quarter at the 38 yard line, and on a 2nd and 5, Wheatley took the handoff, and again picked his way up the middle before he was tackled by Broderick Thomas.  Reeves kept to the ground, handing off again to Wheatley on 3rd and 1, and he followed a Stone block for a nice burst out to the 50 yard line, before he was tackled by Smith.  Sticking with what worked, a 4th consecutive carry by Wheatley, again behind Stone, gained another 6 yards before Godfrey stopped him down field.  If it worked 4 times, why not 5, so yet another carry by Wheatley on 2nd and 4, went up the middle for a 3 yard gain, stopped by Thomas.  On 3rd and 1, the Giants got a break on a head's up play by their WR

Reeves must have thought Wheatley was Hampton, and gave him the ball a 6th consecutive carry, who took the draw play in the backfield and made a few moves up the field for a first down.  As he was going to the ground, the ball was stripped out by Strickland and it popped loose.  Calloway, near the pile, grabbed the ball and stood there for a second with it.  When he realized there was no whistle, he started to run and gained a few more yards before he was tackled by the Cowboys at the 32 yard line.  If Calloway had actually known right away it was a fumble, he might have been able to get past Woodson and maybe even score.

Regardless, it was a first down, and Reeves decided to actually try something other than a Wheatley run, this time a play action pass.  Brown would have time to throw, and tried to signal to backup TE Brian Saxton to go deep, but Brown would scramble around and try to avoid the Cowboys rush, and as only Dave Brown could do, slipped trying to fling the ball forward and the referee said he was contacted and resulted in a 5 yard sack.  Now 2nd and 15, Brown would drill a pass in to Kevin Alexander at the 28 yard line, setting up a 3rd and 6.  Brown would try to sling a quick slant in to Dawsey, who was actually open, but the ball was thrown a little low, and Dawsey didn't lay out for it, and the ball fell incomplete.  Brad Daluiso would show his experience with the Giants Stadium winds, and hooked a 45 yarder inside the right upright to tie the game at 3-3.

Dalusio came on to kickoff in front of a new reborn Giants crowd that was suddenly in the game.  For the past few years, the Giants would usually be 2 or 3 touchdowns behind at this stage in the game against the Cowboys.  Charlie Williams took the kick at the goal line and got it out to the 21, where he was run out of bounds.  On first down, Emmitt would get drilled on a run blitz by Armstead for no gain, who used his speed to catch the future Hall of Famer and take him down.  On 2nd and 10, it was another running play to Smith, and again Armstead broke through the line to tackle him for no gain.  3rd and 10, Aikman would be forced to dunk the ball off to Moose, and was only able to gain 3 yards before he was taken down by Randolph and the three and out brought on punter James Jett, who booted the ball to Arthur Marshall at the 38 and he picked his way all the way up to the 48 yard line before he was stopped by Johnston.

Reeves started his next drive as he did most of the his previous one, with a handoff to Wheatley, this time running left behind Greg Bishop, and gained 5 yards before Woodson took him down at the 48.  With the Cowboys now forced to respect the Giants run, Brown went back to pass and fired a strike to Calloway who was wide open over the middle.  He got past Strickland before he was slung down and out of bounds by Deion at the 34.  On the play, Calloway would tweak his knee and had to come out, but he was able to get that crucial first down.  The Giants again went to Wheatley, but this time Lett blew the play up in the backfield and Godfrey finished it off for a 1 yard loss.  2nd and 11, Brown went back to throw and connect with Gary Downs out of the backfield for a nice diving catch good for 6 yards.  Now 3rd and a long 5, Brown was back with some time to throw, but he gave up on finding a receiver and put his head down and scrambled...right into Hennings.  He did manage to gain about a yard to the 29 yard line.  On came Dalusio, this time from 46 yards out, and again he would use the wind to draw the ball back inside the right upright and give the Giants a stunning 6-3 lead.

With a concerned looking Switzer on the sidelines, Daluiso kicked off to Herschel, who took the ball at the goal line and was caught from behind by Rodney Young at the 18 yard line.  With the crowd in full throat, Aikman started with an out pass to Irvin, but the ball fell short and was incomplete.  On 2nd and 10, Emmitt tried to pick his way around right end, but the defensive line surrounded him and Campbell came up from his safety spot to tackle him after a 3 yard gain.  Now 3rd and 7, Aikman would hit Williams on a slant at the 29, good for a first down in front of Conrad Hamilton.  With a new set of downs, Aikman had time to throw against the Giants' blitz, which was easily picked up, and hit Irvin for a 16 yard gain, stopped by Strahan who had dropped in zone coverage.  At the 46, Aikman had time to throw and slung an underneath pass to Johnston for a big 24 yard gain, as Moose avoided the attempted tackle by Campbell and was finally dragged down by Buckley and Wooten at the 31.  Dallas would call a time out with 2:31 to go in the half to reset for a play.  Coming off a timeout, Aikman would have time, but only was able to dump the ball off to Emmitt over the middle, who weaved his way for a short 2 yard gain.  However, and illegal use of hands by Erik Williams on Strahan, pushing them out of field goal range (a penalty that Williams must have lead the league in year after year).  With the Cowboys pushed back, the Giants' defense would make a huge play.

Aikman, again with plenty of time to throw, went to Irvin on a crossing pattern.  Just as he was bringing the ball in to his body and took 2 steps, Widmer was able to just knock the ball free.  Wooten would scoop up the ball at the Cowboys 45 yard line and easily out run the pursuing Cowboys offensive lineman, as Dick Stockton gave one his patented lifeless calls on a big play happening in front of him.  Behind the play, Nate Newton was busy fighting with Armstead, but no flags were thrown on the play.  If this play were to happen today, it probably could have gone either way, but might well have been overturned.  You could question if Irvin ever made a "football move" with the ball and they could have called it incomplete.  But with no replay in 1996, the call on the field was the only one that mattered, and Daluiso's extra point gave the Giants a stunning 13-3 lead with the 2 minute warning at 1:53.

with the fans now delierous with a 10 point lead, Daluiso kicked off to Herschel, who fielded it halfway in the end zone and took a knee for a touchback.  Starting at the 20, Aikman began with what looked like a busted screen pass to Emmitt, but the running back was able to juke a few defenders and cut up the field, where he was tackled after a 10 yard gain by Conrad Hamilton, but he did not get out of bounds.  Aikman would throw to an open Kelvin Martin over the middle, but the WR dropped the ball and what would have been an easy first down, but he did stop the clock with 1:25.  On 2nd and 10, Aikman again dumped it off to Emmitt, but he was corralled by Sparks at the 33 yard line and the clock was down under 1 minute.  Facing a 3rd down, Aikman tried another quick pass over the middle and Armstead read the play and ran over to bat it away, and very nearly intercept it for what would have been an easy pick 6.  Jett came back out to punt the ball away.  The ball went to the 20, and despite the fact that there was not a Cowboy within 10 yards of him, Marshall called for a fair catch and the Giants had the ball with :49 to go in the half.

To the surprise of no one who has watched Dan Reeves coach a game without John Elway, he would play it safe.  Calling for two draw plays to Hampton up the gut to run out the clock and send the teams in the lockerroom at halftime with the Giants holding a 13-3 lead.

The Giants would celebrate the 1986 Super Bowl Champions at Halftime, their 10 year anniversary, with LT being featured.  After that, plus a lead going into the third quarter and it was party time in Giants Stadium.  Daluiso would start with a kickoff to Walker, who let the ball bounce away, but it went out of bounds, and the resulting penalty put the ball at the 40 yard line.  Dallas would take the good field position and immediately screw it up.  Aikman went back to pass and was tripped up by Moose who was coming up to help in pass protection, and fell down, where he was covered up by Robert Harris for an 8 yard "sack".  Now 2nd and 18, Aikman again had to dump off a safety pass in the flat to Smith, who would gain just 4 yards before Armstead tracked him down.  3rd and 14, Aikman again had time to throw, but the deep coverage was again solid, so the ball was dumped in the flat to Johnston, who was gang tackled by 5 Giants after just a short gain and Jett had to come back on and punt again.  Jett would get off a high kick that went to the 25, and Marshall would again play it safe and fair catch the ball.

Dave Brown would lead the troops out for their first drive of the second half, and he began with a play action fake to Hampton and hit Calloway on a comeback route for a 9 yard gain to the 35 yard line.  A plunge by Hampton over the middle where he was tackled by Hennings, but got enough to convert the first down.  Reeves would again keep the ball on the ground, a draw to Hampton which was stacked up by the Cowboys, but a hold on Lance Smith sent the Giants back to a 1st and 20.  With such long yardage, the Giants decided to throw, and Brown was under seige by the Cowboys DL, and he scrambled around before Lett took him down after just a 1 yard gain.  2nd and 19, Brown again was back to pass, and again scrambled around and was able to actually hit Calloway for what would have been a first down....but...a hold on Scott "Lurch" Gragg, who essentially tackled Tony Tolbert, brought it back and made the situation 2nd and 29.  Reeves pretty much conceded the possession at this point.  A draw to Hampton for 3 yards and then a dump off to Wheatley (who tipped it in the air and it was nearly picked off) ended that drive, mercifully  for the Giants without a turnover.  Mike Horan would come on and his directional kick was fair caught by Martin at the Cowboys' 34 yard line, and Dallas averted diaster as his own man nearly ran into him and could have caused a fumble.

With 9:13 to go in the 3rd quarter, after the teams exchanged punts, Dallas began with a handoff to Emmitt, who was only able to gain 1 yard, getting stuffed by Armstead and Bratzke.  On 2nd and 9, with Herschel in at WR, Aikman was under pressure from Harris and would roll away from the pass rush and hit Williams for an 8 yard gain, where he stepped out of bounds.  On 3rd and 1, Deion Sanders came out on offense, but Aikman hit Smith on a quick swing pass for a good gain and a first down to the Dallas 49 yard line, pushed out of bounds by Percy Ellsworth.  Deion might well have been a decoy on this play, but he wasn't on the next one

Sanders, counted on as a WR for much of 1996, beat Sparks on a deep post to haul in the pass at the Giants' 20 yard line.  Sparks would come over his back and strip it from behind, where Wooten knocked it forward.  His fellow safety, Jesse Campbell came over late to pick up the fumble at the 4 yard line, where Irvin would finally take him down.  But the end result was the Cowboys 3rd turnover of the day.

The good news, the Giants had the ball.  The bad news, they were deep in their own end to start out on offense.  Hampton would begin with a handoff right up the middle and fell forward for a 3 yard gain out to the 7.  Another draw to Hampton would go for no gain, as he tripped on the feet of Brian Williams.  Facing a 3rd and 7, and with a rush right in his face, Brown with a near submarine type motion, whip the ball to Dawsey for a 10 yard gain and a first down, tackled by Smith at the 17.  Hampton would again pound the ball to the 20, taken down by Strickland.  On 2nd and 7, yet another Hampton run, this time to the left, went for another pair and set the stage for a 3rd and 5 at the 22.  Brown, again showing textbook happy feet in the pocket, took the ball down and spun his way forward for just a 1 yard gain, however, to be fair he had no one open down the field.  Horan would come back and get off a poor effort, a line drive punt taken by Martin at the 38, who evaded Hamilton and accelerated to the Giants 41 yard line before he was taken down by Rodney Young and Sehorn with 3:33 to go in the 3rd quarter.

With good field position to work with again, you started to worry that Dallas would snap out of their funk.  The drive started well, Aikman hit Irvin on a comeback route for a 9 yard gain, tackled by Armstead and Sehorn.  On 2nd and 1, a usual gimme play for Dallas years ago, Emmitt would get strung out by Bratzke ended up dropping him for a 3 yard loss, and in the process ripped his shoe off.  Dallas kept moving backwards, as a false start on TE Derek Ware made it now 3rd and 9.  Showing some frustration, Aikman would try to squeeze a pass in to Kevin Williams, but Randolph's dive knocked the ball away and brought on Jett to punt.  Jett's kick looked like a masterpiece, bouncing at the 2 and high up in the air at the goal line.  Two Cowboys jumped up and knocked it back at the half yard line, where it was covered up by Jim Schwantz.....however, as it had gone for the Cowboys all day, his elbow touched the goal line, thus making it a touchback.

At the 20, Brown began by sending Calloway in motion and a play action fake to Hampton let Cross get open in the flat,and the big TE pushed his way for a 6 yard gain.  A 2nd and 4 sweep to Wheatley was doomed, as the faster Dallas defense easily strung it out and took him down for a 1 yard loss, with Smith leading the way.  On 3rd and 5, Brown was again under heavy pressure, and tried to hit Gary Downs in the flat, but the ball was a worm burner and fell incomplete.  With Horan on to punt, and he'd lose 5 yards thanks a false start on Brian Kozlowski, would get off a short kick and it was fair caught by Martin at the 50 yard line, a sub par 30 yard effort.

As was the theme, the Cowboys were again in great field position, and started with a handoff to Sherman Williams, who burst through a hole cleared by Larry Allen and gained 7 yards, tackled by Wooten and Sehorn to end the 3rd quarter.  Moose began the 4th with a quick hitter carry up the gut to gain the necessary 3 yards and was stopped by Widmer, but not before he got a first down.  Aikman would try a deep pass intended for Irvin, but he was hit by Harris and Hamilton and had the ball float incomplete, though Irvin was well covered by Sehorn anyway.  Aikman would again go for Irvin, and this time complete a comebacker to him, but his momentem took him out of bounds, just short of a first down.  On 3rd and 1, again the ball went to Moose, and again he made good, gaining 2 yards and moved the chains.  On first down, and finally with some momentum, Aikman had time to throw and tried to hit Irvin, who had just broken free on a post pattern, beating Sehorn, but the ball was out of his reach as Campbell got over late.  On 2nd and 10, the Cowboys tried a little trickery, an end around to Deion, who had his angle around the corner blocked off by Bratzke, forcing him up the field and into the waiting Ellsworth for just a 3 yard gain.  3rd and 7 at the 25, Aikman again had plenty of time to throw, but again the Giants took away everything deep, leaving only Sherman Williams underneath, and he was stopped just short of the first by Armstead and Randolph.  Boniol would trot on to convert the 27 yard field goal and cut the lead to 13-6 with 11:43 to play in the game.

Boniol's kickoff was a short one, taken by Wheatley at the 20.  This time it was special teams coach (and Dan Reeves son in law) Joe DeCamillis' turn to go to his bag of tricks.  Wheatley handed off to Conrad Hamilton on an end around for a nice gain out to the 35 yard line before he was forced out of bounds by Roger Harper.  During the change in direction of the end around, Herschel got his hands up on the facemask of a Giants player to tag on 5 more yards, putting the ball at the 40.  The Giants would start out with a nice pass from Brown to Calloway, who beat Deion on a comebacker and the ball was taken all the way out to the Dallas 40 and a first down.  Wheatley would plow his way up the middle, stopped by Hennings after a 3 yard gain to the 37.  On 2nd and 7, after a play action fake bought Brown some extra time, he hit Calloway on a crossing pattern, beating the Cowboys other corner, Kevin Smith, and another first down at the 29.  Wheatley, flashing power he rarely showed with the Giants, would pick a hole in the middle and trucked Myles and Woodson for an 8 yard gain to the 22.  Wheatley kept up the momentum, following a great block by Stone, pushed his way up to the 15 yard line and another first down.  Reeves continued to feed the former Michigan Wolverine, but this time, his run behind left tackle Greg Bishop didn't go as far, as Woodson came up in run support to take him down after a 2 yard gain.  A 4th straight carry by Wheatley, this time behind Lance Smith, went for a good gain out to the 10 yard line.  Smith would give 5 yards back on the next play, a false start pushed the Giants to the 15 yard line, making it 3rd and 9.  This is a play that you would think would go to a shifty WR like a Calloway to find and opening and get you those 9+ yards needed to move the chains.

Nope, how about a swing pass to a 250 pound second year fullback Charles Way.  Way would actually catch the pass at the 16 yard line, well short of the first down.  Way would spin off two would be Dallas tacklers, and then put his head down and power just enough over Harper for the first down, as the crowd roared when the ref noted his forward progress was just enough for a new set of downs.  With the clock now running under 6:30, and a first and goal at the 5, Reeves began with a draw to Wheatley, but Lett made his way into the backfield and broke the play up for no gain.  Switzer would call his first time out with 6:07 to go.  Coming out of the time out, the Giants would hit Dallas with a back breaker

Fans remember fondly Simms to Bavaro.  Perhaps even Eli to Cruz now.  Well, this play gives you Dave Brown to Brian Kozlowski.  A playaction fake to Wheatley would draw in the linebackers, and Kozlowski, the backup TE behind veteran Howard Cross, would sneak his way all alone into the end zone for an easy TD, as Brown celebrated with his teammates on the sidelines.  Replays would show that Kozlowski got open because Woodson would slip trying to change direction and fall down, leaving him essentially uncovered.  Regardless, the extra point made the score a stunning 20-6 with 6:01 to go in the game.

Daluiso's kickoff was a line drive (his days as a booming kickoff man were starting to wane by this time), and was taken by Herschel at the 10 yard line, and brought it back to the 33 where he was met by a hoarde of Giants.  The Cowboys would come out with Emmitt on the bench, and Williams in the backfield.  On their first play, Aikman would dump it off to Williams, avoided DT Coleman Rudolph, who had dropped back into coverage, and chugged forward to the 45 for a first down, where he was finally dropped by Armstead.  Now in a hurry up offense, Aikman hustled the team back up to the line and dropped back to throw, however Harris barged into the backfield and hit Aikman, forcing a bad pass that fell incomplete in the direction of Williams.  On 2nd and 10, Aikman was again hit, this time on a blitz by Armstead, and his deep shot towards Deion was batted away by Randolph.  Now 3rd and 10, it was time for yet another Dallas mistake

In line with how the Giants have been playing defense all day, they took away all of Aikman's deep options and forced him to dump it off to his back.  This time it was to his fullback Johnston, who made the catch at the 48 yard line, well short of the first down, and he had to try to maneuver his way up the field.  Johnston's legs would get cut out by Randolph, and as he went in the air, Sehorn would pop him, forcing the ball loose.  Armstead would frantically scramble over to recover the fumble before it went out of bounds at the Giants' 47 yard line with 5:06 to go in the game.  It was the Cowboys' 4th turnover of the night.

Brown led the Giants' offense back on to the field, and started with a run up the gut by Wheatley for what would have been a 5 yard gain, however a crackback block on Dawsey cost the team 15 yards.  On 1st and 25, Wheatley began with a run around right end, and nearly broke a good gain, but Woodson held on to his ankles and he tackled him after just a 3 yard gain.  Switzer would call his 2nd time out with 4:41 to go.  On 2nd and 22, another run up the middle by Wheatley for just a yard as he was met by Strickland and Hennings and their final time out was called with 4:35 remaining.  Not surprisingly, Reeves kept it conservative on 3rd and very long, a pitch to Wheatley and about a yard gain.  But with Dallas unable to stop the clock, Horan would stand next to the ref, waiting for the play clock to get all the way down to 1 before calling a time out with 3:50 to go.  Horan's punt was a high kick sent to Kelvin Martin at the 22 yard line, and he returned it ot the 26 where he was spilled by Scott Galyon.

Aikman, down 2 TDs, no time outs and 3:38 to go in the game.  The Cowboys would come out with 4 wides and would start with a crossing pass to Kevin Williams, who would get nailed by Armstead and Hamilton at the 30, and the clock kept moving.  Moving quickly, Aikman would connect with Deion for a first down at the 45, stopped by Wooten.  Another quick pass, this time a pitch to Williams in the flat, and he would go out of bounds at the 50 and stop the clock with 2:51 to go.  On 2nd and 4, Aikman would dunk to Sherman Williams, playing against a prevent defense, and he would sprint up to the 40, stopped by Wooten and Armstead, and another first down, however the clock kept moving.  A false start on Dallas would set them back 5 yards with 2:25 remaining.  The Giants would put a bow on the game on the next play

By this stage, Aikman had to take deep chances, even when nothing was really there, maybe hoping for a pass interference or miracle catch.  He got neither, as this pass to Deion in triple coverage was picked off by Percy Ellsworth, who was playing like a centerfielder in baseball.  Ellsworth would snag it at the 7 yard line, break Deion's tackle attempt, and run it out of bounds at the 34 yard line.  The rookie's interception was the Cowboys 5th turnover of the game, and gave the Giants possession with 2:11 to go.

In clear shut down mode, Reeves began with a run to Wheatley for a 2 yard gain that took the Giants to the 2 minute warning.  After the 2 minute time out, 2 more carries by Wheatley would come close to a first down, but fell just short.  However, the damage was done as the clock wound down to :25 to go in the game as Horan called a time out and the cameras caught pictures of stunned Cowboys players on their sidelines, looking on in disbelief at how they could stumble in such a big spot against a team they should have beaten.  Horan would eventually punt the ball away, and it would fall at the 22 yard line with no returner back as Dallas went all out for the block.

With :18 to go in the game, the Cowboys offense came out, but rather than risk a hit on one of their stars, or a 6th turnover, Barry Switzer made one of his smartest coaching decisions, just take a knee and get out of there accepting their whipping, in a stunning and satisfying 20-6 Giants' win in an otherwise lost season.

Post Mortem/ Interesting Tidbits

  • Other than the Dan Reeves poem, one of the items that made this game memorable was a quote from a person who did not play in the game.  In this case it was the owner, Wellington Mara.  Mara, one of the venerable owners in the sport, and a man who never had a controversial thing to say in the media, particularly against a fellow owner, had said this after the game when asked about the Cowboys and their owner Jerry Jones
"It's nice to see arrogance humbled.  I enjoyed it very much." 

  • Wellington's son, and current owner John Mara, is known to be much more outspoken than his dad.  But at the time in 1996, Wellington had just about enough of Jones.  If you are fan of today's  NFL and particularly a fan in Green Bay, Indianapolis, Seattle, Kansas City, etc (ie- smaller markets) and have enjoyed the parity of the NFL that has allowed your teams to be in the Super Bowl hunt, they all owe a debt of gratitude to Mara.  Why?  Because in the NFL's infancy, Mara, with the biggest market at his disposal, decided that it was more important for the expansion of the game to share revenue with the other owners and TV revenue as well, allowing for a better overall product on the field rather than building a powerhouse in New York (think the Yankees in baseball).  He could easily have just kept it for himself and bought all the best players every year, but didn't.  Jones, a beneficiary of this decision, didn't play by the same rules.  He cut his own deals outside the league just for the Cowboys.   Essentially flying in the face of what Mara had stood for, and rubbed it in with his Cowboys' dynasty.  It wasn't hard to see why Mara enjoyed knocking them down a peg.
  • Brian Kozlowski's TD was the first of his NFL career.
  • Tito Wooten's TD was not he first of his career.  That one came in Week 2 in an OT loss in Kansas City.  On that play, the Chiefs QB, Steve Bono, fumbled on a 3rd and goal and the ball popped up in the air where it was grabbed by DT Keith Hamilton.  The Hammer would rumble 87 yards with the ball, and was running out of gas as he headed towards the goal line and was caught at the 1 yard line by TE Keith Cash and fumbled the ball himself.  Wooten, following the journey down the field, was there to fall on the ball for the TD that would tie the game 10-10.
  • Wooten would score one more TD in his career, that would come in 1997, and that would also come against the Cowboys.  In that game, Wooten would pick off a Troy Aikman pass and race it back 61 yards for a TD which would put the Giants up 13-9.  This would end up being a significant game in it's own right.  The Giants would hold on to eventually win 20-17, and Danny Kanell would replace an injured Dave Brown at QB.  Brown would not start another game for the Giants in his career.
  • Percy Ellsworth's INT was his 3rd of the season.  Not bad for a rookie who was actually an undrafted free agent as a safety.  For comparison sake, among the more renown safties on the Giants in the past 30 years, here was their interception output in their rookie seasons
    •  Terry Kinard: 3 INTs
    • Adrian White: 0 INTs
    • Myron Guyton: 2 INTs
    • Greg Jackson: 2 INTs
    • Shaun Williams: 2 INTs
    • Gibril Wilson: 3 INTs
  • Sehorn's INT was the 2nd of his career.  His first game in a Week 2 loss to the Redskins by the score of 31-10.
  • Arthur Marshall returned 1 punt in this game for 10 yards.  It was his first punt return on the season, and unfortunately for him and Giants fans, he is identified with one of the worst personnel decisions in NFL history.  Dan Reeves wanted to replace the production (and similar playing style) of Mark Jackson for the Giants.  Jackson, who played for Reeves in Denver from 1986-1992, and after a decent season in 1993 with the Giants, Jackson was phased out during the 1994 season and was released during the season.  Meanwhile, in the 1994 offseason, Reeves decided to engineer a trade for Marshall, who he coached in Denver in his rookie year of 1992.  Marshall looked like he was a promising WR, a shifty guy with speed, and at age 25 coming off a 28 catch season in 1993, had an ability to return punts.  So Reeves made the call to acquire Marshall and decided to let Ed McCaffrey leave as a free agent, who would go on to sign with the 49ers.  Marshall would play 3 years in NY and catch 33 passes before he retired after the 1996 season.  McCaffrey would go on and after a season in the shadows in 1994 with the Niners (but he got a ring), would play 9 more seasons in Denver, catch 462 passes and 6200 yards and 46 TDs, plus make a Pro Bowl at age 30 and win 2 more championships in 1997 and 1998. 
  • Emmitt Smith was a Giants' killer in his career with the Cowboys.  He would face the Giants 25 times in his Hall of Fame career (going 14-11 against them) and he would average 81.1 yards per game in his career (which, somewhat surprisingly, was his lowest average among the NFC East opponents.  He averaged 101.7 yards a game against Washington).  He scored 21 TDs against the Giants and rushed for over 100 yards in a game 8 times.  In fact, from 1992-1995, Smith rushed for over 100 yards against the Giants in 6 straight games, with his coup de grace coming in Week 16 in the 16-13 OT win by Dallas, rushing for 168 yards and another 61 receiving.  However, in this game, Emmitt would get 11 carries for 18 yards and find himself on the bench late in the game.  It was his 2nd lowest output vs. the Giants in his career, only "surpassed" in 1990, in his first game against the Giants in Week 2, when the Cowboys were outclassed 28-7 at Dallas and he had 6 carries for 11 yards.
  • Somewhat lost or forgotten in a Hall of Fame career, you might not realize that Deion was actually a pretty consistent 2 way player for the Cowboys in 1996.  Many times we've seen a player who is really good on offense or defense go in for a play or two on the other side of the ball.  For instance, Keyshawn Johnson used to come in at safety during Hail Mary attempts to outjump the opposition and help play defense.  Randy Moss and Calvin Johnson have done the same in their careers.  Several times we've seen a defensive lineman come in at a fullback position to help block on the goal line, and sometimes actually get the ball (William "the Refridgerator" Perry the most glaring example with the Bears).  of course, the Belichick Patriots used to always use players on both sides either in specific situations (ie- Mike Vrabel, a linebacker coming in at TE on the goal line, and he had 10 TDs receiving in his career), and he used others to help out due to injury, such as Troy Brown moving from WR over to safety (Brown actually picked off 3 passes for the Pats in 2004, tied for 2nd on the team).  Even the Giants in the mid 1980s would put linebackers or DEs at TE to help out by the goal line when injuries hit (George Martin and Andy Headen as an example).  LT played at TE during a scab game against Buffalo in 1987 as well.  But Deion was someone who spoke up right away that he wanted to play offense as well as defense.  And, keeping in mind, he also played baseball, first for the Yankees and then for the Atlanta Braves (including playing in an NFL game on a Sunday afternoon and then the World Series later that same day).  Deion would play WR, but was mainly just a threat on the outside, add some speed and force the defense to cover him, but wasn't really a factor.  In 1996 however, due to some injuries on the Cowboys WR core, Deion got his shot to play more regularly on offense and he responded with a career high 36 catches for 475 yards and 1 TD.  Of course, in this game, he also had a huge fumble that cost the Cowboys dearly.  Still, to put those numbers in perspective, as a part time WR and full time dominant cornerback, the Giants' leading pass catchers were starting WRs Chris Calloway and Thomas Lewis, both with 53 catches.  The next best, fullback Charles Way with 32 catches.  Deion would have been the #3 guy on the Giants in 1996.
  • The Cowboys 6 points scored would tie a season low for them in 1996, matching their output in the season opening loss at Chicago to the Bears by the score of 22-6 on a Monday Night.
  • That Dallas was held without a TD in the game was a big deal.  If you consider that the Dallas rebirth as a power began with a 7-9 season in 1990 up and through this 1996 season, this was only the 2nd time the Giants had been able to keep them out of the end zone.  The Giants beat the Cowboys 22-9 in 1991 at Giants Stadium.
  • The 6 points that the Cowboys were held to were the fewest in a matchup against the Giants since Week 15 of the 1989 season, when the Giants shut out the Cowboys, 15-0, thanks to a goal line stand in the 4th quarter, which finished with a 4th down stop on a Paul Palmer sweep by Carl Banks.
  • Keeping with the theme, the 6 points is also the fewest points scored by the Cowboys against the Giants since 1996.  Twice they were held to just 7 points
    • 1997: 20-7 @ Dallas
    • 2002- 37-7 @ Giants Stadium
  • The win was just the Giants' 2nd against the Cowboys since they started their championship dynasty in 1992.  In many of those games, the Cowboys outright demolished the Giants
    • 1992 @ Dallas on Thanksgiving Day: 30-3
    • 1993 @ Dallas: 31-9
    • 1994 @ Dallas: 38-10
    • 1995 @ Giants Stadium: 35-0 (season opener which ruined the Simms jersey retirement ceremony and the beat down was so bad, the Giants never recovered and finished with a 5-11 record)
  • Even in their first meeting in 1992, the Cowboys were up 34-0 on the Giants in the 3rd quarter before a furious comeback got the score to 34-28 and it looked like the Giants would end up winning the game.... but it didn't happen
  • The Giants only other win in this span came in the season finale of 1994.  To be fair, Dallas had nothing to gain in this game.  They were 12-3 and locked in as the #2 seed behind the 49ers.  The Giants meanwhile, had a crazy season in 1994.  Started 3-0, lost 7 straight, and then won their next 5 games leading up to this one.  The Giants needed a win to get to 9-7 and a Green Bay loss at Tampa Bay to drop them to 8-8 would give the Giants a Wild Card berth.  Barry Switzer might have been crazy, perhaps borderline insane, but he wasn't stupid.  Playing a fired up Giants team on the road, in a cold and windy Giants Stadium with nothing to play for, Switzer decided to start his stars (Aikman, Irvin, Novachek, etc.)  However, he never dressed Emmitt.  Switzer also pulled his starters after halftime, putting in Rodney Peete at QB, making Blair Thomas the feature back, and playing it safe.  Dallas was actually tied at 10-10 with the Giants until Peete was sacked by Armstead and the ball popped loose and rolled out the back of the end zone for a safety.  The Giants would go on to win 15-10, in a game that Dallas didn't care about.  However, the Bucs could not help the Giants out on this Christmas Eve, and the Packers would claim the last playoff spot.
  • As for this game in 1996, the Giants didn't do much to pick up the emotion and momentum from this win. It put them at 5-7, still on the periphery of a playoff race.  And they went out and put up a stinker in Philly the next week, losing 24-0, getting sacked 5 times and generating 121 yards in total offense and turning the ball over 4 times.  Playing in a driving rain and 50 mph wind gusts, Brown was horrible: 3-11, 31 yards and 2 INTs. He would get benched for Kanell, who didn't do much better, 4-13, 47 yards.  In all, the Giants had a net of 31 yards passing.  It was the 2nd time they were shut out in 1996.