Know thy enemy…
NFL History – the New York Giants
The Giants were founded in 1925 by Tim Mara, when the NFL was only 5 years old. The initial cost of the franchise was a whopping $500. Mara was a bookie at the time. Their first game was played on October 5, 1925, in New Britain, Connecticut. So, while they were called the New York Giants, they played in another state. Confusing? Get used to it! (Of course, if I was in New York I’d want to be in another state too.) The initial attendance wasn’t that great because professional football wasn’t very popular in the day, even though the Giants were a solid team. They even brought Jim Thorpe in to play several half games to try and draw more fans. Their eleventh game of the season found Red Grange and the Chicago Bears coming to town. This game drew over 73,000 fans. The revenue from this game is what allowed the franchise to survive. In their first year they had a record of 8-4 and by 1927 they finished 11-1-1. After a disappointing 4-7-2 season in 1928, owner Tim Mara was looking for a player with a fan draw that would rival Red Grange. He decided Benny Friedman of the Detroit Wolverines was that player. He was unable to get a deal made to get Friedman, so he just bought the entire Detroit Wolverine team. I guess he wasn’t going to take no for an answer.
At the end of the 1929 season Mara transferred the team’s ownership to his sons, Jack and Wellington, who were only 22 and 14 at the time, mainly to protect it from creditors. During the Great Depression In 1930, college football was much more popular than professional, and fans were making claims that a good college team could beat a pro team (sound familiar?). New York Mayor Jimmy Walker approached Mara about having an exhibition game to raise money for charity. A game was organized pitting the Giants against a team of Notre Dame All-stars, led by Knute Rockne and his Four Horseman. The Giants shut them out and easily won 21-0. This game raised over $115,000 for the unemployment fund and went a long way toward establishing the legitimacy of the NFL game.
From 1931 to 1953 Steve Owen was the Giants coach. In the 23 years he coached he never had a contract – the deal was sealed on a handshake and that was good enough. (This was definitely pre-COVID).
The 1934 NFL Championship game found the Giants playing the Bears on a slippery, icy field with a high temperature of 25 degrees. Team captain Ray Flaherty suggested wearing sneakers on the frozen field based on previous experience at Gonzaga… So the Giants sent their equipment manager out to get as many sneakers as he could. He was unable to find any open stores, and finally ended up at Manhattan College (where he had a key to the equipment room) and was able to pilfer nine pairs of basketball sneakers. By the time he returned to the stadium the game was into the 3rd quarter, with the Giants trailing 10-3. They ran off 27 straight points in the 4th quarter in what became known as “the Sneaker Game”.
The Giants would continue to be relatively successful for many years. Worth noting is that their 1956 team had Tom Landry as the defensive coordinator and Vince Lombardi as the offensive coordinator. Because of their run of championship appearances and large market location they were receiving $175,000 a game per the TV contract with CBS, whereas Green Bay, also one of the most successful teams of the time, was receiving less than $44,000. In 1961 the NFL consolidated the TV rights and the TV revenue was then shared equally with each team, which made survival of the smaller market teams more achievable.
The period from 1964-1980 is what is called their “Wilderness years”. The Giants only managed two winning seasons during this 17-year span. They tried several things to try to turn things around, including trading for Fran Tarkenton from the Vikings. They kept him for 5 years, then traded him back to the Vikings where he started going to Super Bowls and other neat things. They should have just bought the Vikings team. In 1973, they decided to move their home games to New Jersey. The problem was the stadium wasn’t built yet, and their current home at Yankee Stadium was undergoing renovation. They ended up playing a couple of years at Yale stadium, which didn’t even have a locker room, going 1-11 at home and then playing the next year at Shea Stadium, sharing it with the Jets.
Their success, or lack thereof, was epitomized by their 1978 game with the Eagles, when the Giants held a 17-12 lead with 30 seconds left. They were on their own 29-yard line, and the Eagles were out of time-outs. Instead of just taking a knee and calling it a game, offensive coordinator Bob Gibson told the quarterback to hand off to fullback Larry Csonka. Unfortunately, no one told Csonka, so the hand-off became a fumble, recovered by the Eagle’s Herm Edwards who took it in for a touchdown. This became known as “The Miracle at the Meadowlands”.
After this season, the Giants hired their first GM, George Young and Ray Perkins as head coach. They drafted relatively unknown quarterback Phil Simms. With the 2nd overall pick in the 1981 draft they chose Lawrence Taylor. That year, Taylor won both NFL defensive rookie of the year and NFL defensive player of the year. He’s the only rookie to have ever won that award. The Giants were starting to get better. Bill Parcells was named Head Coach in 1983 and the next year they made the playoffs. They won the Super Bowl in 1986, primarily due to an exceptional defense.
After a few more boring winning seasons, we come to 1990. Giants Defensive Coordinator Bill Belichick left to coach the Browns, and Parcells left to take up broadcasting. Ray Handley would coach the next couple of years, never getting over the .500 mark. Dan Reeves took over coaching in 1993 and the Giants would start a cycle where they’d make the playoffs one year, then hang around in the division basement for two to three years, then be in the playoffs again. This would go on until 2005, when they actually made the playoffs for a few years in a row under Coach Tom Coughlin.
In 2007, they ended the season with a 10-6 record, qualifying them as a wildcard team. However, they went on a run and eventually beat the previously undefeated Evil Empire 17-14 to win the Super Bowl. This was the game that featured David Tyree making the helmet catch. One interesting side story of this Super Bowl was that a Patriots fan managed to steal a bunch of the Giants Super Bowl rings. He planned for weeks to break in to the facility that was making the Giant’s rings and steal them, only to find out the rings had been already been presented to the players a week before. He decided to go ahead with his plan to steal the other gold and jewelry that was at the facility, and found out the rings made for the rest of the organization were still there. This is typical of how the Patriots usually got their Super Bowl rings – illegally.
The next year they would win the division with a 12-4 record, but lose their first game of the playoffs. Since 2000, the only time the Giants would win a playoff game was when they went on to the win the Super Bowl. Other than that, they were a .500 team until 2014 when they got worse. The only saving grace for them is that they play in a terrible division – in 2018 they were 5-11 and placed 4th in the division. The next year, they won one game less, at 4-12, and moved UP to 3rd place. Their 6-10 record last year got them to 2nd place. Despite all of this, they still have a 20-year waiting list for season tickets.
To sum the Giants up, while they have a long and successful history, it’s a relatively bland one. Their history doesn’t have near the colorful characters and history of many other teams. Even the quarterback that led them to their last couple championships, Eli Manning, is blah. He has two Super Bowl rings and yet a .500 career record of 117-117.