Did this happen Sunday? Or in 1974?
The Jets were playing the Giants in a rare regular-season NFL clash between New York teams, though the game wasn’t in New York. The Giants led, 20-13, early in the fourth period. The date was Dec. 6, 2015. Also, Nov. 10, 1974.
The Jets, their bacon saved on an implausible keeper by their quarterback, summoned the tying touchdown in the dying moments and sent the game into overtime at 20-20. Whereupon their sudden-death victory was finalized when the Giants’ placekicker missed a field goal. Wide left.
Same plot. Same details. Same ending.
In ’74, 31-year-old Joe Namath, whose multiple knee surgeries rendered him the least likely person in the entire stadium—spectators included—to run with the ball, shocked the outfoxed Giants by literally limping in real-time slow motion on three-yard bootleg for the tying score. (Namath completed the hobble with a lame straight-arm more evocative of a “please don’t hit me now that I’m across the goal-line” appeal.)
In ’15, an even older—but far healthier, at 33—Ryan Fitzpatrick, scrambled 15 yards on a desperation fourth-and-six to keep the Jets moving toward their late equalizer. Echoes that seem to qualify under the definition of déjà vu, the illusion of having previously experienced something actually being encountered for the first time.
There’s more. In ’74, when NFL sudden-death rules were new to the regular season and allowed a team to win on any first-possession score, the Giants needed only seven plays in the extra period to move to the Jets’ 25-yard line. There, on fourth-and-one, they opted for a decisive field goal try, but Pete Gogolak knocked the 42-yard attempt just left of the upright. (And the Jets soon answered with a Namath touchdown pass to Emerson Boozer.)
In ’15, it was Giants’ kicker Josh Brown who missed a 48-yarder that could have kept the overtime going and avoided defeat. He, too, missed to the left. A not-so-instant replay of Giants doom.
New York, New York? By 1974, the Giants had become Big Town ex-pats, leaving Yankee Stadium to play most of the ’73 season and all of ’74 in New Haven, Conn., at the Yale Bowl, their temporary home field while a new Giants Stadium was under construction in the New Jersey Meadowlands. So Connecticut was where they dueled the Jets that November.
In 2015, of course, the teams jousted in their five-year-old shared East Rutherford, N.J., home that replaced Giants Stadium. They’ve all been Jersey boys for a long time.
In ’74, Giants fans questioned why coach Bill Arnsparger hadn’t gone for a first down on that overtime fourth-and-one. In ’15, they are grumbling about coach Tom Coughlin’s choice to try converting a fourth-and-two on the Jets’ four yard-line, instead of taking an apparent clinching field goal when already leading by 10 points.
It could be argued that, 41 years later, there was a new back story to the Jets-Giants meeting, because in ’74, neither team was going anywhere, though the Jets—1-7 entering the Giants game—didn’t lose again in the old 14-game schedule and finished 7-7. The Giants, who had been 2-6, didn’t win again on their way to 2-12. In ’15, at least, both sides entered the local fray with some hope for the post-season, however frayed those hopes. Maybe the Jets can put the modest boost to a 7-5 record to good use. And even the 5-7 Giants, in dire straits, aren’t mathematically eliminated from the post-season.
But there is so much about this that hints at some cosmic burlesque. One beauty of sports is the unscripted drama, the surprise ending. And yet, as the Latin motto goes, nihil sub sole novum. Nothing new under the sun. Everything that is happening now has happened before.
I covered that 1974 game. I could have filled in the blanks.