November 23, 2013

1970: Eagles Upset Giants in Monday Night Game

The New York Giants were riding a six-game winning streak as they came to Philadelphia for a Monday night contest on November 23, 1970. Head Coach Alex Webster’s team was 6-3, having lost its first three games before catching fire. While QB Fran Tarkenton remained the key to the offense in his fourth year with the club, the addition of HB Ron Johnson, who played his rookie season with the Browns in ’69, added a versatile ground-gaining element. Veteran WR Clifton McNeil and rookie TE Bob Tucker were good receivers who were also newcomers to the club. While the defense had talent in DE Fred Dryer and FS Carl “Spider” Lockhart, there were concerns about the remainder of the line and linebacking corps. The Giants had not been to the postseason since 1963 and were looking to keep pace in the newly-formed NFC East.

Philadelphia was coached by Jerry Williams for the second year and was already well out of the running at 1-7-1. However, the Eagles were showing signs of life, having upset Miami two weeks earlier and then tying Atlanta. QB Norm Snead (pictured above) had a strong arm but was prone to tossing interceptions. The running game had lost FB Tom Woodeshick to injury, although rookie FB Lee Bouggess was a good receiver out of the backfield and HB Cyril Pinder was picking up yards. The defense had a rising star in Tim Rossovich, a colorful character who had been shifted to middle linebacker from defensive end.

It was a cold night at Franklin Field with 59,117 fans in attendance for Philadelphia’s first-ever Monday Night Football contest. The Eagles moved methodically down the field with the game’s first possession. Cyril Pinder ran for 14 yards on a third-and-six play and Norm Snead converted a third-and-ten situation with a pass to TE Gary Ballman for 19 yards. The drive finally stalled and Philadelphia came up empty when Mark Moseley missed a 39-yard field goal attempt.

The teams traded punts before the Giants put points on the board. The kick by Philadelphia’s Bill Bradley sailed only 28 yards, giving the visitors excellent starting field position at the Eagles’ 46. It resulted in a 29-yard field goal by Pete Gogolak.

Heading into the second quarter, the Eagles took advantage of a bad pass from center by the Giants on fourth down that gave them the ball at the New York one. Snead scored from there on a quarterback sneak but Moseley missed the extra point and the Philadelphia lead remained 6-3.

The Giants got a break when they recovered a fumble at the Philadelphia 13 that set up a two-yard touchdown carry by Ron Johnson. Gogolak added the PAT and New York was up by four.

As the first half wound down, New York added to its lead, getting a 29-yard Gogolak field goal with 36 seconds left on the clock. However, Eagles WR Billy Walik (pictured below) returned the ensuing kickoff 57 yards and it set up a 29-yard Moseley field goal on the last play of the half. New York’s lead was cut to 13-9 at the intermission.

New York punted following the first series of the third quarter and the Eagles moved well as Snead completed passes to WR Ben Hawkins for 25 yards and to WR Harold Jackson for 27 yards to the New York 13. Six plays later, after Pinder and Lee Bougess carried the load, Snead threw to TE Fred Hill for the last yard and a touchdown. Moseley added the extra point and Philadelphia was ahead by 16-13.

The Giants came right back with an 11-play, 60-yard scoring drive of their own. Tarkenton completed three passes, including one to Bob Tucker for 18 yards, and Philadelphia was hurt by two 15-yard penalties. Tarkenton kept the ball himself for the last yard and a TD and Gogolak added the point to again put the visitors in front by four.

Walik struck again as he returned the kickoff 45 yards to give the Eagles good starting field position at the New York 46, and a Snead pass to Hawkins picked up 31 yards. While the receiver fumbled at the end, G Jim Skaggs fell on the ball to not only save the possession but gain another three yards. The home team was inside the ten yard line as the action moved into the fourth quarter and Snead scored on a one-yard plunge less than a minute into the final period.

An exchange of fumbles followed and the Giants again had to punt. The Eagles took over from their 14 with over ten minutes remaining and put together a key series that allowed them to control the ball for the next 9:26. While they came up empty when Moseley missed a 36-yard field goal attempt, there were only 50 seconds remaining for the Giants to work with.

Tarkenton desperately tried to pass the Giants into field goal position. He got them as far as the Philadelphia 42, but a penalty for an illegal receiver downfield moved the Giants back and time ran out on them. The Eagles pulled off the upset by a score of 23-20.

Statistically, the game was very even. New York had the edge in total yards (287 to 281) while the Eagles were slightly ahead in first downs (18 to 17). The Giants turned the ball over three times, to two suffered by Philadelphia, all on fumbles. Missed kicks were a problem for the Eagles as Moseley failed on two of three field goal attempts as well as an extra point, but Billy Walik returned four kickoffs for 147 yards and a 36.8 average, with the two longest setting up scores.

Norm Snead completed 12 of 17 passes for 173 yards and a touchdown with none intercepted, and had the two short rushing TDs. Cyril Pinder ran for 89 yards on 19 carries and caught three passes for 25 more yards. Ben Hawkins pulled in four passes for 99 yards. Tim Rossovich (pictured below) was a standout performer with his inspired play on defense.

For the Giants, Fran Tarkenton was successful on 15 of 30 throws for 178 yards and ran the ball five times for 33 yards and a TD. FB Tucker Frederickson, who was effective on screen passes throughout the game, had 6 catches for 81 yards along with 32 yards on 8 rushing attempts. Clifton McNeil contributed four pass receptions for 62 yards. But the Eagles held Ron Johnson to just 35 yards on 16 carries that included a short touchdown.

“What hurt us most was Walik’s kickoff returns which gave them great field position,” summed up Coach Webster for the Giants.

The win was a high point of an otherwise-bleak season for the Eagles, who lost their next three games before winning the finale against Pittsburgh – their last regular season game at Franklin Field. They ended up at the bottom of the NFC East with a 3-10-1 record. New York remained in the hunt for a Wild Card playoff spot, recovering to win three straight before losing the season finale against the Rams. While their 9-5 record was the franchise’s best in seven years and put them second in the division, the Giants were a game behind the 10-4 Lions in the race for the Wild Card.

In his seventh (and last) year with the Eagles, Norm Snead passed for 2323 yards and 15 touchdowns, but also 20 interceptions. Billy Walik, a rookie out of Villanova, ranked fifth in the NFC with a 25.2 average on 32 kickoff returns. As his performance against the Giants demonstrated, Mark Moseley, also a rookie, struggled with inconsistency throughout the year, connecting on 14 of 25 field goal attempts and 25 of 28 extra point tries, with several of his missed kicks coming at particularly inopportune times. He was cut during the 1971 preseason but would eventually put together a long and successful career that lasted until 1986, primarily with the Redskins.

Ron Johnson became the first thousand-yard rusher in Giants history, gaining 1027 yards on 263 carries (3.9 avg.) while also catching 48 passes for 487 more yards. He scored a total of 12 touchdowns and was a consensus first-team All-NFL and Pro Bowl selection.

As a side note, the game became notorious for what occurred in the broadcast booth during the national telecast. The Monday night games were in their first year and already becoming noteworthy for the acerbic commentary of Howard Cosell, the playful responses of ex-quarterback Don Meredith, in addition to the play-by-play offered by Keith Jackson. Eagles owner Leonard Tose had sent copious amounts of food and alcohol to the press box, which was unheated on the brutally cold night. During the first half, Cosell was noticeably slurring his words and departed at halftime after reportedly vomiting on Meredith’s cowboy boots. Cosell was accused of being drunk during the telecast, which he vehemently denied, insisting that he was suffering from an inner ear infection. Whatever the truth, the incident became an often-referenced part of Monday Night Football lore.