Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Giants & Jets Set to Renew Rivalry

I have been a fan of the team, going way back to 1981. That was the year that I became a fan of American football, and the New York Giants were the natural pick. My grandfather and brother both preferred the Jets. My grandfather, of course, could remember the historic Super Bowl III win that defined the Jets organization at that point (it had only been 13 years since that historical victory), and which still defines the franchise now, nearly half a century later. Later in that historical year of 1969, the year of Joe Namath's guarantee and Super Bowl III, the Jets and Giants stepped on the same field for the first time in a preseason game at the Yale Bowl. The Jets dominated that one, 37-14. I believe that they have played a game against one another in every single preseason since, although I am not entirely sure about that. It sure is a preseason tradition that dates as far back as I can remember, however.

Truth be told, I am not entirely sure why I took to the Giants more than the Jets, since the Jets were the better team at that point. They were the only one of the two local teams to even have made it to the Super Bowl, let alone to have won one. And in 1981, the Jets indeed appeared to be the better team, with a better record and likely a better chance to achieve some great things. That perception might have died down in the playoffs, when the Jets lost instantly to the Bills, while the Giants knocked off the defending NFC Champion Philadelphia Eagles on the road at Veterans Stadium. But in 1982, only one of those two teams made it to the playoffs, and it was not the Giants. Plus, the Jets won two road games to reach the AFC title game, before bowing out to the Miami Dolphins. As I have mentioned before, the Jets are my second favorite team, right after the Giants, and I never understood why some fans believe that liking or preferring one means that you absolutely have to despise the other one (or at least cannot actively pull for them), otherwise you are not a "real" football or sports fan. So, I was excited by the success of the Jets, although admittedly a bit envious, as well.

Both the New York Jets and the New York Giants kind of stunk things up a bit in 1983, but the Giants returned to the playoffs in 1984. Still, in 1985, the Jets enjoyed a better record during the regular season and, in fact, looked to be one of the elite teams of the AFC, until two losses late in the season knocked them down to a mere wildcard team. Once there, the Jets lost to the Super Bowl-bound new England Patriots who, at that time, were making their first trip to the big dance, where they would get crushed by the Chicago Bears, the team that I believe was the most dominant team of any single season that I have ever witnessed. The Giants lost to those same Bears in the playoffs, although they at least beat the 49ers in order to get there. So, the Jets had enjoyed a better regular season, but the Giants seemed to be more built for the postseason. Still, neither team had as of yet made it to the Super Bowl.

In the 1986-87 season, of course, that would change. Perhaps the last old bit of envy of the Jets as the better team came early in 1986, when the Jets raced out to an impressive 10-1 start, and enjoyed the best record in the league, with five games remaining. The Giants, of course, were right behind them at 9-2, as were the Bears, the Broncos and Washington. The Giants were bound to meet two of those teams in the regular season and, as it turned out, in the playoffs, too. If the Jets, to that point, had enjoyed more success since the 1981 season, and seemed to have the more impressive resume during the Super Bowl era, that season would go a long way towards altering that perspective in a big way. The Giants won out their remaining games, finishing the season at 14-2, while the Jets, after suffering a humiliating 45-3 loss at Miami, wound up losing all five of their last regular season games, to finish at 10-6. They qualified for the playoffs and even won a game against Kansas City, but then lost to the Cleveland Browns in double overtime.

The Giants earned home field advantage with their impressive 14-2 regular season mark, and in the playoffs, really caught fire. They bounced the 49ers out of the playoffs with a stunning 49-3 blowout win, then shut out the Redskins, 17-0, in the NFC Championship Game, to earn their first ever Super Bowl appearance. Once there, they had to overcome the tricky Broncos, who played very well in the first half and went into halftime with a 10-9 lead. But the Giants exploded for 30 second half points, which is still a Super Bowl record. Phil Simms completed 22 of 25 passes (an 88.5% completion rating, also still a Super Bowl record) and threw three touchdown passes, leading the Giants past Denver to capture the first championship for the franchise in 30 years, although it was their first title in the Super Bowl era. Now, I no longer really cared that the Jets had been to the AFC Championship in 1982, while the Giants never seemed to do nearly as much, because Giants fans could celebrate their championship season.

In 1987, the Giants collapsed, falling from first place in the NFC East and winning the championship, to starting off 0-5 and never really recovering, en route to a 6-9 mark and a last place finish. But one small consolation was that they beat the Jets in the late season meeting that they had, and the Jets matched the Giants abysmal 6-9 mark.

However, in 1988, the Jets would exact a measure of revenge on the Giants. While not competitive themselves, they faced the Giants on the final week of the regular season. The Giants were in a strange position, with a chance to lock up the NFC East and the second seed in the NFC playoffs with an 11-5 record, or they could possibly make or miss the playoffs with a loss that would bring their record to 10-6. The Giants seemed to have the game in hand, until the final drive, when the Jets had a touchdown drive that ended the season very early for the Giants, who missed the playoffs with the stunning defeat.

They followed that up four years later with another title run, this time not as behemoths, like they appeared to be in 1986-87, but as a team that barely squeaked past other teams regarded as the favorites. They trampled on the Bears in the playoffs, true. But they just got past the Niners in San Francisco during that epic NFC Championship battle, and then just barely held off the Buffalo Bills, who at that time seemed to be emerging as the leading candidate for "Team of the Decade" honors. After that rather unexpected championship (at least it was deemed a surprise, although my younger version of myself, completely taken by that 1990-91 Giants squad, never stopped believing in them), the Giants clearly had enjoyed undeniable success at the highest levels, while it was suddenly the Jets who looked like the team that had been left behind in the dust a bit.

The Giants looked like the clear cut winners between the two teams, but only the Jets would make the playoffs in the next couple of seasons. And in 1993, when the Giants seemed to have revived their fortunes, one of their most stinging losses came against the Jets, who started off hot that season at 8-3, but finished at a measly 8-8. Still, one consolation, especially for Jets fans, was the 10-6 victory over the G-Men, who went 11-5 that season, and looked like real contenders for a while.

Here is a link to a preview for the 1996 game between these two teams, when both teams entered the game at 0-3. The Giants were a miserable team that season, although the Jets were historically bad, finishing at a franchise worst 1-15. And that one win did not come against the Giants. The individual who posted it commented about this game:

Featuring two of the worst teams of the decade, the New York Giants host the New York Jets at The Meadowlands in East Rutherford. Mike Breen and Bill Maas have a preview of the game.

Truth be told, I do not see how he lumps the Giants into the category of one of the worst teams of the 1990's. After all, the New York Giants were one of only seven teams in the league to have won a Super Bowl during that decade, and overall, they had four playoff victories in three playoff appearances, and two division titles under their belt in the nineties. Not the best decade that a team can have, true. But hardly the worst, either. The longest drought between playoff appearances for the Giants in that decade was three seasons without a playoff appearance, and their are a lot of teams that fair worse than that. Still, both teams were horrible in 1996 in particular, and so the point that these two teams were indeed miserable at that point is well taken.

Since that point, however, the Giants have won all five games between the two squads. That includes a 31-28 overtime win in 2003, and two victories for the G-Men during Super Bowl championship seasons. one of those victories, In fact, started a winning streak that ultimately saw the Giants win their second Super Bowl in five seasons.

In 2007, the Giants returned to championship form, although it certainly was not immediately evident through the course of the season, and would take the stunning upset of the previously undefeated Patriots to cement that status. However, the Jets and Giants did play that season, with the G-Men ultimately taking it, 35-24.

In 2011, there came a major showdown between the two teams. The Jets were technically the home team, and were 8-6, coming off two straight AFC Championship Game appearances. The Giants, in the meantime, stood at 7-7, but were still in the playoff race, and even in position to possibly take the NFC East division title. In a thrilling game, the Giants came up with the goods, ultimately defeating their crosstown rivals, 29-14. That hurt the Jets playoff chances, and a loss at Miami the next weekend ended their season. The Giants, in the meantime, were rejuvenated, and dominated Dallas in a winner take all divisional game the following weekend, earning them the fourth seed in the playoffs. They then defeated 10-6 Atlanta, 15-1 Green Bay, 13-3 San Francisco, and 13-3 New England to take their second Super Bowl championship title home.

Yet, neither team has been to the playoffs since then, although they are both still in the running for it this season. And so that brings us to this year, in another very important contest between the two teams. Even though this is not the season finale, or really anywhere near it, this game should feature prominently for the playoff chances for both teams. Entering this game, the Giants lead the overall regular series meetings between the two teams, nine games to three.

No, this is not the best rivalry in football, or anything like that. Yet, as you can see, it has had it's moments. Also, it sure means a lot to local fans, as all fans of the Giants and Jets get excited whenever this rivalry rolls around. It is essentially for bragging rights between the two teams, and that makes today's contest all the more exciting, especially given the obvious playoff implications, since both teams really need this win.

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