New York's Christmas Present
Wizard of Quazz
New York City didn't have too much to cheer about in 1981. The Cosmos lost the Soccer Bowl. The Yankees lost the World Series. But Christmas sometimes brings about a change of luck, and any skeptics should ask New York's football fans of 1981.
It's been exactly a month since the Jets' 28-3 win over Green Bay catapulted both New York teams into the playoffs. And it will take lot longer than a month for New York fans to forget that day. Quarterback Richard Todd racked up four touchdowns against a porous Packer defense, and the Jets' defensive front four, led by Mark Gastineau and Joe Klecko, put constant pressure on beleaguered Green Bay QB Lynn Dickey.
Twenty-four hours earlier, the Giants had edged the hated Cowboys in overtime to keep their playoff hopes alive. On Sunday, the Jets' thrashing of Green Bay qualified the Giants for football's second season, their first appearance in 18 years.
The 1970s were not kind to New York's football teams. The Jets faded fast after pulling off their stunning upset of the Colts in Super Bowl III in 1969, and the Giants monopolized the NFC eastern division cellar, never coming close to seeing post-season action.
Nineteen eighty-one was different. For all of Christmas week New Yorkers could boast two teams in the playoffs. It had never happened before, and chances are it will remain unique for quite a while.
The euphoria in New York disappeared with Christmas. On the 27th New York had one less team in the playoffs, following the failure of Todd's last-minute comeback attempt against the Bills. The Giants, however, upset Philadelphia, scoring a surprising knockout of last year's NFC representative in the Super Bowl. The magic didn't carry over to the next week when San Francisco demolished New York's last survivors, 38-24. After all, by then it was already 1982.
The Jets and the Giants provided New Yorkers with fine memories in 1981. For the Giants, newcomers Rob Carpenter and Lawrence Taylor were quickly elevated to celebrity status by a New York media hungry for heroes. Joe Danello became the toast of the town by beating Dallas with his overtime field goal, 13-10.
Over at Shea, Richard Todd pulled off the regular season's most exciting victory with a last-second touchdown against Miami. Freeman MacNeil added excitement to the Jets' running attack, and Gastineau and Klecko became legends as heads of the New York Sack Exchange.
On that historic Sunday at Shea, Todd and his teammates set fire to a crowd more than willing to sit through freezing weather to capture the biggest moment in New York football history. The bleachers literally shook, the goal posts came down, Gastineau danced his victory dance, and the champagne flowed.
New York's playoff hopes, for both teams, have long since been dashed, but the glow remains. For once the Big Apple doesn't have to say, "Wait till next year." It can point to 1981.
Meanwhile, there is this Sunday to consider. To get to this year's Super Bowl, coming from New Jersey wasn't enough. Coming from a wind tunnel in Flushing also wasn't enough. To be the Cinderella team of 1981-82, you had to come from a swamp in California.