Murray miss was kick-start for Giants

Win over 'Skins top break in year of good bounces

January 21, 2001|By Neil Best | Neil Best,NEWSDAY

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New York Giants co-owner Wellington Mara had seen this before. Another season was on the brink, and in the control of a kicker.

Remember Pat Summerall in the snow against the Cleveland Browns in 1958, the field goal without which "The Greatest Game Ever Played" never would have been played?

And Joe Danelo in overtime against the Dallas Cowboys in 1981 to end that excruciating 18-year drought with no playoff game? And Matt Bahr and Scott Norwood -- one good, one wide right -- when the Giants won a second Super Bowl in 1991?

And Eddie Murray's chip shot to complete a nightmare playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings in 1997?

Now here came Murray again, this time as a Redskin, and this time at age 44. He lined up from 49 yards. The ball tumbled through the air. Mara watched impassively from Washington owner Dan Snyder's skybox at FedEx Field.

Both owners, separated by a half-century in age, knew their teams' immediate futures hung in the balance.

Murray's kick fell well short. The Giants won, 9-7. It was Dec. 3. Redskins coach Norv Turner was fired the next day. And Giants coach Jim Fassel is on his way to the Super Bowl.

"It shows you what kind of a crazy business this is," Mara, who has been in it since 1925, said a few weeks later. "Winning it on a missed field goal."

The Redskins game was the most pivotal moment in a season Giants fans never will forget, whether or not the team wins next Sunday. But there were plenty of other milestones on the road to the team's third Super Bowl:

A deafening boom of thunder sent the Giants and Arizona Cardinals scurrying to their locker rooms during the season opener at Giants Stadium on Sept. 3.

Some interpreted the natural fireworks as a heavenly symbol of the Giants' change in attitude and approach. Against the Cardinals, Tiki Barber flashed his versatility with a brilliant, reserve-direction 10-yard scoring run and a 78-yard burst for another touchdown.

Barber ran for 144 yards. Rookie Ron Dayne added a touchdown run, and the Thunder and Lightning craze was born.

The day after the 31-21 loss to the Detroit Lions on Nov. 19 was the day that coaches and players universally regard as the low point of the season. Fassel cut special teams player Bashir Levingston, then warned other young players on special teams they might be next.

The coverage units showed immediate improvement and have been consistently reliable since.

It is easy to forget how close the Giants were to blowing the NFC East and almost certainly blowing home-field advantage through the playoffs when they trailed the Cowboys 13-0 at halftime on Dec. 17.

Then Barber uncharacteristically spoke up in the locker room, reminding the offensive players that one of the few things they had left to prove was that they could come from behind to win.

Late in the third quarter, Kerry Collins hit Amani Toomer from 33 yards to make it 13-7. Midway through the fourth, Emmanuel McDaniel's interception gave the Giants the ball at the Dallas 13, and on the next play Barber ran it in for the go-ahead score in a 17-13 victory that fulfilled Fassel's playoff guarantee he made publicly three days after the loss to Detroit.

"Since that Redskins game," linebacker Mike Barrow said, "what has been inside us, that faith we have, has been slipping out, little by little."

They need one more dose next Sunday.

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