I had a unique opportunity last weekend, sitting just a few feet away from the man Philadelphia Eagles fans of any age know thanks to one play.
Former Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Herm Edwards was giving a speech at Truman State University in Kirksville, Mo., and I along with a few other media members sat with him for about an hour, talking about life and service and the things Edwards says are the most important contributions we can make to our society.
When it came time for the final question, I couldn’t resist seizing the moment. Sure, it’s a play and a story any Eagles fan knows by heart, but still, to hear Herm Edwards recount his memories of that fateful play on Nov. 19, 1978 in person, well, I jumped on it. Here’s what Edwards told me about those final seconds, with the Eagles trailing 17-12, out of time outs, and seemingly headed out the door with a loss to the New York Giants, only to shock the world and win the game, 19-17.
“You guys saw it, like you see the highlight, and really, what happened three plays before, they actually took a knee and a fight broke out. (Philadelphia Eagles linebacker) Bill Bergey knocked (New York Giants center Jim) Clack into (New York Giants quarterback) Joe Pisarcik. So, then the coach got mad and said, ‘OK, look, we’re going to run it again.’
“Now, rewind to one week prior to that. Joe was in the game. The coach calls something and Joe didn’t run the play. So, when the game was over with the coach told Joe, ‘Look, I called the play, now you run it. You don’t, I’ll get you out of the game.’ Joe says, ‘I’ve got you, coach.’
“So, they go back in the huddle, the fight breaks out, coach comes back and says, ‘OK, we’ll run the ball.’ And Joe says, ‘We’ve got to run it.’ Some of the guys in the huddle say, ‘No, no, no, you’ve got to take a knee.’ So, they’re arguing in the huddle.
“(New York Giants full back Larry) Csonka was in the backfield, and I’m standing there. (New York Giants running back Doug) Kotar is standing right there and I shake his hand before the play. ‘Hey, good game man,’ we’re shaking hands, kumbaya. Game’s over. They beat us. We’ve got no time.
“So, Joe is kind of looking back at Csonka saying, ‘Come on, you’ve got to run through here.’ Csonka is going, ‘No, take a knee.’ So, the clock is ticking down, the 40-second clock, and Clack, the center, he’s looking up the the clock saying, ‘Hey man, I’ve got to hike you this ball, you going to be ready?’ And Joe’s not ready. So, he hikes it because he doesn’t want the delay of game called, time out, stop the clock.
“So, Joe is kind of looking back to Csonka to take this handoff, and the ball is bobbled on the snap. Now, nobody sees that on television because there wasn’t high definition. ESPN wasn’t even involved in 1978. And so the ball is being bobbled and Csonka comes by and it kind of hits off his hip. Doug Kotar, who is standing in front of me, he’s thinking they’re taking a knee. He doesn’t know what’s going on. So, I kind of go like this and hit him and go around him. He just kind of lets me go thinking they’re taking a knee.
“The ball bounces and I see the ball on the first bounce and I’m thinking, ‘Hmm, I get it on the first hop, I think I can score. And I get it on the first bounce and I go in and score.
“The funny story that really people don’t realize, the next year Joe Pisarcik comes to the Philadelphia Eagles. This is why I know his part of the story, because he’s telling me the story. So, we know he’s coming to the locker room, so we’re all standing in the locker room and the doors are right there. (Philadelphia Eagles head coach) Dick Vermeil is bringing him down.
“He comes in, the whole team is standing there. He walks in the locker room and we’re looking at him. Bill Bergey has the ball and he drops it to the ground. He just drops it and says, ‘Play it again, Sam.’ I go, pick it up and give it to Joe. That was his introduction to the Philadelphia Eagles.”
Edwards had busted out laughing during the last part, recalling Pisarcik’s warm welcome to the Eagles. Watching his eyes light up, it’s obvious that even all these years later he doesn’t tire of telling that tale.
While a fun play for Eagles fans (and a sickening one for Giants fans) to remember, that play also was a turning point for the NFL. The “victory formation” was introduced the following week, and no team again put their ego ahead of winning a tight game.
Oh, and New York Giants offensive coordinator Bob Gibson was fired the next day. He never coached again.