November 10, 2010

1974: Jets Defeat Giants in Overtime After Namath Runs for Tying TD

Any game between New York City’s two NFL teams can’t help but generate interest, no matter how the clubs rank in the standings. The NFL-AFL merger in 1970 had made possible regular season play between the long-established Giants and the comparative newcomers from the rival league, the Jets. On November 10, 1974 the two clubs met for the second time at the Yale Bowl in New Haven, Connecticut - the temporary home of the Giants, with Yankee Stadium under renovation and the new stadium in the New Jersey Meadowlands still two years from completion (they shifted to Shea Stadium for ’75).

The Giants were under a first-year head coach, Bill Arnsparger, and had finished with a winning record just twice in the previous ten years. The situation was no better in ’74 as they came into the contest with the Jets at 2-6. However, they had made a major switch at quarterback two weeks before, dealing away underperforming veteran Norm Snead to the 49ers while trading a first draft choice to the Dallas Cowboys for Craig Morton. Morton, once a promising starter in Dallas who had lost out to Roger Staubach, played well in a win at Kansas City in the Giants’ previous game. Snead, Carl Summerell, and Jim Del Gaizo had failed to throw a touchdown pass to a wide receiver in six games, but Morton managed to do that much in his second game with the club.

The Jets had a new head coach as well in Charley Winner, designated successor to the retired Weeb Ewbank, but there was no question at quarterback for the Jets, as long as Joe Namath (pictured above) was healthy enough to play – even if he and the club were off to a poor start. The Jets had been 4-10 in ’73, with Namath missing most of the season, and were 1-7 thus far in 1974 while Broadway Joe had been intercepted 17 times.

There were 67,740 fans at the Yale Bowl for the battle of the New York teams. The Jets started off the scoring in the first quarter as Namath connected with WR David Knight for a 19-yard touchdown. Pete Gogolak kicked a 26-yard field goal for the Giants later in the period, and the older club took the lead in the second quarter when Morton threw a two-yard TD pass to TE Bob Tucker.

Pat Leahy, in his first NFL game with the Jets following an injury to Bobby Howfield, booted a 34-yard field goal to tie the score, but it was 13-10 in favor of the Giants at the half after Gogolak kicked a second field goal of 22 yards.

The Jets launched the third quarter with a drive that used up the first ten minutes and ended with a 22-yard field goal by Leahy. In their next possession, the Giants struck quickly with Morton throwing a 12-yard touchdown pass to WR Bob Grim, and maintained a 20-13 lead into the fourth quarter.

The Jets put together another long possession, using 14 plays to drive down to the Giants’ three yard line. With a third-and-goal situation, Namath tied the score with a three-yard touchdown run (more accurately, a hobble) that surprised everyone, including his teammates. Originally, the play was to be a handoff to HB Emerson Boozer, but Namath saw the Giants’ weak-side LB, Brad Van Pelt, move inside and decided to keep the ball. With Leahy’s extra point, the game was tied at 20-20.

The Jets had an opportunity to win in regulation, but with 12 seconds left Leahy’s 29-yard field goal attempt was blocked by CB Jim Stienke.

1974 was the first season in which regular-season games ending in a tie went into an overtime period. The Giants won the toss and RB Joe Dawkins returned the kickoff 53 yards to give them good field position. They drove to the Jets’ 25 but, after coming up a yard short on a third-and-three play, Gogolak missed the resulting 42-yard field goal attempt.

Starting from his own 25, Namath completed consecutive passes of 42 yards to TE Rich Caster and 12 yards to WR Jerome Barkum. From the Giants’ 21, Boozer ran for back-to-back six yard runs and then RB Jazz Jackson took a pitchout for four yards to the five. From there, Namath lobbed a pass to Boozer, who had beaten Van Pelt, in the left corner of the end zone for the winning touchdown at 6:53 in overtime. The final score was 26-20.

The Jets outgained the Giants (425 yards to 340) and had the edge in first downs (27 to 22). There were no turnovers and game had few penalties – the Jets were flagged twice for a total of 15 yards, and the Giants just once for five yards.

Joe Namath completed 20 of 31 passes for 236 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. RB Bob Burns, who played only one season and gained a total of 158 yards on the ground, had the best game of his brief career filling in for the injured FB John Riggins with 101 yards on 21 attempts. Emerson Boozer (pictured above left) added 58 yards on 13 carries and had four pass receptions for 43 yards and the game-winning TD. Jerome Barkum caught 5 passes for 24 yards, while Rich Caster gained the most yards receiving with 68 on three catches.

Craig Morton had a solid outing for the Giants in defeat, with numbers that were almost identical to Namath’s – 21 of 32 passes completed for 237 yards with two TDs and none picked off. Joe Dawkins led the club in rushing with 49 yards on 11 carries and caught 6 passes for 37 yards. WR Walker Gillette gained 83 yards on his five receptions.

“It was a great victory for us when we really needed one,” said Namath afterward. “Emotionally, it has to rank with the Oakland game in 1968 when we won the AFL title, it was a big game for us. You lose one to the other guys in town and you have to take a lot of heat from a lot of people.”

Of the decision to keep the ball on the game-tying touchdown run rather than hand off, Broadway Joe added, “I didn’t tell Boozer, I didn’t tell anybody. The fake always works better that way.” Said Boozer, “I didn’t know what to think. When I didn’t get the ball, I thought fumble.”

Since the first regular season game to go into overtime (between Denver and Pittsburgh) ended in a tie, the Jets became the first NFL team to win a regular season overtime game. It also gave the club a big lift as it proved to be the first of six straight wins (following six consecutive losses) to end the season. The Jets finished at 7-7 and tied with the Patriots for third in the AFC East. The Giants lost the remainder of their games to end up at 2-12 and at the bottom of the NFC East.

Joe Namath’s statistics improved along with the team’s fortunes. While he still ended up leading the NFL by throwing 22 interceptions, only five of those came during the season-ending winning streak. His 2616 passing yards and 20 touchdowns both ranked second in the NFL, as did his 361 attempts.

Craig Morton (pictured at left) threw for 1510 yards in eight games for the Giants with 9 TD passes and 13 interceptions. His 29.6 pass attempts per game ranked second in the NFL and his averages of 188.8 yards and 15.3 completions ranked third. But taking over in the midst of the season and with a mediocre supporting cast, the resulting record in his starts was 1-6.

The new placekicker, Pat Leahy, made the most of his opportunity with the Jets. He ended up playing for them through 1991, a total of 18 seasons, and ended up as the franchise leader in points (1470) and field goals (304).