(Ed. Note: this piece originally ran on September 3, 2006. We revisit it in anticipation of the Jets-Giants game on Sunday, and in anticipation of the future return to the seedy New York City we once new and loved and still smell like 20 years later.)
By Jonathan Comey
Cold, Hard Football Facts huge apple
New York City is the greatest metropolis in the Western world. But in the 1970s, it was something extra special.
You could see it in Times Square. Now it's glitz and glamour, but in the 1970s, it was a dangerous den of iniquity – and the trolls here at the Cold, Hard Football Facts dig iniquity. The theaters on 42nd Street, once the home of Cary Grant and Errol Flynn, showed porno, live sex shows and low-
budget kung-fu flicks.
(The theaters are pictured at right in all of their 1970s glory.)
Hookers and drug dealers peddled their wares in broad daylight. And every two-bit criminal was working some sort of shady operation, like hustling shell games or selling authentic Rolax and Swizz Army watches.
And let's not forget the epic blackouts, the crazed mass murderers, Blondie, the Ramones and the all-night coke binge that was Studio 54.
That's right. New York City in the 1970s was cool – dirty, crazy, on the verge of financial, physical, spiritual and emotional ruin – but cool.
But mostly, it was a teeming mass of rank and file, blue-collar guys and gals trying to make ends meet.
Football fans, for sure. And, if one of those football fans was stopped on the street in the 1970s and asked, "Who's your team, Jets or Giants?" the answer would have been simple:
"Neither! They both suck!"
Yes, the 70s were the Gridiron Dark Ages in Gotham. The classic Giants teams of Frank Gifford and Y.A. Tittle
, which made six title games in the 1950s and 60s, had faded away. "Broadway" Joe Namath was still there, but he was a shell of his former self.
And so, from 1971-1980, the Giants and Jets managed to stink worse than any Skid Row alley in the Bowery – they went an entire decade without even sniffing the playoffs. In fact, there was only one winning team in the whole bunch: the 1972 G-Men, who didn't exactly blow away the league with an 8-6 record that placed them third in the NFC East.
Things have been much better since.
CRAWLING OUT OF THE DARKNESS
Under Bill Parcells, the Giants added two Super Bowl titles (XXI and XXV) to their four old-school titles. Eli Manning has given the Big Apple a marquee football name for the first time since Lawrence Taylor was laying waste to QBs and the NYC club scene, and the Giants are off to a 2-2 start.
And while the Jets haven't recaptured that Super Bowl III glory, they have at least been competitive, with 11 playoff teams in the last 26 seasons. New coach Eric Mangini has given the franchise a shot of youthful vigor, though it remains to be seen if that will translate to success on the field.
Still, the closest we've come to a Jets-Giants Super Bowl ("The Jersey Turnpike Bowl?") was in 1986.
That was a good year for LL Cool J's rap career and also for New York football. LT was MVP and the G-Men went 14-2 and won the NFC title game. The 10-6 Jets scraped into the playoffs on tiebreakers and impressed with a 35-15 win over the Chiefs.
Fans got excited. Could this be ...?
In the divisional playoff, the Jets played the game of their lives in Cleveland but lost in overtime, 23-20.
The Giants and Jets haven't been in the playoffs together since.
Their fans rarely cross paths, either, unless they're ignoring each other on the subway.
Although they've been playing in the same building, the cultures of the two teams are very different.
Jets fans are firemen or new-money millionaires who live on Long Island. The stands during Jets games are more likely to be filled with hard-drinking guys looking to tie one on and beat someone up.
Giants fans are third-generation Italian-Americans whose grandparents rooted for Andy Robustelli and old-money millionaires who live in Manhattan. The stands during Giants games are more likely to be filled with corporate types using the company tickets to close a deal.
Still, both teams can lay claim to the blue-collar image every football team craves. The Jets have had pretty stars, guys like Namath, Mark Gastineau and Curtis Martin. But they have had plenty of tough guys, too: Matt Snell, Joe Klecko
, Wayne Chrebet.
The Giants developed a blue-collar rep on the field, with defense leading the way – Robustelli, Taylor, Sam Huff, Harry Carson, Michael Strahan. From the offense, toss in a Mark Bavaro or U.S. Navy veteran turned wide receiver and special teams standout Phil McConkey, and you have a pretty solid tough-guy contingent.
The Giants are certainly more popular overall
, with a fan base that extends well into New England – Western Massachusetts and Connecticut have historically been as much Giants country as Patriots country. Even today, the Boston market is fed a steady diet of Giants cames during NFC broadcasts, a vestige from the day (pre-1960) when they were the only NFL game in town.
But in the city itself, the Jets have a slight edge, at least recently. In a 2004 Quinnipiac College poll, 31 percent of New York football fans said they rooted for the Jets; 28 pledged allegiance to the Giants. (Of course, the 2004 Jets went 10-6 and reached the divisional playoffs; the 2004 Giants went just 6-10, so consider that when weighing the survey results.) A full 25 percent said their favorite team was from out of town.
You'd think, with one team in the AFC and another in the NFC, that New Yorkers would root for both teams, but that's not really the case. In that same Quinnipiac poll, only 11 percent said they were fans of both.
But no matter who they like, New Yorkers make up the NFL's top fanbase, with two teams and the No. 1 TV market in the country.
Given all of the collective knowledge, you'd think everything that could be known about the Jets and Giants would be just that. But we did some digging, and came up with ...
PLUS, BONUS FACTS!
Jets coach Joe Walton (1983-89) was a tight end for the Giants.
The Giants have led the league in scoring just once since 1933 – and that was back in 1961.
The Jets have never led the NFL in scoring defense or scoring offense.
Ray Handley is the shortest-tenured coach in Giants history (two seasons, 1991-92). Steve Owen coached the longest (23 years, 1931-52).
Ken O'Brien, a member of the famous QB class of 1983, had the longest uninterrupted run as the Jets' main quarterback (1985-1991). Yup, that's even longer than Namath, who led the Jets in passing for five straight years (1965-69) before injuries forced him to share the load.
The Giants failed to produce a 1,000-yard rusher from 1973 to 1984.
The Jets' all-time leading scorer is kicker Pat Leahy (1,113 points).
Giants receiver Homer Jones had three straight seasons of 1,000 yards and an average of more than 20 yards per reception from 1966-68. He was out of football by 1970.
The leading rusher for the 1997 Giants was Charles Way (698 yards). Their leading receiver was Chris Calloway (849 yards). Their leading passer was Danny Kanell (1,740 yards). The 1997 Giants went 10-5-1 and won the NFC East.
Quarterback Dave Brown was the last player to go No. 1 in a supplemental draft, tabbed by the Giants in 1992.
The Jets won 10 straight preseason games over the Giants until finally losing in 2006, preseason, 13-7.
The last time the teams went head-to-head in the regular season was Nov. 2003, when the "visiting" Giants won 31-28 on a Brett Conway field goal.
The Jets didn't place a single player on the all-70s, all-80s or all-90s teams (with the exception of Ronnie Lott and Steve Atwater in the 90s, both of whom finished their careers with two seasons in Jersey).