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Wilderness Years, Part 2: Current era of bad football reminder of an unpleasant past

Unmistakably an era of very bad football teams over multiple seasons

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at New York Giants TODAY Sports

No doubt about it, this year’s version of the New York Giants is horrible. That is evident on all three aspects of the team — offense, defense and special teams, not to mention coaching and the front office. This year, the bottom simply fell out and the team fell apart.

But think about it, the bad football that fans pay to see and go visit their favorite sports bar to watch is not an isolated season, but a succession of seasons.

Counting last week’s loss to the Washington Redskins, the Giants are 41-50 over the last six seasons. That’s nine games under .500 over a six-year span.

Ever since the Giants won Super Bowl XLVI over the Patriots, the club has only had one playoff appearance. Is the franchise currently in the “Wilderness Years, Part 2”? It’s a fair question.

There are similarities

From 1956-1963 the Giants were one of the league’s premier clubs. They won their division six times and never posted a losing record. They made six playoff appearances and played in the NFL Championship Game all six times, taking home one NFL title.

Fast forward to 2005-2011. The Giants won three division crowns during this period and never had a losing season. They made the playoffs five times and captured two Super Bowls.

Two very successful string of years where the Giants were one of the premier clubs. Then suddenly, after both sets of seasons, the team fell apart – for many years to come.

Beginning in 1964, the “Wilderness Years” officially began. The Giants went 2-10-2 after going 11-3-0 the previous season.

The “Wilderness Years” began in 1964 and probably ceased after the 1983 season (most folks say after the 1980 season). The Giants hired George Young as GM and his draft prowess began to pay dividends while Bill Parcells was named the head coach. But prior to 1984, during that expanse dating back to 1964, the Giants had only three winning seasons with one playoff appearance during that 19-year stretch. And often, the next year’s squad was worse than the previous year’s.

The only real difference between the original “Wilderness Years” teams and today’s version was the QB position. Whereas Eli Manning has been the constant behind center throughout these past six years, during the late 1960s and throughout all the 1970s the signal caller position was a gathering of names such as Joe Pisarcik, Craig Morton, Earl Morrall, Scott Brunner and Norm Snead. The only decent QB the team had for any extended period was Fran Tarkenton.

And now, here we are again. Officially, the Giants are into five bad seasons in six years past their last Super Bowl victory.

A Mara repeat?

Giants’ President John Mara was 10 years old when the “Wilderness Years” began under his father Wellington’s leadership. John may not have realized the event for what it was at the beginning, but into his high school years, it must have registered that his father’s franchise was horrid year-after-year. No doubt at the dinner table in the Wellington Mara household there were numerous conversations about why the team was so inept every season, and when exactly would this trend finally end?

And when the monsoon finally ceased John was 30 years old. Fortunately for him, John did not spend those putrid years with the team, but instead attended Boston College and then became employed in a law firm. And when he finally came on board in 1991, those futile years of two decades of bad teams were long behind the franchise.

Well, the lessons learned are in our midst once again.

The Giants are now facing this as another lengthy stretch of annual bad records and mediocre players. Draft selections that were assumed great picks are once again piling up as questionable. And just like those early years, the amount of draft picks who still remain on the club keep dwindling. Only three of six draft picks from the 2015 college draft remain on the roster. Four of seven draft picks from 2014, one from 2013, zero for the years 2011 and 2012 and one taken in 2010. So, out of the 54 players drafted in the past seven years, only 19 are either on the active roster or the practice squad. And out of those 19, a mere nine are starters.

The same happened during the “Wilderness Years.” High picks were used on seldom-utilized players who did not produce as advertised such as DB Eldridge Small, RB Rocky Thompson, LB Jim Files, DT Rich Glover, RB Joe Don Looney, QB Carl Summerell, RB Gordon Bell, WR Danny Pittman, T Gordon King and RB Butch Woolfolk. And then there was the Giants’ draft picks who produced for other NFL clubs, such as DE Fred Dryer. What Giants’ fan doesn’t wish the team had retained DT Linval Joseph, now a star for the Vikings?

The Giants are 41-50 and counting over six years. Numbers do not lie. Certainly, the Mara and Tisch families must see what is staring them in the face. After this season, the roster will perhaps undergo a total makeover. And then what? Another bad season? How many years will it take exactly to finally produce a winner once again? Add those seasons to the ones already in the books, and you can see that the franchise must certainly be in another segment of the “Wilderness Years.”

Worst Giants’ team ever?

This year’s squad is on the cusp of setting numerous franchise lows for a 16-game season, including:

  • Fewest Total Yards: 1979 Giants - 3,774, this year - 3,255
  • Fewest Total TDs: 1983 Giants – 23, this year – 19 (two are defensive)
  • Fewest Points: 1979 Giants - 237, this year - 172
  • Fewest Rushing TDs: 1996 Giants – 4, this year – 3
  • Fewest First Downs: 1979 Giants – 223, this year - 179
  • Worst Win-Loss Record: 1983 Giants – 3-12-1, this year 2-9-0

The majority of these records were set in the “Wilderness Years;” with bad players and bad draft picks that did not pan out. Back then, there wasn’t any free-agency to plug holes. You either hit your draft picks or made good trades. When those things didn’t pan out, you lost on both youth and the future of the franchise.

Just like before, these horrid seasons are accumulating and piling up. Needless to say, the Giants’ Super Bowl era is over. There need to be extensive changes everywhere on this team.

It appears painfully obvious the Giants are in the “Wilderness Years, Part 2.” Year six to be exact.

Barry Shuck is a pro football historical writer and a member of the Professional Football Researcher’s Association