In 1976, the Giants had just come off a horrible season under second-year coach Bill Arnsparger. The starting QB was Craig Morton whom the Giants had gotten in a trade with the Dallas Cowboys in 1974. Morton’s backup was Norm Snead, who was now 37 years old. Morton was 33. The Giants just drafted Jerry Golsteyn in the 12th round of the 1976 NFL draft.
In the off-season, Morton was traded to the Denver Broncos for QB Steve Ramsey and a fifth-round pick. Ramsey never played a down with the Giants. Snead was in his second stint with the Giants and retired. That left the rookie Golsteyn and Ramsey as the only quarterbacks on the roster.
The Giants then signed QB Joe Pisarcik who had been with the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League for three seasons. And in the 1977 NFL draft, they selected QB Randy Dean from Northwestern in the fifth round. The franchise suddenly had four quarterbacks going into training camp, and the only one who had any pro experience had done so in another league.
Dean had been a two-year starter at Northwestern in the tough Big 10 Conference. He was a good athlete, as evidenced by having competed in the 1976 Olympics for the USA handball team. Pisarcik had two horrible seasons and was more known to complete passes to the other team than his own. Dean waited patiently as his backup. And Dean finally got his chance to be the Giants starting QB in 1978 for two games. He went 1-1.
Dean is currently the executive director of the Pettit National Ice Center in Milwaukee, Wisc., a not-for-profit 501c3 corporation. Big Blue View sat down with Dean to catch up with his current life, talk about his stint as a Giant in the “Wilderness Years,” and being an Olympian.
BBV: You were a two-year starter at Northwestern. In the 1970s, how big of a deal was it for a junior to become a starting QB in the Big 10?
DEAN: It was a big deal to me individually, but I did not think of it in context of the Big Ten. I think I entered spring football in April/May of 1975 as fourth on the depth chart, so I was pleased to finish as number one and head int the 1975 fall season as the starter. My goal for my freshman season in fall 1973 was to play in a game, which I accomplished by being the punter for the final game of the year against Illinois. So, sophomore season I was the starting punter all season and played some QB at the end of a couple of lopsided losses, including on the road vs. Nebraska.
BBV: In your two years as a starter you combined for 2,699 passing yards with only 377 attempts. Why do college teams pass more in today’s game?
DEAN: I don’t know, but college follows the pro game and high school follows college, with appropriate lag times. I just remember Bill Walsh’s West Coast offense with the 49ers seemed to be the scheme that began to change everything in the passing game in the 1970s.
BBV: How many pro teams scouted you in college, and were the Giants one of them?
DEAN: I was QB on a college team that was on track to be one win and 10 losses my senior season, so mot many. We did have three Northwestern University players taken in the 1977 draft: safety Pete Shaw (Chargers), RB Greg Boykin (Saints) and myself with the Giants.
BBV: The Giants had two older QBs on the roster in 1976 but kept rookie Jerry Golsteyn. For 1977, they brought in Joe Pisarcik from the CFL, traded for Steve Ramsay with the Broncos, and then drafted you in the fifth-round of the 1977 NFL draft. What was the vibe like when you first arrived with the Giants about who might be the starting QB?
DEAN: To make the squad, I knew that I had to beat out Steve Ramsay who was acquired from Denver in the Craig Morton trade during the off-season. In exhibition season, I played only 1 ½ quarters against New Orleans so I was never in consideration for starting. I came to camp in great condition, which I think was seen favorably by the coaching staff. I also was a back-up to punter Dave Jennings, which may have contributed to my potential value.
BBV: Did John McVay and his coaching staff see you as the young guy who would eventually become the starter?
DEAN: No indication as such in my two years with the McVay staff, although I worked well with Lindy Infante the receivers coach and eventual offensive coordinator after Gibson was fired for “The Fumble.”
BBV: You had two football cards as a Giants quarterback. What was your reaction the first time you saw yourself on a trading card?
DEAN: Pretty cool. I am surprised and pleased that I still receive my football cards in the mail from life-long Giants’ fans including five last week from one person. Usually a very nice cover letter and always with a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) to send the cards back. Letters are very complimentary, and often saying watching Giants games as a youngster they remember me playing. I am reminded of the passion for the Giants across generations.
BBV: What was your first training camp like?
DEAN: Again, did not play much in pre-season, but came to camp in great shape. Obviously, expected a step-up from college in terms of sophistication of playbook and coverages. I anticipated the anxiety on dates when rosters had to be cut. Pleasantville and Pace University were interesting locations for camp.
BBV: What were the main differences between the college game and the pro game?
DEAN: Caliber of athletes universally, speed of the game, and the fact we were dealing with men’s livelihoods and that they could not earn outside of football what they were being paid to play.
BBV: The Giants had great defense in those days with George Martin, Brad Van Pelt, Harry Carson, John Mendenhall and Brian Kelley. Did the defense think the offense was the reason the Giants were perennial losers year-after-year?
DEAN: No animosity that I could perceive, but again I was not in the communications’ loop. I got along well with everyone, as I believe they respected me for my work ethic. The ones you mentioned all were very good players, and in some cases All-Pro in addition to being solid individuals off the field.
BBV: You were on an offense with future Hall of Famer Larry Csonka. What was he like?
DEAN: This was at the end of his career, so I don’t have insight when he was at the top of his game.
BBV: In Pisarcik’s first season in New York he had 14 interceptions and only 4 touchdowns. Going into your second season in Blue and a year of experience behind you, did you feel that you could compete for the starting job in 1978?
DEAN: Yes. I thought it would be more competitive, and I got a chance late in the season.
BBV: In 1978, you started the last two games when Pisarcik hurt his knee. Against the Cardinals at Giants Stadium the Giants won 17-0 yet your stats were 8-14 for 24 yards with a TD and an INT. Did you feel that this game showcased that you could run the offense and deserved more playing time?
DEAN: I thought I brought a more mobile dimension to the position, as demonstrated in second half against the Rams. I think I was leading Giants rusher for the game, after Joe P. got hurt. The same against the Cardinals. I think I needed more experience to bring my passing game up to the next level, which may even have gone back to not passing much in college.
BBV: The following week was a 20-3 loss to the Eagles. You passed for 126 yards, but shared playing time with Pisarcik. What was the message you thought the team was telling you by not allowing you to play the entire game?
DEAN: I believe the loss to the Eagles was in Philadelphia. I got knocked out by Frank LeMaster in the first half and have no memory of the game except that hit. Nor the memory of meeting my brothers after the game as they had traveled to Philly to see me play. Yet, I did play the second half I believe because I have a highlight film that shows a flea-flicker long pass to Jimmy Robinson for over 50-yards that I have no memory of. So, I believe Pisarcik coming in was more a function of me getting hurt.
BBV: What do you remember most about the “Miracle at the Meadowlands” play after the game in the locker room?
DEAN: Surreal. Not sure how Joe P. exited from the Meadowlands that night.
BBV: In this 1978 season, your Giants were actually 5-3-0 in the first half yet finished 6-10-0. How disappointing was that at the end of the season?
DEAN: I don’t recall.
BBV: The Giants fired McVay and then hired Ray Perkins. What were your initial thoughts when you heard the head coaching change?
DEAN: It was expected that McVay would be fired, although I am grateful to him and his staff for drafting me and giving me opportunities. Unfortunately, I was not able to perform better and make a meaningful contribution for the benefit of the team and me personally.
BBV: Pisarcik had a second bad season tossing 23 interceptions, Golsteyn was cut and then Phil Simms was drafted in the first round and in camp as a rookie. You had to feel that the 1979 training camp would be wide open for a QB competition. Was it?
DEAN: Joe P. and I got time during the pre-season as the competition was opened up, but I always knew that Coach Perkins drafted Phil for a specific reason and he would be playing when he was ready. Which he was after I quarterbacked in the loss against the Eagles at home before Phil started at New Orleans the following week.
BBV: What were the differences of John McVay as head coach and Ray Perkins as head coach?
DEAN: Coach Perkins was much more involved with the QBs. He was very knowledgeable and analytical, and was very intense in his preparation for games, which may have been his trademarks as a players, also. Coach McVay managed his staff. Just different styles.
BBV: On August 5, 1980 you were traded to the Packers. How did you hear of the news?
DEAN: Coach Perkins called me into his office at camp in Pleasantville and told me. I had just gotten engaged and closed on the purchase of a house in New Jersey.
BBV: What was your first thought about being traded to your home state of Wisconsin?
DEAN: Very excited to come back to Wisconsin. Met my dad at the airport in Milwaukee with some media there, too. Then I drove to Green Bay. It was a bit surreal. Coach Bart Starr was of course a highly-respected individual and gentleman, as well as the icon for the Packers.
BBV: Yourself and your twin brother Robert were members of the 14-player USA handball team in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal and finished in 10th place. What was that experience like?
DEAN: An extraordinary experience to represent the USA and to do so with my twin. Team did not do well, but we really had no training budget. Opening ceremony was awesome in Montreal. Post-Olympics there was a reception at the White House with President Ford. Jesse Owens was receiving the Medal of Honor that day also.
BBV: How many times has the conversation come up where you were an NFL player plus an Olympian for the United States?
DEAN: Very few have ever mentioned it. I was incredibly fortunate, as there are obviously many better athletes.
BBV: You are presently the executive director for a rather large indoor ice rink facility. Currently with a $2.8 million budget, what are some of the challenges you face when dealing with such a large structure?
DEAN: The Pettit National Ice Center was the first enclosed speedskating oval in the USA replacing the Olympic Oval in Milwaukee where Eric Heiden had trained before winning his five gold medals. The Center had financial challenges through the 1990s and until about 2010. We have been able to turn around the financial model and renew the facility. We were proud to host the sold-out USA Olympic Team Trials Long Track Speedskating in January 2018. In addition to the Oval, we have two Olympic-sized ice rinks. Our business model is driven by hosting and promoting ice-related sports such as hockey, figure skating, curling, speedskating, public skates as well as instructural programs for each sport. We also have a 450-meter run/walk track, the longest indoor track in the United States. As a 25-year old facility, we have invested a significant amount of funds into renewing the Center and its operating systems.
BBV: Is your facility an official U.S. Olympic training site?
DEAN: Yes. The Center was designated as an Official USA Olympic Training Site when it opened on December 31, 1992.
BBV: What was your fondest memories as a New York Football Giant?
DEAN: It was never a goal of mine to play in the NFL, but I was grateful for the chance. My fondest memories are of the people I was lucky to meet, including the late Wellington Mara and his sons John and Frank. Also, trainer Ronnie Barnes and coaches McVay, Gibson, Infante, Perkins, Adams and Bill Belichick. Belichick had arranged for the videographer to make a highlight reel of my play with the Giants. Then there were the wonderful teammates like Phil Simms, Dave Jennings, Jimmy Robinson, Gary Shirk and Harry Carson come to mind first. But, I liked them all.
Barry Shuck is a pro football historical writer and a member of the Professional Football Researcher’s Association