It was 1977 and the game became known as the Slush Bowl.
The 8-5 Chicago Bears, led by head coach Jack Pardee, were riding a five-game winning streak when they came to East Rutherford to face the 5-8 New York Giants. The game was a must-win for Chicago, which was seeking a wild card berth. Like the Giants, they had not made it to the postseason since 1963.
As it still often does in December in East Rutherford, the weather in the half-empty Giants Stadium played a factor. It was cold, wet and slushy as the Giants, under the guidance of John McVay, looked to close out yet another disappointing season.
My dad and grandfather were at this game. My dad had been attending every home Giants game for three years at this point, beginning in 1974 when the Giants finished with a 2-12 record and still played at the Yale Bowl. The following year, the Giants played at Shea Stadium and my dad and grandfather went to those games, too.
My grandfather has been to almost every Giants home game since the early ‘50s and had built up an armor for cold-weather games that he still employs now when we all go to MetLife Stadium. But my dad was only 11 years old at the time of the Slush Bowl and did not yet know the trick for surviving: bringing hand warmers, wrapping his feet in not only socks but plastic bags, wearing pajama pants under snow pants.
Inexperienced and watching a Giants team that was about to log its fifth of what would become eight consecutive losing seasons, my dad looked at my grandfather and asked him if they could leave at halftime - something he had not asked before and has never suggested since.
The Giants lost that game to the Bears, 12-9, in a low-scoring fashion that Giants fans of today will find familiar. Each team scored a field goal in the first quarter and then did not score again until the fourth. It’s a good thing my grandfather and dad left because the game was tied at the end of regulation and went into overtime. Bears kicker Bob Thomas, kicked a game-winning 28-yard field goal with 12 seconds left in overtime to secure the win. Walter Payton, who led the league in rushing that season, had just 47 yards on 15 carries.
The memory resonates today because, as the 4-12 Giants prepare to host the Washington Football Team in the regular season finale at MetLife this Sunday afternoon, my family and I will not be there. Just weeks before, my grandfather insisted we attend the Dallas Cowboys game because “It’s the Cowboys” and he did not want Dallas fans to sit in our seats. But as the Giants are on the verge of their fifth straight losing season and eighth in the last 10 years, my grandfather does not feel compelled to watch.
At the start of this season, I wrote about my family’s return to MetLife Stadium after a year away due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
We head up the escalator and walk to Section 149. The only thing we ever buy at games is hot chocolate and it is not cold enough for that yet. My dad and grandfather greet the security guard, who has manned this section for years, with a handshake and pat on the back. As we make our way down to row 14, we see familiar faces. The grandfather and grandson to our left. The father and son behind us and in front of us. The question “How are you?” and the platitude “It’s good to see you” take on new meaning as a global pandemic separates us all from the last time we saw each other. There is comfort and relief in knowing that everyone is at the Giants game; in knowing that everyone is healthy enough to be back at the stadium.
Football has always been spiritual in my family. Whether the team is good or bad, Sundays are for football games. I cannot recall choosing not to go to a game. When my grandfather called me on Sunday after the Giants’ embarrassing 29-3 loss to the Chicago Bears to tell me we weren’t going to go to the final game of the season, I was less surprised than disappointed.
Not disappointed in the decision, but in the Giants, who have let us down. New York is on pace for just its second 13-loss season in franchise history. The on-field performance is not only abysmal, but uninspiring.
My dad told me that as bad as that 1977 season was with the Slush Bowl, the 1978 season was worse because of the famous play that became known as the Miracle at the Meadowlands. The Giants were up 17-12, but cornerback Herman Edwards of the Philadelphia Eagles returned a fumble for a touchdown as time expired to win the game. My dad and grandfather was at this game. My dad called it “rock bottom.”
It’s a feeling that, 44 years later, feels all too familiar.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: If you are a ticket holder for Sunday and want to share your story for why you are, or are not, going to Sunday’s game, we would love to hear it. Feel free to drop it into the comments.]