The New York Giants face the Washington Commanders next week in the first of two matchups this season.
We’re not just previewing the game between the Commanders and the Giants; we’re also providing a historical review of the rivalry. I was asked to select five of the most memorable games from past Giants-Washington matchups.
I want to discuss more recent games — post the NFL/AFL merger — but I’d be remiss if I failed to mention the history between these two franchises, so first, let’s dive back into the archives of the NFL.
Washington and the Giants’ rivalry started back in the 1930s. In 1932, the Boston Braves were formed as an NFL football team. The Braves were derived from the Cleveland Indians, who were operated under the franchise known as the Newark Tornadoes (the NFL was not stable in those early years).
The Braves played their first NFL game against the Brooklyn Dodgers in an eight-team league and were shut out 14-0. The next week, the Braves won their first game as a franchise against the New York Giants by a score of 14-6.
Of course, back then, the league had well-known teams like the Chicago Cardinals, Staten Island Stapletons, the Portsmouth Spartans, and the Brooklyn Dodgers. Other teams in the league were the Giants, Braves, Chicago Bears, and Green Bay Packers.
The Braves had a financial net loss in 1932, so the franchise was moved to Fenway Park, and they rebranded themselves as the Redskins, purportedly to honor their head coach Lone Star Dietz who was of Sioux descent.
In 1937, the Redskins moved to Washington and played their first game against the New York Giants, defeating Big Blue 13-3. It’s in this year when the rivalry starts to sizzle.
Washington and the Giants also played in the last game of the season; the winner had a date with the Chicago Bears in the 1937 NFL Championship game. In preparation for the game, Washington’s owner George Preston Marshall brought 12,000 Washington fans and a 150-piece marching band onto trains and held a parade through New York City, with the large entourage chanting “Hail to the Redskins.”
Washington won the matchup 49-14 before defeating Chicago 28-21 in the 1937 Championship game. Future New York Titans (AKA the New York Jets) head coach, “Slinging” Sammy Baugh, was Washington’s rookie quarterback in 1937 and played with the franchise till 1952.
The Giants found redemption in 1938, and the rivalry festered. The Giants beat Washington 10-7 in Week 5, which started an eight-game winning streak that led New York to its third NFL Championship. The Giants also played Washington in Week 13 — the game before the Giants beat the Packers; New York shut Washington out, 36-0, before defeating Green Bay 23-17 at the Polo Grounds. The score 36-0 is significant for another reason in this rivalry, but we’ll get to that later.
The Giants finished 8-2, Washington 6-3, so that Week 13 matchup was pivotal. The two teams faced a similar situation in 1939. They both played with identical records heading into Week 13; the winner earned a date to play the Green Bay Packers in the NFL Championship game.
The teams tied in their first matchup 0-0 (exciting, right?). Washington trailed the Giants 9-7 with mere seconds on the clock in Week 13. They attempted a field goal that - by most accounts - seemingly went through the upright as seconds ticked off, but the field goal was called no good by the referee, and the Giants won the game and went on to get shut out by Green Bay, 27-0.
It’s not the only time in this rivalry that a potentially controversial field goal determined the outcome of a game (Week 2, 2021…was Lawrence offside?). However, times were a bit different in the 1930s; it’s rumored that George Preston Marshall (Washington’s owner) attempted to get lead referee Bill Halloran fired from his day job as a postmaster in Providence, Rhode Island. That is, of course, after Halloran was punched in the face by a Washington player after the game.
The highest-scoring game in NFL history
Giants Ring of Honor legend Sam Huff factors into this rivalry as well, and it’s not in the Giants’ favor. The great middle linebacker played seven years with the Giants before playing five with Washington; he is also in Washington’s Ring of Honor.
The highest-scoring football game in NFL history was played on Nov. 27, 1966. The teams combined for 16 touchdowns, and nine of those were of 30 yards or more. With seconds remaining, Washington leading 69-41, obviously the game firmly in their grasp, Washington’s coach Otto Graham opted to kick a field goal to extend their lead to 72-41, a combined 113 points, which is still the most in NFL history.
Graham claimed he just wanted his kicker to practice, but many speculate the kick was out of spite for their current MLB Sam Huff, who the Giants traded to Washington in 1964.
Prior to his departure from the Giants, Huff was reassured by Giants’ brass that he was untouchable after the Giants traded defensive players Cliff Livingston, Dick Modzelewski, and Rosey Grier under the leadership of new head coach Allie Sherman.
Less than a year after he was reassured, Huff was traded to Washington for defensive tackle Andy Stynchula and running back Dick James. The trade sent shockwaves around New York. Huff went on to make another Pro Bowl in 1964.
That’s a lot of history, I know, but these franchises have been tied to the hip for a little less than a century. There’s been plenty of memorable matchups throughout the rivalry, so here are five notable games to remember as we get ready for the Giants-Commanders this week.
Game 1: Joe Theismann Game
Washington defeated the Giants, 23-21, during a primetime Monday Night Football game on November 18th, 1985. Washington won the game but lost their starting quarterback. The game would infamously be known as the Joe Theismann Game.
Theismann, from South River, New Jersey, was the 1983 Most Valuable Player in the league. He was a well-established veteran whose career was unfortunately ended during this win against the New York Giants.
At around mid-field, Washington ran a flea-flicker pass; Theismann caught the football and stepped into the pocket as Harry Carson broke into the pocket, with Lawrence Taylor winning around the edge to Theismann’s left.
Taylor awkwardly sacked Theismann, and the 36-year-old quarterback’s right leg buckled underneath him, resulting in his right tibia breaking through his skin which was witnessed on national television.
Taylor quickly got up and signaled to the Washington sideline for the medical staff. Taylor heard the pop of Theismann’s leg and witnessed the gruesome nature of his injury.
An ESPN poll voted Theismann’s injury as the Most Shocking Moment in History, in reference to sports moments, by viewers. The Washington Post dubbed the play “The Hit That No One Who Saw It Can Ever Forget.”
Every major athletic injury suffered on television since this game has, in some form or another, been compared to Theismann’s injury. Theismann was quoted in a Washingtonian article written by Luke Mullins saying this…
“What the injury did for me, it basically became my identity. I’m basically the godfather of broken legs.”
The Giants and Washington both finished with 10-6 records in 1985. The Giants earned the Wildcard berth behind Dallas, who also finished 10-6. New York defeated the 49ers 17-3 in the Wildcard round before losing to the Chicago Bears 21-0. The Bears went on to win their first and only Super Bowl.
Game 2: In honor of Wellington Mara
In 1925, Wellington Mara’s father, Tim Mara, who was friends with NFL President Joseph Carr, purchased the rights to an NFL franchise in New York for $500 — this team would become known as the Giants. Five years later, Tim split the franchise’s ownership between his two sons, Wellington and Jack.
Wellington was just 14 years old in 1930; he would eventually fight in World War II in the Navy. After his service, he became the Vice President of the Giants until his older brother Jack passed away in 1965. Wellington assumed the role of team owner and president, and he became vital to the NFL/AFL merger.
On Oct. 25, 2005, Wellington Mara passed away at 89 years old. Five days later, the Giants played Washington at home, and the New York Giants put on an unforgettable performance. Both teams were 4-3 entering the Week 8 game.
The Giants didn’t just shut Washington out, 36-0 — they embarrassed them. Washington was out-gained, 386 to 125 yards, as star running back Tiki Barber rushed for 206 yards and a touchdown. The Giants possessed the football for nearly 40 minutes in the game.
Mark Brunell was benched in the game, he was sacked three times with an interception, and Patrick Ramsey came in and was sacked twice. Washington’s leading rusher was Rock Cartright, with 21 yards on the ground. The Giants defense dominated.
The Giants rushed for 262 yards, with Derrick Ward adding 42 yards to Barber’s total; rookie RB Brandon Jacobs also had 14 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Quarterback Eli Manning added a touchdown to Jeremy Shockey to go along with his 146 yards through the air. Osi Umenyiora had two sacks; Michael Strahan had one, along with William Joseph and Brent Alexander.
Tiki Barber’s touchdown ball from late in the third quarter was presented to current Giants’ front office member Tim McDonnell — a grandson of Mara. Barber gave the football to McDonnell and said “This is for you; this is for your grandfather.” The victory was the Giants' first shutout in seven seasons, according to the Associated Press.
Ironically enough, it’s rumored that Wellington Mara always said Washington was the Giants’ truest rivalry.
Wellington Mara isn’t just an iconic figure among the Big Blue faithful, but he’s one of the more influential individuals to set in motion the modern NFL that we all love and enjoy today. Dominating a game in the fashion that the Giants did over Washington on Oct. 30, 2005, was an excellent tribute to an innovative pioneer known as The Duke.
Game 3: 1986 NFC Championship game
Before defeating the Denver Broncos 39-10 in Super Bowl XXI, the Giants beat Washington 17-0. The reputation of the Meadowlands winds was on full display in this pivotal matchup, and Giants coach Bill Parcells was quite aware.
After winning the coin toss, Parcells elected to take the wind. New York proceeded to score 10 points with the wind in the first quarter. Washington punted the football three times in the first quarter, and the wind limited those punts to 23, 27, and 24 yards. At one point in the second quarter, Washington was in field goal range, but the 51-yard try was missed.
All 17 points were scored by the Giants in the first half. Washington quarterback Jay Schroeder finished 20 of 50 for 195 yards with an interception, and that was with a 48-yard pass to Art Monk; Schroeder was also sacked four times.
New York possessed the football and ran the rock 45 times in the game. Parcells relied on his talented defense under the wise coaching eye of a 34-year-old defensive coordinator named Bill Belichick.
The defenses were the tale of the second half, as the Giants would go on to win the NFC in convincing fashion. After the game, John Madden remarked:
“Last year, I thought the Bears had the best defense I had ever seen. But in the last two weeks, I feel these Giants have as good a defense as has ever played in this league.”
The Giants only allowed three points to the 49ers in the Divisional Round after their 49-3 victory. New York won their first Super Bowl in the Rose Bowl against the Broncos two weeks after defeating Washington. Funny enough, one year later, Washington defeated the Denver Broncos to win their second Super Bowl. That game was also played in the Rose Bowl.
Game 4: Go home, Washington
The 2016 New York Giants were the anomaly for the franchise throughout a dismal decade in the 2010s. The 11-5 Giants entered Week 17 with a solid grasp on the fifth Wild Card berth, as the Cowboys were 13-3.
Washington entered the game 8-6-1, and a win over the Giants would have solidified their spot as the final Wild Card team over the 9-7 Detroit Lions. However, Washington fell behind the Giants and trailed them 10-0 at halftime due to a Robbie Gould field goal and a Rashad Jennings touchdown run.
Kirk Cousins found Jordan Reed for a one-yard touchdown pass after a Dustin Hopkins field goal, which tied the score with 8:13 left in the game. Gould added another field goal to give the Giants the lead, and Cousins threw his second interception to Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie with 1:27 left in the game.
The Giants punted the football after three plays, and Washington burned their final two timeouts, giving Washington the ball with six seconds left. Washington attempted a miracle by pitching the football back, and the Giants’ Trevin Wade returned the fumble for a touchdown.
Washington returned home and missed the playoffs, while the Giants lost to the Green Bay Packers 38-13. Boat picture in Miami be damned!
Game 5: Bitter rivals
The Giants defeated Washington 27-23 in a thrilling Week 8 game in 2012 — the first game New York played against rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III. The game itself, while important and exciting, takes a backseat to the ostensible pettiness surrounding the circumstances of Giants’ owner John Mara and Washington’s owner Dan Snyder.
Since a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) was not reached between the league and the NFLPA, the 2010 NFL season was uncapped, meaning there was no salary cap or floor between which teams had to operate.
Sounds like the Wild West of NFL spending, but the NFL was clear in their warning to the 32 teams — any manipulation of the salary cap in 2010 would come back to haunt clubs once the salary cap was re-established under the new CBA. Still, the term manipulation could be construed as ambiguous, albeit the previous CBA had specific limits set on what’s permissible during an uncapped season.
Once the new CBA was signed, an NFL Management Committee was established and led by John Mara. The two teams in potential violation were the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins.
According to Yahoo Sports, portions of the contracts levied to Albert Haynesworth and DeAngelo Hall of Washington, and Miles Austin of Dallas, were loaded into the 2010 spending instead of counted against the teams’ salary caps in later years. Gregg Rosenthal (then of NBC Sports) pointed to Washington as a team to watch in terms of spending in 2010.
“Some think that new G.M. Bruce Allen will counsel against excessive spending. Others think that owner Daniel Snyder won’t be able to resist the urge to splurge.”
The committee determined that Dallas would be penalized $10 million against the cap, and Washington $36 million for front-loading contracts in 2010. Mara stated after the committee’s determination that he thought the penalties imposed were proper but that the teams were lucky they retained all their draft picks.
Needless to say, Washington and Dallas were furious.
The Week 8 game in 2012 had a little extra spice and salt for the two owners. Washington outgained the Giants 480 to 393 in a game where Eli Manning threw for 337 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. Robert Griffin III threw for 358 yards with two touchdowns and an interception while rushing for 89 yards on the ground.
It was Victor Cruz who could not be contained in this game; the Super Bowl Champion UMass alum caught seven of 11 targets for 131 yards and the lone Manning touchdown. Washington led the Giants with less than a minute to go in the game.
Cruz caught a 77-yard touchdown to give the Giants a 27-20 lead that they would hold onto after Chase Blackburn hit Santana Moss, forcing a fumble that was recovered by rookie Jayron Hosley.
Washington ended up defeating the Giants 17-16 on Monday Night Football later in the year. Washington had the final laugh as they battled back from a 3-6 record to win the NFC East. According to Curtis Crabtree of PFT, Snyder purportedly told a Washington staffer:
“I hate those motherf------”
If that doesn’t insinuate the gravity of this contentious rivalry, I’m not sure what will.