Sean Landeta strikes out
It has not been a good time for the New York Giants and their legions of fans.
The Giants completed their third consecutive losing season Sunday with a 35-30 loss to the Eagles at home, leaving Big Blue 6-10 and losses in four of their final five games. Prior to this season, the G-Men had not experienced three consecutive losing seasons since having EIGHT consecutive losing seasons from 1973 through 1980.
Yesterday, Tom Coughlin, who led the Giants to victories in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI, resigned after 12 seasons. He was the only professional coach Eli Manning had known. Coughlin, who was an assistant to Bill Parcells when the Giants won Super Bowl XXV,
Today is the 30th anniversary of one of the Giants’ lesser moments. It wasn’t funny when it happened, but given what has gone wrong for the franchise recently, it probably would evoke a hearty laugh.
On January 5, 1986, the Giants found themselves as heavy underdogs in an NFC Divisional Playoff game for the second consecutive year.
Their opponent that Sunday would be the mighty Chicago Bears, who had captured the imagination of millions of professional football fans, and millions more who could have cared less about football, throughout a dominating 1985 season.
Save for a 38-24 loss to the Dolphins in week 13 on Monday Night Football, the Bears obliterated everyone in their path en route to a 15-1 regular season.
Even though it wasn’t their largest margin of victory in 1985, the Bears impressed me the most 12 days after the loss in Miami, traveling to New jersey and completely throttling the playoff bound Jets 19-6. New York’s AFC team had no hope of establishing a running game, despite having perennial Pro Bowl running back Freeman McNeil, and no chance to pass, even though Ken O’Brien had quickly matured into a fine pro quarterback. The Bears weren’t world beaters on offense, but All-Pro defensive linemen Joe Klecko and Mark Gastineau, half of the famed “New York Sack Exchange”, never got close to McMahon, thanks to solid protection from Jimbo Covert, Jay Hilgenberg and the rest of the offensive line.
In a week eight victory over the Packers, also on Monday Night, the Bears inserted rookie defensive tackle William “The Refrigerator” Perry on offense in goal-line situations at fullback, ostensibly to be a lead blocker from Walter Payton, who set the NFL’s career rushing yardage mark in October 1984.
Instead, Perry took a handoff from McMahon in the fourth quarter vs. Green Bay and scored the final touchdown in the Bears’ 23-7 victory. Perry caught a TD pass from McMahon when the Bears traveled to Green Bay two weeks later.
In 1984, the Giants defeated the Rams in the NFC Wild Card game, then had to go to San Francisco to face the 49ers, who completed the first 15-1 season in NFL history. Only a three-point loss to the Steelers in week seven prevented Bill Walsh’s team from a perfect regular season. New York played hard and pushed the 49ers much more than either the Bears or Dolphins were in the later playoff rounds, but San Francisco won 21-10.
Bill Parcells’ team was given even LESS chance to beat the Bears, even though the Giant defense came to Chicago on the heels of a strong defensive performance in a 17-3 victory over the 49ers in the Wild Card game.
The Los Angeles Rams watched the Giants-Bears game with great anticipation. Following their 20-0 conquest of Dallas the previous day, the Rams would face the Giants or Bears in the NFC Championship game. Of course, the Rams wanted the Giants to win, not only because the Bears had been next to invincible in ’85, but if the Giants won, Parcells would have to take his team across the country to Anaheim for a date with Eric Dickerson, who shredded the Cowboys for 248 yards, an NFL playoff record which still stands.
It didn’t take long to become apparent that John Robinson and his troops would soon be packing their long johns for the trip to the shores of Lake Michigan.
To nobody’s surprise, it was cold and very windy in Chicago on January 5, 1986. The temperature of 19 degrees (minus-7 Celsius) wasn’t that extreme, but a strong wind was gusting off Lake Michigan, extremely problematic at Soldier Field, which sits right on the lake, unlike Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park, the baseball stadia in the Windy City, which are a little further inland.
With the game scoreless and just under six minutes left in the first quarter, the Giants were forced to punt after their second drive went nowhere. Parcells hoped Sean Landeta, one of the best punters in the NFL, could “flip the field” and allow the defense, led by Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson, to stop Payton, McMahon and the Bears and get the ball back in better field position.
Taylor, Carson and the rest of the defense would be on the sidelines for a little bit longer.
The snap to Landeta was perfect, but as the punter dropped the ball towards his foot, a gust of wind caught the ball and blew it right.
Moments later, Sean Landeta became the NFL’s first victim of a swinging strikeout.
He missed the ball completely.
The brown oblate spheroid rolled free at the Giants’ 5-yard line, where Bears safety Shaun Gayle swooped in. He sauntered into the end zone to send Solider Field into a frenzy.
It was only 7-0, but it might as well have been 70-0 as far as the Giants were concerned.
The Giants would muster a meager 181 yards. The Bears won 21-0, and three weeks later, they completed their destiny in New Orleans by mauling the Patriots 46-10 in Super Bowl XX.
Landeta didn’t have to live with the infamy very long. The Giants came back the next season to win Super Bowl XXI, and he would still be with the team when they won Super Bowl XXV following the 1990 season.
The Bears’ dynasty never was. They didn’t get back to the Super Bowl until 2006, when they lost to the Colts and Peyton Manning.
Landeta wasn’t the first punter to blame the wind for a mishap.
In the 1962 NFL championship game, the Packers’ Max McGee had a punt blocked in the end zone by the Giants’ Erich Barnes. Jim Collier recovered in the end zone for New York’s only touchdown in a 16-7 loss at Yankee Stadium.
McGee contended for the rest of his life the strong winds gusting in The Bronx forced him to drop the ball differently than normal, which allowed Barnes to block the punt.
A few months after the game, McGee feared NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle would use the blocked punt against him as he investigated teammate Paul Hornung, McGee’s best friend on the Packers, and Lions defensive tackle Alex Karras, for gambling. Hornung and Karras were each suspended for the 1963 season, but McGee never was charged.