In all of the years leading up to Saturday’s virtual playoffs-or-go-home clash at MetLife Stadium, just one game in the 11 games the Jets and Giants have played in their regular-season series history has had any significant implications other than bragging rights to the city the two share.
The date was Dec. 18, 1988. The game was the regular-season finale for both teams. The place was Giants Stadium. At stake for the Giants was a playoff berth. At stake for the Jets was pride.
The day ended in a 27-21 Jets win, a last-minute comeback victory that kept Bill Parcells’ Giants out of the playoffs.
FIGHTER JETS: With no postseason hopes, Ken O’Brien and the 1988 Jets still managed to knock off Lawrence Taylor’s Giants, denying Big Blue a playoff berth.
To set the scene:
* The Giants entered the game (a Jets home game) with a 10-5 record, needing to win to clinch the NFC East title and earn a home playoff game.
* The Jets were 7-7-1, two years removed from making the playoffs the same year the Giants won Super Bowl XXI, and seeking a winning season as consolation for no playoff berth.
“It all began the Monday before the game,’’ former Jets kicker Pat Leahy recalled yesterday. “We were out of the playoff race, but we came in that Monday and the atmosphere around the complex was like we were going to the Super Bowl. Coaches and everyone around were like, ‘We’re going to do everything we can to knock them out of the playoffs.’ ’’
Former Jets center Jim Sweeney had the same memory.
“We knew we couldn’t go to the playoffs, so our attitude was, ‘If we don’t go, they don’t go,’ ’’ Sweeney said.
“It was like a big-brother scenario,’’ he added. “The Giants were always considered the big brother, and rightfully so because they’d been around much longer and they had the hardware. You always want to measure yourself against your big brother. You can play him 10 times and beat him one time, but he remembers that one time and you remember that one time.’’
Rest assured, the Giants remember.
“I want to forget that game,’’ former Giants running back Joe Morris said. “We had control of our own destiny. All we had to do was win and we were in the playoffs.’’
Former Giants receiver, punt returner and fan favorite Phil McConkey still harbors a devastating memory from that game. Despite being one of the most dependable punt returners in the league, he lost a fumble on a punt return that led directly to a Jets touchdown.
“Do you know how many hundreds of times I handled the ball for the Giants? That was the only one I think I lost in my career,’’ McConkey said. “I remember it like it was yesterday. I felt horrible. It was a contributing factor to the loss.’’
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