Eli Manning is a two-time Super Bowl champion. His name climbs up the career statistical lists each season as he never misses a start and rarely misses a snap. Even with his occasionally head-scratching interceptions, most Giants fans find comfort in knowing that Manning will be under center for nearly every play of every game. If he’s protected, they believe their team has a shot to win. But that does not mean he is universally loved.
New York Giants fans have always been tough on him. But, then again, they always seem to be tough on their quarterbacks. Phil Simms led the team to its first NFL title in 30 years by playing a near perfect game in Super Bowl XXI. That alone should have won over his critics.
A lot of fans never did like Simms, despite his status as perhaps the Giants’ greatest signal caller of all time. Unless you make the argument, as I might, that it’s Manning. That got me to thinking: If either Manning or Simms is the best, who are the worst quarterbacks in Giants’ history?
The trouble with putting together this list is that the Giants have actually had a pretty successful history. They’ve won 8 NFL titles, and have actually lost more NFL title games than any other team. Along the way, men like Charlie Conerly, Y.A. Tittle, and even Fran Tarkenton have played quarterback for the G-Men. They’re all in the Hall of Fame.
I could not compose a list of the Top 10 worst quarterbacks in Giants history because I simply couldn’t come up with 10 lousy or deficient quarterbacks for this franchise. That being the case, I set out to compile a list of the top 5, or bottom 5 to put it more accurately. Here’s my list, and it starts with a name that might surprise you.
5. Gary Wood
The Giants were one of the dominant teams in the NFL in the 1950’s and early 60’s. But age and the retirement of Y.A. Tittle caused a swift and sudden decline in the mid-60’s. In the midst of a horrific 1-12-1 season in 1966 is where we find Gary Wood. The upstate New York native played in a handful of games in 1964 and took a few snaps in 1965. But it was in his 6-game stint as New York’s starter during the worst season in its history that Wood qualified for this list. He completed 47% of his passes and tossed only 6 TD’s. He threw 13 interceptions, leading a pathetic Giant offense to defeat in all six of his starts.
Wood spent 1967 and 1968 with the expansion New Orleans Saints before briefly returning to New York in 1969 and appearing in a handful of games. Ordinarily, I would not have included him on this list, but the totality of his and the team’s ineptitude in 1966 cannot be ignored.
4. Dave Brown
After perhaps his best statistical season in 1993, Phil Simms was cut loose by the Giants. He was about to turn 35 years old and had undergone shoulder surgery after the team’s Divisional playoff loss to the 49ers. Simms had been through a multitude of injuries in his 15 years in New York, and the front office thought they had his successor ready to take the reins.
His successor was a 1992 Supplemental Draft pick named Dave Brown. The former Duke Blue Devil showed promise in his rookie season, winning 9 of his 15 starts. Brown threw more interceptions than touchdowns that year but had a knack for pulling out close games in the 4th quarter. Although the Giants’ 9-7 record did not get them into the playoffs, the future looked bright. Sadly, it wasn’t.
The team skidded to an 11-21 record in his other two seasons behind center. The offense never did find a rhythm and Brown never again displayed the promise that he had in his rookie season. He was replaced mid-way through the 1997 season and found himself moving on to Arizona in 1998.
Phil Simms spent much of the 1982 and ’83 seasons on the sidelines with severe injuries. This left the Giants in the hands of Scott Brunner. Although he had led the Giants to the playoffs in 1981, Brunner couldn’t take much credit for that. He threw 11 interceptions in his 6 starts, and the team relied mostly on its revitalized defense (led by all-world rookie Lawrence Taylor) to do most of the heavy lifting. However, having guided the team to the postseason for the first time in 18 seasons did create a bit of a quarterback controversy.
The team skidded to a 4-5 record in 1982, and Brunner led the team to a 3-12-1 season the following year which nearly cost rookie Head Coach Bill Parcells his job. This futility led to Simms regaining the starting job for good and put a merciful end to Brunner’s time in New York.
2. Craig Morton
He was so effective in Dallas that coach Tom Landry often used him over the legendary Roger Staubach. And, along with the famed “Orange Crush” defense, he led the Denver Broncos to their very first Super Bowl in 1977. Between those peaks, lies the valley of his time with the New York Giants. Acquired by the team in 1974, Morton split time with Norm Snead in leading the team to a 2-10 record. He was named the team’s full-time starter in 1975 and compiled a record of 8-20 before moving on to Denver.
He threw 20 touchdowns and 36 interceptions during those two years. Giant fans of the era are probably still scratching their heads as to how a man so successful everywhere else was so lousy in New York. Thankfully for Morton, I’m sure most other football fans of the era barely remember his time in New York.
1. Joe Pisarcik
In fairness, the Giants were no more terrible under Pisarcik than they were under Morton or Snead. Fact is, they did not appear in the playoffs during the entire decade of the 1970’s. So, the team’s record of 11-19 and anemic offense during the 1977 and 1978 seasons really don’t clinch it for him. But one moment of futility during a rare moment of hope sealed this man’s fate in Giant history.
On December 19th, 1978, the Giants hosted the Philadelphia Eagles. They were seconds away from a 17-12 victory which would have evened their record at 6-6 and remarkably kept them alive for a shot at the playoffs. All they needed to do was kneel on the ball, which every team does now in what’s called “Victory Formation”. This is because Pisarcik turned towards running back Larry Csonka, bobbled the ball, and batted it off of his chest and behind the line of scrimmage. Herman Edwards of Philadelphia picked it up and ran in for a game-winning touchdown in what is now known as the “Miracle in the Meadowlands”. The Giants won only one more game that season, skidding to a 6-10 finish.
To be fair, Pisarcik’s muff might have been the catalyst for all the success that would come in the 1980’s. George Young was brought in to replace Andy Robustelli as the team’s GM, setting into motion the events that would bring Bill Parcells, Phil Simms, and Lawrence Taylor to East Rutherford. So, when you think fondly of those 1986 and 1990 championship seasons, think warm thoughts about the Miracle in the Meadowlands. After all, it’s not like Philly ever wins anything anyway.
A reliable and successful quarterback is hard to find. The Giants spent nearly two decades meandering from one to another before Simms came along. And though he was always some degree of unpopular, the team spent more than a decade trying to replace him once he himself was gone. Once Eli Manning walks away, I’m sure there will be those who will focus on his negatives more than his positives. But one thing is for certain: all Giant fans hope the search for his replacement is not as painful as the years when these men led the way.