7 Most Disappointing Seasons in New York Giants History
There is no denying that the 2013 New York Giants, who enter Week 17 with a 6-9 record and long eliminated from playoff contention, have had a bad 2013 season.
But has it been disappointing?
A bad win-loss record is not a requirement for a disappointing season. High expectations, however, are necessary for a team to put up a disappointing campaign. Sometimes visions of success can be conjured up prior to the season, or they can suddenly sprout up after an encouraging start.
Either way, in order for a season to let down a team and its fans, there must be somewhere to fall.
The separation between expectations and reality by the end of the season defines the level of disappointment. Also, events in the seasons preceding and following the year of failed expectations shape the depth of the disappointment. This last measuring stick can only be truly accurate years later, through the lens of historical context.
With the definition of a disappointing season firmly defined, let’s count down the top seven all time for Big Blue. Before we hit the official list, there are a few seasons that didn’t quite make the cut, but deserve to be noted.
The Giants played in the NFL Championship game three straight years from 1933-35, winning it all in 1934. They entered 1936 as a team that was expected to be formidable once again, despite the loss of some key players to the new American Football League.
One major reason for the optimism, despite the defections, was the acquisition of rookie fullback Tuffy Leemans. While Leemans lived up to the hype by leading the NFL in rushing, New York underachieved with a 5-6-1 record. It was their only losing season in a 12-year stretch, spanning 1933-1944.
New York won three championships in their first 14 years of existence (1925-1938), however they would undergo a somewhat lengthy dry spell of title-less seasons from 1939-1955. They were not a laughingstock during this stretch, either, since they made the playoffs six times, including four championship-game defeats.
One of their playoff appearances occurred in 1950, after a successful 10-2 regular season. The Cleveland Browns also ended up 10-2 in the American Conference, which forced a divisional tiebreaker game between the two teams.
Despite the fact that the Giants beat the Browns twice in the regular season, Cleveland played the game at home because they won a coin toss. Without the support of their home fans, New York lost a heartbreaking game at windy, frigid Cleveland Stadium, 8-3.
The Browns would go on to win the championship, while the Giants would have to wait six more years for their next crown.
By 1978, the Giants were deeply entrenched in the darkest period of their history. They had not made the playoffs in 14 years and had posted five consecutive losing seasons.
However, the beginning of the season provided Giants fans some much-needed hope. Big Blue started 5-3 and appeared to be in good position to break their long playoff drought. Despair soon followed, though, as the Giants lost seven of their last eight games to finish with a 6-10 record.
The clear lowlight of the disastrous second half of the season occurred in Week 12, when they lost to the Eagles 19-17 in the original “Miracle at the Meadowlands”. See the video above for all the gory details of arguably the worst loss ever for the franchise.
7. 1963 Season
The Giants' first championship dry spell ended in 1956, when they beat the Chicago Bears at home, 47-7, to claim the NFL title.
It was brief reprieve, however, as New York would not win another championship until they took home their first Super Bowl crown in January 1987. This 30-plus-year drought started in frustrating fashion, as the Giants lost in the championship game five times from 1958-1963.
Their final title-game loss was probably their most demoralizing, and it started the aforementioned worst period in Giants history.
The 1963 Giants were easily the best offensive team in the league. They scored an astounding 448 points—79 points better than the second-best scoring team, the Green Bay Packers—in a regular season where they posted an 11-3 record.
In the championship game, they faced off against the best defensive team that season, the Chicago Bears, who allowed a minuscule 144 points.
Something had to give at Wrigley Field in Chicago on Dec. 29, and it was the Giants’ offense that easily relented. New York, who was averaging 32 points per game entering their tilt against Chicago, scored only 10 points in a 14-10 loss. The main culprit was quarterback Y.A. Tittle, who threw five interceptions, while his counterpart Billy Wade did not toss a pick.
This game was the end of a long era that saw the Giants play in 15 title games and win four championships over their first 39 seasons.
They would not make the playoffs again until 1981.
6. 2002 Season
Big Blue’s 2002 season seemed headed towards mediocrity after 12 games.
They were 6-6 entering Week 14 and on the fringes of the playoff picture. With only four games left to save their season, head coach Jim Fassel decided to try to rescue a struggling offense by taking the play-calling duties away from offensive coordinator, Sean Payton.
His move, at least in theory, worked, as the Giants averaged 29.5 points and 406 yards of offense during a four-game winning streak to close the season.
New York’s late-season burst qualified them for the playoffs as a wild card and gave them status as a dark horse to make a run towards the Super Bowl.
Their strong play continued against the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park in the Wild Card Game.
At least it did for the first 40 minutes of the game.
After a Matt Bryant field goal put the Giants ahead 38-14 with less than five minutes left in the third quarter, the 49ers scored 25 unanswered points and secured a stunning 39-38 win.
The Giants had a good chance to save the win, even after collapsing, when Matt Bryant lined up for a 41-yard game-winning field goal with only six seconds left. However, long snapper Trey Junkin’s snap to holder Matt Allen was low, which quickly aborted the attempt.
Allen improvised, throwing downfield to offensive lineman Rich Seubert. The pass fell incomplete, Seubert was penalized for being an ineligible receiver and the game was over.
However, Seubert was interfered with on the pass, which means that the down should have been replayed due to offsetting penalties. The officials, though, missed the interference, denying the Giants a second opportunity to kick the field goal.
The 2002 Giants went from dark-horse Super Bowl contender to playoff chokers in a snap. It was a lost season that stuck with Big Blue until they won their first Super Bowl in 17 years in February 2008.
5. 1991 Season
The 17-year drought started in 1991, after the Giants won their second Super Bowl in a dramatic setting and fashion the previous season.
After the 1990 campaign, head coach Bill Parcells retired, his first of three retirements from coaching. Also, defensive coordinator Bill Belichick, the most logical heir apparent to Parcells, left the team to become head coach of the Cleveland Browns.
These two key departures, along with receivers coach Tom Coughlin fleeing to take a head coaching job with Boston College, left general manager George Young few options to lead the team.
Therefore, Young promoted offensive backfield coach Ray Handley to head coach. The move proved to be a mistake.
Handley’s tenure started with controversy, as he decided to hand the quarterback job to Jeff Hostetler, who led the Giants to their Super Bowl title the year before, because incumbent Phil Simms was hurt late in the regular season.
The decision was met harshly by fans and the media, who felt that Simms, due to injury, shouldn’t lose a job he had held for the better part of the previous seven seasons.
The season did start promisingly, with a home win over the San Francisco 49ers, whom Big Blue had defeated in the NFC Championship Game on their way to Super Bowl XXV. However, the Giants stumbled the rest of the way, finishing 8-8 and out of the playoffs, despite returning most of the squad that hoisted the Lombardi Trophy.
Handley was fired following the 1992 season and barely heard from again.
4. 2013 Season
This season isn’t over yet, but the result of the Giants' final game against the Washington Redskins Sunday afternoon won’t change the fact 2013 was a disappointment on several levels.
Big Blue was considered a good bet to win the NFC East before the season started, yet they will end the 2013 campaign recording their first losing record in nine years.
They lost their first six games, setting a franchise record for futility to begin a season. Entering Week 7, most Giants fans felt the season was over. However, the team provided some false hope by ripping off four straight wins and setting up a matchup with the Dallas Cowboys in Week 12 that suddenly meant something.
A New York win would put them right back in contention for the NFC East crown.
Despite falling behind by 15 points in the third quarter, the Giants fought back to tie the game at 21 with under five minutes left in the fourth quarter. The defense, though, which had been a strength for most of the season, allowed Tony Romo and the Cowboys offense to march down the field for a game-winning field goal.
The Giants were eliminated from playoff contention two weeks later in a loss to the San Diego Chargers.
A mistake-ridden offense, mainly due to Eli Manning’s 26 interceptions, is the key reason that Big Blue faltered this season. Also, a special teams unit that consistently allowed big plays or committed dumb penalties didn’t help the cause, either.
Either way, a roster that should have been capable of 10 wins badly underachieved and disappointed not once but twice in the process.
3. 1988 Season
After a badly failed attempt to defend their Super Bowl title in 1987 (more on that soon), the Giants appeared primed to at least get back into the playoffs in 1988. Their season, though, hit an immediate speed bump with the four-game drug suspension of Lawrence Taylor, arguably the best player in the NFL.
With Taylor out to start the season, Big Blue stumbled to a 2-2 record. Once the superstar outside linebacker was back in the fold starting in Week 5, New York went on a run that saw them win eight of their next 11 games.
Sitting at 10-5 entering the final game of the season, the Giants needed a win over their stadium roommate, the New York Jets, to qualify for the postseason.
As the “road” team, the Giants held a slim 21-20 late in the fourth quarter. However, the Jets, helped in large part to a strong kickoff return to midfield, marched 52 yards for a touchdown to win the game with under a minute left.
The Giants were eliminated from postseason contention for a second straight year.
The Taylor suspension proved significant considering his play over the final 12 games. The then-29-year–old was his usual dominant self with 15.5 sacks.
Would the Giants have been able to eke out at least one more win in the first four games if L.T. had played? The Giants and their fans will never know, adding to the disappointment of another lost season.
2. 1987 Season
The 1988 season was certainly a letdown, but the previous year was even more disappointing for Big Blue.
The Giants entered 1987 as defending Super Bowl champions, yet inexplicably lost their first two games. Their second loss came at home to the Dallas Cowboys, who would end the season with the worst record in the NFL at 3-13.
Any chance of quickly get back on track was derailed by the players’ strike, which started after Week 2.
The third week of the season was cancelled, reducing the season to 15 games, and Weeks 4-6 saw replacement players take the field. The Giants clearly did not get the cream of the, um, crop since they went 0-3 during this stretch.
Sitting with an 0-5 record at the end of the strike, New York won six of their last 10 games once the real Giants returned. This modest winning streak was only window dressing on an awful 6-9 season.
It also started a trend of lackluster Big Blue Super Bowl title defenses.
1. 2008 Season
In the four seasons following a Super Bowl title, the Giants have failed to make the playoffs three times. However, the one time they did make the playoffs ended up being not only their most disappointing title defense, but also the most disappointing season of all time for this proud franchise.
The Giants started the 2008 season 10-1 and were clearly the best team in the NFL. Their passing game was efficient, their running game dominant and they had a top-10 defense as well.
Then, on the Saturday before their 12th game, the unthinkable happened—the Giants' best receiver, and most vital offensive weapon, Plaxico Burress, shot himself in the leg at a Manhattan nightclub.
With this bizarre story dominating the back pages the next day, New York managed to win their 11th game, 23-7, in Washington against the Redskins.
However, the Giants faltered down the stretch, losing three of their last four regular-season games, after they suspended Burress for conduct detrimental to the team.
Despite their late-season struggles, Big Blue still managed to capture the top seed in the NFC and faced the Eagles in the divisional round. Philadelphia, however, stifled the Giants 23-11, scoring 13 unanswered points in the second half to seal the game.
The main reason for their struggles after the Burress suspension was an offense that suddenly couldn’t score. After tallying 20 points 10 times in their first 12 games, including six efforts over 30 points, the Giants only managed to score over 20 points once the rest of the season.
Without Burress, the Giants' passing game lacked a threat worthy of a double-team, making it easier to match up on the rest of New York’s mediocre receivers and also key in on their rushing attack.
The 2008 season was easily the Giants' best chance at back-to-back Super Bowl titles. While Big Blue hoisted the Lombardi Trophy again in 2011, the missed opportunity in 2008 still rankled Giants fans and the players involved.
It was the epitome of a disappointing season—so much hope and possibility erased in the matter of five weeks, mainly because of an incident that had nothing to do with football.
All stats, unless otherwise noted, courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com.