In the last edition of this series of blogs, we look back at the 1988 Giants. This is debatably the best team of the 4 we have spoken about. This team was right in the heart of the 1980s Giants teams who were among the best of the decade. So why then did they fail to make the playoffs? Early season inconsistencies and two heartbreaking losses prevented this 10-6 team from going to the big dance.
The 1988 Giants were coming off of a 6-9 season in 1987 that included games played by replacement players. The 1988 Giants were expected to bounce back and return to their playoff form. The season started with mediocre play that would hurt the Giants in the long run. The Giants were 3-3 to start the season and should have gotten at least one more win out of those 6. They lost to the 49ers in week 2 on a last minute touchdown pass from Joe Montana to Jerry Rice. Following the so-so start, the Giants ripped off 4 straight wins before losing to the Cardinals in week 11. Heading into week 12, the Giants had a chance to avenge their early season loss to the Eagles in a Monday night matchup at Giants Stadium. What resulted was a classic NFL game that was one of many examples in which the Giants lost to the Eagles in heartbreaking fashion. The game went to OT, and when the Eagles lined up to kick a field goal on 3rd down, the Giants blocked it, but the play didn’t end there. The ball was picked up by the Eagles Clyde Simmons who ran it in for the touchdown and the Giants had lost their second game against the Eagles for the year. This Giants team could have folded following this disastrous loss, but their response to this game put them in prime position to win the division in week 16.
The Giants next task was to go into New Orleans and try to defeat the Saints without Phil Simms, Harry Carson, or Carl Banks. What happened was a performance from Lawrence Taylor that Head Coach Bill Parcells referred to as his “signature game.” Playing with torn shoulder ligaments and a detached pectoral muscle, LT helped lead the Giants to a 13-12 victory. Following this memorable win, the Giants won back to back games against the Cardinals and Chiefs, and all that was standing between the Giants and an NFC East title was……the Goddamn Jets. The Jets jumped off to a 20-7 lead in the game before Phil Simms and the Giants came rumbling back taking a 21-20 lead late in the fourth quarter. There would be no comeback victory though, as Ken O’Brien would hit Al Toon on a last minute touchdown pass that would put the Giants down. The Giants failed to get the help they needed later in the day, and would miss the playoffs despite posting a 10-6 record.
The Giants may have missed the playoffs, but they had plenty of good players that should be highlighted. Phil Simms had himself a solid year, passing for 3,359 yards and 21 touchdowns. The Giants ground game was led by Joe Morris who ran for 1,083 yards and 5 touchdowns. Morris was supplemented by Ottis Anderson who had 8 touchdowns. The receiving corps was led by Lionel Manuel who had 1,029 yards receiving and 4 touchdowns. Another receiver who should be highlighted is “Stephen Baker the Touchdown Maker.” Baker had 656 yards receiving and 7 touchdowns. It’s impossible to talk about a 1980s Giants team without mentioning Tight End Mark Bavaro, who had 672 yards receiving and 4 touchdowns. Defensively they were led by All-Pro Linebacker Lawrence Taylor. Taylor had 15.5 sacks in 1988, which led the team. Behind him was defensive lineman George Martin with 7.5 sacks. It would be both George Martin and Harry Carson’s last seasons as Giants, and they would go down as two of the greatest players in the franchise’s history. Along with Taylor, Safety Terry Kinard would go to the Pro Bowl after coming in second for the team in interceptions behind rookie Cornerback Sheldon White who had 4. Although 1988 proved to be a disappointing season, much of this talent would go on to help the Giants win their 3rd Super Bowl title just two years later.
The 1988 Giants were a team that was way too talented to miss the playoffs. The season came down to a rough start and two heartbreaking losses towards the end of the season. Had just one more game gone their way, the Giants may have another Lombardi Trophy in the case at 1925 Giants Drive.
That’s why the 1988 Giants are one of the ones that got away.
(If you want to watch a full recap of the 1988 Giants, here is NFL Films recap of the 1988 Giants, “The Pride is Back.”)
(Photo: AP Images)