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On August 17, 1969, the New York Giants and New York Jets played each other for the first time in one of the last preseason games that mattered.
The fortunes of the two franchises 48 years ago couldn’t have been more opposite as the Giants were playing second fiddle in the Big Apple to their AFL counterpart.
It was seven months after the brash upstart Joe Namath made a guarantee and his Jets delivered by upsetting the mighty Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.
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The Giants played their home games in the rusty catacombs of Yankee Stadium, three years before ground broke on the stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. that bore their name and served as their home for 33 years.
The Jets played their home games in Queens at Shea Stadium, which was only five years old in 1969. It was considered a state-of-the-art stadium because of its inclusion of escalators.
The Giants and Jets played their home games at baseball stadiums so the decision was made to play that intra-city matchup at the Yale Bowl in New Haven, Connecticut.
The Giants, led by two-time NFL Coach of the Year Allie Sherman (himself a former NFL quarterback/running back/defensive back), lost three consecutive NFL Championship Games (twice to the Green Bay Packers and once to the Chicago Bears) from 1961-63.
After the loss in the 1963 NFL Championship Game, the Giants began a postseason drought that lasted 17 years.
The Jets were the younger, hipper team with stars like Namath (whom Sherman wanted to draft out of the University of Alabama), wide receiver Don Maynard, and running back Matt Snell. The victory in Super Bowl III not only legitimized the AFL/NFL merger, but established the Jets as New York’s Team.
The Giants were more straitlaced than the Jets. Their fans were accustomed to winning and frustrated over five NFL Championship Game defeats (including losses in 1958 and 1959 before Sherman’s arrival as head coach).
Fan favorites kicker Don Chandler, defensive tackle Rosey Grier, and linebacker Sam Huff were traded. The Giants also had to deal with the retirements of quarterback Y.A. Tittle and running back Frank Gifford.
Many in attendance 48 years ago at the Yale Bowl were Jets fans.
Gang Green made Big Blue look rather small, going up 24-0 quickly on three touchdown passes from Namath. The Giants fans in attendance let their feelings about their coach known by chanting “Goodbye Allie” like a child would recite a nursery rhyme.
The Jets won the game 37-14, a snoozer that was nothing to remember. It was the first annual preseason meeting between the G-Men and the J-E-T-S.
The New York tabloids had a field day in the aftermath of that first meeting, jumping on the Jets’ bandwagon and piling on the Giants. They began calling for Allie Sherman’s scalp like the Giants fans in attendance at the Yale Bowl.
The Mara family did not like being an afterthought in the minds of New York football fans and fired Sherman one week before the start of the 1969 regular season. His record was 57-51-4, 0-3 in the postseason. Sherman’s .528 winning percentage is still fifth all-time among Giants’ head coaches who coached for at least five seasons.
Sherman, who famously said that the fans “paid their money and can do what they want” when chants of “Goodbye Allie” filled the Yale Bowl, was replaced by the popular Alex Webster, a former Giants running back.
He signed a 10-year contract that paid him $50,000 annually in 1965 so he remained on the Giants’ payroll until 1974. After Sherman was fired by the Giants, he never coached in the NFL again.
Sherman was what we could call a media-savvy coach. He was among the first coaches to address the press regularly. He conducted press conferences during training camp and on Monday mornings after games, which was unheard of at the time.
Sherman never criticized his players or lashed out at the media (even when they called for his job). He was accused of being “very Madison Avenue-ish” but still earned the respect of many reporters because of his professional, gentlemanly approach.
Aside from his coaching legacy, Sherman became a pioneer in broadcasting as well.
Sherman created one of the first pro football coaches’ weekly television programs while he was Giants head coach. In this program (which was revolutionary at the time), he broke down game film and talked football with players, coaches, and guests.
He was instrumental in the creation of NFL Films when his friend and Giants fan Ed Sabol asked Sherman and owner Wellington Mara for exclusive rights to film Giants games and off-field footage.
Sherman was one of ESPN’s first NFL analysts. He and Ed Sabol created a show called “Monday Night Matchup”, a show preceding ABC’s “Monday Night Football”.
The show featured Chris Berman and Ed Sabol’s son Steve. They broke the game down into key match-ups, using stop-action film to and graphics to analyze the evening’s game. The format used in “Monday Night Matchup” (which is still in production today as “NFL Matchup”) was employed by virtually every pre-game show that followed it.
Sherman had a long career at Warner Communications (now Time-Warner) and is considered a pioneer in the creation of interactive television and pay-per-view events. He was tapped by New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to run Off Track Betting (OTB), changing its crude image and making the failing gambling operation profitable.
Sherman died Jan. 3, 2015 at age 91.
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