Eagles' top plays: The First Miracle

AP Photo/G. Paul Burnett

This is one of three plays nominated as the most memorable play in team history. In the next two days, we’ll feature Wilbert Montgomery's 42-yard touchdown run against Dallas in the 1980 NFC title game that helped send the Eagles to their first Super Bowl and DeSean Jackson's 65-yard punt return for a touchdown that beat the New York Giants in 2010. Please vote for your choice as the Eagles' most memorable play.

Score: Eagles 19, Giants 17

Date: Nov. 19, 1978 Site: Giants Stadium

The play itself was almost slapstick, a head-slapping combination of poor play calling and clumsy execution. For the Philadelphia Eagles, though, the play meant so much.

“That was a turning point for our team,” tackle Stan Walters told Eagles historian Ray Didinger. “Prior to that, we were losing games we should’ve won. That day we won a game we should’ve lost and, all of a sudden, we became a team that expected to win. Even if we were losing, we felt we’d find a way to win. We didn’t have that feeling before.”

The Eagles were on their way to a 17-12 loss to their NFC East rivals after a Giants interception late in the game. New York quarterback Joe Pisarcik took a knee on first down, but Eagles linebacker Frank LeMaster crashed through the line and hit him. The Giants didn’t like that, so they responded by calling for a handoff to bruising running back Larry Csonka on second down. Csonka ran for 11 yards. That made it third-and-2, and the Giants again called Csonka's number.

It was an all-time mistake. Pisarcik bobbled the snap and, turning toward Csonka, lost the ball. Pisarcik dived for the bouncing ball, knocking it right to Eagles cornerback Herman Edwards. The future NFL head coach and ESPN commentator scooped the ball up and ran it 26 yards for a game-winning touchdown.

The play lives on in fans’ memories because it represented a turning point. For years, it was the Eagles who let victory turn to bitter defeat with a mental error. It was the Eagles who fumbled games away, who lost when they should have won. It was the Eagles fans who waited in the parking lot to jeer at departing players.

Now it was the other way around. By winning, the Eagles stayed alive and went on to their first playoff berth under coach Dick Vermeil. Two years later, they were in the Super Bowl.

The morning of the game, Eagles owner Leonard Tose had open-heart surgery (a new procedure at the time) in Houston. A few hours later, Tose listened via radio hookup as his moribund franchise was given a jolt of life by “The Miracle of the Meadowlands.”