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Sacco Sez: How 'victory formation' began


Earlier this week I was talking with Quarterbacks Coach Bill Musgrave, a wizened NFL coach and former player.

We were talking about our mutual feeling that any intentional kneel-down play by a quarterback should not be counted as a running play, like it is currently, but rather as a team stat reflecting intentionally lost rushing yards.

Because the kneel-down is a voluntary surrender of yardage, it seems unfair to punish the quarterback's or the team's rushing stats. Such a change would bring the stat in line with some other statistical anomalies in other sports. For example, a sacrifice bunt in baseball does not count as an at-bat on the batter's stats.

I am surprised this has not happened yet, but maybe this change will take place in the future.


One thing leading to another, Bill and I recalled the beginning of what is known as "victory formation," which is the intentional quarterback kneel-down at the end of a game or the end of the first half.

It was a byproduct of a disaster, as many safety elements in all aspects of society are.

On Nov. 19, 1978, the Giants held a 17-12 lead over the Eagles at the Meadowlands with just less than 30 seconds left in the game and Philadelphia out of timeouts.

Everyone expected Giants quarterback Joe Pisarcik to just take a knee, but New York called a running play instead. In the course of Pisarcik handing the ball to fullback Larry Csonka, Pisarcik fumbled the ball, which was then scooped up by Eagles defensive back Herman Edwards, who ran untouched 26 yards for a touchdown.

For the Giants, it was a disaster. But for the Eagles, it became "The Miracle in the Meadowlands."

"And the next week," Musgrave recalled, "every team in football was working on the kneel-down play, and that kneel-down has been how you do it at the end of the game ever since that moment."


The kneel-down had certainly been used sporadically before that, but it had never so widely been considered an absolute part of offensive strategy until that moment.

"It was real sad for the Giants coaches," Musgrave continued. "Offensive coordinator Bob Gibson was fired the next morning, and it was the final season for head coach John McVay with the Giants as well."

McVay bounced back to have an outstanding career as a team administrator for the 49ers, which is where Musgrave befriended him.

Gibson, however, was not so fortunate. He retired from the game and moved to Florida, where he chose to occupy his time running a bait shop.

Gibson never spoke publicly about the play for the rest of his life.

The quarterback, Pisarcik, is now the president and CEO of the NFL Alumni Association. The group is devoted to helping its members lead healthy and productive lives after their careers are over, and the NFL Alumni is constantly introducing programs to assist its members with their medical, financial and social well-being.


Edwards, the man on the other side of the disastrous play, is of course well known by football fans as a former head coach and current ESPN commentator. His personality and candid attitude have served him well in his third career.

Back on a chilly November day in 1978, the paths of those four men came together. Almost 40 years later, that one fateful play still influences how almost every football game at the high school, college and pro level is played today.

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