Who Are These Guys?

Thursday, November 20, 2008 |

With 292 points through their first ten games, the 2008 New York Giants are the highest scoring team in the National Football League. They're averaging 29.2 points per game, have twice topped 40 points and have reached the 30-point plateau in each of their last three games.

Clearly, these aren't your father's (or grandfather's) Giants.

Or are they?

The traditionally defensive-minded Giants have led the NFL in scoring only four times in their storied 83-year history and only once since 1933, when Pro Bowlers
Y.A. Tittle, Frank Gifford, Del Shofner and the 1963 Giants outscored their nearest competitor (Jim Brown and The Cleveland Browns) by 105 points. 1963 marked the end of the Giants' incredible run of six Championship Game appearances in eight years (five of which they lost), and following their crushing, season-ending 14-10 defeat at the hands of the Chicago Bears they did not return to the playoffs again for 17 years. But 1963 was a glorious year for Tittle who, in the midst of a memorable 4-year renaissance in New York shattered the single-season record for touchdown passes with 36 (a record that would stand until 1984) and at age 37 was named the league's Most Valuable Player by the Associated Press.

Outstanding quarterback play was also at the center of the Giants previous three scoring titles. Decades earlier, when the Giants led the fledgling league with 312 and 308 points in 1929 and 1930 respectively, they were led by Benny Friedman, the celebrated University of Michigan All-American and the game's first great passing quarterback. So enamored with Friedman's abilities on the football field and potential draw as a Jewish sports star in the New York market, Giants' owner Tim Mara purchased and immediately disbanded Friedman's team, the Detroit Wolverines, for $3,500 (seven times what he paid for the rights to the New York franchise four years earlier) in order to obtain him after Detroit's owners, sensing Mara's desperation, refused trade offer after trade offer.

The season before, 1928, Friedman became the only player in NFL history before or since to lead the league in both passing and rushing touchdowns. And Mara's investment paid off instantly in 1929, as Friedman's league-leading 20 touchdown passes were 14 more than Ernie Nevers, who finished second, tallied. "It is no exaggeration," wrote Friedman biographer Murray Greenberg in his new book Passing Game, "to say that Benny's 20 touchdown passes in 1929 were every bit as astounding and groundbreaking an achievement as was Babe Ruth's 60 home runs hit two years earlier."

After a contentious financial dispute with Mara, Friedman bolted for the nearby Brooklyn Dodgers in 1932. But Mara exacted a measure of revenge a year later by signing Friedman's protege, the 5'8, 179 pound fellow Michigan man (and tribesman) Harry Newman, who as a rookie in 1933 led all NFL quarterbacks in pass attempts, completions, passing yards and passing touchdowns, in addition to leading the Giants to the league's scoring title for the third time in four years.

Why the history lesson? Well, not just to show off some of what I've learned reading Greenberg's exhaustively researched book (a full review is forthcoming once I've finished it) but also to illustrate just how long it's been since the New York Giants were a true offensive powerhouse.

One scoring title in the last seventy-five years? No Pro Bowl wide receivers in forty years
(Homer Jones, inventor of the spike)? It hasn't exactly been the Greatest Show on Turf, now, has it?

It brings me no joy to also note that the Giants failed to win the championship all four times they've led the league in scoring. They lost in the Championship Game to George Halas and his Chicago Bears in 1933 (in the first ever Championship Game) and again in 1963, and they finished second (to Green Bay) in 1929 and 1930, too, back when the NFL Champion was still determined by the season-ending standings.

Additionally, you'll have to go back to 1999, when the St. Louis Rams narrowly defeated the Tennessee Titans in the Super Bowl, to find the last NFL scoring champion to also lay claim to the Lombardi Trophy. So even though the Giants do appear to have a formidable defense to match their suddenly prolific offense I wouldn't start printing up any "Back-to-Back Champion" t-shirts just yet if I were you. Just remember what happened last year. Championships aren't won in the regular season, and anything can happen when you get to the playoffs. Just ask Tom Brady.

Still, it's remarkable what this offense has been accomplishing lately. Thirteen different Giants have found the end zone so far this season (yes, even Sinorice Moss). Brandon Jacobs, arguably the most punishing runner the NFL has seen since Earl Campbell, has found it a league-leading* 11 times while trucking rival defensive backs at an alarming rate.

And even though Eli Manning has thrown for less than 200 yards in six consecutive games and Plaxico Burress, the Giants top receiver, hasn't really gotten it going, the offense (with the exception of their inexplicable stumble in Cleveland) hasn't suffered as a result. Relying instead on their league-best rushing offense (5.3 YPC), the Giants have run the ball for 200 plus yards in each of their last three games despite facing the tough defenses of both the Eagles and Ravens (#1 against the run coming in) over that stretch. This is the first time the Giants have accomplished this since 1952, Frank Gifford's rookie year.

They're on pace to finish the season with 467 points, which would easily break the team record (set in 1963) of 448. And really, it all starts with the play of the offensive line. Those guys are just going out and mashing their opponents each week. It's almost unfair, the holes they're opening up for Earth, Wind & Fire. They're the kinds of holes Gifford could run through even now, and he's 78 years old.

And all of this is just to say enjoy it while it lasts, Giants fans. Do yourselves a favor and savor this season, because you might not see another one like it for a very long time.

* Tied with Lendale White and Maurice Jones-Drew


skygoblue said...

As a Giants fan, a Michigan alum, and a member of the chosen people, the part about the early Gints offensive stars brough a tear to my eye.

Andy F. said...

I really do not understand why you do not post (A LOT) more. You (like I) probably have a day job and a life, so I get that. But you noted yourself that this is a special season, a special time. I hope this does not come off as being arrogant, but I believe this blog is the only other Giants site that really gets it. Post more!


Anonymous said...

As always, Great reading material!
Indeed, this is a very special Giants team to be watching this season.

Martha said...

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