Once again, it’s time to revisit the vastly underrated 1989 season.
A few weeks ago, we examined the absurd Gary Reasons hit during a Giants/Broncos tilt, which ultimately helped New York grab the NFC East title away from the Eagles.
One week prior to the Reasons play, the Giants hosted Philly at the Meadowlands in a tremendous confrontation staged during the first weekend of December.
Even though the Eagles possessed perhaps the league’s most electrifying talent at quarterback (Randall Cunningham), an all-pro tight end (Keith Jackson), and an all-pro wide receiver in the making (Cris Carter), their offense wasn’t the bread winner on this day.
Led by defensive ends Reggie White and Clyde Simmons, the Eagles scored a pair of defensive touchdowns to grab an early 14-0.
However, NFC East blowouts were uncommon in the late 80s unless Dallas was involved. Bill Parcells and his group battled back to tie the game at 17 heading into the fourth quarter.
Throughout Buddy Ryan’s tenure as head coach in Philadelphia, he often struggled to find credible offensive linemen and productive running backs. Yet, he had one hell of an option at quarterback.
Backed up in their own end but kicking with the wind in the fourth quarter, Cunningham was called on to punt. He unleashed a 91-yard punt that prevented New York return man Dave Meggett from setting up solid field position for an eventual go-ahead scoring drive.
Instead, Cunningham’s punt led to a Mike Golic sack, Phil Simms fumble, and a short touchdown run by Eagles running back Keith Byars.*
The Byars score put the Eagles ahead for good, 24-17.**
As a result, the Birds completed a season sweep of the Giants and were set to win the division if the two teams finished tied at regular season’s end.
The win should have catapulted Philly to the NFC East title. However, whenever prosperity appeared during the Ryan era, disaster was soon to follow.
Two weeks later, the Eagles saw their division lead vanish when John Fourcade and the New Orleans Saints dropped a 30-spot on them in the Superdome.
The ’89 Eagles never recovered from the 30-20 loss to New Orleans. The Los Angeles Rams bounced Philly from the playoffs in a humbling 21-7 first round loss.
*My favorite part of this clip is the play call following the Simms fumble. The Eagles dialed up a fade in the end zone to backup running back Robert Drummond, the team’s SIXTH leading rusher in ’89. No wonder that offense got smoked in the playoffs routinely.
**The game-planning for this Eagles/Giants battle was covered in the 1991 book No Medals for Trying by Jerry Izenberg.