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How the Joe Pisarcik fumble helped shape Rams coach Sean McVay

In this Nov. 19, 1978, file photo, Philadelphia Eagles'

In this Nov. 19, 1978, file photo, Philadelphia Eagles' Herman Edwards (46) pounces on the ball fumbled by New York Giants quarterback Joe Pisarcik (9) during an NFL football game in East Rutherford, N.J. The Eagles won 19-17. Photo Credit: AP / G. Paul Burnett

PHOENIX

Sean McVay has never run into Herman Edwards, but the Rams’ first-year coach has a good idea what he’ll tell the former Eagles defensive back and coach of the Jets and Chiefs.

“When I do come across coach Edwards,” McVay said Wednesday at an NFC coaches’ breakfast, “I’m going to say, ‘You know, you’ve caused my family a lot of stress.’ ”

McVay grinned when he made that crack, but something Edwards did on Nov. 19, 1978, would go a long way toward shaping McVay’s outlook on coaching and on life itself.

Giants fans never will forget one of the darkest moments in franchise history. In a fitful season that typified the team’s struggles in the late 1960s and ’70s, the Giants were in position to beat the Eagles. All they’d need to do was run out the clock to preserve a 17-12 lead. Just taking a knee would have done the trick.

Instead, the Giants attempted a running play, with quarterback Joe Pisarcik handing off to Larry Csonka. But the handoff was botched and the ball fell to the ground. Edwards scooped it up and ran it back 26 yards for the deciding score in a 19-17 victory.

The Giants’ coach that day: McVay’s grandfather, John McVay.

The fallout from a moment Giants fans refer to as “The Fumble” (and Eagles fans call “The Miracle at the Meadowlands”) was so intense that offensive coordinator Bob Gibson was fired the next day. A week later, some fans paid to have an airplane fly over the stadium carrying the banner, “15 years of lousy football. We’ve had enough.” McVay was fired at season’s end.

It was a seminal moment in Giants history, and one that eventually would signal a turning point. After the season, the team hired George Young as GM, and thus began a period of front-office stability that continues to this day.

McVay was fired after the season and never got another head coaching job.But he did revive his career when he joined the 49ers’ front office and was a part of the team’s dynasty years in the 1980s and ’90s.

Sean McVay wasn’t even born when “The Fumble” changed his grandfather’s life, but he has learned some valuable lessons.

“We’ve absolutely talked about it, and I think what you realize is that adversity is inevitable in this game,” said McVay, who at 31 is the youngest head coach in NFL history. “In some form or fashion, it’s going to come up. How you handle that and how you respond is what ends up determining what kind of person and what kind of leader you are. You look at the way my grandfather was able to respond from that tough experience says a lot about him.”

John McVay is retired and lives outside Sacramento but serves as a sounding board for his grandson.

“I talk to him all the time,” McVay said. “I’ll zip up [to Sacramento] once we get through the offseason program.”

McVay was a highly touted NFL assistant who served as the Redskins offensive coordinator under Jay Gruden. While he had been mentioned as an eventual head coaching candidate, he was surprised the opportunity came so early.

“We had just lost the [final 2016] game against the Giants, and I got a call from my agent, Bob LaMonte, who said the 49ers and the Rams wanted to talk to me,” McVay said. “Here I was trying to get over the loss, and then this came up.”

The Rams were impressed with McVay’s vision for running a team. And as he navigates his way through what he knows will be a challenging career, he’ll heed the lessons of his grandfather. Especially the ones he learned from John McVay’s darkest moment in the NFL.

And one of these days, he’ll run into Edwards, now an NFL analyst on ESPN, and tell him a thing or two about what he did to the McVay family. And how it eventually served the young coach so well.

New York Sports