This stirring comeback win over the Cowboys was achieved largely because of the multidimensional skill set of running back Ron Johnson, who ran for 140 yards and caught four passes including the game-winner for 59 more yards. Johnson and Fran Tarkenton meshed perfectly in 1970 and gave the undermanned Giants a real chance to win each week.
Johnson was the first-round draft choice of the Browns in 1969, but they were disenchanted with his rookie season; they also needed a wide receiver to replace Paul Warfield, whom they had traded. So Johnson and two other Browns were packaged to the Giants for end Homer Jones. Johnson became the first Giants runner to exceed 1,000 yards rushing in a season in 1970, and he duplicated that feat in 1972.
In fact, the only two winning seasons for the Giants from 1964 to 1981 were the two years that Johnson ran for 1,000 yards. He was a fast, elusive, slashing runner, a dependable receiver out of the backfield, and the workhorse centerpiece of New York’s offense.
Unfortunately, Johnson needed knee surgery in 1971 and missed most of that season. In 1973, he played through a host of injuries and was not himself, although he did gain more than 900 yards. By 1974, he was a worn-down shadow of the player he had been. He retired after the 1975 season, second only to Alex Webster in career rushing yards for the Giants. He later achieved great success as a local businessman.
The 1982 NFL season featured an ugly players strike, during which Weeks 3 through 9 were canceled. The NFL returned on Sunday, November 21, and the Giants promptly lost to the Redskins, falling to 0-3 just one season after making the playoffs for the first time in 18 years. Even worse, Lawrence Taylor, the team’s second-year superstar linebacker, was listed as doubtful with a sprained knee for the next game just four days later on Thanksgiving Day, against the Lions.
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Indeed, Taylor did not start, and the Lions scored twice on field goals set up by interceptions to take a 6-0 lead in the second quarter. Drawn by the needs of his team and the national stage of the annual Turkey Day contest, Taylor replaced Byron Hunt in the second quarter. In the third quarter, he started to impose his will on the
Lions, and the game became the Lawrence Taylor Show.
Early in the second half, Taylor blitzed and forced Lions quarterback Gary Danielson to get off an ill-advised, hurried pass that Harry Carson picked off and returned to the Detroit 41-yard line. Six plays later, kicker Joe Danelo made the score 6-3. On the first play after the ensuing kickoff, Taylor exploded on Lions ball carrier Billy Sims and knocked the ball loose. Brad Van Pelt recovered it at the Detroit 18. Although the inept Giants offense, led by Scott Brunner, still could not move the ball, Danelo came on to kick another field goal to tie the game.
The next time the Lions had the ball, Taylor blitzed again, grabbed Danielson by the jersey with one hand, and tossed him to the ground, forcing a punt.
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