'Fourth and 26' joins some famous names in big-play annals

Posted: January 15, 2004

The Eagles' overtime victory against the Green Bay Packers was not a half hour old Sunday night, but the media already had christened the biggest play of the game.

"Fourth and 26," or "Fourth and Forever." Take your pick, both figure to be part of Eagles history forever.

With 72 seconds left in the fourth quarter, the Eagles turned a fourth-and-26 into the most implausible first down of the season on a Donovan McNabb pass that Freddie Mitchell caught 28 yards downfield.

Four days later, "Fourth and 26" probably has reminded legions of fans of other unbelievable plays, remembered warmly or with deep regret.

Some examples:

On Nov. 19, 1978, the Eagles had cause to celebrate perhaps the most outrageous comeback victory in the history of their franchise, the Miracle of the Meadowlands. It came gift-wrapped, by those ever-accommodating Giants, inside the final minute of play when the Giants were nursing a 17-12 lead and the Eagles were out of timeouts.

Had QB Joe Pisarcik simply taken a knee, the Giants would have won the game. But Pisarcik had done that on the previous play, and Eagles linebacker Bill Bergey responded by knocking Giants center Jim Clack into the quarterback, almost provoking a scrap.

Bob Gibson, the Giants' offensive coordinator, didn't want that to happen again. He called a handoff to Larry Csonka, who argued against the play but lost out. Pisarcik bobbled the snap and, with undue haste born of panic, shoved the ball toward Csonka and planted it on the big back's hip.

Herman Edwards, the Eagles cornerback who is now head coach of the Jets, swooped in and grabbed the ball on its first bounce off the turf. He sprinted 26 yards into the end zone with 20 seconds left, giving the Eagles a never-to-be forgotten 19-17 victory.

Dick Vermeil, by the way, had turned away from the field in frustration and never saw Edwards score until he watched a day later, on tape.

Then there was the Immaculate Reception. On Dec. 23, 1972, the moment that NFL Films has called "the greatest play in NFL history" was born in the final 22 seconds of the Steelers-Raiders divisional playoff game at Three Rivers Stadium.

In an exceedingly tight contest, the Steelers held a 6-0 lead off a pair of Roy Gerela field goals. The Steelers held the Raiders' offense in check most of the day, until Ken "The Snake" Stabler scrambled 30 yards on a broken play to give the Raiders a 7-6 lead with 73 seconds left.

Steelers QB Terry Bradshaw threw three incomplete passes and had a fourth-and-10 at his 40 shortly before fate would slap the Raiders.

The last-ditch play sent in from the sideline was called "66 out and L." It began with Bradshaw taking the snap, ducking a tackler, and scrambling away from trouble to his right as Frenchy Fuqua ran free in the Raiders' secondary.

Fuqua, Raiders safety Jack Tatum and Bradshaw's final pass all converged at a spot on the Raiders' 35-yard line at the same time, in a huge collision that sent Fuqua in one direction, the ball in another. But before anyone knew it, Franco Harris snatched the ball out of the air, inches above the turf at the Raiders' 42-yard-line.

Harris raced the rest of the way into the Oakland end zone, untouched, for the TD that would be a source of argument forever after, because in 1972 an offensive player could not catch the ball if it was deflected directly from another offensive player.

To this day, the only person who knows if the ball did touch Fuqua is Fuqua himself, and he has yet to tell one way or the other.

The Raiders' history seems to be marked with more of these legendary and controversial plays than any other franchise.

Remember "The Holy Roller" in 1978 at San Diego? The Raiders were trailing, 20-14, in the fourth quarter and were driving for a score with time running out.

On fourth down, as quarterback Stabler was hit, the ball flew out of his hands and rolled toward the goal line. Raiders fullback Pete Banaszak knocked the ball farther along its path, by design or accident, before Dave Casper, the Raiders tight end, eventually fell on the ball in the end zone for the touchdown that set up the game-winning point-after.

There's also "The Catch" by the 49ers Dwight Clark, against the Cowboys in 1982, "The Tuck" from the Patriots' 2001 snow-blown overtime playoff victory over Oakland, and a couple of plays this season that will not soon be forgotten even if neither earned a nickname.

One was the last-ditch effort the Saints turned in against the Jaguars in December, when they used three laterals and a forward pass to pull within a point - only to see John Carney blow the PAT with a kick that was wide right.

The other was Brian Westbrook's 84-yard punt return for a TD that enabled the Eagles to beat the Giants even though they had been seriously outplayed.

Contact staff writer Ron Reid

at 215-854-4469 or rreid@phillynews.com.

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