Sometimes it seems to me that the NFL schedule-makers are the unheralded geniuses in this game.
It would have been easy at some point in the development of the expanded league after the 1970 merger to say, OK, let's let all those natural rivals have at each other: 49ers-Raiders, Ravens-Redskins, Chiefs-Cards/Rams, Dolphins-Buccaneers-Jaguars for the Florida Cup, and of course, Jets-Giants.
But that instinct would surely have undermined the exquisite scheduling structure that sets the stage for each year's playoffs: the importance of division games over conference games, of conference over non-conference, of playing each of "those guys in the other league" once every three years or, since the 2002 realignment, once every Olympiad.
One thing the scheduling has done is to up the ante whenever Gang Green and Big Blue get together, as they will Sunday in the Meadowlands home they have shared since 1984. It's the Giants' home game, and they seem to have righted their ship since halftime of the Redskins game two Sundays ago.
They'll attempt to pass-rush Chad Pennington dizzy as they did Donovan McNabb three nights ago in their 16-3 win over the Eagles. And the Jets will attempt to get their season jump-started before it's too late against their roommates of the last 24 seasons.
This infrequent rivalry will be renewed for only the 11th time Sunday. The Giants have won the last three to take a 6-4 lead in this Mayor (of East Rutherford)'s Trophy Game.
I've been to the last seven of them. Even when the teams come in winless (as they did in 1996) or when points are at a premium (as in 1993 when the Jets prevailed, 10-6), there is still a certain buzz in the air.
It goes back to Nov. 1, 1970. The Giants, still stinging from their summer embarrassment when the Super Bowl-champion Jets and Joe Namath whipped the Maramen, 37-14, in the 1969 preseason, came back to win "when it counted" behind Fran Tarkenton.
My other favorite memories, real or Memorex, were the second meeting four years later, when Namath gimped for one TD to tie it, then threw for another to win it in overtime; the Ken O'Brien-to-Al Toon TD pass with 37 seconds left that KO'd the Giants from the 1988 playoffs, and the most recent renewal, when Pennington, in his first start after mangling his left hand in the preseason — against the Giants! — threw two TD passes to send the game to OT, only to have some field goal follies before Brett Conway won it with four seconds left.
Here are summaries of the Jets-Giants games over the years to bring back some memories and get you in the mood for Sunday.
Game 1 — Giants 22, Jets 10, Nov. 1, 1970, Shea Stadium
Payback for the Jets' humiliating preseason victory in 1969 was sweet. Trailing, 10-3, the Giants got going when Jim Files and Fred Dryer tackled former teammate Chuck Mercein for a safety. That began a roll of 19 unanswered points, including a pair of Tarkenton TD passes.
Game 2 — Jets 26, Giants 20 (OT), Nov. 10, 1974, Yale Bowl
Namath's only game in the rivalry was a come-from-behind gem. His first rushing TD in five seasons tied it at 20 midway through the fourth quarter, then he hit Emerson Boozer with a short pass to win it in overtime. Pat Leahy and Pete Gogolak each missed a game-winning FG try.
Game 3 — Jets 26, Giants 7, Nov. 1, 1981, Meadowlands
Richard Todd wasn't sharp except when throwing to Wesley Walker, who caught six passes for 142 yards and a second-quarter TD. Pat Leahy kicked four field goals and the Jets defense allowed 166 yards, the least gained by either team in the rivalry.
Game 4 — Giants 20, Jets 10, Dec. 2, 1984, Meadowlands
This was the first time the Giants were visitors in their own stadium, and they responded efficiently as TD runs by Rob Carpenter and Joe Morris helped them open a 17-0 lead and coast home. The Jets did themselves in with two lost fumbles by Marion Barber and a late Ken O'Brien interception.
Game 5 — Giants 20, Jets 7, Dec. 27, 1987, Meadowlands
In the last game of each team's lackluster 15-game replacement season, the Jets struck first on Johnny Hector's TD run. But WR Al Toon suffered a concussion and they misfired on a fake field goal. Then the Giants took control with two Phil Simms touchdown passes in a 17-point second quarter.
Game 6 _ Jets 27, Giants 21, Dec. 18, 1988, Meadowlands
The Jets had nothing to play for, the Giants a playoff berth. But after Simms hit his third TD pass to give Big Blue its first lead of the game, 21-20, Gang Green stormed back on Bobby Humphery's kickoff return to midfield and a TD drive capped by O'Brien's third-down audible and scoring pass to Toon.
Game 7 — Jets 10, Giants 6, Oct. 31, 1993, Meadowlands
The Jets got the go-ahead points in their rainy Halloween upset on FB Brad Baxter's third-quarter TD run crowning an 18-play drive. Then they kept Phil Simms and the Giants offense out of the end zone on four plays from their 11, with Ronnie Lott and James Hasty batting away the final pass with 17 seconds to play.
Game 8 — Giants 13, Jets 6, Sept. 22, 1996, Meadowlands
Another rainy, dreary, low-scoring affair, this one between winless co-tenants. This time the Giants prevailed, getting the game's only TD on Dave Brown's second-quarter pass to Chris Calloway, then adding two short Brad Daluiso field goals in the fourth quarter.
Game 9 — Giants 41, Jets 28, Dec. 5, 1999, Meadowlands
Kerry Collins-to-Amani Toomer was the winning combination with three TD connections and six completions for 181 yards in all. After the second TD, the Giants opened a 27-point lead, the largest in the nine-game rivalry. Their points (41) and yards (490) were also the most in the series.
Game 10 — Giants 31, Jets 28 (OT), Nov. 2, 2003, Meadowlands
Collins threw for 303 yards and TDs to Toomer and Ike Hilliard to open a 28-14 lead. But Pennington found Santana Moss and then, with 29 seconds left, Anthony Becht for the tie. In OT, Brett Conway missed from 39, then Doug Brien lost track of time and rushed a 51-yard try that was blocked by Will Allen, setting up Conway's redeeming 29-yarder for the win.