Calgary Stampeders

Joe Pisarcik - Quarterback - 1974-76 - New Mexico State

-

Joe Pisarcik - The Professional - Joe Zagorski

The year is 1974. Fresh out of New Mexico State University, a young and eager Joe Pisarcik is ignord by the 26 NFL teams at the annual selection draft. The Canadian Football League shows some interest, however, as Pisarcik reluctantly signs on as a free agent with the Calgary Stampeders.


“I didn’t raise too many eyebrows of the NFL scouts,” said Pisarcik, “but the CFL gave me a chance to play, and that’s what I really needed. I felt I had to stay active in the game, in some way or another.” The NFL was under siege in 1974. From within and without, 1974 proved that pro football had shifted from a game to a business. The cases in point were dramatic, but they were inescapable. First came the inaugural season of the World Football League. Formed by a group of California executives and lawyers, the WFL weighed heavily on the minds of football collegiates looking for a postgraduate profession. Next came the National Football League Players Association dispute over the new collective bargaining agreement … or the lack of it. NFL veterans carried picket signs for two weeks during this job walkout, thus giving rookies the chance to play.


“The NFL was taking its lumps back then,” claimed Pisarcik, “but I had already signed with Calgary. There were a lot of choices for rookies to make (with the WFL around). A lot of the guys felt somewhat secure knowing that they had more than one option.”


Still, Pisarcik had to make adjustments to play in the CFL. Differences between the American style of play and the Canadian style were obvious. Scoring, yardage and downs varied between the leagues. Before long, the NFL’s fertile soil seemed to be worth another try. Joe Pisarcik knew in his heart that he couldn’t deny himself one more chance: “I wanted to take one more shot at the NFL. I felt that three years in Canada were enough.”


In 1977, the New York Giants signed Joe Pisarcik to a free-agent contract. Full of heart and vigor, the NFL “rookie” viewed this chance as a new beginning; the Giants were a team that had nowhere to go but up.


“I knew that competition on the Giants would be wide open, because nobody on their depth chart seemed to step forward and take charge. I was happy to be playing football in America again,” said Pisarcik.


With the familiar rules of American football in his mind, Pisarcik entered training camp that summer as the fourth-string quarterback. It didn’t take long before Giants’ head coach John McVay realized the potential of his newest recruit: “Joe’s got a good arm and a quick release; he’s also a good thinker in the pocket. He has made the adjustment to the NFL from the years he spent in Canada.”


The Giants struggled through a dismal season of ’77, finishing the year with a 5-9 record. The bitterest moment came in the final game against an old rival, the Chicago Bears. Playing on a Giants Stadium field covered with snow and ice, the Bears drove down the field. With 9 seconds left in overtime placekicker Bob Thomas booted a 28-yard field goal to give the Bears a 12-9 victory and a wild card berth in the playoffs.


Still Joe Pisarcik had reason to celebrate. Once rejected by every club, he suddenly became the starting quarterback of the Giants. Though he completed only 43% of his passes, much of the problem rested with a young and unproven offensive line. Pisarcik took the criticism in stride, and set his sights toward 1978. For many teams in the NFL, a season (or the outcome of it) can boil down to a single game, or even a single play. For the New York Giants of 1978 one play was one too many. It has been remembered as the “Miracle in the Meadowlands.”


The date was November 19th. The opponents for the Giants were the Philadelphia Eagles, a team in need of a victory to stay in the race for the playoffs. In fact, both the Giants and the Eagles needed a win, because the Dallas Cowboys were wreaking havoc in the competitive NFC East. The Giants were 5-6. The Eagles were 6-5. The hand of fate would apply to both of these teams in Giants Stadium on this day. It seemed like the Giants would win the game all afternoon long. The Eagles missed two extra-point attempts early in the game and were trailing 17-12 late in the game. With time dwindling down to a final play or two, New York had the ball at their own 29-yard line, facing a third and two situation and an Eagle defense that had run out of timeouts and hope.


All Pisarcik and his teammates had to do was down the ball one more time, because the game clock would expire before a delay of game penalty would be assessed. The clock ticked down to 28 seconds when a play was sent in from the bench. Offensive coordinator Bob Gibson, coaching from the press box, called for play “Pro 65 Up.” The Giants in the huddle were miffed at the absurd suggestion, and pleaded with Pisarcik to ignore the coach and “fall on the damn football!”


Reprimanded earlier in the year for not following orders, Pisarcik stuck with Gibson’s call. The huddle broke with a strange nervousness filling the air. Looking over Philadelphia’s defense one last time, Pisarcik called signals and gathered in the snap from center, when all of a sudden…


The morning after may rank as the worst in Giants’ history. Still visibly shell-shocked, the team met for film study in a meeting room at the practice field. Absent was coach Bob Gibson, who was fired just before the meeting began. Play “Pro 65 Up” cost him his job.


Upon close scrutiny, the play looked as bad on film as it did in person. Pisarcik never got a good hold on the ball, bobbling it as he pivoted to his right. Contributing his ineptness was fullback Larry Csonka, who hit his designated hole too fast for Pisarcik to reach him.


The Eagles, knowing what a slim chance they had, blitzed every available man, hoping to create a fumble. Their plan worked to perfection. The ball lodged against Csonka’s right hip and squirted free. A mad scramble for the ball ensued as Pisarcik fell to his knees and tried to grab it. The ball popped out of Pisarcik’s arms and into the hands of Eagle cornerback Herman Edwards, who was off and running at the snap, and who never broke stride as he galloped into the end zone for the winning touchdown.


Moans and groans filled the bitter meeting room as everyone looked for answers to the nightmare they had just relived. Several players went as far as to point fingers at Pisarcik and the coaching staff. “It was something you never forget,” said Pisarcik. “It took me awhile to get over it.”


Pro Football. It is a game played with a special frame of mind. Reasoning cannot answer all of the questions in the game. And it has been proven that talent alone can’t win games. Courage, determination, and faith are all needed for one to stay alive in the game. Joe Pisarcik was an unlikely victim in a trick of fate. To be called a winner, one must overcome adversity.


In the aftermath of the fumble rose violent fan protests, where the Giant faithful could be seen burning their tickets before the remaining games. The entire New York coaching staff was fired after the season was complete. But perhaps the cruelest occurrence belonged to Joe Pisarcik.


Admonished by the fans and the coaches, Pisarcik was not allowed to call plays for the Giants ever again. In retrospect, an erasure of November 19, 1978 may have been the only remedy anyone could recommend. Indeed, one play can make or break a career. But Joe Pisarcik endured the mental anguish. Courage, determination, and faith became his blood-kin; and he used them all to survive even untimely fate.


In 1979, the Giants set sail with new Head Coach Ray Perkins, and with a first-round quarterback named Phil Simms. Pisarcik was relegated to the bench and the trainer’s table after a series of nagging ailments and minor injuries. The future looked quite bleak for the 27-year-old veteran.


New York finished the year with a 6-10 record, which was identical to their finish a year before. No progress was made at all, and the new coaching staff was up to their ears in complaints from everyone. They decided to make wholesale changes in the team roster. Pisarcik was the first to go.


“All during the ’79 season, I knew my days as a Giant were numbered,” said Pisarcik. “With Phil Simms taking over at quarterback early in the year, the coaches sort of let me know by their actions what my future was going to be.”


In the spring of 1980, the Giants traded Joe Pisarcik to the Philadelphia Eagles for an undisclosed draft choice. All during his days with the Giants, Pisarcik knew only the sights and sounds of defeat. Now he would taste victory for the first time in his career. The Eagles were flying high in 1980.


Positioned as a backup to Ron Jaworski, Pisarcik learned the system of Eagles’ Head Coach Dick Vermeil, and with the mentorship of the “Lion in Winter,” passing wizard Sid Gillman, he became a polished professional. Said Pisarcik, “For the first time in my career, I finally knew what was expected of me. I think that the whole team knew what they were expected to do.”


Joe Pisarcik still held onto his role as a veteran backup, even though his competitive desire to start still burned bright. “I know I can contribute to this team,” said Pisarcik, “but Ron’s the starter right now. Ron has proven himself to me and to the rest of this team. It’s a shame we can’t have two starting quarterbacks.”


The 1984 version of the Philadelphia Eagles previewed a sign of the future. With young and talented wide receivers like Mike Quick and Kenny Jackson, the air game in Philadelphia began to soar. Although they finished in last place, their 6-9-1 record wasn’t the only improvement. New attitudes about the game instilled a fighting spirit in a forlorn situation.


“When Ron went down with the broken leg in St. Louis, it was as if we all knew that our pride was on the line,” said Pisarcik. “We looked at each other and found a closeness we never had before. When your back is to the wall, you must fight to survive. We all decided that we must survive. Believe me, it’s what makes winning so special. Sometimes, making the choice to do what’s right is the hardest part. But it can be the most important.


“Pisarcik rolls right on a quarterback bootleg…He jumps over one man and dives over Patriots linebacker Andre Tippett into the end zone for a touchdown!”


“The coaches did a great job of calling those plays,” said Pisarcik after the Eagles’ 27-17 victory. “I didn’t know I was a running quarterback. But I put out of my mind all the background of my career and played today without giving it a second thought. You do what you have to do. We’re professionals.”


Joe Pisarcik has suffered in pro football. But he has refused to let losing and bad luck ruin him. For a brief moment, victory is as sweet as it ever was before. And in that one moment, Joe Pisarcik has conquered his past, and has played his part. This is enough to withstand the pains of failure.


Walking out to the Veterans Stadium parking lot, Joe Pisarcik has a smile on his face, and a sparkle in his eye. It is the look of a professional.
* * *
Author’s Note: Joe Pisarcik was waived at the beginning of training camp in 1985. Nobody can argue that teams must pick the best men for the job. Whether Pisarcik retires or not is yet to be seen, but I feel that we’ve not heard or seen the last of him. Though it is a road he hasn’t seen in the past, he has the ability to face it. His past proves he is capable of that.
 
 

-- statistics --

 

Joe Pisarcik     New Mexico  
    Passing        
Yr Team Att Cmp Yds Pct. TD Int Lg
1974 Cgy 168 87 1,087 51.8 5 3 62
1975 Cgy 320 181 2,252 56.6 18 15 52
1976 Cgy 163 96 1,128 58.9 2 9 36
Total 3 651 364 4,467 55.9 25 27 62

 

    Rushing    
Yr Team C Yds Avg Lg TD
1974 Cgy 16 63 3.9 22 0
1975 Cgy 30 92 3.1 12 3
1976 Cgy 22 56 2.5 11 1
Total 3 68 211 3.1 22 4

 

-- NFL --

 

 

    Passing        
Yr Team Att Cmp Yds Pct. TD Int Lg
1977 NYG 241 103 1,346 42.7 4 14 82
1978 NYG 301 143 2,096 47.5 12 23 67
1979 NYG 108 43 537 39.8 2 6 48
1980 Phi 22 15 187 68.2 0 0 46
1981 Phi 15 8 154 53.3 2 2 44
1982 Phi 1 1 24 100.0 0 0 24
1983 Phi 34 16 172 47.1 1 0 33
1984 Phi 176 96 1,036 54.5 3 3 40
Total 7 898 425 5,552 47.3 24 48 82

 

    Rushing    
Yr Team C Yds Avg Lg TD
1977 NYG 27 57 2.1 14 2
1978 NYG 17 68 4.0 11 1
1979 NYG 1 6 6.0 6 0
1980 Phi 3 -3 -1.0 0 0
1981 Phi 7 1 0.1 10 0
1982 Phi 0 0 0.0 0 0
1983 Phi 3 -1 -0.3 0 0
1984 Phi 7 19 2.7 2 2
Total 7 65 147 2.3 14 5