Thursday, October 17, 2013

0-6 or Worse and Playing on Monday Night Football

I am a New York Giants fan. They gave me some soul-crushing losses in my life, but they made up for all of that and then some by beating the undefeated Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. Four years later, they made another Super Bowl run that might have been even more improbable and after that game I said I was set for life in my Giants fandom.

I still stand by that, but I didn't expect this. Through six winless games, Big Blue has allowed a league-high 209 points while scoring only 103 points (third-lowest total in the league). Their point differential is -17.7, a number that is only surpassed by one of the NFL's other winless teams, the Jaguars (21.3).

That sets up a cover-your-eyes matchup between the 0-6 Giants and the 1-4 Vikings. Fortunately for America's football fans, this game will be nationally televised in primetime against no other games on Monday Night Football.

Has this weekly showcase game ever featured a team that went this this far into the season without a win? Yes, in fact it's happened five times.

Team Record MNF Game Opp Score Final Record
1980 Saints 0-11 11/24/1980 vs Rams Lost 27-7 Finished 1-15
1991 Bengals 0-6 10/21/1991 at Bills Lost 35-16 Finished 3-13
1997 Colts 0-6 10/20/1997 vs Bills Lost 9-6 Finished 3-13
1997 Bears 0-7 10/27/1997 at Dolphins Won 36-33 OT Finished 4-12
2007 Dolphins 0-10 11/26/2007 at Steelers Lost 3-0 Finished 1-15

The first two decades of New Orleans Saints football were miserable, and the low point came in 1980. After 12 losing seasons they actually went 8-8 in 1979 before going right back in the gutter.

They dropped their first 11 games in 1980, with only two L's coming by seven points or fewer. Then the Rams and the Monday Night Football crew came to town. Los Angeles dismantled the Saints 27-7. The Saints totaled 96 yards for the entire game and poor Archie Manning was sacked eight times. The only New Orleans score came when it was already 27-0 and was set up by a long kick return in garbage-time.

Superdome fans were not pleased that night, throwing paper airplanes and booing the home team. However, the debacle gave birth to a new sporting tradition. 'Aints fans wore paper bags over their heads and fans of terrible sports teams have been doing it ever since.

Head coach Dick Nolan, who guided the 49ers to consecutive NFC Championship Games in the early '70s, was fired after the game. It was his last as an NFL head coach.

After a couple of three-point losses under offensive coordinator and interim head coach Dick Stanfel, the Saints finally broke through in game #15 against the 3-11 Jets. In what was called "The Woes Bowl," Manning led a game-winning fourth-quarter drive in freezing temperatures and 46-mph winds.

After the legendary Paul Brown passed away a month before the 1991 season, his son Mike took over as owner and GM of the Cincinnati Bengals, ushering in an era of terrible football and extortion of Hamilton County taxpayers.

That '91 season was a doozy, as Cincy started 0-8 and held opponents under 30 points just twice during that stretch. The seventh game of the streak was on MNF, with the 0-6 Bengals traveling to Buffalo to face the 6-1 Bills. Jim Kelly threw five touchdowns and the host club stomped the Bengals 35-16.

Two weeks later, the Browns blew three chances to win in the final five minutes as the Bengals pulled out their first victory of the season. Cincinnati finished 3-13 and head coach Sam Wyche was shown the door. He was replaced by Dave Shula, who slogged through four and a half dismal seasons with a 19-52 record.

The 1997 Colts weren't as awful as the first two teams featured here. After a couple of early blowout losses, they dropped three straight by a total of only nine points. Still, they were 0-6 heading into a Monday nighter at home against the Bills.

It wasn't much of a game as both offenses sputtered and Jim Harbaugh left with an ankle injury in the third quarter. With 6:12 to play, Cary Blanchard tied the game for Indy with a field goal. But the Bills rolled down the field and Steve Christie kicked the game-winner as time expired for a 9-6 Buffalo win. It was one of only three games since 1940 in which neither team scored a touchdown or committed a turnover.

The Colts would sink to 0-10 before pulling a huge upset for their first victory. Backup QB Paul Justin outdueled Brett Favre to lead the Colts to a 41-38 win over the defending champion Packers. Indy finished 3-13, which worked out just great because it netted them the number one pick in the draft. They took Peyton Manning and the rest is history.

One week after the aforementioned Colts-Bills game, the 0-7 Bears were set to visit the Dolphins on Sunday, October 26. However, Pro Player Stadium was hosting the seventh game of the World Series between the Marlins and Indians that night, so the NFL game was pushed back a day. The baseball game was a classic, and the football game was a good one as well.

Most of the country saw the regularly scheduled Monday night game, a Super Bowl rematch between the Packers and Patriots (Green Bay won 28-10). The Chicago and Miami markets saw the Bears get their first win in a 36-33 overtime shootout.

The Fins led 33-18 with six minutes left in the game, but Erik Kramer threw two TD's and added a two-point conversion to force overtime. In the extra session, Jeff Jaeger kicked a 35-yard field goal to give head coach Dave Wannstedt a victory over his former boss Jimmy Johnson. The Bears ended the '97 season at 4-12 and Wanny was let go after another 4-12 year in 1998. He landed in Miami as Johnson's defensive coordinator. The Dolphins made the playoffs, but were blasted by the Jaguars 62-7 in the first round. Johnson resigned, Dan Marino retired and Wannstedt took over as head coach.

Our last game was an absolute mess. The 7-3 Steelers hosted the 0-10 Dolphins to end the Thanksgiving weekend slate of games. Too much turkey, some rain and a resodded Heinz Field combined to produce a 3-0 slopfest. Lightning caused the game to be delayed by 25 minutes and things got worse from there. This punt is a good example of how the game was:

The game was scoreless for over 59 minutes until Jeff Reed poked a 24-yeard field goal to win it for the Steelers and hand Cam Cameron's Dolphins another loss. 

Miami would sink to 0-13 before they finally won a game. At home against Baltimore, they gave up a tying field goal with 12 seconds left. But in overtime, Cleo Lemon connected on a pass to Greg Camarillo, who ran it over 50 yards to the house to set off a championship-style celebration of the team's only win.

The Giants are in not-so-good company here, but they'll be at home against the sad Vikings. So maybe they can join the '97 Bears and be the second 0-6-or-worse team to break through on Monday Night Football. It's also worth noting that 2013's third remaining winless team, the 0-5 Buccaneers, host the Dolphins on Monday night in Week 10. So if Tampa Bay loses its next three to the Falcons, Panthers and Seahawks they could join our list at 0-8. Stay tuned. Or don't. It's probably better if you don't stay tuned.

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