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Ex-NFL QB Joe Pisarcik, known for infamous fumble, feels Michigan punter's pain

Joe Pisarcik didn't want to talk about it.

Who could blame him?

It has been nearly 37 years since the "Miracle at the Meadowlands," but not a day goes by that Pisarcik doesn't hear about that darn play.

For those unfamiliar with Pisarcik's daily reminder, the New York Giants were running out the clock to preserve a 17-12 lead over the Philadelphia Eagles on Nov. 19, 1978. However, Pisarcik, the Giants' quarterback, fumbled while trying to hand off to Larry Csonka. The ball was scooped up by Eagles cornerback Herm Edwards and returned 26 yards for the winning touchdown as time expired.

It's the reason most teams now run the "victory formation" and take a knee when running out the clock. It's also the reason Pisarcik was reluctant to be interviewed when contacted Monday. Why rehash the past and that one play for the umpteenth time?

But then he thought about Michigan punter Blake O'Neill, who fumbled a snap against Michigan State on Saturday, leading to the Spartans' miraculous game-winning touchdown as time expired. And then he thought about his son Jake, a sophomore offensive lineman at Oregon.

Pisarcik, who watched his son play Michigan State this season and last season, was watching the Michigan-Michigan State game at home when the unthinkable happened. He couldn't help but sympathize with O'Neill as Michigan State defensive back Jalen Watts-Jackson picked up the loose ball and ran 38 yards for the winning score in the Spartans' 27-23 victory.

"Football is the consummate team sport, so when you go through what I went through in 1978 or what Blake went through on Saturday, you feel like you let your team down," Pisarcik said. "That's something you never want to do. When I saw that play, I felt sorry for the team -- they shouldn't lose that way -- and I felt sorry for Blake. I had the same feeling when I watched the Super Bowl earlier this year and Russell Wilson threw the pass that was intercepted at the 1-yard line when they should have run the ball. That same feeling went through my body.

"You'd like everything to be fair; winning or losing that way just doesn't seem fair. I felt bad for Blake and the team. They were the better team."

One of the biggest differences between 1978 and today is the existence of social media. Some fans posted death threats directed at O'Neill, a 22-year-old graduate student at Michigan, while others suggested suicide. It was an ugly glimpse at sports fandom in the age of Internet bullying.

"These are not men you're talking to, these are 18- to 21-year-old young men who are working hard and trying to get their education and playing sports," Pisarcik said. "Sometimes social media can be rough. My son took down his social media. It's not good."

Pisarcik didn't need social media to remind him about his part in one of football's most memorable endings, but he was able to succeed long after the play was over. In fact, in 1980 the Giants traded him to Philadelphia, where he backed up Ron Jaworski. He ended up meeting his wife while in Philadelphia and now lives in Newark, New Jersey, where he is the president and CEO of the NFL Alumni Association.

"Everyone talks about the fumble, but when I was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles, the team that picked up that Miracle in the Meadowlands fumble, that changed my life," Pisarcik said. "I went to the Super Bowl and met somebody and got married and had three children. A lot of good things happened. You'd be surprised.

"Everybody fumbles in life. Everybody muffs a punt or a kick in different phases in life. But what defines you is what happens after it. What happens after that bad thing happens? Anybody can come off a win when everything is great and be happy. But when you lose something and you're to blame and the fingers are pointed at you, how you react is going to define you and your life. That's what Kenny Stabler told me, he said, 'You just got to get up, dust yourself off and keep on going. Don't look back because you can't go that way.'"

Pisarcik knows O'Neill is dealing with a lot now and said he would like to reach out to him. Michigan interim athletic director Jim Hackett issued a public letter Sunday afternoon urging Wolverines fans to support their team and O'Neill in the aftermath of the heartbreaking loss.

"Sometimes things get worse before they get better, which might be the case with Blake," Pisarcik said. "And then they turn around and you start to do some positive things in your life. You understand that it's not the end of the world. Things go on. Life goes on.

"Yes, at parties 37 years later people still come up to me and say, 'Hey, you were that guy who fumbled in the Miracle at the Meadowlands play,' and I go, 'Yeah, that's right,' and then I move on. That one play isn't going to define your whole career and your whole life. Not one sentence in a book defines that book. Everything else you do in your life and what you stand for will define you. Sure, you're going to feel bad. That's normal, but you're going to get better."

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