By Zane Miller
Although NFL games have been broadcast on television or some form of visual medium for many years, this was not the case in previous decades before the modern era of established broadcasting contracts for regular season and postseason matchups. In fact, the most recent NFL game to not be televised came during the 1975 season, as the San Diego (now Los Angeles) Chargers faced the New York Giants on November 1st of that year.
In 1974, both teams had endured lackluster seasons. The Chargers ended the year with a 5-9 record, finishing last in the AFC West for a third straight season and failing to reach the playoffs thanks to a 20th-ranked offense out of the then 26-team league, with their defense not faring much better at 19th overall.
While the 1974 Chargers were far from the gold standard for football teams, the 1974 Giants were on another level of dysfunctional ineptitude. Not only had the team finished last in the NFC East in back-to-back seasons, they would also rack up only two wins on the year with the fourth-worst defense and fifth-worst offense in the league. In perhaps the largest testament to how horrible the campaign went, the team used three different quarterbacks for large chunks of the season, with none of them winning more than one game or throwing for double-digit touchdowns.
Seven weeks into the 1975 season, however, these teams would play against each other in an inter-conference matchup, with the Chargers making the cross-country trip to New York City and the Giants’ temporary home of Shea Stadium. By this point in the season, San Diego was well out of playoff contention and had established themselves as one of the worst teams in the league at an 0-6 record. Although the Giants were having a bit more success than in the past couple of years, they were still held to a losing record at 2-4, with something to prove in their home contest against a weaker opponent on paper.
Another fact of note was that the game was held on a Saturday afternoon due to a scheduling conflict with the New York Jets, who had a home game the next day and were tenants at Shea Stadium since 1964. This may have factored into there being no stations in either the San Diego market or the New York market to show the game with a busier Saturday programming schedule. However, the game would go on, broadcast or no broadcast, with both teams searching to bounce back from losses in their most recent games.
The Giants got on the board first with a short touchdown run by fullback Joe Dawkins, before the Chargers responded with a 48-yard score of their own by rookie running back Rickey Young, as he earned the first touchdown rush of his career to tie the game up at 7-7. However, the Giants wouldn’t end the first quarter quietly, with Dawkins getting his second of the game from 14 yards out to make it a 14-7 game.
San Diego evened the score again in the second quarter, as quarterback Dan Fouts called his own number on a short touchdown run, before Giants quarterback Craig Morton found wide receiver and future Philadelphia Eagles head coach Ray Rhodes for the game’s first touchdown pass. Going into halftime, the Giants held a slight lead over the Chargers at 21-14.
The Chargers quickly proved how false this sense of security was in the third quarter, with Fouts finding rookie wide receiver Dwight McDonald from 30 yards away to tie the contest for a third time, though New York would continue their pattern of one-possession leads later in the quarter as Morton hit veteran tight end Bob Tucker for a 47-yard strike to make it 28-21 in favor of the Giants with 15 minutes remaining in regulation.
This time, however, the Chargers would not be able to match the Giants’ output, instead netting a short field goal from kicker Ray Wersching. The Giants promptly made it a two-possession game as running back Ron Johnson scored his final career touchdown run to make it 35-24, a score which would stand as the Giants improved to 3-4, while the Chargers remained winless at 0-7.
While San Diego would eventually claim their first victory with three games remaining in the regular season, they would still finish with a 2-12 record due to having the second-worst offense in the league and a 20th-ranked defense. Despite a more-or-less promising start to the season for the Giants, they would completely fall off the map in the second half, losing five straight games following their win against the Chargers to once again miss the playoffs after a 5-9 showing. Despite their mediocre records, both these teams will have the distinction of facing off in the last untelevised NFL game.