Giants-Commanders rivalry’s next chapter critical to playoffs

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If the Giants played their home games in Gotham City, then the Eagles would almost certainly be the consensus Joker, the archest of their arch-enemies, especially in a year when the Eagles are soaring. The Cowboys would probably check in as the Penguin: always a potential thorn in the side, not quite as menacing as the Joker.

The Commanders? For many fans, they’re the Riddler: still a nemesis, still a contemptible foe, but a step or two behind the others in the pecking order of odium.

There is one notable fan who didn’t see it that way.

“I don’t think there’s any question, the team that makes me feel best when we beat them is Washington,” Wellington Mara told The Post’s Gene Roswell back on Nov. 10, 1972. That was a year of prosperity for the Giants (they finished 8-6) in an otherwise mostly rancid stretch of 17 seasons from 1964 through 1980. But the Giants were 5-3 that day, heading to Washington to face George Allen’s Over-the-Hill Gang, which was 7-1.

“I can think of nothing sweeter,” Mara told The Post scribe, “than ruining their day.”

They tried. They led 7-6 at the half and 10-6 in the third quarter before Washington came roaring back to win 27-13, on their way to a date in Super Bowl VII. Wellington Mara — who’d attended the very first of the 181 games between these two franchises as a 16-year-old on Oct. 9, 1932, a 14-6 win for the then-Boston Braves — never changed his mind, either.

Commanders
Giants defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence reacts after sacking Washington Commanders quarterback Taylor Heinicke.
Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

“Oh definitely, Washington,” Mara said in January 2001, as his team prepared to play the Ravens in Super Bowl XXXIV. “Always Washington.”

Regardless of how fans may vote in that Gotham City straw poll, there is little doubt that there will be a united front this week. The Giants are full-speed-ahead for a rematch with the Commanders at FedExField Sunday night, a game that shapes up to be a critical step for both of these teams, both 7-5-1, toward clinching a playoff spot.

So for a week, anyway, the Commanders are the Joker, the Penguin, the Riddler, Catwoman, Mr. Freeze and the Mad Hatter (and maybe throw in Lex Luthor, too) all put together. Because they stand in the way of the Giants taking what would still be a franchise-shifting leap in the right direction.

“They have a very good defensive line, they have a strong running game, an explosive receiver [Terry McLaurin], a quarterback [Taylor Heinicke] who is, like I said the last time we played him, playing with a lot of confidence,” Giants coach Brian Daboll said. “They’ve won a considerable amount of games here these past seven games. Tough opponent.”

What’s remarkable is, of those 181 games, only two thus far have been playoff games. There have been enough highlights to stuff a shelf of scrapbooks — Sam Huff’s 72-41 revenge game in 1966; the Monday night game where Lawrence Taylor broke Joe Theismann’s leg; the game almost a year later when Washington leapt offsides because Giants Stadim was reacting to the last out of the ’86 World Series two bridges away …

(And of course special mention should be made of the Giants’ 36-0 thrashing of Washington on Oct. 30, 2005, five days after Wellington Mara passed away at 89, a most fitting parting gift, indeed.)

But across 181 games and 90 years, the teams have only met twice in the playoffs. In 1943, 6-1-1 Washington had a two-game lead on the Giants with two games to play in the regular season but lost 14-10 at the Polo Grounds and 31-7 at Griffith Stadium to set up a tiebreaker the following week to decide the Eastern Division. Washington won that game handily, 28-0, at the Polo Grounds.

Giants
Washington Commanders defensive tackle Daron Payne (94) tackles Giants quarterback Daniel Jones.
Bill Kostroun

Forty-three years and three weeks later the Giants hosted Washington in the NFC Championship game, famously took the wind after winning the coin toss, and obliterated them, 17-0.

And that’s it.

This Sunday won’t count as a playoff game, but that’s mere semantics. The winner of Sunday’s game receives nothing more than a one-game boost in the NFC playoff picture, and the loser will not be erased from that photo. But the winner sure will feel a lot better about themselves. And it sure feels like a playoff game.

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