Welcome to Flashback Friday, a weekly feature devoted to the 20th anniversary of the 1986 World Champion New York Mets.
Twenty years, 43 Fridays. This is one of them.
If your team were vying for the world championship in a few hours, you wouldn’t be completely responsible for the crazy thoughts running through your head. It would be at least a little understandable if you thought something strange and then stepped back twenty years later and wondered, “was that me?”
So it was on the afternoon of October 27, 1986. Monday afternoon, the preamble, as it were, to Game Seven of the World Series. You know — the one the Mets were in.
I had a lot of thoughts in me, most of them presumably dealing with the ability of the Mets to handle Bruce Hurst (they hadn’t) and Ron Darling’s ability to step up (he hadn’t always). But one stands out, mainly because it was a Monday afternoon in autumn.
I wonder if I’m going to get distracted by the Giants game on Monday Night Football. I might. I shouldn’t, but I might.
Blasphemous, eh? Unthinkable to think such thoughts, right? But there it was. Because the Mets and Red Sox had been rained out on Sunday night, the seventh game was moved to Monday night. What had looked like the first night of the offseason was now a New York vs. New York, sport vs. sport showdown.
Of course there was no choice to be made. The Giants had a big game on tap, first place on the line against their bitter rivals, but come on. This was the World Series, the seventh game, the Mets. Need I say more?
Yet I somehow worried that I, not Ron Darling, wouldn’t come up big. That I’d fall for that business about football being so great to watch on television, that my slow-burn affection for the NFL, smoldering since about 1978, would blow smoke in my direction and I wouldn’t be able to stay focused on Channel 4.
It’s the craziest thought I’ve ever thunk. It seems ridiculous today, two days from this particular Super Bowl between uh…wait…I know this…one of them took a bus or something…I’ll have to get back to you… and it seemed ridiculous to contemplate even as I contemplated it.
But in 1986, as much as I was a Mets fan, I was still a small-c catholic sports fan, certainly pro-pro football. Back then, it didn’t bother me that the Giants and Jets encroached on the baseball season’s final month. I saw it as bonus sports. What can I tell you? I was younger then. The local gridders each taking their best simultaneous shot at winning division titles in ’86, while a good, solid notch below any Met concerns, was nevertheless on my radar.
The two Super Bowls that sandwiched the 1986 World Series are at least a little relevant to what the Mets achieved. Super Bowl XX, the Bears’ win, provided a template of sorts for our guys — too much so, it would turn out. The Bears romped through their season. So did the Mets. The Bears made no bones about going to the championship (they weren’t there to start no trouble, you may have heard). When the Mets preened and posed in their own team-authorized in-season video, it was therefore not without precedent. The Bears were larger than life, probably the last football team to capture the public’s fancy based on personality as much as performance. At one place I worked after their 15-1 rampage, I noticed a particular appliance had been adorned with a sticker that featured a cartoonish football player wearing No. 72 and identified as The Fridge. Somebody thought it was hilarious and/or relevant enough to stick William “The Refrigerator” Perry’s likeness on an actual refrigerator. Unlicensed to be sure, but indicative that Bearsmania had drifted far enough afield to grab the attention of a Long Island office manager.
And what baseball team ever dripped more personality than our own 1986 New York Mets?
I didn’t much stress over whether the Bears would win their game against the New England Patriots. They did and that was fine with me. The next day I didn’t start staring out the window waiting for fall to start. It was right back to counting down to spring training. Football went back into Binkley’s closet of anxieties.
What I didn’t care about or couldn’t know was that this would be the mighty Bears’ only Super Bowl. They were so overwhelming, but they never put it together again in the quite the same way. Their one tremendous year, capped by a championship secured in 1986, would be it for them and their era.
A year later it was my Giants going to the Super Bowl. By then, it felt preordained. First the Mets, now the Giants. We won and now the other we were going to win. From 1974 through 1983, my two favorite sports teams shared seven common losing seasons. That is to say that there was virtually no joy in Gregville for a decade.
Having been present at the creation of the Miracle Mets, I always knew in my heart that there would be another World Series victory in my lifetime. There would have to be more than my scant memories of ’69 to get me through, there would just have to be. I had no such presumptions about the Giants and the Super Bowl. It seemed laughable to even think they could make the playoffs through the ’70s. But here we were, in January of ’87, the Mets having made my gut feeling come true and the Giants heavy favorites to do what I had judged undoable.
My baseball team was the world champion. My football team was about to be world champion. The strangest part is it felt perfectly normal. And great.
The only quibble I had with the runup to Super Bowl XXI was the coverage. “This is even bigger than the Mets being in the World Series,” I heard some clueless TV reporter say. I believe the evidence was that a Herman’s Sporting Goods was selling more Giants stuff in January than it had Mets stuff in October. Well, duh, I thought. This Giant thing, its perpetuity season-ticket waiting list notwithstanding, was a bandwagon matter. Everybody had already bought their Mets stuff way ahead of October ’86. A writer in Newsday got caught up in the January hype as well, suggesting that a Giants win might wind up converting 1986 in our memories from The Year of The Mets to The Year of The Giants.
That annoyed me. The Giants didn’t play Denver until January 25, or 25 days since 1986 ended. Joe Morris could run for 200 yards but he couldn’t turn the calendar back. Nor could one Sunday afternoon trump the three weeks that Metsmerized October.
Otherwise, I was immersed in Gigantism. How immersed? I penned my own idiotic Super Bowl song parody, “Giant Steps To Pasadena”. Composed to the tune of “Walk Like An Egyptian,” it was no better than the claptrap that the various morning zoos were churning out, but I’m under the lingering impression that it was no worse. “All the fans in the Rose Bowl stands say LT…LT…” OK, it was much worse, but I’d come down with the Super Bowl fever. I was delirious.
All those Super Sundays watching teams from somewhere else and adopting nominal rooting interests for three or four hours had fired me up for this day. My big moment was when my father and I went out to pick up pizza and salad from the Capri. We weren’t just getting Italian takeout for the Super Bowl. We were getting Italian takeout for the Giants in the Super Bowl. Wow.
Nevertheless, the second the game began, I was too nervous to eat. I treated my lettuce like it was pizza, grabbing it with my hands as John Elway marched Denver downfield and mindlessly shoving it between my lips. I had to wait ’til halftime to eat in earnest (and believe me, I like to eat in earnest).
Phil Simms completely outgunned Elway and the Giants won and it was lovely — very warm, even if the pizza had grown cold by the time I could settle down to enjoy it. In the week that followed, I couldn’t wait for one of those quickie souvenir shops to open so I could buy a t-shirt that confirmed that Giants 39 Broncos 20 had really happened.
The shirt I purchased had two logos. One was a Giants helmet. The other was the Mets skyline. On this fabric, they shared 1986. City of Champions, baby! The Mets and the…uh…wait, let me look at my shirt…
If I couldn’t be completely carried away by the Giants winning their first Super Bowl enough to devote one lousy shirt to their accomplishment alone, then do you think I was really distracted on the night of October 27, 1986?
I wasn’t. I was a Mets fan and only a Mets fan as long as there was baseball. I may have checked in during a World Series commercial or two, but that was it. I can’t believe I even thought it would be a conflict.
After Jesse Orosco struck out Marty Barrett (Swing and a miss! Swing and a miss!) and the Princes hugged and phones were answered, I wandered around the house in a state so unfamiliar that I was back to not knowing what to think. Amid all my euphoria, I somehow managed to remember that the Giants and Redskins were probably still playing on Channel 7. I sat down in the kitchen to watch the end. It was sort of like Will Smith in Six Degrees of Separation being caught by Stockard Channing after having brought home a guy he picked up:
I was so happy I wanted to add sex to it. Don’t you do that?
Nothing could tarnish the Commissioner’s Trophy, but it would have been a teensy bit disappointing not to make it a perfect night. With one eye replaying the final out and one eye on the screen, I got the icing on top of the star on top of the angel on top of the tree on top of the cake. The Giants held off the Redskins, 27-20 and were tied, halfway through their season, for first.
Who cared? Not that many people, apparently. While close to 90 million Americans tuned into Game Seven, making it the most-watched baseball game ever, Monday Night Football scored the lowest rating in its history. Man, that felt good! Here ABC had one of the glamour matchups of the year and not one in ten televisions bothered with it. It was karmic payback for two weeks earlier when the Mets…
a) had been screwed out of their NLCS home-field advantage (then determined by rotation) because the Astrodome was reserved for the Oilers on the Sunday that Game Four would be played;
b) and were forced by ABC into scheduling Game Five on the Monday afternoon (Yom Kippur, no less) that followed because the network didn’t want to disturb MNF. The Mets and Astros got rained out that day, but it was perfectly dry that night.
In New York, the World Series rating for the seventh game was 56, the share was 71. New York loved the Mets and knew what counted. So did a whole lot of Giants fans. An official in East Rutherford estimated there were some 5,000 portable TV sets lugged to the Meadowlands that Monday night (hey, whatever happened to the Watchman anyway?). There were presumably many, many radios on hand as well. Though Giants Stadium was sold out and almost all its seats were filled, the Giants were not the main attraction. When the Mets rallied, the Giants fans cheered — even if the Redskins were on the move.
The Giants did not find this charming. “I really thought the fans should have gone to the baseball game,” offensive lineman Brad Benson said afterwards, none too happy that the crowd noise for the Mets caused him to jump offside. “I’m not joking. It really was a distraction. It really got me upset.”
As another New Jerseyite would say more than a decade later, oh, poor you. A broader view of the occasion came from tackle Karl Nelson, who noted that the Redskins were also unnerved by the Mets a couple of times.
But not as often as Calvin Schiraldi was.
That’s about all the football we need this weekend. Come back Sunday for a special salute to baseball.
In the meantime, two more 1986 bits:
• March 28 has become the most important day of our lives. That’s the day MLB releases a…brace yourself…NINE-DISC DVD SET celebrating the 1986 World Series! That’s all seven games, the 16-inning game in Houston and one bonus disc of this, that and the other thing. I don’t doubt it won’t be enough (because there can be never too much), but it’s about frigging time, no?
• The coolest Mets blog EVER recently debuted. It’s by Bob Sikes. Yes, that Bob Sikes! He was, of course, assistant trainer to the ’86 Mets, one of the men charged with keeping our fellas game-ready (and he did a phenomenal job). Bob is now in Florida teaching and coaching and blogging. He calls his online effort Getting Paid to Watch. You won’t be sorry you clicked through.