1966: The Worst of New York sports

New York sports fans will be glad when they bring down the big ball on 2013 in Times Square on New Year’s Eve. No playoffs outside of the Knicks, Nets, Rangers and Islanders — and look where those teams are right now. No baseball playoffs. No football playoffs. No nothing.

Take heart, 1966 was worse. Fuhgeddaboudit!

New York sports fans, don’t despair. With the Mets and Yankees both struggling to live up to expectations, the Rangers facing a long summer after being ousted by the Penguins, and the Knicks (well, let’s not even go there), times have been tough lately in Gotham.

Let’s forget, for purposes of this exercise, the Giants improbable Super Bowl victory over the previously unbeaten New England Patriots. Since February, it’s been nothing but doom and gloom on the New York sports scene. But it could be worse, much worse. It could be 1966, the worst year ever for professional sports in New York.

1966. Lyndon B. Johnson was President, the first Star Trek episode aired, Truman Capote wrote “In Cold Blood”, and a gallon of regular gasoline cost 32 cents. The first Super Bowl, Woodstock and Richard M. Nixon were just over the horizon.

The Yankees, Giants, Rangers and Knicks all finished in last place. Only the Jets, third in the AFL East, and the Mets, ninth in the National League after four successive last-place finishes. avoided the basement. It was bad. It was worse then bad, it was terrible, embarrassing, pathetic.

The Yankees were the biggest disappointment. Just two years from a fifth straight World Series appearance — and after dominating baseball for more than 40 years — the Bronx Bombers finished 10th and last in the America League for the first time since 1912 with a 70-89 record, 26 1/2 games behind the Baltimore Orioles.

Led the by the likes of Horace Clarke, Steve Whitaker and Dooley Womack, the Yankees hit rock bottom on September 22, 1966. That day, paid attendance of 413 was announced at the 65,000-seat Yankee Stadium. Legendary broadcaster Red Barber asked TV cameras to pan the empty stands as he commented on the low attendance. Although denied the camera shots on orders from the Yankees’ head of media relations, Red said, “I don’t know what the paid attendance is today, but whatever it is, it is the smallest crowd in the history of Yankee Stadium, and this crowd is the story, not the game.” The Yankees lost to the White Sox that day 4-1.

The Mets actually wound up with a worse record than the Yankees, 66-95, but showed signs of progress, finishing out of the National League cellar and avoiding 100 losses for the first time in their history. Led by the likes of Ed Kranepool and Ron Swoboda, the Mets would draw nearly two million fans to Shea Stadium.

No Defense for Giants
That fall, the football Giants finished with the worst record in their illustrious history, 1-12-1 and last in the NFL East. There was no defense. The Giants surrendered 501 points that year, a record for a 14-game schedule. They lost 52-7 to Dallas, 55-14 to Los Angeles and 72-41 to Washington. Gary Wood and Earl Morrall shared quarterback duties, and Chuck Mercein led the team in rushing with a paltry 327 yards.

The Jets were starting to show promise under young quarterback Joe Namath, but wound up with a mediocre 6-6-2 record. On November 27, 1966, the same day the Giants gave up the NFL regular-season record 72 points to the Redskins, the Jets were beaten 32-24 by Kansas City, marking one of the darkest days in New York pro football history.

Things weren’t a heckuva lot better at the old Madison Square Garden on Eighth Avenue and 49th Street. The Knicks would finish 30-50, last in the NBA’s Eastern Division for the seventh straight season. And the Rangers would finish last, out of the playoffs for the fourth straight year in the six-team NHL, midway though a 54-year Stanley Cup drought.

Even during these darkest hours, (it’s always darkest just before the dawn), the Jets, Mets and Knicks were all within four years of winning championships. It would take a bit longer for the Yankees, who returned to baseball prominence with a refurbished Yankee Stadium and an American League pennant in 1976, and World Championships the following two years.

For the Giants, the climb was steep, the team finally returning to the playoffs in 1981 after an 18-year drought, and winning the Super Bowl five seasons later. And in 1994, the Rangers won the Stanley Cup.


Instant replay: The 20 greatest Yankee HRs

Take a look, give a listen to the 20 greatest home runs in Yankee history. Many are on this list of 100 greatest home runs in baseball history.

Any list of greatest home runs would be incomplete without the immortal Babe Ruth.

1. 1927,  Babe Ruth belts #60

Ancient footage played to the music of Queen’s “We are the Champions,” the Bambino makes his mark and challenges all comers to match it. “60. Count em 60,” roared the Babe. “Let’s see some other son of a bitch match that.”

2. 1932, Ruth’s called shot, Game 3, World Series

The legendary called shot at Wrigley Field, with motion picture footage that shows Ruth pointing. But where?

3. 1932, Lou Gehrig,  4 HRs, single game

Close as we could come to video with Larrupin’ Lou is this photo. But you get the point, it was a long time ago. And four in one game — not even the great Ruth ever did that.

4. 1938, Joe DiMaggio, Game 2, World Series

Great radio call, Joe D goes “high and far over the fence in deep left field” at Wrigley Field to bury the Cubs in another Yankee sweep.

5. 1952, Mickey Mantle HR, Game 7, World Series

Mantle, just 20 years old, goes deep on a 3-1 pitch off Joe Black in the sixth inning at Ebbets Field to give the Yankees the lead for good on their way to their fourth straight World Series. Mel Allen with the play-by-play in the sixth – “that ball is going, going…it is gone.” Watch how fast Mantle gets around the bases.

6. 1956, Yogi Berra, 2 HRs, Game 7, World Series 

A signature moment for the Yankee catcher, who belted two early two- run homers against Don Newcombe to help the Yankees avenge their loss to Brooklyn the previous year in a 9-0 whitewash. Elston Howard also homered, and Bill Skowron hit a grand slam.

Yogi1956

7. 1961, Roger Maris 61st HR

Not the Phil Rizzuto call (“Holy cow, he did it, 61 for Maris.”), but what the heck, Red Barber is pretty darn good.  At one point the camera catches Sal Durante, the fan who got $5,000 for coming up with the ball. Lots going on in this brief cut: fans booing Boston’s Tracy Stallard  for going to a 2-0 count against Maris, a young fan running on the field to shake the Rajah’s hand, and Maris being pushed out for a curtain call by his teammates.

8. 1963,  Mickey Mantle, tape measure shot

The Mick talks about the hardest ball he ever hit, which missed by less than a foot of clearing the right field facade of Yankee Stadium. No player has ever hit a fair ball out of the Stadium old or new — Mantle came the closest.

9. 1967, Mickey Mantle, 500th HR

Watch the gimpy-legged Mantle struggle around the bases after lining his milestone round tripper into the right field seats at Yankee Stadium. Jerry Coleman with the call. Again, kids on the field.

10. 1976, Chris Chambliss HR, Game 5, ALCS

Chambliss helps the Yankees win their first AL pennant in 12 years. Keith Jackson and Howard Cosell with the call. Talk about security in the Bronx — fans storm the field as Chambliss barely makes it around the bases.

11. 1977, Reggie Jackson, 3 HRs, Game 6, World Series

Mr. October earns his stripes with an unforgettable performance that matches the heroics of one George Herman Ruth.

12. 1978, Bucky Dent HR, AL East playoff

” Deep to left. Yastrzemski will not get it. It’s a home run. A three-run homer for Bucky Dent.”  Bill White with the call on the blast that brought Yaz to his knees and silenced Fenway Park.

13. 1987, Don Mattingly HRs in 8 straight games

Donnie Baseball ties Dale Long’s record by homering in his eighth consecutive game.

14. 1996, Derek Jeter controversial home run, Game 1, ALCS

Jeter, a rookie, shares the spotlight with 12-year-old Jeffrey Maier, who gives the Yankees a boost on this controversial eighth inning call that tied the score and made Bob Costas ask “And what happens here?”

15. 1996, Bernie Williams walk-off ,Game 1, ALCS

Same game as Jeter’s home run, the winning blow by Williams came in the bottom of the 11th. You may have to turn up the volume to hear it — but John Sterling gives a landmark Yankees win call as Bernie goes boom.

16. 1996, Jim Leyritz, Game 4, World Series

With Atlanta on the verge of taking a 3-1 lead in the World Series, Leyritz launches a game-tying, three-run homer to left to tie the game in the eighth. Watch the reaction on the Yankee bench, especially Don Zimmer.

17A. 2001, Tino Martinez, Game 4, World Series

Less than two months after 9/11, two outs in the ninth, game on the line, Martinez homers to tie the score. Derek Jeter’s walk-off wins it in the 10th. And the next night…..

17B. 2001, Scott Brosius  Game 5, World Series

….it happened again. One night after Tino’s shocker, Brosius goes yard with two down in the ninth to tie the score. This time the Yankees win in 12. Joe Buck with the dual calls.

18. 2003, Aaron Boone, Game 7, ALCS

With the score tied in the last of the 11th, Boone hits the first pitch from knuckleballer Tim Wakefield into the left field seats to send the Yankees to the World Series. Look closely in the background. As Boone is rounding the bases, Mariano Rivera is hugging the mound.

19. 2004, Jason Giambi, walk-off grand slam

This dramatic 14th inning walk-off in the rain gave birth to John Sterling’s Giambino.

20. 2009, A-Rod walk-off, 15th inning

YouTubeism baby. A millenial generation shot of A-Rod’s two-run blast that broke a scoreless tie with the Red Sox.


Instant replay: The 10 most improbable finishes in college football history

Auburn’s Chris Davis, en route to history, silences Alabama dreams of a three-peat.

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, along comes an improbable play that stirs the soul. Witness what happened on November 30, when Auburn shocked top-ranked Alabama with a length-of-the-field return on the last play of the game. 50 years from now, fans will remember where they were when the play occurred.

It was the greatest finish in college football history. Take a look at the top 10 with video links.

1. The War Damn Miracle

2013, Auburn 34, Alabama 28

Alabama, gunning for its third straight national championship, attempted to snap a tie with a 57-yard field goal attempt on the final play of the game. The kick was short, but Auburn return man Chris David took the ball at the back of the end zone and ran 109 yards (officially 100) for the winning touchdown. Auburn had tied the game with 32 seconds remaining, following a 99-yard touchdown pass that gave Alabama the lead earlier in the fourth quarter. Ironically, in their previous game two weeks earlier, the War Eagles stunned Georgia on a last-minute 73-yard pass, known as The Immaculate Deflection.

2. The Play

1982, Cal 25, Stanford 20

Cal, trailing 20-19 with just four seconds remaining against arch-rival Stanford, used five laterals on a kick return to score the winning touchdown, racing the final yards through the Stanford band, which had come onto the field believing the game was over. John Elway, playing in his final regular season college game, led Stanford to a field goal before Cal’s hysteria on the ensuing kickoff.

With the clock winding down, Doug Flutie winds up to throw his Hail Mary pass.

3. The Hail Mary

1984, Boston College 47, Miami 45

On the day after Thanksgiving, Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie threw a desperation, 48-yard touchdown pass to his roommate, Gerard Phelan, on the final play of the game to lead the Eagles past Miami at the Orange Bowl. Flutie would go on to win the Heisman Trophy that season.

4. The Statue of Liberty

2007, Boise State 43, Oklahoma 42, OT

One of the wildest games in NCAA history, capped by one of the wildest endings. Playing in the Fiesta Bowl, Oklahoma scored 25 straight points but Boise State tied the game on a hook and ladder play with seconds remaining. After the Sooners scored in overtime, Boise countered with a touchdown and then won the game with a two-point conversion on another circus play — the Statue of Liberty.

 

5. The Lateralpalooza

2007, Trinity 28, Millsaps 24

You have to see this play to believe it. In a Division III showdown in Mississippi, Trinity used 15 laterals to score on a 61-yard kick return touchdown as time expired. The longest play in college football history took 62 seconds to complete,

6. The Bluegrass Miracle

2002, LSU 33, Kentucky 30

After Kentucky players gave head coach Guy Morriss a Gatorade shower, LSU scored on a  74-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Marcus Randall to wide receiver Devery Henderson on the final play of the game.


7. Miracle at the Big House

1994, Colorado 27, Michigan 26

Kordell Stewart’s 64-yard touchdown pass to Michael Westbrook as time expired stunned a huge Michigan crowd at the Big House in Ann Arbor. Stewart’s pass traveled nearly 80 yards in the air.

8. The Bush Push

2005, USC 34, Notre Dame 31

Trailing 31-28 with just seven seconds left to play, USC went for the win instead of kicking a tying field goal. Trojans quarterback Matt Leinart scored the winning touchdown on a keeper, helped by a shove from behind by running back Reggie Bush.

9. Happy Holiday

1980, BYU 46, SMU 45

BYU overcame a 20-point deficit in the final three minutes and scored three touchdowns, sparked by Jim McMahon’s 41-yard pass to Clay Brown at the gun, to stun SMU

10. Harvard beats Yale, 29-29

1968, Harvard 29, Yale 29

The Harvard Crimson headline said it all. Harvard scored 16 points in the final 42 seconds — including a touchdown and two point conversion after time expired — to tie rival Yale. The teams shared the Ivy League title at 8-0-1.