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.