clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The 25th Anniversary Of The Champion Giants And Mets

Getty Images

Twenty-five years ago the New York Giants won their first Super Bowl (after winning four NFL Championships) and the New York Mets claimed their second World Series title. Both teams had to slog similar roads to finally reach the pinnacle of their respective sport. With mediocre players (not to mention coaches) far outnumbering the few good ones, such as Homer Jones, Fran Tarkenton, Spider Lockhart, Ron Johnson, Bob Tucker and Brad Van Pelt, the Giants failed to qualify for the playoffs from 1964 through 1980, before finally getting back to the postseason in 1981. They missed out again the following two years, but began their true ascent in 1984 with Bill Parcells and Phil Simms leading the way.

The Mets also fell into a black hole after their rise to Miracle Mets status in 1969 and carving out their place in underdog sport history with their last-to-first Ya Gotta Believe season of 1973. Bad trades, bad management and bad players doomed the franchise, with only a John Stearns here and a talented yet often injured Craig Swan there trying to stem the tide. But, like the Giants, they began to rise from the ashes in the early '80s, with one key player after another joining the team as new owners and a new GM took the reins, before becoming true contenders in '84. But the two teams had more in common that just a championship year.

The Giants and Mets both had GMs and managers who completely transformed the teams from laughingstocks into champions. George Young joined Big Blue in 1979 with Parcells coming on board in 1983. Frank Cashen's first year with the Mets was 1980, as he was Nelson Doubleday and Fred Wilpon's first hire after they purchased the team that same year. Davey Johnson arrived in 1984. Without any help from free agency, the Giants and Mets built from the ground up, with draft picks and old-fashioned trades. Both teams went from being the dregs of their respective leagues to becoming model organizations during the '80s, with Young winning Executive of the Year five teams while he was with the Giants, and the Mets being named Baseball America's Organization of the Year in 1983 and '84.

Both squads featured players who were, well, not such good citizens. The Giants had the baddest dude of them all in Lawrence Taylor. He was a mad man on the field as well as off. He terrorized quarterbacks, most famously ending Joe Theismann's career, while drugs and alcohol haunted him for decades. The Mets' scariest bad guy was Kevin Mitchell. He's the subject of a number of urban legends, which include taking Dwight Gooden hostage while killing a cat and the oft-told anecdote of being on the clubhouse phone making plane reservations while out of uniform before being called on to pinch hit in game six of the 1986 World Series, where he then rushed back into his uniform sans protective cup and singled. He denies both incidents, and claims he never wore a cup because, "I couldn't find one big enough for my junk." Mitchell was just the tip of the iceberg, though, as the '86 Mets had a long line of players who brawled on the field and had gotten into some sort of trouble off the field: Keith Hernandez, Darryl Strawberry, Lenny Dykstra, Wally Backman and Gooden, who just admitted that he missed the Canyon of Heroes parade because he was in a drug-induced haze in the projects on Long Island.

But the two teams also had a group of straight-laced yet tough guys to go along with their degenerate teammates. The Giants featured Mark Bavaro, Harry Carson and Phil Simms, who fell into that mold, while the Mets fielded Golden Gloves boxer Ray Knight and Gary Carter. No matter the moral character of their players, both teams were at the top of the list when it came to toughness and swagger in their respective leagues. And each had a defining moment of toughness: In their 13th game of the year, at San Francisco on Monday Night Football, Bavaro dragged the 49er defense down field with him refusing to be tackled, which spurred the Giants on to a 21-17 victory; while in the 10th inning of a July game in Cincinnati, Eric Davis (pinch-running for Pete Rose) stole third base and bumped into Knight. Without hesitating, Knight clocked Davis with a punch to the face, inciting yet another Met brawl, and of course the Amazin's would win the game on a 14th-inning, three-run home run by Howard Johnson. In Peter Golenbock's book Amazin', Strawberry described the attitude of the '86 Mets: "A team on the march to the championship that develops this attitude is no longer a team -- it's more like a gang. You hang together, you chill together, you go to war together. You play kick-ass baseball until you're the only ones standing on the field. The machismo builds until you're no longer human, you're like a Terminator."

Each team featured longtime sufferers who were around for the previous era of badness. George Martin went all the way back to the 1975 Giants when Bill Arnsparger was the coach and Craig Morton the QB, Carson debuted the following year and Brad Benson also played in the '70s, his rookie year being 1978. Jesse Orosco was the longest tenured '86 Met, pitching in his first major league game in 1979 when Joe Torre was running the last-place team, after coming to the Mets in a trade with the Twins for Jerry Koosman. Mookie Wilson and Backman first played in Queens in 1980, when the Mets won all of 67 games.

Though both teams had solid offenses (the Mets led the NL in runs scored), the strength and signature of each team was defense and pitching. The Giants' D finished second in both points allowed and total yards and No. 1 in rushing defense, and they had four Pro Bowlers on that side of the ball along with the league MVP in Taylor. LT led the league with 20-and-a-half sacks, Marshall had 12, Carl Banks had six-and-a-half, and their 59 total sacks were good for fourth in the league. The Mets' 3.11 ERA was the best in the majors, and they recorded the second most strikeouts of any staff. All five of their starters won double-digit games, with Bobby Ojeda leading the team with 18, and three of their starters had ERAs under 3.00. Orosco (21 saves) and Roger McDowell (22 saves) anchored the bullpen.

One thing that was different about the teams was their attitude and self confidence. On the first day of spring training, Davey Johnson said, "We're not only going to win, we're going to win big. We're going to blow the rest of the division away." And they did, winning 108 games, finishing 21-and-a-half games ahead of second-place Philadelphia. The playoffs and World Series did not come as easy, obviously. The Giants on the other hand, though confident and with a league-best 14-2 record (tied with the Bears), didn't view themselves in the same way. Taylor stated in his book, LT: Living on the Edge, "We came into last season [1986] knowing we were good but never guessing where we would wind up. We had the attitude we always had -- that we had to work for everything we got. We didn't walk out on the field like those old dynasty teams -- expecting rather than hoping to win. Our job was to play hard, to execute -- stick to basics. It influenced everything we did." And Simms has stated that it wasn't until week 11, when he completed a fourth-and-17 pass to Bobby Johnson, which was the key play in a win over the Vikings, that they really felt that they were a true championship-caliber team. But unlike the Mets, they dominated in the postseason, winning by scores of 49-3 (over the 49ers), 17-0 (in the NFC Championship Game against Washington) and 39-10 (in the Super Bowl victory over Denver).

It was 25 years ago that the Giants and Mets fielded what may be the best teams in their respective histories. They were tough, they were mean, they were great, they were talented, they were crazy, they were drunk, they were pugilists, they were blue-collar, they were popular, they were loved, they were hated -- and they will never be forgotten.