Anthony McCarron, SNY.tv | Twitter |
To illustrate the lovely bond that bloomed between the 1969 Mets and their roommates at Shea Stadium, the Jets, John Schmitt tells the following story:
Schmitt, the center on the Jets' Super Bowl III champs, brought his young son, John-John, to the ballgame one night to see the great Tom Seaver pitch. Schmitt ushered John-John into the Mets' clubhouse, where Seaver was getting a pre-game massage. Schmitt did not want to disturb a fellow athlete's prep, but Seaver insisted.
"He got off the rubdown table, put on his jersey and hat and took a picture with us," Schmitt recalls. "He was great. Then he takes off his jersey, gets back on the table and went out and won the game that night.
"It was just pure family back then."
In 1969, the Jets and Mets shared Shea and the bliss of winning their organization's first championship. Nine months after the Jets capped their wondrous '68 season by upsetting the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III on Jan 12, 1969, the Mets beat the powerful baseball club from Baltimore -- the Orioles -- in the World Series.
So it's appropriate that Schmitt and Randy Rasmussen, an offensive guard for those Jets, will attend the Saturday, June 29 portion of the Mets' 50th anniversary celebration weekend at Citi Field. Dick Barnett, a guard on the Knicks' 1969-70 championship team, will also be there. It's a perfect time to see old pals and relive a golden New York sports era.
"We were all surprised when they won in January," says Mets outfielder Art Shamsky of those Jets. "Not that it had any effect on us winning, but it was nice to see an underdog like them win and, of course, (Joe) Namath was as big a star as anyone in sports right then."
The Mets and Jets got to know each other from working in the same "office" -- Shea. They grabbed sandwiches and sodas together on the second level of the ballpark during breaks, Schmitt recalls. They'd pass in the hallway en route to meetings or workouts. "Go in the main entrance, we'd go right and they'd go left," Schmitt says.
"We all hung out at the same watering holes," Schmitt adds. "It was no big deal. It was just great. It was so easy and so much fun. There wasn't a bad a guy in the bunch, not like 'I'm more important than you.'"
After both teams won, there were offseason dinners, speeches and charity events where a Met and a Jet could both be on the bill. Schmitt, who was born in Brooklyn, grew up on Long Island and went to Hofstra and stayed in the area after his playing days, often ran into Mets who made their home in New York, such as Shamsky or Bud Harrelson.
Sometimes, they'd even meet on a basketball court.
"We all weren't making as much money, so we played basketball games," recalls Shamsky. "We might play the Jets or the faculty from a school."
Were the Jets any good at hoops? "It wasn't so much that they were good," Shamsky says with a chuckle. "They'd just beat the heck out of us."
"We'd get $50 or $100 a game to play, mostly against local schools," adds Schmitt, who recalls having to guard former NBA star and local hoops legend Connie Hawkins during one game, not against the Mets. "We'd make enough money to go out and have some beers together."
The Mets held priority over the Jets at Shea, which could wreak havoc on the Jet schedule. The '69 Jets, the defending Super Bowl champs, played their first five games of that season on the road. Their home opener was moved to a Monday, four days after the Mets had toppled the O's in Game 5 of the World Series and the Shea field was mauled by the celebration.
The Jets were also forced to practice at an, um, interesting venue.
"We had to practice at Rikers Island because of those doggone Mets," Schmitt says. "We used to break the Mets' chops on that one: 'Hey guys, get the hell out of here.'"
After holding meetings at Shea, the Jets would board a bus to the prison for practice. There were 30-foot high fences around the field, which was actually a baseball field, Schmitt says. "They'd lock us in," he adds.
Prisoners were allowed to watch the Jets at work and there was even a prison band. "They played the same six songs," Schmitt says. "Their hearts were in it, though."
Once, Schmitt says, Joe Namath overthrew Don Maynard on a pass route. The ball bounced into where the inmates were watching. "Maynard said, 'Weeb (Ewbank, the Jets' head coach), you get the ball. I'm not,'" Schmitt says, roaring.
Schmitt and Rasmussen both have an idea of the emotions the Mets will be feeling at the ceremonies that weekend. The Jets held their own 50th anniversary fete last season and it was powerful to the men who worked and sweated for that Super Bowl title.
"It was the best," the 76-year-old Schmitt says of the reunion. "It was like we never left. I'm not kidding. Of course, everybody shrunk. It was so great to see the guys, to laugh and tell stories. Some of it was sad, because some of the guys looked old. I'm old, too, but you look at someone else, you're looking out, not in."
At their reunion, the Mets will get to talk about the championship that changed their lives. Rasmussen and Schmitt will recall their bond with the New York champs that followed them, but they'll probably relive their own, too.
"I'm glad my old linemate John Schmitt will be there," Rasmussen says. "We can talk about that victory over the Colts again.
"That never gets old."
SNY will premiere a new 60-minute documentary, "62,000:1 - THREE TEAMS, ONE CITY, ONE YEAR," on Wednesday, July 3 immediately following the Mets vs. Yankees post-game show.