From the ‘Immaculate Reception’ to the ‘Minneapolis Miracle,’ here are some of the more memorable football plays of all time.
Thousands of touchdown passes have been thrown in NFL history. But only a few—each tossed in the waning seconds of a pressure-cooker playoff game—have earned nicknames that have withstood the test of time. Here are five of the most miraculous NFL touchdown passes of all time:
1. The Immaculate Reception | December 23, 1972
THE STAGE: Oakland Raiders-Pittsburgh Steelers AFC divisional playoff game, Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. Entering the game, the Steelers—founded in 1933—had never won a playoff game.
With 22 seconds left, Oakland had a 7-3 lead, and the Steelers had the ball at their 40-yard-line. On fourth down, Pittsburgh quarterback Terry Bradshaw, a future Hall of Famer, threw a desperation pass down the middle for running back John “Frenchy” Fuqua. The ball was on target but so was Oakland safety Jack Tatum, who smashed into Fuqua as the pass arrived.
The ball richocheted seven or eight backward toward Steelers rookie running Franco Harris, a future Hall of Famer, who was running downfield after blocking. Harris caught the ball inches off the ground and, without breaking stride, sprinted into the end zone for the winning 60-yard touchdown. The crowd went crazy.
After a brief review, officials kept the original touchdown call. The play remains controversial—if the ball had hit Fuqua last, the touchdown would have been declared an incomplete pass according to NFL rules at the time. The NFL did not adopt an instant replay review system until 1986.
WHAT THEY SAID AFTERWARD: “I can’t believe it. I saw it and I can’t believe it. When (Harris) scored, my damn brain was gone.”—Steelers guard Bruce Van Dyke, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
“If the officials really knew what happened, they’d have called it right away. But first they went into a huddle. That has to mean they didn’t know.”—Raiders coach John Madden.
WHAT WAS WRITTEN: “After 40 endless years of spilling salt and breaking mirrors and walking under ladders, the Steelers were smiled upon by a benevolent fate.”—Pittsburgh Press sportswriter Phil Musick
This game was already on the verge of classic status when the Dolphins took a 26-21 lead with two minutes left. Then Raiders quarterback Ken “The Snake” Stabler, a future Hall of Famer, moved his team down the field against the highly ranked defense of the Dolphins, who were only two years removed from their 17-0 season—the only perfect season in NFL history.
Taking the snap from the Dolphins’ 8-yard-line, Stabler looked to his left for receiver Fred Biletnikoff, another future Hall of Famer, in the back of the end zone. With Biletnikoff covered and pressure coming, Stabler took off to his left. Miami defensive lineman Vern Den Herder closed from behind, finally grabbing Stabler and pulling him down.
At the last possible moment, Stabler lofted the ball toward running back Clarence Davis, who was covered by linebackers Larry Ball and Mike Kolen. All three players raised their hands for the ball. When the sea of hands parted in the end zone, Davis pulled in the ball, withstanding a fierce hit from defensive back Charles Babb and a late hit by linebacker Manny Fernandez to give the Raiders a 28-26 win.
The following week, Oakland lost to eventual Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh, 24-13.
WHAT THEY SAID AFTERWARD: “I didn’t get all I wanted on that last pass, but I didn’t want it back. … I’m happy as hell it was our turn to win.”—Stabler, according to the Oakland Tribune.
“…the toughest loss I’ve ever suffered as a coach,”—Dolphins coach Don Shula, a future Hall of Famer, told reporters.
WHAT WAS WRITTEN: “Everyone said it would be the Game of the Year, but it turned out to be a game for the ages.”—Oakland Tribune sportswriter Tom LaMarre
With 24 seconds left, Minnesota led, 14-10, and the Cowboys had the ball at midfield. Dallas quarterback Roger Staubach, a future Hall of Famer, took the snap and waited for Drew Pearson to get far enough downfield. Then he launched a high, arcing pass even though Pearson was well covered by Minnesota’s Nate Wright. Pearson, inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2021, slowed at the Minnesota 5-yard line and waited for the ball.
With his back to the quarterback, Wright collided with Pearson, who appeared to push him. But interference wasn’t called on either player, and Pearson withstood the collision, caught the ball against his hip and strolled into the end zone for the winning touchdown.
“It was a Hail Mary pass,” Staubach told reporters after Dallas’ 17-14 win. “I just threw it up there as far as I could.” The name stuck.
WHAT THEY SAID AFTERWARD: “The chances on a play like that are slim and none.”—Pearson told reporters.
“I thought I had an interception. I had position. I wasn’t thinking anything else. I felt myself pushed.”—Wright told reporters.
WHAT WAS WRITTEN: “It was a miracle play … a one in a million shot. As it turned out it may have been the biggest shot the Dallas Cowboys have ever fired in a crucial game.”—Fort Worth Star-Telegram sportswriter Roger Kaye
THE STAGE: Dallas Cowboys-San Francisco 49ers NFC Championship Game, Candlestick Park in San Francisco.
In waning minutes, 49ers quarterback Joe Montana, a future Hall of Famer, directed a drive to the Cowboys’ 6-yard line. On third down with 58 seconds left and his team trailing 27-21, San Francisco coach Bill Walsh called “Change Left Slot—Sprint Right Option,” a play designed for wide receiver Freddie Solomon. But Solomon slipped on the play, forcing Montana to scramble to his right and look for another receiver.
As three Cowboys closed on the quarterback, Clark, the 49ers’ 6-foot-4 wide receiver, sprinted toward the back right corner of the end zone. Montana lofted a high pass that barely cleared defensive back Everson Walls and came down in the hands of the leaping Clark, who landed just in bounds with the winning touchdown.
The Cowboys still had a chance to win, but Dallas quarterback Danny White’s fumble was recovered by the 49ers in the waning seconds.
WHAT THEY SAID AFTERWARD: “I knew it was a high pass, but I didn’t know how high until I saw the replays.”—Clark, who told the San Francisco Examiner the team had run the play in practice.
“This is the worst I’ve ever felt,”—White, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram
WHAT WAS WRITTEN: “Hollywood would have rejected this script.”—San Francisco Examiner columnist Art Spander.
5. The Minneapolis Miracle | January 14, 2018
THE STAGE: New Orleans Saints-Minnesota Vikings divisional playoff game, U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis
Trailing New Orleans, 24-23, Minnesota was down to its last play from scrimmage from its 39-yard line. With eight seconds left, quarterback Case Keenum took the snap on “Seven Heaven,” a play the team had practiced hundreds of times during training camp.
Keenum threw a dart to wide receiver Stephon Diggs, who was covered by cornerback Marcus Williams. As Diggs made the leaping catch, Williams collided with cornerback Ken Crawley, and Diggs spun and sprinted toward the end zone for the winning score as time expired.
Saints players had to be called from locker room for the mandatory point-after touchdown attempt. Only eight of them were on the field as Keenum knelt to end the game.
WHAT THEY SAID AFTERWARD: “Things like this just don’t happen.”—Diggs told reporters
“I knew the situation. You’ve got to make sure you make the play.”—Williams told reporters.
WHAT WAS WRITTEN: “Do you believe in miracles?”—Minneapolis Star-Tribune columnist Jim Souhan
Houston’s Colt Stadium was plagued by mosquitoes and brutal heat. Other ballparks, such as Cleveland’s cavernous ‘Mistake by the Lake,’ had bizarre dimensions.
Boston’s Fenway Park and Chicago’s Wrigley Field—Major League Baseball’s oldest ballparks—are charming testaments to the sport’s early 20th century. Some of the peers of those ballparks had odd features, from weird dimensions to insanely high outfield walls. Here are 10 of the more unusual and quirky bygone ballparks in MLB history.
1. Baker Bowl in Philadelphia | 1904-1938
ODDITY: Towering right field wall.
The original wooden Baker Bowl, destroyed in an 1895 fire, was rebuilt with steel and brick. It was home of the Philadelphia Phillies and widely considered the first “modern” ballpark.
Because the right field corner was only 279 feet from home plate, a 40-foot-high wall was erected to prevent routine popups from turning into home runs. In 1937, the right field wall was increased to 60 feet, much higher than the famous, 37-foot “Green Monster” in left field at Boston’s Fenway Park—one of the odder features in a Major League Baseball stadium.
2. Forbes Field in Pittsburgh | 1909-1970
ODDITY: “Greenberg Gardens” and left-center field, which was 457 feet from home plate—one of the longer distances in MLB history.
Three large light towers were in play at Forbes, named after French and Indian War General John Forbes. Left field was strange indeed. After World War II, with the arrival of slugger Hank Greenberg, the Pirates moved the left field fence in 30 feet. The bullpens, previously located in foul territory, were moved into the area behind the leftfield fence. Sportswriters dubbed that area “Greenberg Gardens,” after the power hitter who had a penchant for homering to left field.
After hitting 25 home runs in 1947, his lone season in Pittsburgh, Greenberg retired. His “Gardens” were renamed “Kiner’s Korner,” in honor of young outfielder Ralph Kiner, who hit 40 home runs in 1948.
In Game 7 of the 1960 World Series, Pirates second baseman Bill Mazeroski homered over the 406-foot sign in left-center field, giving Pittsburgh the World Series title over the New York Yankees.
3. Polo Grounds in New York | 1911-1963
ODDITY: Deep in center field (403 to 505 feet) but shallow and home run-friendly down the lines (276 feet in left and only 258 feet in right).
The original site of this hallowed New York ballpark was in a corner of Central Park. People played polo nearby, hence the name Polo Grounds. The name stuck even when a new Polo Grounds was built farther uptown, at Coogan’s Hollow.
Capacity was just 16,000 when the new ballpark opened, but by the 1950s, it was nearly 55,000 fans. The New York Giants played there until they moved to San Francisco in 1958. The Yankees moved into the Polo Grounds in 1913.
That arrangement worked fine until 1920, when the Yankees purchased Babe Ruth from the Boston Red Sox. The short right field played perfectly for the left-handed-hitting Ruth, and his popularity became an irritant to the Giants. In 1920, the Yankees drew 1,289,422 at the Polo Grounds, more than 300,000 more fans than the Giants. Pushed to move elsewhere by their in-city rivals, the Yankees moved into Yankee Statium in 1923.
The New York Mets played at the Polo Grounds from 1962-63.
4. Tiger Stadium in Detroit | 1912-1999
ODDITY: A right field seating area jutted 10 feet over the field and became the landing area for many home runs.
Tiger Stadium was a classic example of the way the local environs created challenges that were often solved with creative, but quirky, solutions by ballpark designers. The right field overhang was necessary because Turnbull Avenue made any expansion beyond the ballpark impossible.
Tiger Stadium had other quirks. A tall flagpole in center field, a few feet from the outfield wall, was in fair territory and a constant challenge for outfielders. Pillars holding up the upper deck obstructed the view of fans from many outfield seats.
5. Braves Field in Boston | 1915-1953
ODDITY: The center field wall, 550 feet straightaway from home plate, was lined with trees to hide the smoke from a railyard beyond the fence.
The deep center field made this stadium a hotbed for inside-the-park home runs. But the trees, which didn’t obscure the smoke, were an all-time oddity. Babe Ruth, who began his big-league career with the Red Sox at Fenway Park nearby, played his final season with the Boston Braves, in 1935.
ODDITY:The stadium, known as “The Mistake by the Lake,” was too vast for baseball but was needed for that purpose by the Indians for 60 years.
Until the baseball dimensions were changed in the football-friendly stadium, center field was 470 feet from home plate and the left and right field cornerswere 463 feet—distances no home run hitter would ever love.
When Bill Veeck owned the Indians, he installed fences that were shallower than the original walls and moved depending on what depth would benefit the Indians. MLB outlawed that practice.
Because of Municipal Stadium’s 78,000-seat capacity, which made regular baseball crowds look miniscule, the Indians played only weekend and holiday games in the park near Lake Erie from 1934-46. Weekday games were played at League Park, which had its own eccentricities. Situated in a rectangle defined by city streets, the park had a shallow (290 feet) left field. To mitigate the lack of depth, the fence in left field was 40 feet high, three feet higher than Fenway Park’s “Green Monster.”
7. Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles | 1958-1961
ODDITY:Built to host the 1932 Summer Olympics, its 90,000-seat capacity was the largest in MLB history.
To wedge a baseball field into the Coliseum, the left field fence was just 250 feet from home plate, a distance some recreation league softball hitters could reach today. A tall screen was added to make it more challenging for hitters to clear.
On October 4, 1959, the Dodgers hosted Game 3 of the World Series against the Chicago White Sox—the first postseason game in MLB history played in California. The team moved into Dodgers Stadium in 1962.
8. Candlestick Park in San Francisco | 1960-1999
ODDITY: Excessive wind, fog and unseasonably cold weather in the park near San Francisco Bay.
At the 1961 MLB All-Star Game, San Francisco Giants pitcher Stu Miller was blown off the mound by a gust of wind. That was an awful flaw of the otherwise pretty orange ballpark between downtown San Francisco and the city’s airport. There was talk of building a dome over the park in the mid-1980s, but that idea never took root.
ODDITY: The heat was as unbearable as the mosquitoes.
Colt Stadium was the reason the city of Houston built the Astrodome to house its expansion Colt 45’s—soon renamed the Astros. The ballpark was nicknamed “Mosquito Heaven” because of the swarming bloodsuckers who feasted on anyone there. But the park was tough enough even before the mosquitoes got there.
Then-Houston Colt Rusty Staub summed it up: “I don’t care what ballpark they ever talk about as being the hottest place on the face of the Earth, Colt Stadium was it.” The stadium eventually was disassembled and relocated in Torreon, Mexico. Presumably, it wasn’t any cooler there.
10. Astrodome in Houston | 1965-1999
ODDITY:Weird ground rules—a ball hitting the roof or speaker above the playing field was in play.
The Astrodome, the first indoor stadium in MLB history, produced a domino effect of unanticipated problems. The stadium’s nearly 5,000 translucent panels allowed natural light, but that also meant the sun poured in from certain angles and blinded players, particularly outfielders.
The solution, painting many of the panels, solved one problem but created another. The stadium’s natural grass, expected to thrive in natural light, died once the panels were painted. The solution to that—artificial grass named AstroTurf—also created problems for players, most of whom hated the newfangled surface because playing on it often caused injuries.
Some parts of the dome were beyond easy repair. In a 1974 game, Philadelphia Phillies slugger Mike Schmidt’s towering fly ball hit a speaker suspended from the ceiling, 117 feet high and 300 feet from home plate. In any other ballpark, Schmidt’s blast probably would have been a home run. But his hit plopped into the outfield, and he was awarded a single.
In 1965, New York Mets broadcaster Lindsey Nelson called a game from a gondola suspended 208 feet above second base. Nobody hit Nelson with a fly ball.
New York’s ‘traveling rock show’ made headlines on and off the field and beat the Boston Red Sox in the World Series.
Except for one fairytale season in 1969, when they won the World Series, the New York Mets were largely synonymous with futility for the first quarter-century of their existence. The Mets languished in the shadows of their pinstriped neighbors in the Bronx—the New York Yankees—but consecutive second-place finishes going into the 1986 season raised hopes of a second World Series title for the franchise.
With a constellation of stars on the roster (Keith Hernandez and Gary Carter and phenoms Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry), the Mets won more games than any other team in National League history besides the 1906 Chicago Cubs and 1909 Pittsburgh Pirates.
“Unlike 1969, when no one thought the Mets could win, in 1986 the Mets were seen as a powerhouse, a 108-win team that topped their rivals in the NL East by 21.5 games,” says official Major League Baseball historian John Thorn.
With their prodigious drinking and penchant for fisticuffs both on and off the diamond, the ’86 Mets dominated not just the back pages of New York’s tabloids but the front pages as well. Pitcher Ron Darling described the team as “a traveling rock show” in his autobiography. As brash and resilient as their home city, the ’86 Mets embodied New York and delivered one of the more memorable seasons in baseball history.
Here are six of the wildest moments from their championship season:
1. July 19, 1986: Four Mets Spend a Night in a Bar and Behind Bars
After suffering a loss in Houston, four Mets players celebrated the birth of infielder Tim Teufel’s first child at Cooter’s Executive Games and Burgers. After spending the night drinking, the Mets wanted to keep the party going after the bar closed at 2 a.m.
When Teufel tried to depart with an open beer, however, a uniformed Houston policeman hired by the bar to provide security tried to grab it. An altercation ensued, and Darling rushed to his teammate’s defense by delivering a what he called a “world-class sucker punch” to the officer before the pitcher was flung through a plate-glass window.
Teufel and Darling were arrested for aggravated assault of a police officer, and pitchers Rick Aguilera and Bob Ojeda were handcuffed and charged with hindering an arrest. The four Mets spent 11 hours in a holding cell inside the Houston City Jail before being released. Arriving at the Astrodome for that evening’s game, the four players found that their fun-loving teammates had decorated their lockers with strips of black adhesive tape to make them look like jail cells. The charges against Aguilera and Ojeda were eventually dropped. Darling and Teufel paid a $200 fine and received one-year probation.
2. July 22, 1986: ‘Base Brawl’ in Cincinnati
The Mets threw punches on the diamond as well, and a late July game in Cincinnati turned into a slugfest in more ways than one. In the 10th inning, Reds outfielder Eric Davis, who was pinch-running for player-manager Pete Rose, stole third base and accidentally bumped Mets third baseman Ray Knight when standing up.
The pair exchanged words, then shoves. An enraged Knight then connected on a right hook that emptied the benches. As Mets outfielder Kevin Mitchell tossed opposing players to the ground like rag dolls, Reds pitcher and karate black belt John Denny subdued Carter with a death grip to his shoulder blade.
The brawl in Cincinnati was New York’s fourth in an eight-week span.“People hate winners. That’s what it comes down to,” said Knight, a former Golden Gloves boxer. Opponents also hated their arrogance.
“They were definitely not liked and did things not considered proper in baseball with the showboating and the curtain calls,” says author Jeff Pearlman, who chronicled the ’86 Mets in his book, The Bad Guys Won! “They enjoyed fighting, and Kevin Mitchell and Ray Knight are probably two of the top 50 brawlers in baseball history, and they’re on the same team.”
3. August 29, 1986: The Mets Truly Become Rock Stars
Inspired by the “Super Bowl Shuffle” recorded by the reigning Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears, nine Mets players cut a boastful rap of their own, “Get Metsmerized.” The song, which pledged a title for New York, was recorded after one game in the regular season. The Mets had 161 games remaining.
“Get Metsmerized” never threatened the charts, but a team-commissioned song composed by Leigh Palmer, who had written the Meow Mix jingle, went triple-platinum. The four-minute video for “Let’s Go Mets!”, which debuted on the Shea Stadium Diamondvision in a late-season game, featured cameos that ranged from Howard Stern to hirsute film critic Gene Shalit and received regular airplay on MTV.
4. September 17, 1986: Mets Fans Go Crazy
In sole possession of first place since April 23, the Mets squeezed all the drama out of the pennant race before clinching the National League East title at home with 17 games remaining in the season. While Mets fans prepared to celebrate their team’s first playoff berth in 13 years, general manager Frank Cashen worried about what they might do to Shea Stadium’s diamond.
A taped message from Cashen that played on the Diamondvision warned fans, “We must keep our playing field intact, so any celebrating of a division clinching cannot be done on the field. If you’re a real Met fan, you’ll certainly understand this.” However, even before second baseman Wally Backman’s throw settled in Hernandez’s glove for the final out, Mets fans had overwhelmed the 200 security guards ringing the field’s perimeter and stormed the infield.
The scoreboard flashed “PLEASE STAY OFF THE FIELD!” as fans ripped hats and gloves off their heroes. Mitchell and three police officers rescued Gooden from beneath a pile of humanity. Fans tore up the bases, home plate and vast swathes of the turf, which left Shea Stadium looking like a sandlot and Cashen seething. “My emotions have ranged from incensed to disgusted,” he said. “It was vandalism and destruction, pure and simple. It was a disgrace.”
“These fans don’t deserve this team,” muttered head groundskeeper Pete Flynn, whose crew spent 10 hours repairing the field for the following day’s game.
5. October 15, 1986: One Wild Pennant-Clinching Ride
Following two pulsating wins at home against the Houston Astros, the Mets took a 3-2 lead as the National League Championship Series returned to the Astrodome. Although ahead in the series, the Mets knew a Game 6 loss would mean Astros ace Mike Scott, who had already defeated them twice in the series, would pitch in the decisive Game 7.
Down 3-0, the Mets rallied to tie the score in the top of the ninth to send the game into extra innings. In the 14th, the Mets took a lead, only to watch Astros outfielder Billy Hatcher clang a home run off the left-field foul pole. After scoring three runs in the 16th inning, the Mets held on for a 7-6 victory in a 4-hour and 42-minute game.
With champagne, beer and hard liquor flowing freely, the charter flight back to New York turned into an airborne “Animal House.” Players and wives broke seats, became sick from overindulgence and ignited a food fight at 30,000 feet with slices of chocolate cake flying about the cabin. Gooden wrote in his autobiography that he saw a teammate doing lines of cocaine in the bathroom with a door open. It was the first—and last—time the Mets flew on United Airlines, which sent the team a $7,500 bill for the damages.
6. October 25, 1986: A World Series Comeback for the Ages
Live from New York, Game 6 of the 1986 World Series was a Saturday night to remember. With the American League champion Boston Red Sox at bat in the top of the first, a soap opera actor in a white jumpsuit parachuted onto the field with a “Go Mets” banner dangling from his ripcord. Boston took a 3-2 lead before the Mets tied the score in the eighth inning off Red Sox reliever Calvin Schiraldi, who had been traded by New York before the season.
After the Red Sox took a two-run lead in the top of the 10th inning, Schiraldi retired the first two Mets hitters, leaving Boston one out from its first championship since 1918. After making the second out, Hernandez retreated to the clubhouse and watched the game on television with a Winston Light cigarette in one hand and a Budweiser in another. Prospects were so bleak that “CONGRATUALATIONS RED SOX!” briefly flashed for a few seconds on the scoreboard, while the announcement that Red Sox hurler Bruce Hurst was named World Series MVP echoed through the press box.
As the championship trophy and champagne cases were wheeled into the Red Sox’s locker room, Carter singled off Schiraldi. Mitchell, who was on the phone in the clubhouse with his travel agent making plans to fly home when he was summoned to pinch hit, followed with another single, as did Knight. Called from the bullpen, Boston pitcher Bob Stanley then uncorked a wild pitch that tied the score. Three pitches later, a little dribbler off the bat of Mookie Wilson rolled between the legs of hobbled first baseman Bill Buckner as Knight scored the winning run.
“When you cover sports, you see how clubhouses divide into smaller groups, but that clubhouse was so cohesive, they really did feel like a brotherhood,” Pearlman says. “They didn’t want to be the one to make the last out.”
New York’s confidence was sky high going into Game 7. “On a scale of 1 to 10, they were probably about a 12,” Pearlman says. After falling behind 3-0 in the second inning, the Mets again scrapped back to take the lead and captured the World Series with an 8-5 victory.
In 1969, a group of Puerto Rican youth in East Harlem leveraged a garbage problem to demand reform.
In 1969, a group of New York City youth known as the Young Lords demanded change in the way the largest city in the United States handled sanitation. The initiative, known as the Garbage Offensive, wasn’t the group’s original plan of action, but it proved highly effective in calling out the needs and rights of the city’s Latinx community
The Young Lords were an activist group of poor and working-class Puerto Rican youth who modeled themselves after the Black Panthers, donned their signature purple berets, called for Puerto Rico’s independence, and hit the streets in search of a lofty organizing agenda in their home of East Harlem. But as the organization’s chairman, Felipe Luciano, humorously remembers, they found trash talk instead.
“So we’re on 110th Street and we actually asked the people, ‘What do you think you need? Is it housing? Is it police brutality?’” Luciano says. “And they said, ‘Muchacho, déjate de todo eso—LA BASURA!” [Listen kid, fuggedaboutit! It’s THE GARBAGE!] And I thought, my God, all this romance, all this ideology, to pick up the garbage?”
East Harlem Neighborhoods Faced Neglect
A New York Daily News special series on blight in East Harlem confirmed the grievances. The March 1969 report described the “horror” of tons of rotting garbage in the neighborhood’s 40-square-block zone, where uncollected trash lingered for weeks at a time. The 160 streets surveyed were rarely swept and had only six garbage receptacles in a district that yielded higher concentrations of household waste.
When sanitation workers finally showed up, they dumped half the garbage in the trucks and “left the other half strewn in the streets,” according to the News. Residents interpreted the negligence as an expression of racism held by members of the city’s ethnically exclusive, largely Italian American sanitation workers’ union.
But larger social forces were at work. East Harlem was 50 percent more densely populated than other neighborhoods in Manhattan. It had a disproportionate share of the city’s condemned housing units, including 107 abandoned buildings and 55 empty lots. These functioned as ad hoc dumping grounds and rat-infested repositories for all manner of refuse from rotting animal carcasses to washing machines, boilers, furniture, and other discarded bulk.
The problems went beyond East Harlem. The refuse and industrial waste popping up across the city during the 1960s was the fallout of a society whose capacity for garbage removal had not kept up with the explosion of American capitalist consumption in the 1950s. In the mid-1960s, when the Daily News opened up its phone lines to New Yorkers with the promise of forwarding callers’ sanitation concerns to the proper city officers, thousands overwhelmed its lines. The Young Lords heeded the call.
Armed with brooms pilfered from the sanitation depot, the Young Lords swept sections of the neighborhood during three consecutive Sunday mornings in mid-July and August. They then piled the refuse on sidewalks—and waited. When no sanitation workers picked up the garbage, the Young Lords took it and dumped it in the middle of the street. For good measure they threw in old mattresses, armchairs, sofas, and sinks found in empty lots. Street sweeping had turned into an act of civil disobedience.
And it all happened on Third Avenue at 110th Street and surrounding areas—one of Manhattan’s major connecting points for suburban commuters. They called it “the Garbage Offensive”— a nod of solidarity to the Vietnamese guerrillas and their Tet Offensive of a year earlier, a turning point in the Vietnam War that led to a U.S. military retreat.
The Young Lords’ disruption continued almost daily. As August wore on, bored kids, angry young men and even a few frustrated grandmas left their apartments to join the action, while hundreds of residents watched from their windows.
The New York Times regularly captured the mayhem, reporting that “residents of the area around Park Avenue and 110th Street joined in the heaping and burning of garbage at several intersections. Several abandoned cars were overturned and burned, traffic was blocked and heavy police reinforcements were called to the area to protect sanitation men.”
As more people joined the protests, they grew more spectacular. Residents set the refuse heaps aflame; and when someone planted the Puerto Rican flag atop one of the garbage heaps, the sense of solidarity, pride, and rebellion grew appreciably. The demonstrations had become about much more than garbage. They were about sending a message that Puerto Ricans would not be pushed around.
The Young Lords’ demands were published in a press release, which in addition to increased services and garbage receptacles, called on the city to “hire more Puerto Rican and black workers,” increase sanitation workers’ wages; and an end “payoffs from the people to the garbagemen.”
According to leading Young Lord, Pablo Guzman, garbage was not simply about “coffee grounds and discarded milk containers…Garbage is also…the squalor that surrounds burned out buildings and rubblestone lots, which kids play in because the playgrounds have gone to seed, while rats dance and junkies shoot up. Garbage is refuse dumped into ghetto areas by unscrupulous, often mob-controlled private carting companies who sometimes drop hazardous medical and other industrial wastes while looking for a short end run.”
By demanding action around the garbage problem, the Young Lords established building blocks of future movements against “environmental racism.” These movements argue there is a disproportionate occurrence of environmental hazards among neighborhoods of color.
Mayoral Race Helps Spur Response
The timing of the Garbage Offensive was key. Referring to the upcoming mayoral race of 1969 between incumbent Republican Mayor John Lindsay and Democratic challenger Mario Procaccino, the New York Times reported that “dirty streets may be the third issue in this campaign…”
When Procaccino wrote a position paper on what it would take to keep the city streets clean, a defensive Lindsay launched a special counter effort and sent his aids to meet with the Young Lords and the people of East Harlem. The group’s activism had forced a dialogue in the public square and a response from politicians looking for votes.
In the end, campaign promises and the Young Lords’ pressure compelled local government to launch a more strategic approach to garbage collection. According to government documents, the Department of Sanitation decentralized repair operations, improved dumping schedules, mandated the systematic use of plastic garbage bags rather than metal cans to dispose trash and introduced an alternate-side-of-the-street parking system meant to facilitate regular street sweeping, and more.
Over the next two years, the Young Lords continued to stage their social grievances with irreverence and imagination. They occupied an East Harlem Church and pressured the city to pass anti-lead poisoning legislation. They also occupied Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx, and alongside doctors and nurses, drafted the first known Patient Bill of Rights.
The Young Lords’ Garbage Offensive established standards of decency in city services that expanded the meaning of democracy and the common good for all. It also presaged the first national conversation on the future of the environment during the inaugural Earth Day in April 1970.
‘I haven’t even driven a car in anything like that,’ a player said about the conditions at the Philadelphia Eagles-Chicago Bears playoff game in 1988.
First in a series on iconic NFL games.
Foul weather, from ice, snow and below-freezing temperatures to downpours and excessive heat, has adversely affected NFL games since the dawn of the league more than 100 years ago. But no game in NFL history matches the weird weather at the “Fog Bowl” playoff game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Chicago Bears on December 31, 1988.
Meteorologists said the fog was so thick during the game at Chicago’s Soldier Field that it was like having clouds on the ground. The freak of nature was caused when cold air over Lake Michigan was blown by a breeze toward warm air at Soldier Field on the lakefront, according to the National Weather Service.
“It will be remembered as the best game you never saw,” Fred Mitchell wrote in the first sentence of his game story in the next day’s Chicago Tribune.
The Bears won, 20-12, in the matchup that featured head coaches who despised each other: Buddy Ryan of the Eagles and “Iron Mike” Ditka of the Bears. Ryan served as Chicago’s defensive coordinator on its 1986 Super Bowl championship team.
But the result of Eagles-Bears was almost secondary to the thick fog that had fans and players talking for days.
“In 30-some years of covering sports, I thought I’d seen just about everything,” wrote Frank Dolson of the Philadelphia Inquirer. “Yesterday, sitting in a 50-yard-line seat at Soldier Field, I saw practically nothing.”
Fog Envelops Stadium in Shroud of Gray
Other NFL games have been played in pea-soup fog. Two were hosted by the Patriots at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts. On January 6, 1997, New England defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers, 28-3. Twenty years later, in the Patriots’ 23-7 win over the Atlanta Falcons, the fog was so thick that NBC relied on its Skycam for most in-game coverage instead of the usual sideline cameras.
No NFL game, however, was as fogged up as the “Fog Bowl.”
“I haven’t even driven a car in anything like that before,” Chicago kicker Kevin Butler told reporters afterward.
The game started in relative comfort for fans, especially for Chicago in the wintertime, with the temperatures in the 40s, light wind and bright sunshine. Late in the first half, the fog rolled in from Lake Michigan, enveloping the stadium in a shroud of gray.
Some believed the fog was smoke from a fire outside the stadium. Eagles wide receiver Gregg Garrity initially thought it might be snow. “I don’t think a blizzard would have been this bad,” he said, according to the Tribune. “You couldn’t see what was going on in the backfield. It was eerie.”
The fog was so thick that on-field visibility sometimes was reduced to about 20 yards. CBS, which broadcast the game on television, was forced to ground the helicopter it used for overhead shots of the stadium. The network’s play-by-play broadcaster Verne Lundquist and color analyst Terry Bradshaw couldn’t see the field, so they called the game from TV monitors.
Many of the 65,534 fans in attendance left their seats to watch the game on TVs in the concourse. Many others simply went home to watch. “For fans, it’s the Invisi-Bowl,” wrote a crafty headline writer for the Tribune.
Phil Sheridan, who covered the game for the Bucks County (Pennsylvania) Courier Times, and other sportswriters were escorted from the press box to the field for a better vantage point.
“But we couldn’t see the opposite sideline or either end zone from the middle of the field,” he remembers. “Occasionally, players would run by, but it was impossible to know where they came from or where they disappeared to.”
The Soldier Field public-address announcer, fed information via walkie-talkie from a spotter on the sideline, tried his best to provide play-by-play to in-stadium fans.
“It was like being at home and listening to the radio,” said Bears linebacker Dante Jones. “You just sat there waiting for the public address announcer and the crowd. It was a totally different experience.”
Sometimes fans would bizarrely cheer even a mundane play, but most had no clue what they were seeing. “It would sound like a guy was going for 1,000 yards, and he was making two,” Ryan told reporters about the fans’ reaction.
Stunningly, Fog Lifts Afterward
Eagles owner Norman Braman was livid the game wasn’t stopped. The NFL discussed suspending or delaying it, but referee Jim Tunney said he could see both goal posts from midfield. So, it was game on. “That ref ought to go to the Hall of Fame if he could see both goal posts,” Butler said.
The Eagles dominated, outgaining the Bears 430 yards to 341. Philadelphia, however, was mistake-prone. Before the fog rolled in, two Eagles touchdowns were called back for penalities, and tight end Keith Jackson dropped a sure touchdown pass.
The Eagles’ owner suspected someone else dropped the ball.
“I think we should have had an opportunity to play this football game under reasonable circumstances, and I think those reasonable circumstances were denied us, and I am going to try to find out why,” Braman said. “I think I know why.”
Some speculated television dictated the game should be played despite the heavy fog.
Ryan, however, refused to blame the loss on the weird weather, although he told reporters afterward: “…I could hardly see across the field, and I’m sure they couldn’t, either. They’d run a play, and I didn’t know who had the ball or what the hell was going on.”
At least the game gave some sportswriters a chance to flash their wit. In the next day’s Tribune, columnist Bob Verdi wrote, “Could somebody have gotten hurt? Heck, somebody could have gotten lost…”
As odd as the second half was, the strangest thing was probably what followed the game. “The fog was gone,” recalls Sheridan, a longtime sportswriter. “The day was again as clear and sunny as it had been before kickoff.”
The next week, the Bears were figuratively in a fog, as Chicago lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game.
As African Americans achieved economic success in Atlanta in the early 1900s, the city simmered with racial strife that was further inflamed by yellow journalism.
In the center of downtown Atlanta, a handful of streets intersect, forming what locals know as Five Points. Today, a park, a university, high-rise buildings and throngs of motorists and pedestrians make this a bustling area, belying its history of bloodshed. In 1906, Five Points became the epicenter of the Atlanta Race Massacre that claimed the lives of at least 25 African Americans and two white residents.
The four days of violence that began on September 22 were spurred on by a number of factors, including yellow journalism, rape accusations and a resentment of African Americans enjoying greater access to voting rights and economic opportunity.
Atlanta Offers Opportunity During Reconstruction
During Reconstruction, many African Americans moved to Atlanta from rural areas to pursue job prospects. An industrial, financial and railroad center, Atlanta was widely viewed as the capital of the New South, but the city was also rife with race and class conflicts.
The 1906 gubernatorial race only heightened these tensions. The race featured a neck-and-neck race between Clark Howell, the editor of The Atlanta Constitution, and Hoke Smith, the former editor of The Atlanta Journal. Democratic candidates Both men attempted to win voter support by emphasizing their plans to disenfranchise Black men.
“They were very clear,” says Clarissa Myrick-Harris, an Africana Studies professor and Division of Humanities chair at Morehouse College. “We can’t have Negro rule. We have to stop them. We have to keep them from voting. They’re getting too uppity. They’re taking over.”
In addition to voting rights, many white residents wanted to shut down bars on Decatur Street, one of the thoroughfares that made up Five Points. They argued that these establishments attracted African American criminals. More than crime, however, critics objected to interracial socializing between Black men and white women in the saloons. Others resented the success of Black-owned businesses that were propelling African Americans into Atlanta’s middle and upper classes.
“What’s remarkable about this period is that in spite of all those things done to suppress, repress, discriminate against, terrorize, massacre, kill and destroy Black people in Black communities, Black people not only survived but in many cases also thrived,” says Myrick-Harris, who co-curated an exhibit about the Atlanta Race Riot to commemorate its 2006 centennial.
“In 1906, many of the Black businesses were located in the Peachtree Street area in downtown Atlanta. They were competitors with white business owners, and they [the white entrepreneurs] didn’t like that.”
Newspapers Print Sensationalistic Stories
The local press capitalized on Atlanta’s growing racial strife with sensationalistic articles. By the end of summer, a series of articles began rolling out—including in newspapers affiliated with the dueling gubernatorial candidates—featuring white supremacist groups and lynchings, as well as an alleged, likely fictional rash of sexual assaults of white women by African American men.
“In a couple of cases, the white women said, ‘No, that’s not true. That didn’t happen to me,’” Myrick-Harris says. “But that didn’t matter. You had the Atlanta Georgian newspaper publish a three-part series of editorials on the reign of terror for seven women. Seven white women became a pawn in the plan of essentially destroying the Black community and Black men, most notably. There was a fear of Black rule.”
By the evening of September 22, 1906, armed white mobs numbering in the thousands descended upon Five Points and terrorized any Black men, women and children they encountered on streets or in street cars. The mob destroyed Black-owned businesses and homes and targeted the historically Black colleges and universities in the area. A barbershop owned by Alonzo Herndon, one of the nation’s first African American millionaires, was vandalized, Myrick-Harris says.
After days of violence, the state militia quashed the riot, arresting roughly 250 African Americans. No arrests were reported among the thousands of white Atlantans who had beaten, and even killed Black residents. Allison Bantimba, liaison for the Fulton County Remembrance Coalition, says many Black Atlantans were arrested simply for arming themselves to protect their families and neighborhoods. The coalition has learned the names of 14 people killed during the Atlanta Race Riot and aims to identify the other 11, though Bantimba estimates that up to 100 African Americans were killed during the massacre rather than the reported figure of 25.
Myrick-Harris says that the individuals responsible for the violence defy stereotypes. “They were not all so-called lower class, working class, illiterate white people who were in this mob,” she says. “These were the upstanding white citizens of the city. They ran the gamut from lower class, working class, middle class, upper class, law enforcement, lawyers, doctors. They were all a part of this raging mob.”
News reports of the massacre spread throughout the United States and Europe, but much of the coverage was inaccurate because Atlanta officials minimized the degree of death and destruction that occurred to spare the city’s reputation and protect its business interests.
“The newspapers were reporting things like ‘All is quiet now in the city. The violence is over. The city is herself again,’” Bantimba says. “So it was very much like this was a kind of a blip in Atlanta history and not who Atlanta is or what Atlanta is.”
After Massacre, Groups Work to Prevent Future Violence
To prevent another race riot from taking place, prominent figures in Atlanta’s Black and white communities met regularly to discuss the circumstances that led up to the violence. The Atlanta Evening News, notorious for its yellow journalism that escalated the city’s racial tensions, stopped publishing. And city leaders dropped by Black churches to reassure members that safeguards would be instituted to stop future episodes of mob violence.
The activism that took place after the massacre paved the way for the civil rights movement of the mid-20th century. Just age 13 when the Atlanta Race Massacre broke out, Walter White witnessed a white mob kill a Black child. The memory never left him and contributed to his decision to pursue civil rights as a career. He eventually served as head of the NAACP, which formed in 1909.
“Atlanta became this incubator, more broadly, for national leadership, for the establishment of national organizations and institutions that would have a national impact in the wake of that 1906 Atlanta Race Riot,” Myrick-Harris says.
Despite this horrific episode of violence, Black Atlantans regrouped and rebounded as best they could. Atlanta’s Sweet Auburn Avenue neighborhood continued to develop and flourish, so by the mid-1950s, it was labeled ‘the richest Negro street in the world’ by Fortune magazine. As Myrick-Harris says, “They rebuilt their businesses. They rebuilt their homes.”