The Year the Underdogs Won

Looking back at 1969 the most amazing event for me should have been Americans landing on the moon. But, seriously, even a historic feat like a lunar landing did not compare in my male teenage mind with the New York Mets winning the World Series.

As a skinny, poor kid in Brooklyn, N.Y. I identified with the Mets as my fellow underdogs. No one expected them to win because they had never won anything. The gamblers listed them as a 100-1 long shot to win the championship. This was a team that got its start after the Dodgers abandoned Brooklyn's grit for the sunshine and glamour of Los Angeles and the baseball Giants also divorced New York for the charms of San Francisco. The Dodgers had a hapless history but they had won the World Series and for my family they held special significance as the team that broke baseball's color barrier by bringing Jackie Robinson to majors. I was too young to see the Dodgers in Brooklyn but teachers, ministers, and old-times all drew a line from the Bums, -- Dodgers to the lowly Amazin' Mets.

It is true that January of 1969 the Jets football team won the Super Bowl, also in a huge upset. But the Jets quarterback was no underdog. Joe Namath was a superstar called Broadway Joe. He wore fun coats and he guaranteed a win in the Super Bowl.

The Mets, on the other hand, had no bold boastful player. They fit with the little guy, the Archie Bunkers, the immigrants, the black people just up from the south.

And the lowly Mets fit with the feel of a chaotic time. The scars of riots marked big cities. Rock-and-roll and Motown had songs that all essentially asked What's Going On? CBS cancelled the Smothers Brothers comedy show in 1969 even though it was a rating hit because it created controversy by mocking the Nixon Administration and did not hold back in criticizing the war in Vietnam.

The Smothers Brothers show did not seem controversial to me as kid walking by street corners with Black Muslims in bow-ties selling the Nation of Islam paper and bean pies while calling for black separatism. A comedy show seemed pretty mild compared to the Black Panthers who interrupted stick ball games in the schoolyard to ask me to join them and stand against the man.

For all their black leather jackets and berets, the Panthers seemed to me less interested in revolution than in recruiting people and proposing free breakfast programs for kids. But the newspapers had stories about the head of the Panthers, Eldridge Cleaver, leaving the U.S. for Algeria after violating his parole. Meanwhile, another Panther, Eldridge Cleaver, went to Guinea, after complaining that Cleaver had too many friends in the mostly white anti-war movement. And for really radical political news there was Bobby Seale, the national chairman of the Panthers, being arrested for the murder.

I was far more interested in going to college than in joining the Panthers. But the news from college campuses was about anti-war protests and racial anger, too. At Cornell University one hundred black students took over the student center and the radio station to demand that charges be dropped against black students who broke the law in an earlier protest.

At Columbia University, in Manhattan, the black students were protesting to get a black studies program while the white students wanted the administration to end the ROTC, Reserve Officers Training Program, on campus.

Music concerts became drug happenings with too many people such as Woodstock, a huge dairy farm in New York that turned into the place to be for a summer concert that featured acts including Jimi Hendrix and the Grateful Dead. At the movies the society's feeling of being at loose ends was captured by movies like Easy Rider and Midnight Cowboy.

Even the Supreme Court, the ultimate representation of stability under law, seemed to be in chaos. In the spring of 1969 the High Court unanimously overturned the conviction of Timothy Leary for bringing marijuana from Mexico to Texas. The Justices said it was a violation of constitutional protections against self-incrimination to convict Leary under a law that required him to disclose he had illegal drugs so he could pay taxes on drugs brought over the border.

That was just another sign of how topsy-turvy life seemed to be in 1969.

In fact, one Justice, Abe Fortas, was forced to resign over a deal that paid him to manage the estate of a convicts family foundation. The liberal Chief Justice Earl Warren also left the court in 1969 to be replaced by a man who seemed more oriented to law and order, Warren Burger.

To a kid in Brooklyn it seemed like a never ending newsreel full of confusion, rebellion, anxiety and craziness. But there was one exception. In a wonderful and uplifting October, the impossible happened when the Mets won the World Series.

Juan Williams currently serves as a co-host of FOX News Channel’s (FNC) The Five (weekdays 5-6PM/ET) and also appears as a political analyst on FOX News Sunday with Chris Wallace and Special Report with Bret Baier. Williams joined the network as a contributor in 1997.