The Beatles Play Shea
By Liz Skalka
Even 43 years later, no one has forgotten when the Beatles played
The iconic rock group managed to sell out 55,000 seats at the stadium
as part of their U.S. tour that year. They also induced an all-out
hysteria that is still recalled by those who attended the momentous
event, which kicked off their tour on August 15, 1965.
The Beatles played Shea in 1965 in front
of a hysterical audience.
At the time, Bob
Mandt, who is currently a consultant to the Mets, was in charge of
ticketing at the stadium. During the concert, he watched the Beatles
from behind home plate. The madness that ensued throughout the show
was like nothing he had ever seen.
Most of those who attended the concert were young girls who spent
the duration of the performance snapping pictures and screaming at
the top of their lungs.
“They were in a case of mild hysteria for most of the evening,”
Mandt said. “They say no one had ever heard the Beatles at Shea,
which is true.”
When the group emerged from the third base dugout to begin the show,
the audience went wild, he recalled.
“It was quite a sight,” Mandt said. “It was the
first time I had ever seen cameras go off like that.”
Special police officers were hired for the event to keep the crowd
in line. Mandt recalled girls literally jumping out of the stands
and being taken to the hospital. Some were taken to the hospital for
While standing near home plate, Mandt saw a girl climbing the fence
trying to get onto the field. When he asked her what she was doing,
she said she wanted to give the Beatles a kiss. She made it over the
fence, but was captured by officers before getting close to the band.
Mandt eventually had to move away from home plate when fans began
dropping jelly beans on his head. Ringo used to throw jelly beans
at crowds during concerts.
“They came down like very hard pellets so we got out of there,”
Mandt noted that not many people recall when the Beatles returned
to Shea the next year. That time around, they didn’t sell out
Since the Beatles, Shea has hosted numerous concerts by some of music’s
biggest acts. Jethro Tull played the stadium in July 1976, The Who
and The Clash performed in October 1982, Simon and Garfunkel came
in August 1983 along with The Police the same month, the Rolling Stones
and Living Colour hosted a concert in October 1989 and Elton John
and Eric Clapton played there in August 1992. Most recently, Bruce
Springsteen and the E Street Band performed there in October 2003.
But the Beatles groundbreaking performance set the stage for future
acts to play at Shea.
“It was the largest rock show at the time,” Mandt said.
“No one had ever done anything of that nature before.”
Shea Housed The Jets For 20 Seasons
By BRAD GROZNIK
For 20 seasons, from 1964 to 1983, the chants of football fanatics
could be heard Sundays in Flushing Meadows Park.
Their battle cry, “J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets,” was ferocious
and so was the team.
That final season though, when it was confirmed they would spend next
season in New Jersey at Giants Stadium with only an additional 15,000
seats, the chants turned to boos.
The stadium was
designed to expand their seating to 90,000 seats by enclosing the
gap in the outfield. There was also talk about adding a dome roof
but plans for this idea sank when engineers calculated the roof would
be too heavy for the foundation to support and would sink into the
swamp on which it was built.
New York was lost another franchise.
The stadium was looted after a final loss against the Pittsburgh Steelers
Dec. 10 1983. The scoreboard read “N.J. Jets.”
The next season, the stadium was painted Mets blue and Jets shared
their stadium with the Giants.
Even though the Jets started using the stadium the same year as the
Mets in 1964, the beloved baseball team was always listed as the stadium’s
primary tenants. It was not until 1978 that the Jets could play their
first home game before the Mets were through with their season, a
month or more after football season began.
But it wasn’t all bad. For 20 seasons, the Jets built a fan
base nationwide. Shea hosted three Jets playoff games; the conference
championship in 1968, where the Jets bested the Oakland Raiders 27
to 23; and division nail-biter when the Kansas City Chiefs eked a
win 13 to 6; and a 1981 wild card game where the Jets lost to the
Buffalo Bills 31 to 27.
O.J. Simpson became the first running back to surpass the 2,000 yard
mark for a single season on the field at Shea.
“I remember they wanted to delay the first game because the
traffic was so bad,” Mets consultant Bob Mandt said. “But
the League said no.”
The field ran the length from home plate into the outfield. The swamp
land served as some of the muddiest games in the National Football
Even before Shea, the football team shared their field with a baseball
team. Known as the New York Titans, the team played on the Polo Grounds,
home to the New York Giants.
With dwindling attendance rates and shaky finances, the team was rescued
by Sonny Werblin and Leon Hess in 1964.
Werblin and Hess renamed the team, possibly because of the jets that
soared in the clouds headed for LaGuardia Airport, and planed the
team’s relocation to the brand-new Shea Stadium. It is also
rumored that the Jets was a play on words as everyone knew the nickname
for the state’s Off-Track Betting organization was “New
The colors were hand picked by Hess, who owned a similarly decorated
chain of gas stations.
fans rally to bring the team back to New York where it began.
Weeb Ewbanks was
soon hired as the first head coach of the revamped team. At the time,
Ewbanks was one of the more lauded couches of the day after successfully
fostering the Baltimore Colts to be an NFL powerhouse.
In 1967, the Jets nabbed Joe Namath who broke records left and right
and led the team to the Super Bowl promised land in 1969 where Broadway
Joe, who grew accustomed to wearing fur coasts on the sideline and
speaking out, upset the Colts 16 to 7.
“I was a bigger Jets fan than a Mets,” said long-time
concessionaire Bobby Lee. “The games were more exciting in the
The 1970s were not kind to the Jets. Broadway Joe was perpetually
injured and in 1976, after another poor performance, he was traded
to the Los Angeles Rams where, after only four games, he announced
After Namath, a string of three quarterbacks tried to raise the team
to its 1969 high but failed to have a winning season for the remainder
of the decade.
After another terrible season in 1980, the Jets made the playoffs
in ’81 with a record of 10-5-1, carried on the backs of the
defensive line, which had 40 quarterback sacks that year. Mark Gastineau,
Joe Klecko, Marty Lyons and Abdul Salaam were nicknamed the “New
York Sack Exchange” by the media.
Coach Joe Walton took the reigns in 1983, the same year the lease
with Shea Stadium ran out. When the Mets pressured for another stringent
agreement, the Jets moved across the Hudson River.
“In the end it came down to money,” Mandt said.
Mets Hold Open Call For Singers
The Mets held an open call for National Anthem auditions at 11 a.m.
March 26 at the SNY studios in Midtown. Registration began at 10 a.m.
and the first 100 to register were guaranteed an audition to sing
the National Anthem in the final season at Shea as well as a pair
of tickets to a 2008 Mets home game.
The first 100 participants had the opportunity to perform a song of
their choice a capella before the Mets take the field. The Anthem
Search judging panel was singer Michael Amante; Gary Apple, anchor
on SNY’s SportsNite; and Lolita Lopez, weekend sports anchor
for the CW11.
Last year, those seeking to audition for the inaugural Mets Anthem
Search began queuing in line as early as 4:30 a.m. Due to overwhelming
response the Mets ended the line last year at noon.
The auditions were free and open to all ages. For more information
on the Anthem Search log on to Mets.com or call (718) 558-3119.
Pope John Paul II Visits Shea
By Chris Urrutia
When Pope John Paul II set foot upon the drenched, rain-soaked field
at Shea Stadium on Oct. 2, 1979, all Ellen Nance could do was rejoice,
basking in the celestial presence of the head of the Roman Catholic
Church, appearing in Flushing to celebrate Mass with a congregation
of more than 60,000 faithful as part of his pilgrimage to North America
and New York City.
Pope John Paul II reads his sermon at
Shea Oct. 2, 1979.
crowds at Shea were in awe during the Pope’s visit.
“I was just
in awe of the Holy Father’s presence,” said Vance, a 72-year-old
retired hair beautician, a former Flushing resident who now lives
with her husband, Joseph, in Mineola. “At that moment I was
living in the light of the Lord who was present through the Holy Father.
And true to His word, the rain stopped and the sun came out. It was
truly a blessing.”
Indeed, as Moses had parted the Red Sea in the Book of Genesis, the
Pope’s appearance coincided with the improvement of the weather,
as ominous clouds and precipitation made way for puffy, white cumulus
clouds and pails of sunshine.
As the pontiff began to address the sea of humanity at Shea, “All
the rain and darkness went away and out came the sunlight, like a
blessing from God” reaffirmed fellow service attendee Rev. Thomas
Graham, pastor of Pope Pius X Church in Rosedale.
The tone in his voice was as metaphorical as it was literal. “[The
Pope] was filled with the light of Christ as he celebrated Mass. It
was an honor and a blessing to have been one of those present,”
When the service finished, the pontiff gave his blessing to the crowd,
as well as to their personal belongings, including copies of the Bible,
rosary beads and containers of Holy Water.
“The Holy Father blessed a bottle of Holy Water my mother bought
on my parents’ pilgrimage to Rome,” said Nance, a 27-year
parishioner at St. Michael’s Church, which, founded in 1833,
is the oldest Roman Catholic parish in Queens.
Pope John Paul II, the first Polish Pope in history, was particularly
renowned for pilgrimages; he visited 117 countries, logged over one
million miles of travel, and appeared before people of different cultures
and religious sects during his 26-year-reign as pontiff – the
second longest term for a Pope. Crisscrossing the globe for the sake
of good will unanimously earned him the moniker, “The Pilgrim
The 1979 visit to New York City was just one leg among dozens during
his tour of North America in his first full year as head of the Church,
which included stops in major cities in Mexico, the United States,
However, Queens Catholics will always have Pope John Paul’s
pair of visits to the borough as a keepsake.
“On his way to [Shea] Stadium [in 1979], he rode through Queens
Boulevard [near Maspeth], where there was a growing number of Polish
immigrants. And they all came out to see their hero,” said Rev.
Peter Zendzian, pastor of Holy Cross Church in Maspeth, regarding
the pontiff’s procession along the famed intersection on his
way to the stadium. It was such a touching and special moment for
Rev. Zendzian, who had met Karol Wojtyla as a Cardinal in Krakow,
Poland years prior to becoming Pope John Paul II, also served as a
guest celebrant during the Papal Mass at Aqueduct Racetrack, in Ozone
Park, during his second tour of Queens in 1995. “He gave a beautiful
homily [speaking] in English and Spanish,” recalled the local
priest of nearly 40 years.
“The service was a beautiful and moving experience for everybody
who was there,” Rev. Zendzian said. “Only he could touch
so many people in such a special way.”