While persuing the Web for Shea memories this birthday week, I was surprised to discover Wikipedia made mention of one of the worst Shea incidents I personally witnessed: The lawnmower-halftime-tragedy.
I was at the Jet/Patriots game on December 9, 1979. Shea was not a good place to bring a kid to a football game. The arctic weather required that most fans blotto themselves with whatever liquor or cleaning supplies they could get their hands on.
Nevertheless, my dad and uncle took my cousin and me to this game. We sat in the temporary bleachers they would install for football games out near where the DiamondVision now is. My uncle swears the guys behind us brought a small charcoal grill the game and were blissfully cooking and boozing away.
The halftime show was by a group of aerial buffs that were called (I believe) The Flying Eagles (Wikipedia calls them Radio Control Association of Greater New York). They had these huge model airplanes that circled the stadium while their pilots ran around the football field with remote controls, guiding their crafts, buzzing the crowd and doing tricks. Why anyone thought it would be a novel idea to have airplanes at Shea for a halftime show when real airplanes fly across the skyline every 7 minutes is not worth discussing.
The club’s real schtick was they claimed they could make anything fly. And so they had flying chairs and washing machines and other stuff that doesn’t belong in the air. Then they sent aloft a lawnmower, which began circling the stadium at great speeds, even going through the uprights. The crowd roared in drunken delight but I remember looking down on the field, where the club pilots were all pointing up and twiddling the knobs on all their remotes. Meanwhile, the lawnmower just went around and around the stadium. That’s when we all realized the lawnmower was out of control.
After circling for a bit, suddenly the lawnmower stalled, over near the third base field boxes, and dropped straight down into the crowd, hitting John Bowen, from Nashua, New Hampshire. He died a week later.
According to Wikipedia: “On November 17, 1981 a $10 million damage suit was filed by the man’s father in the Federal District Court in Brooklyn. Named as defendants in the negligence suit were the New York Jets Football Club, the Radio Control Association of Greater New York, and the man who designed, built and furnished the model airplane.”