The final half of Mad Men's seventh and final season begins airing on AMC at 10 p.m. on Sunday night, meaning we're nearing the end of one of the most acclaimed television shows ever.
In depicting the lives of 1960s Madison Avenue advertising executives, Mad Men has, of course, spent a lot of time weaving in the historically important events of the 1960s, from Nixon vs. Kennedy to the Cuban Missile Crisis to the Kennedy assassination to Martin Luther King Jr. to Vietnam to the moon landing.
Interspersed within that context, Mad Men has also given us a handful of sports moments, tying key figures like Muhammad Ali and Joe Namath into the world of advertising ... all while preparing us for jai alai to become our new national pastime.
The New Madison Square Garden
Early in Season 3 in 1963, Sterling Cooper is adjusting to life under British rule, as its new owner Putnam, Powell, and Lowe makes cutting costs a priority (short-term thinking that later allows it to try to sell the company to McCann Ericson). In the second episode, "Love Among the Ruins," representatives of Madison Square Garden seek help from the firm as they try to turn public support in favor of the plan to move MSG to its current location, demolishing the old, much more aesthetically pleasing Penn Station in the process.
Sterling Cooper's pitch gets off on the wrong foot when copywriter Paul Kinsey lashes out against the group: Do you know where the greatest Roman ruins are? They're in Greece. Spain. Because the Romans tore theirs all down. They took apart the Coliseum to build their outhouses.
To which an MSG representative responds: This is the Coliseum. Have you seen the plans?
While Sterling Cooper mended the fence, the Knicks and Rangers would eventually move to the new location without the help of the firm: PPL refused to take on a long-term project that would have little short-term benefit.
The way jai alai attendance is growing, in seven years it will eclipse baseball. Go ahead, you can laugh, but it's got the same fingerprint as baseball… only better. A special stadium called a fronton, and you can sit really close, which is a thrill because the ball goes 175 miles per hour. And, it's got Patxi. He's Babe Ruth, only handsome. … I want to be on all the networks. Like when the president addresses the nation. Tuesday night, 8:30 to 9, all three networks the same show. No one's ever done it. -- Horace Cook Jr.
In the Season 3 episode "The Arrangements," Sterling Cooper lands a dream account in which it won't actually have to do much work to get paid: a delusional friend of Pete Campbell who comes from a wealthy family and is prepared to spend all of his money attempting to make jai alai into a popular American sport. (Gambling on jai alai was, in fact, becoming popular at the time.) They land the account and proceed to bring it to the new firm SCDP at the beginning of Season 4, when Harry sells a jai alai special ABC, only to have Cook fire the agency because Don didn't mention him in an interview with The New York Times. If only Don would have mentioned him, the jai alai show would have been a hit for ABC, and we'd be arguing about Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout for jai alai MVP.
Ali vs. Liston (vs. Namath)
"I was just saying I think Clay would make one hell of an ad man." -- Stan Rizzo
"You're right. Give me 100 on Liston." -- Don Draper
And now, further pre-fight analysis from noted boxing analyst Don Draper:
He's got a big mouth. 'I'm the greatest.' Not if you have to say it. 'Muhammad Ali.' Liston just goes about his business. Works methodically. Clay will dance and talk and throw a few until he's wiped out.
Arguably the best episode of the entire run of Mad Men, Season 4's "The Suitcase" is mostly a two-person bottle episode that dives deeper into the relationship between Don and Peggy. It also takes place on Peggy's 26th birthday, May 25, 1965, which is the day of Ali vs. Liston II, and also stands in the spring between Joe Namath's college and pro days.
The agency has tickets to a movie theater that is showing the fight on closed-circuit TV, but first the creatives have to show Don their idea for pitching the toughness of Samsonite suitcases. It involves two no-name defenders holding the suitcases of competitors, while Joe Namath drops back to pass behind "a sexy girl holding a Samsonite," who knocks down the defenders, paving the way for a Namath touchdown.
"Endorsements are lazy," says Don. "And I don't like Joe Namath. He hasn't even played in a professional game yet."
Instead of watching the fight, Don and Peggy end up listening to it on the radio in a dark bar. Ali knocks down Liston quickly -- "Some fight. I lost 100 bucks in two minutes," Don says -- immediately prompting their neighbor at the bar to complain about the result being fixed.
While Don didn't go for the Namath endorsement of suitcases, maybe Sterling Cooper went on to come up with the idea of Namath pitching pantyhose instead:
The 1966 World Cup
The Season 5 episode "Signal 30" ends with Lane Pryce scoring a decisive knockout vs. Pete Campbell in the conference room. First, though, it starts with Lane and his wife, still relatively new to America, gathering at a pub to watch England beat West Germany to win the 1966 World Cup. England hasn't finished better than fourth place since.
At the viewing party, Lane strikes up a friendship with a Jaguar vice president, leading to Roger's "Cup of what?" response to Lane explaining that England had won the World Cup. Off camera, they then presumably got into a conversation about whether soccer would finally make it in America, a debate doomed to be repeated every four years for eternity.
Shoeless Roger Sterling
Mad Men doesn't just cover '60s sports. There is also the infamous case of Roger Sterling's first LSD trip in Season 5's "Far Away Places," which results in him having visions of playing in the 1919 Black Sox World Series.
The next episode, the newly enlightened Roger -- who inherited his wealth and company from his father -- tells his ex-wife, Mona:
When I was in the deepest part of the trip, the farthest away, I was sitting in my bathtub, and I saw myself at the 1919 World Series. I was playing. Why that game? Why that series? Because that's when it went bad. I just realized, nothing I had was mine because the game was thrown.
The Koss Headphones Super Bowl Ad
Our first visit with Peggy in Season 6 as copy chief at rival firm Cutler, Gleeson & Chaough comes in the lead-up to Super Bowl II, in which the Packers beat the Raiders 33-14. She's helped dream up a "Lend me your ears" campaign for Koss, but the company panics about the ad it plans to run during the Super Bowl after a comedian on The Tonight Show jokes about American soldiers cutting off the ears of Viet Cong soldiers and wearing them around their necks.
Broadway Joe on Broadway
How can Dow Chemical, manufacturer of napalm, fix its image as all of America witnesses the horrible effects of its product in Vietnam on the news every night?
Joe Namath singing Broadway tunes with his celebrity friends, of course. The Dow-sponsored one-hour variety show is all from the wondrous mind of Harry Crane. "Is there anything that makes people smile more than Broadway and football?" asks Harry's television producer friend. (Also: "Joe Namath sings?" "Don't you want to watch just to find out?") It's all so American, in fact, that "Yankee Doodle Dandy" and the Notre Dame fight song will be playing at the same time. This idea comes in the early spring of 1968, leading up to the season that fall in which Namath wins AFL MVP on his way to the famous Super Bowl III guarantee in January 1969.
Harry's final pitch? "Just imagine, Joe Namath in a straw hat." Sold!
After coming up with the idea in the Season 6 episode "To Have and To Hold," Harry demands a partnership in the firm. Instead, selling the idea leads to Roger and Bert rewarding him with the full $23,500 commission as a bonus.
Meet the Mets
In the first half of Season 7 last spring, Don is stuck doing entry-level work following his return from "leave" from Sterling Cooper & Partners (and working for his protégé Peggy) in the office where Lane Pryce hanged himself next to a Mets pennant. He finds the New York Mets pennant that Lane had on the wall in an effort to embrace American culture, and after spending the afternoon drinking vodka out of Coke can instead of doing work for Peggy, he attempts to convince Freddy Rumsen to go to Shea Stadium to "Meet the Mets" with him.
Lane died after the 1966 season in which the five-year-old Mets went 66-95, which was actually their best record yet. In his drunken state, perhaps Don did know a little something about baseball: He found the pennant and tried to go to a game in 1969, with the Miracle Mets on their way to a shocking World Series.