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Super Bowl XLVI: New York Cocktail

1 cube Sugar (Demerara recommended)
Juice of 0.25 Lemon
1 tsp Grenadine
1 piece Orange Peel
2 oz Rye Whiskey

Add sugar cube to mixing glass
Squeeze in lemon juice and add grenadine
Muddle sugar, juice, and grenadine together
Twist the orange peel over the mixing glass and add peel along with the rye
Shake and strain into a cocktail glass

Featured Glassware: New Cottage Amber by Villeroy & Boch

 

* * *

 

Sometimes, it ain’t easy being an American.  If we think we have it bad now, let’s rewind the clock a bit to 1930, when the twin specters of the Great Depression and Prohibition gripped the country.  During World War I, the federal government had begun programs to guarantee Midwestern farmers high prices for crops and livestock.  In order to meet the demands, farmers heavily leveraged themselves to buy more land and equipment, but when the government ended its guarantees in 1920, prices and land values plummeted and the farmers were left with large surpluses and even larger debt.  As the dominoes began to fall, banks closed (in Iowa, 167 banks closed in 1920, while 505 closed in 1921) and people suddenly found themselves over-mortgaged, penniless, and unable to sell their goods.

Although it is an over simplification, it’s relatively safe to say that the rampant buying of stock “on margin” – on credit – was one of the more significant contributors to the Wall Street Crash of 1929, in which it has been estimated that the market suffered more than $14 billion in paper losses in just a matter of days.   While many claim that “Black Tuesday” was just one of several factors to usher in the Great Depression, it certainly has become symbolic of the start of one of the bleakest decades in American history.  Thousands of banks failed; millions were unemployed.  And, did we mention that you couldn’t even get a stiff drink to drown your troubles?  At least there was football.

Not everything was rosy for football, of course, either – at least not professional football.   The initial American Professional Football Association had been formed in 1920 but lasted only two seasons before it was re-launched as the National Football League.  The founding teams (1920) included the Akron Pros, Decatur Staleys, Buffalo All-Americans, Chicago Cardinals, Rock Island Independents, Dayton Triangles, Rochester Jeffersons, Canton Bulldogs, Detroit Heralds, Cleveland Tigers, Chicago Tigers, Hammond Pros, Columbus Panhandles, and Muncie Flyers – names we don’t hear much today, although some of the clubs – such as the Cardinals and Staleys (now the Chicago Bears) – continue to exist in modern form.  Indeed, the early league showed a great deal of instability, and even a quick glance at a roster of defunct NFL franchises shows the first decade of the league as an extremely volatile period, with dozens of teams folding after only a season or two.

According to NFL.com, several factors contributed to professional football’s early instability – rising salaries (farmers aside, the 1920’s were a boom period for many Americans), players jumping from team to team, and the use of college players – which the foundation of the APFA sought to address.  Still, bad weather, low attendance, and fierce competition from college teams made the prospects of owning an APFA/NFL team much less than a guaranteed road to riches.  Which is why, in 1925 when NFL president Joe Carr approached fight promoter Billy Gibson about expanding the league with a showcase franchise in New York, Gibson flatly declined the offer.  He did, however, introduce Carr to his friend, Tim Mara, who agreed to make the leap and, with a $500 investment, founded the New York Giants.

Despite a successful (8-4) first season, the Giants had a hard time luring fans away from college football, and Mara suffered incredible losses on his investment.  A stroke of genius came when Mara decided to hire a college star as a way to lure collegiate football fans to his games, and he was dead set on halfback Red Grange, until he learned that the Chicago Bears had beaten him to the punch.   Still determined to see Grange play in New York, Mara scheduled a home game against the Bears.  The game sold-out, and the reported $143,000 take wiped out the season’s debts.

By 1930, the Giants had won their first NFL Championship (1927) and established themselves as a formidable club – just as the Depression hit.   New York was obviously hit hard by the downturn, and Mayor Jimmy Walker approached Mara about hosting a charity game to benefit the city’s poor.  Having come from humbling beginnings, Mara was quick to accept the offer.  As college stars were still hot commodities – and the NFL was still seeking to prove itself as a higher level of football than collegiate play – a match was proposed against one of the greatest university squads ever to take the field.  Led by coach Knute Rockne and the legendary Four Horsemen of the undefeated 1924 Notre Dame team, the Notre Dame All-Stars (a collection of recent graduates, current stars, and former stars, as the regular squad was away in California for a game) would be the Giants’ opponents.

It’s been written that going into the game, Rockne – like much of the public – still held a low opinion of pro ball and assumed an easy Notre Dame victory.  When asked about the match, Red Grange offered, “Although a college eleven may have as much offensive power as a professional team, the latter is much better defensively.  Some pro lines average 230 pounds and you need a stick of dynamite to dent a wall like that.”  Mara agreed with Grange’s theory, saying, “The minute it was definite we were going to play, I told the mayor that Notre Dame would be lucky to make a first down against us.  We were much too big a football team.”

Promotion of the match was heavy, and by the time the Irish were on their way to New York, $100,000 in tickets had already been sold.  On the day of the match, 50,000 fans made the trek to the Polo Grounds.  Bands from all over town – New York University, the Police Department, and an American Legion post – provided the pre-game entertainment.   Rockne had brought some of the greatest college players ever to don an Irish jersey.  In hindsight, the impressive lineup would prove to be a fitting testament to Rockne’s career, as the All-Stars’ game against the Giants would be his last time coaching a Notre Dame team before his tragic death prior to the start of the next season.

 

True to Mara’s and Grange’s expectations, the Giants’ line absolutely dwarfed the Irish.  Within the first two minutes, the Giants were on the board, and by the end of the first quarter, Notre Dame had gained only 5 yards – and lost 17.  The beating continued.  At the half, the Giants were up 15-0.  The discrepancy in the teams was so great that Rockne allegedly made his way to the Giants’ locker room and said, “I came here to help a charity and at a lot of trouble.  You are making us look bad. Slow up, will you? I don’t want to go home and be laughed at. Lay off next half.”

The Giants’ complied – bringing in many second-stringers for the second half – but even this proved too much for the Fighting Irish.  The final score was 22-0, but the real story was in the other numbers.  The Giants boasted eight first downs to the Irish’s one and had rushed 138 yards to Notre Dame’s 34.  Over the course of the game, Notre Dame didn’t complete a single pass and two were intercepted.  Moreover, the Irish never got beyond their own 49 yard line.  Mara donated the entirety of the $115,153 raised to the New York Unemployment Fund, not taking any money to cover his own expenses.  He couldn’t have bought better publicity:  Pro football was now on an entirely different level than college ball, and the nation knew it.

As we saluted the New England Patriots with a Frenchified beer cocktail earlier in the week, today we toast the rival Giants with a cocktail appropriately named for their hometown (New Jersey comments aside).   The New York Cocktail comes to us from the Savoy Cocktail Book, although the recipe reportedly dates back a decade and a half prior to one Hugo Ensslin.  At its base, it’s a wonderful variation on the Sour – spirit, citrus, and sugar – and we’re always fans of Sour-type drinks that call for grenadine.  Here, we agree with our friend Erik Ellestad and prefer a bit of compounding and muddling to the Savoy’s spartan “shake well”.  Taking the extra steps not only enhances the flavor of the drink – and the enjoyment of making it – but also recalls the more barouqe, pre-WWI, pre-Prohibition, pre-Depression days of the drink’s creation.   Overall – with its big, rye shoulders and touch of sweet-sour – the New York is a lovely drink for days with a slight chill in them.

Whomever you’re rooting for this weekend, we hope that you enjoy the game with good friends, good food, and a good drink close at hand.  To paraphrase one Mr. N. Bonaparte, “In victory, you celebrate with a stiff drink; in defeat, you need one.”

 

Esoterica:  The Giants may be the first team ever to win a Superbowl victory as well as an Oscar, at least loosely speaking.  Actress Rooney Mara, nominated for an Academy Award for her role in “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” is a member of the Giants-owning Mara dynasty.

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