Mark Gastineau, Jackie Slater
Jet X Graphic, Getty Images

Remembering the New York Jets-Los Angeles Rams brawl of 1983 that was spearheaded by Mark Gastineau and Jackie Slater.

Robby Sabo

Nobody ever claimed Mark Gastineau could dance. Among the many mysteries on this Earth, that’s one New York Jets fans have nailed down.

The Jets’ all-time sack leader would move in a way that’s tough to explain. Following a sack, he’d start shaking his hips and his arms in a way only electricity can usually explain. Yet, Gastineau never needed to be electrocuted.

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The display isn’t exactly smooth. But hey, it was the 1980s, a decade in which smooth is tough to properly utilize.

To say it got under the opponents’ skin is a drastic understatement, and the greatest example of an offensive player striking back happened 37 years ago.

Taking on the tough 2-1 Los Angeles Rams at Shea Stadium, the Joe Walton-led 1-2 Jets squad needed a victory. Feeling the pain of A.J. Duhe the year prior, the New York Sack Exchange was never stronger.

Joe Klecko, Marty Lyons, Abdul Salaam and Gastineau led a tough defense during those early-1980s teams. Gastineau tallied 19 sacks in 1983 and a record-setting 22 in 1984. On Sept. 25, 1983, Gastineau collected one of those 19 against the Rams, and it led to an all-out brawl between the two teams.

After sacking Vince Ferragamo, Gastineau did his electrocution-type thing. All-time great Jackie Slater didn’t take too kindly to the awkward dancing and decided to break it up.

As is usually the case with football fights, a lot of swinging and face mask grabbing takes place to the tune of no real harm done. But this one saw the benches clear and havoc ensue for quite some time.

All told, 16 Jets and 21 Rams were fined for their involvement in the skirmish.

The days of Pat Summerall and John Madden calling NFC games on CBS was at its full momentum, which means football fans had the pleasure of hearing Summerall’s soothing voice as the big boys started swinging.

After the game, the two teams continued the brawl through the media. Slater doubled-down on the Gastineau nonsense.

“One lousy tackle and he puts on a big act,” Slater said. “Why don’t I dance every time I block him out?”

Gastineau felt the love of his teammates and made sure that appreciation didn’t go unnoticed.

“There were guys on our bench who might not have liked me much, but they all came out on the field,” Gastineau said. “It was a good feeling to see them come out for me during the fight.”

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One of his teammates, wide receiver Wesley Walker, spoke bluntly about the incident.

“Some people get intimidated, or they get frustrated because they’re really getting beat,” Walker said. “You know, nobody wants anybody celebrating, but the bottom line, Slater was getting beat. That’s the only thing I could think of. Gastineau was just celebrating on his own, that was the thing. He didn’t do anything derogatory — that’s my opinion anyway. But people were just jealous of him.”

In the end, the Jets won the contest 27-24, improving to 2-2 on the season. A 26-yard Pat Leahy field goal in overtime sent the fans in Queens home happy. They would ultimately finish a disappointing 7-9 after an AFC championship appearance the year prior. Meanwhile, the Rams squeezed in as a wild card at 9-7.

These days, the 0-13 Jets head back to Los Angeles to take on a tough 9-4 Rams squad for the first time since 1992. Fortunately—for safety sake—Quinnen Williams is a bit smoother than Mark Gastineau after a sack.

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