Dublin: 4°C Sunday 29 May 2022

World Cups, Muhammad Ali and the Mets: the 5 best sports moments from Mad Men

The iconic TV show airs its final episode this weekend.

The following article contains references to key storylines and moments in Mad Men. Tread carefully if you’ve never seen any of the show but wish to in the future! 

For those who don’t know much about the show, it focuses on the world of advertising in 1960s New York with protagonist Don Draper and the agency he works for – Sterling Cooper  - at the heart of each episode.  

Don Draper’s dislike for American football star Joe Namath

In one of the show’s best episodes, season 4′s The Suitcase, Draper and his team are mulling over a suitable campaign for suitcase company Samsonite.

The initial pitch that copywriter Peggy Olsen and her cohorts come up with is a fresh, fun and features a celebrity endorsement from rookie New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath.

Don’s criticism is damning:

“Endorsements are lazy. And I don’t like Joe Namath. He hasn’t even played in a professional game yet.”

Source: NFL/YouTube

It proved a silly and stubborn mistake by Draper. By the end of 1965, Namath was the Rookie of the Year and named in the AFL All-Star selection.

Muhammad Ali’s iconic win over Sonny Liston inspires Don

The Suitcase is set against the backdrop of Ali’s rematch with Liston that took place on May 25th 1965.

Inevitably, the bout is the main topic of conversation in the office and many tip Liston to exact revenge for the defeat he suffered the previous year, including Draper who puts his money where his mouth is and bets $100. Ironically, he’s not a fan of Ali’s arrogance:

He’s got a big mouth. ‘I’m the greatest.’ Not if you have to say it. Liston just goes about his business. Works methodically. Clay will dance and talk and throw a few until he’s wiped out.”

Ultimately though, Ali’s knockout proves an inspiration for Draper who bases the re-thought Samsonite campaign on the iconic photograph that ran across newspapers the following morning.

1965 Ali Liston Bout Gloves Auction Source: JOHN ROONEY/AP/Press Association Images

After a heavy night and emotional morning, Draper, drawing a comparison between Ali and Samsonite’s shared toughness, sketched out his own idea.


Lane Pryce enjoys England’s 1966 World Cup win

Season 5′s Signal 30 begins with Lane Pryce, an Englishman sent to New York by British company PPL to oversee operations at Sterling Cooper – the business they’ve recently acquired, celebrating England’s World Cup final win over Germany at Wembley.

He meets a high-rolling Jaguar executive – another Englishman – and the pair build-up a friendship, which leads to Lane arranging a meeting with the high-profile car manufacturer (when Lane excitedly prefaces his story by telling his colleagues England won the World Cup, Roger Sterling’s response is ‘Cup of what?’) But when their prospective business is lost, it leads Lane to take matters into his own hands & dabble in some more recreational activities, squaring up to co-worker Pete Campbell.

Source: CouchSynchs/YouTube

Roger Sterling’s visions of the 1919 Chicago White Sox

Season 5′s Far Away Places is memorable for showcasing Roger’s first flirtations with LSD, which he takes with his wife, Jane, at her therapist’s house.

Later, as he takes a bath in his own house, his hallucinations continue and he visualises watching the 1919 World Series – the infamous clash between the Chicago White Sox and Cincinnati Reds that resulted in eight White Sox players later banned from baseball for life after being accused of taking bribes in exchange for throwing the games.

In the next episode, Roger attempts to rationalise why that sports event was such a focal point of his trip and says to 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.”

Source: altgul/YouTube

Don Draper and the New York Mets

Lane Pryce, a newcomer to New York, placed a New York Mets pennant in his office mid-way through Season 4. It was symbolic – the team was in its infancy and new to both Shea Stadium and Major League Baseball. Lane clearly saw the comparisons too.

By the start of Season 7, Draper has slowly picked up the pieces, returned to the agency but is banished to Pryce’s eerie old office. He drops a cigarette on the floor and, bending down to pick it up, stumbles upon a blast from the past.


It quickly becomes Don’s personal metaphor. It’s 1969, he’s back where he belongs after his own various struggles and feeling rejuvenated. Just like the Mets, who’d end the year as World Series champions for the very first time.

He’s so enthused by his renaissance, he invites his pal Freddy Rumsen to catch a game with him at Shea. Fittingly, the pennant is returned to its rightful place on the office wall.

Source: Mark Berman/YouTube

– First published 09.00

Know your sport? Prove it by taking our big weekly quiz

How well do you remember Irish football’s most infamous event?

About the author:

Eoin O'Callaghan

Read next: