Mark Gastineau was a second-round NFL draft pick in 1979. He set the New York Jets’ all-time record for quarterback sacks and was a First-Team All-Pro from 1981 to 1985. He is widely considered to be one of the best pass rushers in the history of American football.
Studio 54 was a Manhattan nightclub that did things like dump four tons of glitter on New Year’s Eve celebrants so they’d be “standing on stardust.”
In the club’s early morning hours of September 30, 1983, Mark Gastineau and a bartender named John Benson allegedly had an arm-wrestling match. Gastineau (6’5”, 270 pounds) lost. Prosecution witnesses testified that Gastineau, Jets quarterback Ken O’Brien, and their friends started a fight. John Benson and a bystander both sustained broken noses. Benson filed an assault complaint that day, and the case came to trial a year later, with football fans indignant that the proceedings disrupted the Jets’ practice schedule and their regular season.
In 1984, Gastineau was found guilty of assaulting Benson. O’Brien was acquitted.
Gastineau reacted to the verdict with shock. He stated in an interview the following day that he felt like he had “walking pneumonia” and wasn’t sure he could play in Friday’s game. But with a phone call from Coach Joe Walton, he managed. He retired from the NFL in 1988.