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100 Things Jets Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die
By Bill Chastain
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2014 Bill Chastain
All rights reserved.
Joe Namath put the New York Jets on the map, simple as that.
The Pennsylvania native came to the Jets from the University of Alabama, where he played for legendary coach Paul "Bear" Bryant and earned the reputation as a bad boy after Bryant suspended him at the end of his junior season.
Namath suffered a major knee injury in his senior year at Alabama, but that did not keep the St. Louis Cardinals of the National Football League from drafting him with the 12th pick of the draft, nor did it keep the Jets from using the first pick of the American Football League Draft to select the strong-armed quarterback. Both drafts took place on November 28, 1964.
Namath's decision to play for the Jets only added to his renegade image, which included long hair, white shoes, and a playboy lifestyle. The NFL and AFL were just beginning a revolutionary period for pro football in which bidding wars from both leagues were conducted to sign players. Eventually the NFL would figure out that the prudent move would be to merge with the rival league, but that did not happen before Namath signed with the Jets for a record-setting salary of $427,000.
Namath, New York, the AFL, and the antiestablishment movement of the 1960s were perfectly suited for one another, which resulted in Namath becoming more than just a football player. One segment of the public embraced the Jets quarterback for his antics away from the football field, while Jets fans simply adored what he did on the field.
Namath earned AFL Rookie of the Year honors in 1965 after he threw for 18 touchdown passes. Popular among his teammates, Namath became "Broadway Joe" after teammate Sherman Plunkett started calling him that. The name perfectly suited his flamboyant image, but the image would not have worked if he had not been getting it done on the field also.
During the 14-game 1967 season, Namath became the first quarterback in professional football history to surpass 4,000 passing yards in a season, with 4,007. He continued to battle his knee problems throughout his career, but that did not stop him from earning AFL All-Star status in 1965, 1967, 1968, and 1969.
Namath's legacy continued to grow until reaching a crescendo in the 1968 season by leading the Jets to an 11–3 regular-season mark followed by a 27–23 win over the Oakland Raiders in the AFL title game. Namath threw three touchdown passes that day to earn the Jets a spot in the Super Bowl against the Baltimore Colts.
Sports fans perceived the NFL to be the superior league when the Jets and Colts headed for the 1969 Super Bowl in Miami. The perception had some merit, because NFL teams had claimed wins in each of the first two Super Bowls. Unconventional and brash, Namath didn't see a difference between the leagues and wasn't intimidated by the Colts, a team that had dominated the NFL during the 1968 season. He said as much during the buildup for the big game, guaranteeing a Jets win. And in what is viewed by many as the biggest upset in football history, Namath led the Jets to a 16–7 win.
Injuries began to take their toll on Namath after the 1969 season, which was reflected in his missing 30 of the team's games from 1970 through 1973. The Jets floundered without their leader and did not have a winning season during that stretch.
Namath would rekindle his magic on occasion during his waning years with the Jets, but the injuries never freed him to achieve his full potential. The Jets waived him in 1977 so he could sign with the Los Angeles Rams.
Namath retired after the 1977 season and was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985. While Namath's numbers never reached the heights that his ability suggested he should reach, he was a special player who arrived at the perfect time.
"He was a guy that came along and broke a lot of the conventions," former teammate John Dockery said about Namath on ESPN Classic's Sports Century series. "He was like a rebel with a cause. It was like traveling with a rock star. He just was a magnet. He's attracting people, and mostly young people. And talk about excitement and energy. Wow!"
Namath First to 4,000 for a Season
Joe Namath opened eyes with his passes during his first two seasons in the AFL in 1965 and 1966, but what he accomplished in his third season had been thought to be unreachable for quarterbacks.
Namath completed 164 of the 340 passes he threw as a rookie for 2,220 yards, and he followed up in his second season in 1966 by completing 232 of 471 passes for 3,379 yards. So the 24-year-old quarterback from Alabama had more than familiarized himself with the AFL by the time the Jets kicked off the 1967 season against the Buffalo Bills on September 10, 1967.
Opening on the road, the Jets lost 20–17 to the Bills, and Namath did not do particularly well, as he completed just 11 of 23 passes for 153 yards. Week 2 brought a different story when Namath completed 22 of 37 for 399 yards in a 38–24 win at Denver against the Broncos. The chemistry that had developed between receiver Don Maynard and Namath was reflected in Maynard's four receptions for 141 yards that day.
The following week the Jets played their home opener at Shea Stadium, and Namath went off against the Miami Dolphins, completing 23 of 39 passes for 415 yards and three touchdowns. After three games, Namath was close to 1,000 yards for the season, having passed for 967.
Opposing teams began to load up their defenses with one purpose in mind: stopping Namath.
And the Oakland Raiders managed to hold him to 166 yards through the air in the fourth week of the season, but the Jets had won the game 27–14. Then Namath struggled against the Houston Oilers when he completed 27 of 49 passes for 295 yards. Just one of those passes went for a touchdown, while he threw six interceptions in a 28–28 tie.
Namath had already surpassed the 3,000-yard barrier when the Jets hosted the Kansas City Chiefs in their 12th game of the season on December 10. He completed just 14 of 25 passes for 133 yards that day, which made the idea of him reaching 4,000 yards look unreasonable.
But Namath rebounded by throwing for 370 yards against Oakland on December 17, leaving him 336 yards shy of the elusive 4,000-yard barrier.
The Jets traveled to San Diego to play the Chargers on December 24, and Namath was at his best. He completed 18 of 26 passes for 343 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions in a 42–31 win.
Namath finished the season with the unheard-of total of 4,007 yards, making him the first quarterback in professional football history to surpass the 4,000-yard barrier.CHAPTER 2
Super Bowl III
Conventional wisdom backed the National Football League heading into Super Bowl III.
The Baltimore Colts from the established NFL would be pitted against the American League Football champion New York Jets, a team believed to be inferior and from an inferior league and that threw the ball around like a circus act.
Baltimore had dominated the NFL, steamrolling to a 13–1 record while outscoring their opponents 402–144. The Colts had advanced to the Super Bowl with a 34–0 thrashing of the Cleveland Browns in the NFL Championship Game, which further established them as a team many believed to be one of the best ever. On top of that, the NFL had won the first two NFL-AFL Championship Games in lopsided contests that experts pointed to as an indication of one league's superiority over the other. So the outcome of the Super Bowl was a foregone conclusion.
Meanwhile, the Jets did not have quite as easy a time navigating the AFL. Yes, they finished 11–3, but many of their games had been close against opponents deemed to be of far lower quality than those in the NFL. Oddsmakers saw Super Bowl III as yet another mismatch and christened the Jets as 18-point underdogs.
Joe Namath wasn't buying it.
Miami's Orange Bowl hosted Super Bowl III, and the city was abuzz with talk about how the Colts would run roughshod through the Jets to once again prove the NFL's superiority. Talk of the thrashing the Jets would take eventually stuck in Namath's craw to the point where he barked back at a man who heckled him about the Jets' chances during a banquet. Namath shot back, "We're gonna win the game; I guarantee it."
Oddly enough, Namath's confident statement did not get a lot of coverage, though sports heavyweights Edwin Pope of the Miami Herald and Howard Cosell, who had a radio program in New York City, each noted Namath's bravado in the face of what seemed to be overwhelming odds.
Cosell managed to play both sides of the fence, closing his radio show the day before the game with, "Joe has never disappointed me before, so I'm going with the Jets in tomorrow's game." Cosell then picked the Colts to win big when asked his opinion the following day on a network pregame show.
In addition to Namath's bold statement, the Jets had players who were NFL retreads, such as future Hall of Famer Don Maynard, who had played for the Giants; cornerback Johnny Sample, who had played for the Colts; and Jets head coach Weeb Ewbank, who had been the Colts' head coach.
The game took place on January 12, 1969, and the Colts appeared to be the better team at the outset. The Jets received the opening kickoff and were forced to punt after gaining just 15 yards on five plays. After taking over at their own 27, the Colts drove the ball to the Jets' 19, where the drive stalled and ultimately resulted in no points when Lou Michaels missed a 27-yard field goal.
A palpable momentum shift could be felt after Michaels' miss, and the Jets got busy probing the Colts' highly touted defense that focused on stopping the Jets' deep threat Maynard, who, unknown to the Colts, played with a tender hamstring. The fact that the Colts keyed on Maynard allowed George Sauer to experience one-on-one coverage for most of the game. Namath exploited that fact, connecting with Sauer for eight completions, good for 133 yards. Meanwhile, running back Matt Snell continued to run between the tackles, beating up the Colts' line to give the Jets the much-desired balanced attack.
Snell scored on a four-yard touchdown run at 9:03 in the second quarter to give the Jets a 7–0 lead, and they held a 16–0 lead early in the fourth quarter. The Colts bounced back to score a late touchdown, but they could not make a successful comeback, and the Jets had a 16–7 victory.
Namath completed 17 of the 28 passes for 206 yards and came away with the MVP trophy, even though a good argument could have been made for Snell, who rushed for 121 yards on 30 carries. But Namath had been the prophetic one, and when he ran off the field, the Jets quarterback held up the index finger of his right hand to signify that what many had thought to be impossible had just happened: the Jets were No. 1.
Big Play Biggs
At 6'4" and 275 pounds, Verlon Biggs gave the Jets a mountain of a man when they drafted him out of Jackson State in the third round of the 1965 AFL Draft.
Biggs had a soft-spoken manner off the field, but he was a dominating force on the field, giving the Jets the perfect bookend to Gerry Philbin at the other end. He became a three-time All-Star and was voted the outstanding defensive player in the 1966 AFL All-Star Game.
A fierce competitor, Biggs' strong suit was rushing the passer. Long before Mark Gastineau ever charged a quarterback while wearing the green and white, Biggs became a vision of the storming defensive end tormenting the quarterback. And he made two of the biggest plays in team history, both of which came during the 1968 season.
First came a huge play against the hated Oakland Raiders in the 1968 AFL Conference Championship Game, the winner of which would advance to Super Bowl III to play the Baltimore Colts.
Late in the game, the Raiders faced a fourth-and-10 when dangerous Daryle Lamonica dropped back to pass. Biggs burst through the line to sack the Raiders' quarterback, thereby preserving a 27–23 lead.
In Super Bowl III the Jets led 7–0 at the half, which allowed the skeptics to still believe that the Colts would come back to win. But on the first play from scrimmage in the second half, Biggs set the tone for the defense — and the upset — by forcing a fumble, which set up a Jets field goal, thereby adding steam to the Jets' 16–7 upset win.
Biggs' last season with the Jets came in 1970, when he played out his option in advance of signing with the Washington Redskins, where he played through 1974. He spent the 1975 season on the injured list and then retired. After leaving the game, Biggs became a professional wrestler for several years before operating a small farm.
Biggs died on June 7, 1994, which made him the first player from the Jets' 1969 Super Bowl champion team to do so.
Weeb Ewbank, who coached Biggs on the 1969 Jets championship team, spoke at Biggs' funeral, calling him a great team player "who was always where he was supposed to be."CHAPTER 3
The Heidi Bowl
One of the best professional football games nobody ever saw — rather, nobody ever saw the ending — came on November 17, 1968, when the Jets played their hated AFL rival, the Oakland Raiders.
Few would have argued that the Jets and Raiders were two of the top teams in the AFL when they met in the Oakland Coliseum that Sunday afternoon. Fans of both teams and those of the AFL in general tuned in for the late-afternoon contest (Eastern Standard Time) on NBC to see who would win a classic matchup between the up-and-coming Jets and the defending AFL champion Raiders. The fact that neither team liked the other served up an extra caveat for viewers on top of the fact they would be watching a marvelous collection of football talent on the field. Ten future Hall of Fame players were in uniform that day, including classic AFL gunslingers Joe Namath of the Jets and Daryl Lamonica of the Raiders, two quarterbacks who were not afraid of putting a little air underneath the football.
Everything about the game lived up to its billing, including the intensity of the game, which produced a violent brand of football that resulted in 19 penalties. Heading into the final minute of play, viewers had been treated to eight lead changes. But due to those penalties and other delays, the game had gone abnormally long. Jim Turner had just kicked a 26-yard field goal to put the Jets up 32–29 with a minute and five seconds remaining in the game, leaving NBC with a dilemma: should they show the remaining 65 seconds, or should they switch to Heidi, the much-hyped family movie scheduled to begin at 7:00 pm?
NBC went with the movie, and all hell broke loose — on and off the field.
On the field, the Raiders began their next possession at the 22. Needing 78 yards for a touchdown, Lamonica quickly got to work, hitting Charlie Smith for a 20-yard gain that was augmented by a facemask penalty against the Jets, taking the ball to the Jets' 43.
Jets safety Jim Hudson had been ejected earlier in the game, and the astute Lamonica elected to test his replacement, Mike D'Amato. Smith blew past D'Amato, and Lamonica dropped one of his famed bombs into his hands for his fourth touchdown pass of the day. After the extra point, the Raiders led 36–32.
Had the Raiders scored too quickly? Forty-two seconds remained on the clock, and Namath already had 19 completions for 381 yards. But the Jets quarterback never got the chance to square things up, as Earl Christy fumbled the kickoff at the 12 and Preston Ridlehuber grabbed the fumble and bolted into the end zone.
A sellout crowd of 53,318 celebrated their team's good fortune — and their own, because they had been able to witness the end of the 42–32 game that concluded at 7:10 pm EST. Viewing audiences on the East Coast had not been so lucky.
The switchboard at NBC lit up with calls from irate fans. Further exacerbating the situation were the reminders of what had happened. An hour and 20 minutes into the movie, NBC ran a streamer across the bottom of the screen that reported the outcome of the game. Later in the movie, the same information crawled across the bottom of the screen, taunting those who were beside themselves for not being able to see the end of the game.
Excerpted from 100 Things Jets Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die by Bill Chastain. Copyright © 2014 Bill Chastain. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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