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Don Maynard: Broadway Cowboy

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Garrett Reid-USA TODAY Sports

From John B: I'd like to introduce Aaron Goldberg to the GGN team. Aaron is going to be writing profiles on some of the important figures in Jets history.

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Don Maynard arrived in New York City in 1958 for the first time in his football career. There, in the Big Apple – the most populous city in the U.S. and a cosmopolitan mecca– stood a tall, lanky young man with thick sideburns wearing cowboy boots.

In a 1987 interview with Ira Berkow of the New York Times, Maynard recalls this peculiar spectacle, as the rookie walked into Giants training camp with a footlocker (a small storage box used for belongings) and a bag of luggage in each hand. When asked by the equipment manager as to why he brought an unusual amount of baggage, Maynard simply replied, "I come to stay."

Unfortunately, Maynard was not entirely correct when he uttered these words. After being drafted in 1957 by the Football Giants, he was crushed when the team cut the 109th overall pick after just one year. However, there was some truth to that statement made nearly 60 years ago because this different young man from Texas would eventually team up with Joe Namath to bring a different franchise in New York its first and only Super Bowl title.

Maynard struggled to find his niche both on and off the field. Following his release, Maynard took his talents to the Canadian Football League, where he spent one year with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats before being offered a second chance to make a splash with the newly formed New York Titans of the AFL. Even after retiring, it took seven long years of being turned down by the Pro Football Hall of Fame to earn his bust and a spot in Canton.

In order to arrive at this special place in Ohio in 1987, Maynard endured a long and odd journey from southwest Texas. His father worked as a cotton ginner, which basically entailed processing cotton for commercial use. Maynard’s family moved around a lot in this area of the Lone Star State throughout his childhood, as he attended a total of 13 schools, including five different high schools. Even during this constant state of movement and with no stability, Maynard began to develop into an athlete, lettering in football, basketball, and track by his senior year in high school.

After attending Rice University for his freshman year, Maynard transferred to tiny Texas Western College (which is now the University of Texas-El Paso), where he stood out as both a two-time All Border Conference football player and a stud on the track. Maynard was a jack-of-all-trades on the gridiron, posting a whopping 27.6 yards per catch and 10 touchdowns as a receiver, rushing for 843 total yards as a running back, returning both punts and kickoffs, and even intercepting 10 passes as a safety on the other side of the ball.

Following his short stint with the Giants, Maynard maintained the chip on his shoulder, which drove him to return to professional football in the U.S. He was actually the very first player signed by the Titans organization in 1960, which was soon renamed the Jets three years later. The first head coach in team history, Sammy Baugh, had coached against Maynard in college with Hardin-Simmons University, so he recognized Maynard’s potential.

Maynard marched to the beat of a different drummer compared to the typical standard of New York, and he didn’t match the persona, one of which included the iconic Broadway Joe. Maynard, himself, even wondered if he truly fit into the big city ambiance, so he would return to Texas each offseason in order to work common jobs. He began as a plumber and progressed to teaching high school students in the subjects of both math and industrial arts.

This metaphor also transfers perfectly to Maynard’s game on the field, as he is well known as a true improviser, shying away from the customary neat and tight routes of wide receivers around the league. Maynard focused on purely getting open, rather than running precise patterns by taking what opposing defensive backs gave him in the heat of the moment.

In part, Maynard also developed this playing style due to the Jet’s lack of consistency at the quarterback position. The franchise struggled mightily for several years, but he proved to be a bright spot for the team’s future. Maynard teamed up with former Jets receiver Art Powell in 1960 to become the first duo in professional football to gain 1,000 yards or more apiece in a single season. This brilliant tandem accomplished this feat once more in 1962 before Powell moved to Oakland.

Maynard found an even better partner with whom to form the perfect chemistry when the Jets took Joe Namath first overall in the 1964 AFL draft. Although Namath was also drafted 12th in the NFL draft by the St. Louis Cardinals, Joe Willie opted to head to NYC.

Maynard, a crazy southern kid from Texas, and Broadway Joe, a flashy young gun built for the spotlight, couldn’t have been any different, yet the two blended together nicely to create an inexplicable pair in New York. In Namath’s rookie year, the combo hooked up 57 times alone for 1,297 yards, including 10 of Namath’s 15 touchdowns that season. Maynard recorded a career high 1,434 receiving yards in 1967 during Namath’s historic 4,007-yard season.

In 1968, the duo led the Jets on an improbable run to capture the organization’s only Super Bowl victory. Maynard, almost an unsung hero, played a crucial role, securing the AFL Championship with the finest and most important consecutive catches of his career.

With the clock winding down in the fourth quarter, the Jets had one final shot to advance to face the NFL champion Baltimore Colts with the offense positioned on its own 42-yard line, down 23-20. Maynard dashed down the sideline, beating his man deep, and Namath, who recognized the opportunity with his star receiver, launched a 52-yard bomb. Maynard tracked the ball and twisted around to make the catch on the six-yard line. On the very next play, Namath, once again, connected with Maynard in the end zone for the game-winning touchdown. He finished the day with 118 yards on six catches and two touchdowns.

Maynard, hampered by a hamstring injury suffered in the AFL Championship, had no catches against the Colts, but his performance in the previous game was instrumental in capturing Super Bowl III, which is still considered as the first upset in Super Bowl history.

The Jets eventually cut a declining Maynard in 1972, and he concluded his career after one year with the St. Louis Cardinals. Maynard never once led the league in receiving, but set records at the time for both career receptions and yards. His final stat line was 633 grabs for 11,834 yards and 88 touchdowns.

Maynard worked as a financial planner for an insurance company following his retirement and currently dabbles in this profession during his free time. After his wife Marilyn, whom he met at Texas Western and married in 1955, passed away several years ago, Maynard bought houses in both El Paso and Ruidoso, New Mexico in order to be closer to his son, daughter, and two grandchildren. He regularly attends charity events, including many golf tournaments to help stay in touch with friends and former players.

Although Maynard was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, was named to the AFL All-Time Team, and finished his career as a four-time AFL All Star, he is still a southern man at heart. Even today, he still resembles that kid from the rural Southwest who once stood in the Giants locker room with thick sideburns and cowboy boots.