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A New Team And A New League Final Chapter

Super Bowl

Super Bowl III - New York Jets Over - Baltimore 16-7 Photo by Sporting News via Getty Images/Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images

Poise and execution: that was the Jets mantra back in 1968 to start the season. Now the Jets stood on the precipice of history with only the vaunted Baltimore Colts standing in the way. It would be poise and execution that would propel the Jets to the summit of the football world along with a place in American pop culture.

The Colts had other ideas on that theme.

Poise and execution was brought up at the Sunday breakfast. It was a phrase that was tested, even if subtly, hours before game time. When the Jets left the hotel they had a police escort to the game. That did not stop a drawbridge operator from halting their progress by opening the bridge for a passing boat. When he saw the police lights go on he quickly reversed course and dropped the bridge making the boat wait.

When they got to the stadium the Jets had to wait for security to clear the fans so they could disembark. Once they got inside the locker room they were able to see the game day programs that they wanted as mementos of the day. Unfortunately, when they leafed through the programs they found that the Jets statistics were replaced with the Raiders statistics! The printer had put the wrong team in the program.

The program company had both sets of statistics of the Jets and Raiders ready before the AFC Championship game but mistakenly put in the wrong info in the program. Jim Hudson was rightfully angered by the mistake. “Damn! We get in the Super Bowl and the program’s got the God damn Raiders in it.” This was the first year the term “Super Bowl” was used for the game. The game was called the AFL-NFL World Championship or The World Championship game before that. The name was changed only a few weeks before the Jets-Colts game but the game tickets had already been printed so the tickets still had the old name on them.

Sensing the tension, the backup QB Babe Parelli went over to Dr. Nicholson and told him to stay calm saying “hey there coach Doc, stay loose.” Parelli remembered the “Heidi” game when Dr. Nicholson was banging on the door of the officials. “No penalties on the sidelines Doc.”

Weeb Ewbank had to decide what he wanted to do with star receiver Don Maynard, who had a badly pulled quadricep from the AFC championship game. He was hoping the two week break would allow his thigh to heal, but those soft tissue injuries are tough to mend. He thought about starting Bake Turner in his place but ultimately decided against it. He did tell Maynard “ if it goes bad, don’t hide it.” Maynard replied “If it goes you’ll see it.”

Minutes before the game Weeb gave a speech to inspire his team. It had to be the speech of his life without the players realizing it. Go too soft and it would be meaningless. Go too strong and it would be hollow. It had to be just right.

Weeb realized the Jets were underdogs. Underdogs fight harder because they have something to prove. He wanted everyone to realize that and use it as motivation. Combined with this being the Super Bowl he thought that would give the Jets a powerful impetus to prove the world wrong.

Weeb started the speech by reminding his team that they, including himself, were not considered worthy to be in the NFL. They had either been cut or totally overlooked by every NFL team, and this was their opportunity to show the NFL and the world how wrong they were. Weeb’s opening line: “Some of you men have been with the Colts, but the team decided that you didn’t have the skill to stay with them.” Those players were Bake Turner and Johnny Sample. Winston Hill was drafted by the Colts but was let go before he ever played a game. Weeb never mentioned himself, but the players could see in his eyes that he was including himself with those players.

Weeb continued: “Now you’re opposing that team. You’ve proven to yourself that you are capable and now you have the opportunity to prove it to that team.” He then looked at rookie Randy Rasmussen (from University of Nebraska - Kearney). “You, Randy; you have a chance to prove a player from a small college belongs in the Super Bowl.” Jets center John Schmitt chimed in “And you get $15,000 for doing so!”

Finally Weeb again told the players “No matter what develops out there I expect you to maintain your poise and execution. That’s what we worked on all season.”

Weeb then led a prayer and finished by saying “One more thing, when we win don’t pick me up and ruin my other hip. I’ll walk.” The players all ran out onto the field, laughing all the way; the Jets were a loose team again thanks to Weeb.

Don Maynard is a Jets Hall of Fame player but his thigh problem was no joke. During film study Namath had spotted an irregularity in the Colts deep secondary. Maynard had 10 TD grabs during the season averaging 22.8 yards a catch. On the second drive of the game with the Jets on their own 35 Namath sent Maynard deep down the sideline. Namath let go a gorgeous pass that sailed majestically through the air. As Don Maynard tells it “I had the guy beat by 6 yards but the ball was an inch too long.” On the sideline Weeb was second guessing himself “Damn! If his leg was right that was a touchdown” said Weeb.

After the series ended in a punt Maynard went to the sideline and told Dr. Nicholson he felt a “twinge.” Maynard was not going to be much help the rest of the game. However, the Colts did not know that. Weeb left Maynard in the game, and since he had beaten his man so soundly Shula had to change his defense to double team Maynard the rest of the game. Namath threw Maynard’s way only twice more in the game with zero completions. Maynard was one of the most dangerous receivers in the history of the AFL/NFL, but he was held without a catch in the biggest game of his career.

The double teaming of Maynard left George Sauer one on one with cornerback Lenny Lyles. The matchup favored the Jets. Sauer ended up catching 8 passes for 133 yards in the game and helped the Jets move the ball against the Colts strong defense. Namath on the other hand was also having a problem. He had injured his thumb on his throwing hand early in the game and it hurt like hell when he threw to his left. George Sauer played on his left but Joe worked through the pain and peppered Sauer with passes all game.

On the other side of the ball the Jets defense was terrorizing the famed Colts offense. Three times in the first half the Colts had a 1st and 10 inside the Jets 20 yard line. Three times they were denied. Lou Michaels missed field goals of 46 and 27 yards, and Colts quarterback Earl Morrall threw three first half INTs on only 14 pass attempts.

The Jets were frustrating the Colts with their play and their attitudes. Johnny Sample intercepted Earl Morrall on the two yard line when he was throwing to Jerry Richardson. When Sample went up and took the ball away he hit Richardson’s helmet (on purpose) with the ball then said “Was this what you were looking for?”

As Sauer was piling up the receptions, Lenny Lyles complained to Sauer “Hey I was supposed to get help on that pass.” On another play Billy Ray Smith took a shot at John Schmitt when he was in a pile up. Schmitt replied “You do that again and you won’t get up.” The Jets for the most part were keeping their poise while the Colts were losing theirs.

The Jets were using a defense devised by Walt Michaels that was the precursor of the famed Buddy Ryan 46 defense which led to a lopsided Chicago Bears Super Bowl win in January 1986. As Ralph Baker (the Jets starting outside linebacker) put it “You start watching the film and they make the same kind of mistakes as the offenses in our league. They had some good players but they had weaknesses too. We played a defense that was unconventional at the time. We stacked our linebackers and everyone on the Colts had to change their blocking. We did things we did all year but they never faced anything like that. I was the left outside linebacker and most offenses are right handed. So usually I’d be lined up on the tight end. But we pushed the defensive end to the inside shoulder of the tight end and I’d be behind him. They had to cross block instead of the straight ahead blocking and that killed their momentum.”

The Jets were winning the game, but were only up by a score of 7-0 at halftime. In the second half Don Shula made the decision to give Earl Morrall one more series, and if he didn’t move the team he was going to switch to a less than 100% Johnny Unitas. Colts running back Tom Matte fumbled on the first play of the second half, which gave the Jets the ball on the Colts 33 yard line. The Jets moved the ball down to the 11 yard line, but two consecutive lost yardage plays and an incomplete pass forced the Jets to settle for a 32 yard Jim Turner field goal to go up 10-0.

The next possession was a three and out for the Colts, which signaled the end of the road of Earl Morrall. The Jets then drove down and added another field goal to make it 13-0. Unitas entered the game with 3:58 left in the third quarter.

This was a surreal moment for Weeb Ewbank. Both of his field generals that he had built a career off of were in the game, playing against one another. Some of the Jets players were befuddled as Weeb watched Unitas play. You see Weeb was almost in a trance as he watched and some players could hear Weeb whisper to himself as Johnny U went back to pass say “Come on John, don’t throw any interceptions.” Weeb sincerely cared for his players and Johnny U was one of his all time favorites. In the moment Weeb simply forgot where he was.

The problem for the great Johnny Unitas was that he was passing the ball with an injured arm and his passes showed it. The Jets could see it as well and switched their defense to cover all the shorter routes. In his first series Johnny Unitas had two incomplete passes and the Colts punted once again. The Jets took the ball on a seven play drive, highlighted by two George Sauer completions of 11 and 39 yards. The Jets had the ball down to the 6 yard line on a 2nd and goal play when Namath went to the sideline and told Weeb “I’m not going to take any chances. I’m just going to get on the board. You agree with that?” With that the Jets ran two running plays, one by Matt Snell and one by Bill Mathis. They got the ball down to the 2 yard line, then Jim Turner kicked his third field goal of the game to give the Jets a 16-0 lead with 13:58 left in the game.

On the next series Unitas moved the Colts swiftly down to the Jets 25 yard line but was intercepted by Randy Beverly (his second INT of the game) with 11:28 left in the game. The Jets took the ball and moved down to the Colts 35 but Jim Turner missed on a 42 yard field goal that would have completely iced the game with 7:08 left.

Johnny Unitas then found some life in his tired arm and drove the Colts on a 14 play 80 yard drive. Jerry Hill scored on a 1 yard TD run, but that left only 3:32 in the game. The Jets were in a semi prevent defense that made the Colts use some time, but that strategy seemed flawed when the Colts recovered the ensuing onsides kick to remain in possession of the ball.

Larry Grantham told his fellow defenders “Poise and execution. It’s three minutes. That’s $5,000 a minute.” On an ensuing play one of Unitas’ passes brought Tom Matte near the Jets bench and Mike Martin (one of the owners’ sons) gave a hooted yell at Matte when the pass went incomplete. Even then, in the heat of a close game, Joe Namath knew not to berate a player trying his best in a championship game. He told Martin “Don’t do that. If we’re going to be champions we have to act like champions.”

The Colts drove the ball on three quick completions to the Jets 19. They had a 2nd and five at the 19, but three consecutive incompletions ended any hope they had with 2:44 left in the game. Matt Snell ended up running for 121 yards in the game and the Jets ran him 6 straight times before punting with 15 seconds left in the championship. When Johnny Unitas completed a 2nd down 15 yard pass to Willie Richardson time had run out on the Colts, and the party started in earnest for the boys from Gotham.

The Colts on the sidelines just stood in disbelief until they walked off the field. No player came over to congratulate the Jets on their victory. Only Colts head coach Don Shula shook hands with Weeb Ewbank. Then in an iconic moment of Jets lore Joe Namath trotted off the field with his signature finger waving to the Gods above.

John Dockery (a kid from Brooklyn), a reserve defensive back for the Jets Super Bowl team, said “I didn’t run off the field. I glided off the field. I flew off the field. I wasn’t touching the ground.”

Joe ran back into the locker room and was mobbed by a throng of reporters. Joe immediately stated “I only want to talk with the New York writers; they’re the only ones who thought we could win.” Nearby Johnny Sample pulled an old tattered newspaper clipping out of his wallet that was two years old. He unfolded it and then showed it to the reporters as the headline read “ KC not in class with NFL best says Lombardi.”

Through all the post game celebrations, which were as raucous as anyone could imagine, there was still a sense of loss, as one vital member of the team was missing from all the hoopla. Sonny Werblin, who had been so unceremoniously ousted as the leader of the Jets, was not there to join in the festivities. The architect of the team would have been beaming as he made his way through the jubilation of the moment. Emerson Boozer said, “I felt a sense of loss, or that a piece of the puzzle was missing in that he was not there to share the Super Bowl, because he put the club together.”

The Jets sipped champagne in the locker room for hours until the commotion died down. The Jets and the Colts had parties (they both thought they would win the game) at outside venues the Monday after the game. Joe Namath made his way back to his room and burst out laughing, because sitting outside his room was a funeral bouquet of flowers sent to him by his dinner guest Lou Michaels. Of course the flowers were sent before the game.

The following day Jets center John Schmitt (who played the game with a case of pneumonia) took his wife shopping for a dress for the party later that night. They went to Neiman Marcus. As Schmitt later recalled: “I’m on a chair while she’s trying on dresses. She had a very pretty young girl waiting on her. ‘Were you here for the game?’ she asked. And all I just said is ‘Yes.’ She goes inside again and brings another dress. She says, ‘Did you play in the game?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ She goes back in and she comes back out, ‘Were you on the winning team?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ And she jumps on me — I swear this is true — she jumps on me, she hugs, she kisses me. And my wife walks out of the dressing room and she goes, ‘Excuse me?!” As it turned out the young lady had been married just 8 months earlier and her husband put every dime they had, a total of $500, on the Jets to win the Super Bowl at 10-1 odds. To give you a reference my father, who was a New York fire fighter, made about $5,500 including overtime in 1969. Schmitt added “So that was like winning a Super Bowl also.” Schmitt, who was from Hofstra University, stated the obvious many years later: “Once you’re a champion in New York, you’re a champion for life, and it’s a feeling you can’t buy.” John Dockery added (about his championship ring) “I leave it on and the response when people see it is one of ‘Wow!’ It’s a gift you can give them just by spending 120 seconds, three minutes, four minutes.”

The ring has the word Poise on one side and Execution on the other.

That Monday the Jets had their party that included about 400 guests. Carroll Rosenbloom (the owner of the Colts) sent over a bottle of congratulatory champagne to the Jets celebration. Rosenbloom had his own party on Monday. He had the party at his huge home on Miami Beach, a home very near Sonny Werblin’s home. At the Colts party he had guests that included Senator Ted Kennedy and Vice President Spiro Agnew. Rosenbloom was distraught (rightfully so) at his team’s loss in the Super Bowl. Ted Kennedy sought to cheer him up and they both took a swim in the ocean to clear their minds. Rosenbloom was known for doing so and some years later he actually drowned in the same spot while out for a swim. NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle was also at the party. That’s right, Pete Rozelle went to the Colts, not the Jets party.

Rozelle was infuriated that the Jets won the Super Bowl since he had such difficult times dealing with the AFL through the years. He eventually had to acquiesce to the fact that the AFL had revolutionized the sport of football and was the future of the pro sport. He also detested that his league was being hijacked by a bunch of upstart owners who believed in a more open brand of football and a much more inclusive league for all races and religions. Rozelle ran his league with an iron fist. He resented the fact that his authoritarian rule was being undermined. Many years later Rozelle actually believed the entrance of the AFL into the NFL was a boon for the league even though he fought arduously against it. Rozelle remained the leader of the NFL until 1989 and held the post for 29 years. It is ironic that the man who changed football and almost single handedly forced the merger of the AFL and NFL, Joe Namath, was enshrined in the Football Hall of Fame in 1985 - the same year that Pete Rozelle was enshrined.

Back at the Jets party Joe Namath said “There’s a whole lot of people changing their minds about us now. We beat Baltimore in every phase of the game. If there ever was a world champion, this is it.”

Back in New York Mayor Lindsey didn’t have a parade for the Jets, citing financial problems in the city, but gave them the key to the city at city hall.

Joe Namath received his Sport magazine MVP award at Mamma Leone’s restaurant in Manhattan. Jets PR man Frank Ramos said “They gave him the keys to the car at the presentation there, and then they went out into the parking lot at Mamma Leone’s, and the crowd of reporters and fans were in the lot. A police officer said to me, ‘I haven’t seen anything like this since the Beatles”

Many years later, reflecting back on the game, Namath said “One of the things I learned that’s very important in life, we’re all underdogs from time to time. Think positive. If you think you can’t, you won’t. If you think you can, you got a chance to do it. Do keep dreaming and keep trying to fulfill your dreams. Don’t let anybody tell you you can’t do it. I wish I could have played better. Our running game was very impressive that day, very impressive. The defense held those guys without points. We made some plays, and they didn’t.”

Summary

The Jets franchise has had its share of wild moments through the years. I hope you have enjoyed this time capsule into the past of Jets/Titans history.

The fact that the Jets have not made it back to the Super Bowl since January 12th of 1969 is a tragedy of epic proportions. It is a fact not lost on the members of the championship team. “It pisses me off,” John Schmitt said. “We have great fans, and they deserve more than they’re getting from our team. They’ve been cheated for years. I’m tired of [BS], ya know? It’s 50 years. We haven’t been to even lose a Super Bowl in 50 years. My whole family are Jet fans. We live and die with the team. But we’ve died a lot more than we’ve lived.”

This debacle that has lasted half a century is laid squarely on the doorsteps of ownership. They hold the purse strings, they have the power to decide the management structure and the direction of the franchise. If this drought had lasted a couple of front office groups then you could chalk it up to bad luck but a half century is an abomination.

Sonny Werblin took control of the Jets in 1963 without any sports management knowledge or expertise. Yet he took a broke franchise, and even though he was dumped by his fellow owners over jealousy and greed, he brought the Jets to a championship in 5 years. If he had remained the Jets owner I am sure he would have built the Jets their own stadium and continued to strive for excellence over monetary gain.

We can only hope the Jets are on the right tract with their current management group. Only time will tell if that is true or not. As Jet fans you continue to hope even after a colossal series of foibles in their history. Making Richie Kotite not only coach but GM as well, the fake spike game, the Lou Holtz era and the Buttfumble - the list goes on and on. Yet the biggest gaffe in New York Jets history happened in the aftermath of the Super Bowl.

Incredibly, the Jets left the Super Bowl trophy at the hotel in Fort Lauderdale. They left it in a safe at the hotel. The Hotel called the Jets and wanted to know if they wanted their trophy. Rumor has it the Jets didn’t know they could keep the trophy. Assistant equipment manager Mickey Rendine brought the trophy back home on a later flight.

That’s our Jets.