I have changed the rule slightly to add some players to the exalted few to be numbered in Jets lore. I will now list the 13 players who are the best of the best in Jets history.
In this third installment of the best players in Jets history we look at some iconic players from the Super Bowl era as well as an offensive standout from later years. These players are some of the best in Jets history that for some reason fell just short of making the top 13. This article is a continuation of the players ranked between 14th and 30th among the Jets best. The final group will be a baker’s dozen of the best players to don a Jets/Titans jersey, and will be identified three at a time to give each player their proper acknowledgment. The top player will have his own post.
These players are listed in random order so as not to quantify their place in the Jets hierarchy of greatness. You can decide where each player fits in you own order of gang green nobility. This is the next group of four players.
Larry Grantham LB 1960-1972
Larry Grantham is probably the greatest player and best linebacker most people have never heard of. He should be in the Jets top 13 players, but since tackling stats were not kept back when he played it would be a tough sell to anyone who didn’t see him play.
AFL historian Todd Tobias said of Grantham, “Larry Grantham is one of those guys that kind of flies under the radar. There isn’t much he didn’t do. He just didn’t make a lot of noise doing it.”
Grantham was recruited to the University of Mississippi to play baseball but ended up trying out for the football team. Bobby Ray Franklin played on SEC championship football teams, on NFL championship football teams with the Cleveland Browns, then coached a National junior college championship team.
Said Franklin about Grantham “I think Larry came to Ole Miss as a walk-on. He didn’t look like you expect a football star to look. He never trained much and he smoked more cigarettes than anyone. But you just couldn’t block him. Nobody could in college or in the pros. I never saw anyone on a football field as tough as Larry Grantham. He was the toughest football player I ever saw.”
Grantham played both sides of the ball at Mississippi as a linebacker and receiver. College Hall of Fame player Charlie Flowers played with Grantham and said “I played linebacker on Larry Grantham’s side, so I never got a chance to make any tackles. Grantham always got there first. All I got to do was jump on a few piles.”
Warner Alford who played with Larry and later became the Ole Miss athletic director said “Larry was never as big as the guy trying to block him, but he always whipped his man. Always. And while people remember how good he was defensively, people forget how good a receiving end he was. He could really catch the football.”
Grantham was an original Titan/Jet who played for 13 season with the team. He was a 2nd round pick in the AFL draft by the Titans and a 15th round selection in the NFL draft by the Baltimore Colts in 1960. The AFL was a new league that many at the time felt would not survive more than a couple of seasons at best. Grantham chose to sign with the Jets because as he said “everyone in it would be as green as I was.”
Grantham was small for a linebacker (6’0 200 lbs) so the Jets drafted him as a receiver. That lasted for two days before he was moved to linebacker in training camp. “They found out I loved to hit people.” Grantham said. Here he is making a tackle on fullback Jerry Hill in Super Bowl III.
Grantham was a team captain and the leader of the defense. It was his job to call the defenses. Back then defensive play calls were not shuttled in, but made by the players on the field. Fellow Jet Gerry Philbin said “I always saw Larry as the captain and the leader. His football knowledge, the way he skirted around blockers and made tackles … he just surprised a lot of people. Pound for pound he was the best player on the Jets.”
Grantham was a five-time AFL All-Star and 10-time All-AFL pick, including five first-team selections, and a second-team all-time AFL choice. Grantham was one of 20 players to play in the league for its entire existence (1960-69), and one of only seven AFL players to play his entire career in one city. He was also the team’s 1971 MVP, the only time a Jets’ linebacker won the award, and was chosen to the Jets’ second Ring of Honor class in 2011.
Grantham was a smart. tough, all around great player for the Jets who was a leader on the field and in the locker room. The Jets had only two film projectors to watch film. One was given to Joe Namath. The other was given to Larry Grantham. Grantham was the Jets defensive captain in the Super Bowl. He is remembered as a dedicated, team first player.
Grantham was inducted into the New York Jets Ring of Honor in 2011.
Marty Lyons DE/DT 1979-1989
Some people are just bigger than normal humans. Marty Lyons was that way starting at a young age. He was playing at St. Pete Catholic high school at near the 6’ 5” 270 lbs size he played at with the New York Jets for 11 years. He also had chiseled facial features with a scruffy beard that made him look even more menacing when he was angry or at least trying to look scary.
Lyons went on to play for the University of Alabama, where he starred for the Crimson Tide as a ferocious defensive lineman who gathered 202 career tackles and 6 forced fumbles in a stellar career. In 1978 he led the Tide in tackles as a defensive lineman with 119. Lyons was a consensus All-American and co captain of the national champions that year. He was also voted SEC Defensive player of the year in 1978.
During his four years at Alabama, they won three SEC Titles and one national championship. He was voted Defensive Player of the Decade for the 1970s at Alabama and elected to the Alabama Team of the Century. In 2011 he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame on his first ballot, which is an elite distinction earned by less than 1% of college football players.
The Jets drafted Marty Lyons with the 14th pick in the first round of the 1979 NFL draft. In that same draft the Jets took another defensive end out of obscure East Central University in the 2nd round named Mark Gastineau. These two men later became half of the famous “New York Sack Exchange” that terrorized QBs from 1981-1984.
Lyons became part of NFL lore when he and Buffalo QB Jim Kelly began to exchange unpleasantries after a Lyons tackle. That is when the Jets were assigned a 15 yard personal foul for (as official Ben Dreith termed it) “giving him the business down there.”
As you can tell nothing became of this as Kelly (who was a tough hombre) and Lyons made up right after the play. The Jets went on to win that game on a late Ken O’Brien TD pass to Mickey Shuler. The penalty call has gone down as one of the wackiest in NFL history.
Marty Lyons played 11 seasons in the NFL, all with the New York Jets. He was a heady defensive player who could play up and down the line. Though tackle stats were not kept during Lyons career by the NFL, his teammates knew he was a gap sound run stuffer who is also 10th all time on the Jets career list with 43 sacks.
Lyons was not as quick as Mark Gastineau around the edge, but he was always someone you could count on to one gap, two gap or hold the edge in the run game. Lyons played more snaps at defensive tackle than he did at defensive end but he still got to the QB. Here are a few plays from the tackle position as well as a couple of sacks against cross town rival QB Phil Simms.
Lyons could always be counted on to be a difference maker on the defensive line but he actually made a larger difference in the lives of terminally ill children when he started the Marty Lyons Foundation in 1982.
The foundation has far exceeded any of Marty’s or any NFL players’ achievements on the field. It gives dream wishes to terminally ill children. The foundation is getting ready to move into its 40th year of existence without slowing down. Because of his philanthropy, Lyons has received the National Football League Man of the Year, United Way Lifetime Achievement Award, and Ernie Davis Humanitarian Award along with many others. The Marty Lyons Foundation has chapters around the country that have together granted more than six thousand wishes.
Lyons was a player to be counted on when he played for the Jets. He has continued to be counted on by many children facing death with wishes that need to be fulfilled. He is a caring soul and a true gentle giant (off the field), and a terror on it. The Jets were so very fortunate to draft Lyons, who gave them 11 solid years of play on the field. His philanthropy, charity and altruism have made him a person to emulate.
Lyons was inducted into the New York Jets ring of honor on October 13, 2013.
Matt Snell FB/HB 1964-1972
Matt Snell was the 1st round pick (#3 overall) of the New York Jets back in 1964 out of Ohio State University. He was also picked in the 4th round of the same year by the NFL New York Giants. This was one of the first Jets AFL signings that surprised the NFL, and especially the cross town rival Giants.
Snell was always a team first player, doing whatever best helped the team. At Ohio State he was the starting right halfback in 1961 but did mostly blocking for either Paul Warfield or fullback Joe Ferguson. In 1962 the coaches switched him to defensive end for the entire season. In fact Snell is on the Ohio State all century team as a defensive end. In 1963 he was moved to fullback, where he earned the team’s MVP honors.
In his first year with the Jets Snell became a Pro Bowl player. He started all 14 games and rushed for 948 yards, while also catching 56 passes for 393 additional yards. At 6’ 2” 220 lbs, Snell had the ability to run by, around or over potential tacklers.
Matt Snell played 9 seasons in the AFL/NFL, all with the Jets. He earned Pro Bowl honors in 1964, 1966 & 1969. Snell also earned All-Pro honors in 1969. A serious knee injury during the 1967 season diminished his explosiveness and Snell had to deal with the injury the rest of his career. In Super Bowl III he had to suffer through a tremendously sore knee, but he did so to the tune of 30 carries for 121 yards and 4 receptions for 40 yards. This run was the only TD of Super Bowl III and was the first time an AFL team ever lead in the Super Bowl.
Snell’s efforts were more than game MVP worthy but the media who voted on the award were enthralled with Joe Namath and his guarantee, so the honor went to Joe. Snell came back in 1969 to have a stellar season, but he had another injury in 1970 that pretty much ended his career. He stayed with the Jets for another couple seasons but didn’t play in any games.
Snell went on to become the first football player to endorse Lite Beer from the Miller Brewing Company. He spawned a advertising blitz that became huge for many retired players as the commercials ran for many years with a litany of great players. Here is Snell looking rather relaxed in his ground breaking commercial for NFL players.
Snell’s career ended too early because of injury. He still is 4th all time on the Jets career rushing list, behind only Emerson Boozer, Freeman McNeil and Curtis Martin despite playing in far fewer games.
Snell is a New York Jet legend who was the first player from an AFL team to score a rushing TD in a Super Bowl. Most importantly his score gave the Jets a lead they would never relinquish in their epic victory. Snell was inducted into the New York Jets Ring of Honor in 2015 along with his running mate Emerson Boozer. He was voted into the All Time Four Decade team by the Jets fans in 2003.
Al Toon WR 1985-1992
Al Toon was the 10th overall selection in the 1985 NFL draft by the New York Jets. He had a stellar career while playing wide receiver at the University of Wisconsin. When his Badger career came to an end following the 1984 season, Toon held the school records for career receiving yards, career catches, career receiving touchdowns, single season receiving yards, single season catches, single season touchdowns, and most receiving yards in a game. Al was also a two-time All-American triple jumper on the Badgers track team.
He was such a prolific receiver and a well respected player that the state of Wisconsin now annually gives out the Al Toon award to the state’s top senior wide receiver or tight end as part of the WSN Senior Football Awards. This even though he is not a native Wisconsinite. Toon was raised in Virginia and was recruited by the Badgers.
Toon, a 6’ 4” 210 lbs wide receiver, played eight seasons, all with the Jets. After his rookie season in 1985 in which he caught 46 passes for 662 yards and three touchdowns, he made three straight Pro Bowls. Toon had his best season in 1986 when he had a career-high 1,176 yards and eight touchdowns. He was named AFC Player of the Year that season and was voted All-Pro. In 1988, Toon led the league in receptions with 93.
His size made him a tough cover for any cornerback as many receivers were not near as physical as Toon during his career. He was nearly impossible to press off the line and would dispose of his pressers in short order. Here he is catching a pass from Ken O’Brien then using his great size and strength to easily score.
Al Toon was not only a great player but also a great teammate. He was a soft spoken, smart, humble player who cherished his teammates and was a fan favorite. He was the point man for some excellent Jets offenses during his 8 seasons in New York. He was fearless to a fault and would go anywhere to catch the ball. Sadly he endured many vicious hits that caused numerous concussions. Nearly all those hits would get the defender penalized and/or ejected from the game and fined in the NFL today. Due to the severity and number of those hits Toon had to retire in the prime of his career at the age of 29.
He is still 4th in Jets history in receiving yards and 3rd in career receptions despite playing far fewer games than those ahead of him. In fact Toon is one of two players in NFL history to play in fewer than 110 games and rack up more than 500 catches in a career. If not for the concussions Toon would have certainly been the Jets All-Time reception leader and either 1st or 2nd in receiving yards.
Al Toon was inducted into the New York Jets Ring of Honor in 2011 along with Larry Grantham, Freeman McNeil and Gerry Philbin.
Our list now includes: