We enter rarefied air with 3 of the top 4 players in Jets history. These men have had the greatest impact on the success of the Jets over the years. These are the men who shone brightest on the field of play.
Winston Hill OT 1963-1976
Winston Hill was an exceptional athlete growing up in Joaquin, Texas. He was always a big kid. He was athletic enough to win the high school tennis championship as well as being a dominant football player. Segregation was still rampant in the south when Hill played so he took a scholarship to Texas Southern University, which is a college or university that was originally founded to educate students of African American descent.
Hill played on both sides of the ball as an offensive and defensive tackle. He earned All American honors while at Texas Southern. Hill was selected in the 11th round (pick #145) of the 1963 NFL draft by the Baltimore Colts, but he was among the last cuts on the team. He joined the Jets that same year as a free agent, then spent the next 14 seasons as a team leader and an outstanding blocker.
Like many others, Winston Hill was intrigued by the flamboyant QB named Joe Namath from the University of Alabama, who signed a $427,000 contract to play for the Jets in 1965. Soon after he was signed Namath went in for major knee surgery, which is where Namath first met the man he would call a friend for the rest of his life.
As Namath recalled:
I was in the hospital bed at Lenox Hill Hospital. A quiet knock at the door. I say, ‘Come in.’ Winston and his wife, Carolyn, came in. That was the first time we met. He had a black leather trench coat on, carrying his hat and a rose - a single rose in his hand. The two of them stood beside my bed, and we talked. This was the new style, I guess. I had never seen it before, welcoming people and all. He and Carolyn just wanted to welcome me to the team, and that was the first time we met.
Winston Hill’s father was a preacher. He instilled some moral values into his son’s life. As a result Hill never drank, he never used profanity and he didn’t smoke. These were basic tenets in his life. Yet when Hill met with Namath that day he made an exception. As Joe explained:
At the time, Rheingold [beer] was our sponsor, and in the corner of the room was a Rheingold cooler with some bottles of whiskey on top. I remember asking Winston to help himself to a drink. He looked at me, he looked at Carolyn, he turned around. I saw him pour maybe a half water-glass full of Scotch. He turned around and he drank it down straight. That’s the only drink, the only drink I ever saw him take in 50 years. I swear to God, I don’t know why he took that drink other than maybe trying to help me, but that’s the only time I ever saw him drink any alcohol. It was wonderful. He was wonderful.
Hill wanted to be civil and welcoming to his new teammate, but the chugging of the whiskey story became lore in the Hill household. As his daughter tells it: “He walked out of the room, leaned against a wall and nearly slid down the wall.”
Winston Hill was a quiet, well-read man who could cite scripture or passages from Shakespeare with equal ease. He was a self-driven man and once stated “The pride in the individual makes him perform. I don’t think a captain or anyone else can put something in there that is not there.”
Winston Hill soon became the rock which held the Jets’ offensive line together. Whereas Namath was the larger than life team leader in the press, Hill (who was the team chaplain) was the soul of the team. He had no ego and always kept his head, even when things got wild.
On the field Hill was admired and respected like no one else. As starting center John Schmitt remembered:
There wasn’t anybody he couldn’t handle. He could play any position on the line and play it well. He was the greatest pass-blocker you could find. Having the quick feet from tennis helped him a lot. He was able to move so unbelievably well, but he was very strong.
Here Hill is #75 as he leads the way for Emerson Boozer in Super Bowl III.
Hill was known for opening gaping holes for RBs to run through. He also had the ability to get out and lead a play around the edge. He was also an excellent pass blocker. As Namath said:
What made Winston Hill one of the best offensive linemen to ever play was his ability to execute and protect the quarterback and block for the running game. If you look at one game, the Super Bowl, you see Matt Snell running that ball so many times behind Winston. Emerson Boozer was leading, too, and Dave Herman and other guys, too, but without Winston Hill that day – we don’t win the championship.
Here Hill is opening up a hole for Matt Snell. The Jets continually ran behind Hill all game in the Super Bowl. Snell finished with 142 yards rushing against the #1 defense in the NFL.
This play Hill was working against veteran defensive tackle Ordell Braase, who he moves out from the hole enough to allow Snell to collect a 10 yard gain. Hill was a Pro Bowl selection in 1969 as a left tackle. He later was voted as a Pro Bowl player from the right tackle position when the Jets needed to move him to that side. Hill was versatile enough to play any position on the line, but he was used as a tackle because of his strength and ability to lead plays around the edge.
Here is the first ever rushing TD from an AFL team in the Super Bowl. On this play Hill is able to corral Fred Miller, an outstanding defensive tackle. Hill’s ability to not only hold the edge but also not allow any type of penetration keeps the linebackers from being able to cut inside, then take down Snell short of the goal line. Snell also never has to slow up to avoid a tackler or avoid congestion on his way to the end zone.
Winston Hill was highly praised after the Super Bowl as one of the true stars of the game, even though many pointed to Matt Snell as a hero and Namath was voted MVP. Colts center Bill Curry said after the game that Winston Hill was probably the most valuable player in the game. The way the Jets dominated the line of scrimmage had the Colts talking to themselves, as they had never been manhandled like that all year. As Namath has said many times “There’s no way we could’ve won that game without the guys up front, especially Winston.”
Long after his playing days were over Winston Hill would come into town to act as a counselor at a football camp that was run by Joe Namath and John Dockery for kids. For 40 years he would venture to Connecticut to lend his support while bringing his entire family with him. Hill’s daughter said “We grew up with a lot of uncles, and Joe Namath was always part of the experience, during and after playing football.”
Winston Hill was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2020, which sadly was done posthumously. He was also inducted into the Black College Football Hall of Fame later that same year. His daughter Heather Hill spoke about how her father would use that ring to signify how people can be champions in their own life. He used his fame and accolades to inspire people to do great things. Hill was a great player, but he was also a great person. He was proud of his family and cared about others more than himself. Hill was a proud family man who loved his family as much as his faith.
Winston Hill left a Jets legacy that would be hard to match. He was voted to a team record 8 Pro Bowls. He started 174 consecutive games for the Jets and he played in a total of 195 games for the Jets, which is 5th all time in Jets history. He was an inaugural inductee to the Jets Ring of Honor in 2010.
Don Maynard was born in 1935 in Crosbyton, Texas. He grew up in the southern part of Texas in a number of towns, including Denver City, Colorado City, and El Paso. His father worked in these towns as a cotton broker.
Maynard played a single year at Rice University, then played 3 seasons at Texas Western College (now the University of Texas at El Paso). Back in the 1950’s players played both offense and defense. Maynard was a running back and a safety. He was drafted in the 9th round of the 1957 NFL Draft by the New York Giants. In his only season with the Giants Maynard had 12 rushes for 45 yards and caught 5 passes for 85 yards. Maynard was the backup to Hall of Famer Frank Gifford, so he rarely saw the field.
The Giants were amazed when they first laid eyes on Don Maynard. The coaches thought he looked like something out of central casting. He walked into the Giants facility wearing blue jeans, cowboy boots, a western style shirt, and a pair of long shaggy sideburns. Maynard always did things his own way. Maynard was a strong, lean, fast athlete. He used to stretch before playing, something players rarely did back in his playing days. He never smoked nor drank alcohol, which made him something of an outlier among 1950-60’s athletes.
In 1959 the Giants changed coaches. Offensive coordinator Vince Lombardi went to coach Green Bay, and defensive coordinator Tom Landry became the first coach of the Dallas Cowboys. The Giants were run by Allie Sherman and Jim Lee Howell. Coach Howell told Maynard to cut off his sideburns. Maynard refused to do so. Maynard and the coaches did not hit it off. Maynard said:
In training camp the next year, Allie Sherman chewed me out because my stridin’ on a sweep was too long. ‘Run the play over,’ he says, ‘this isn’t a track meet.’ I told him I covered more ground with one step than most runners did with three. Allie and I didn’t hit it off. A couple of days later I was gone, cut from the squad, I couldn’t understand some of the guys they kept. I could run faster backwards than they could run forwards.
Maynard never gave up hope on playing football for a living. “I kept a little bitterness in me. Who wouldn’t? I knew I could play. And ten years later I had a chance to show them.” Maynard said.
Maynard went to the CFL that year and played for the Hamilton Tiger Cats.
They cut me, and I went to Canada, to Hamilton. We went to the Grey Cup, which is their championship, and we lost to Winnipeg. Twenty years later my son played for Winnipeg, and they won the Grey Cup. That’s a little bit of personal history that I’m proud of.
I could see all the writing on the wall that there was going to be an American Football League founded by Lamar Hunt and all the people behind it. I read that Sammy Baugh signed with the Titans, and I’d played against him as a college coach for three years. He’d coached me in the Blue-Grey Game. So I wrote to him and said, ‘Hey, I’d like to play for you.’ He knew me pretty good, so I ended up being the first Titan to sign, and I stayed in New York.
The first player the Titans/Jets ever signed was Don Maynard, who retired in 1973 from the NFL as the all time leading receiver with 627 receptions, 11,732 yards and 88 TDs. His 18.7 yards per catch is 2nd in Jets history for any player with more than 20 receptions in their career.
As the deep threat Maynard was a key to the Jets offense. Here he gets a step on the defender in Kansas City, which is all he needed. The laser beam pass by Joe Namath was right on target as Maynard does the rest after the catch.
Maynard was not big at 6’ 180 lbs, but he could fly as a receiver. As a runner with the ball he was awkwardly effective at times. His herky-jerky style was compelling to watch.
Maynard was the big play threat that scared defenses. He could run by a defender, but he also knew subtle ways to get separation from defenders. Football was quite different when Maynard played than it is today. Back then a defender could make unlimited contact on a receiver during the play. If a defender could knock the receiver out of bounds that receiver was not eligible to catch a pass on the play. Cornerbacks would typically maul WRs all along their routes. Restrictions on contact against defenders were not established until the 1974 season, a year after Don Maynard retired.
During Don Maynard’s career a receiver not only had to be fast, but also strong against the press and physical enough to break through the violence that would wait for them on every route. Thus the career stats for Maynard are more meaningful than some of the numbers put up today, when receivers can basically run free all over the field.
One of Maynard’s greatest games came in the AFL Championship Game on a frozen field on December 29th, 1968 at Shea Stadium. It was against the hated Raiders, who had a reputation for bending the rules, with the winner advancing to the Super Bowl.
Early in the 1st quarter Maynard caught this out pattern for an early lead. This 14 yard TD opened the scoring for the Jets and gave them the early advantage.
You can see the field was treacherous, with Maynard having to take cautious steps to keep his footing. The cold and slippery surface was not the only problem, as a 40 mile an hour wind would rise up at times during the day. The howling winds at Shea would seemingly switch directions during the game.
Later in the game, with the Jets up 20-16 and driving down the field, one of those gusts took a Namath pass and blew it off course. George Atkinson intercepted it and raced down the sideline. He was headed for a score with under 9 minutes to go when Joe Namath gave him a thunderous shoulder that knocked him out of bounds, albeit at the Jets 5 yard line. Joe’s heroics could not stop the Raiders from taking the lead on a Pete Banaszak run with 8 minutes and 20 seconds left in the game.
The Jets needed a play and Maynard told Namath that “I have a long one if you need it.” Namath called a play in the huddle, and an alternative, a long sideline pass as an “alert” if Namath saw press man coverage against Maynard with a single deep safety in the middle of the field. When Namath saw George Atkinson come up in bump and run coverage with a single deep safety Namath called his audible. Here is the play:
Maynard called it “the greatest catch I ever made.” It was a game changer, but the Jets still needed a TD, down four points midway through the 4th quarter. The next play Namath rolled to his left looking for either George Sauer running a deep out or Matt Snell in the flat, but both seemed covered. Namath looked back to his right towards Maynard, who wouldn’t let him down. Here is that play:
Maynard was again able to escape from the coverage of George Atkinson to haul in the go ahead touchdown. The Jets had scored just 33 seconds after the Raiders tally. It was a harsh blow to the Raiders, who would never recover from the lightning quick Jets score. The Jets were headed to the Super Bowl.
Don Maynard ended the day with 6 receptions for 118 yards and two TDs. During those last two catches Maynard pulled a leg muscle that jeopardized his chances for playing in the Super Bowl. Maynard gave it a go in the Super Bowl and a long pass down the sideline just missed his fingertips. He was a step slow because he aggravated his leg injury. Maynard from that point on was mostly a decoy, and he ended the game with zero catches on just 3 targets. George Sauer picked up the slack with 8 receptions for 133 yards.
The Jets released Don Maynard after the 1972 season when he was turning 38 years old. He played in only 2 games with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1973 before he retired. The Jets should have kept him and had him retire as a Jet. It bothered Maynard at the time. “It was hard to deal with. I wanted to quit as a Jet. I climbed the walls. I got to the point where I couldn’t talk about it. I was emotional to the point of crying. I was devastated.”
Maynard was something of an enigma as a player and as a person but he always kept that hard working Texan persona. During off seasons Maynard returned to Texas to work regular jobs. He started as a plumber, and then he later became a math and industrial arts teacher in high school. He knew he could play, but at times he had trouble believing his success in football. He once said, “Sometimes I’d be in a huddle in Shea Stadium, and I’d look up in the stands at 63,000 people screaming, and it was thrilling. I’d kinda think, ‘What am I doing here? I oughta be gettin’ autographs in the huddle.”
Don Maynard was an all time NFL great. He was inducted into the NFL Hall Of Fame in 1987. He was inducted into the New York Jets Ring of Honor in its first year in 2010 along with Winston Hill, Joe Namath and Weeb Ewbank from the Super Bowl team.
Curtis Martin RB 1998-2005
It would be difficult to find a better player that was also as great a person as Curtis Martin. There are a select few players like him. They are all fine people but none are better than Curtis Martin. Martin of course was an exceptional athlete, but he was also kind and humble. At his Hall of Fame enshrinement he had this to say about the day he was drafted.
I can remember draft day like it was yesterday. My family and I were sitting around and were watching the draft. The phone rings and it’s Bill Parcells. I answer the phone and say “Hello,” and Parcells says, “Curtis, we want to know if you’re interested in being a New England Patriot?” I said, “Yes, yes, sir.” And we hang up the phone. As soon as we hang up the phone I turn around to everyone and I said, “Oh my gosh, I do not want to play football.”
No, you’re laughing, but this is the truth. I turned around and said, “I don’t want to play football. I don’t even know that I like football enough to try to make a career out of it.”
Curtis Martin didn’t play football for fame or accolades. He played football to help his mother. Martin’s father was a man he barely knew, a man who would beat his mother. His father scalded her with hot water, put lit cigarettes to her skin and punched her in the face. He abused drugs, then left the family for good when Curtis was 5 years old. Curtis had no positive male role models, no one other than his mother to teach him right from wrong or show him how to treat others with respect.
As Martin put it:
I realized that in the environment I was growing up in, I had to learn everything almost in reverse. So, I just had to go in the opposite direction of my father and my uncles and you know people who were around. I knew that was what I didn’t want to be, but I had no clear picture of who I really wanted to be.
That call to Martin that Bill Parcells made began a friendship and a respect for each other that would reach further than either could ever imagine. Yet when Martin was drafted Parcells (in typical Parcells fashion) had to find out what he had in Martin. In practice with the New England Patriots (where Parcells was coaching), he sent Martin in to run the ball in a fully padded scrimmage. He called 7 straight running plays for Martin, that he ran with all the effort he had, then pulled him to the sidelines to stand next to him. Martin was near exhaustion, he was breathing hard trying to catch his breath. Parcells looked at him and asked Curtis “you ready to go back in?” To which Martin replied “yea coach put me back in.” Parcells said he knew at that point he had a ball player who he could count on.
Parcells had a nickname for Curtis Martin: “boy wonder.” He treated Curtis with respect and Curtis respected Parcells.
What really made the relationship pretty special was that, for me, until I met Parcells, there wasn’t one positive male role model that I had my entire life. There was no male that I ever looked up to or felt like they were a good mentor or example of what I wanted to be when I grew up.
When Parcells became the Jets head coach in 1997 Curtis Martin felt betrayed by his coach and mentor leaving him. In the third game of the season, when the Jets traveled to New England for a game Martin had a chance to show his old coach how much he disapproved of his leaving. He told himself (directed at Parcells) “you are the enemy now and I will destroy your team.” Martin rushed for 199 yards and a TD in the Patriots 27 to 24 overtime win. Every time Martin was tackled out of bounds on the Jets sideline he would look at Parcells and just stare at him.
After the game Parcells came up to Martin and said “Boy wonder, who do you think you’re growling at, who you making those faces at?” Curtis Martin said to him “Coach, that is just my competitive spirit” and they walked away laughing about it. Then Martin turned to Parcells and said “Coach, all jokes aside, I don’t ever remember telling any other man this in my life but I really love you and if it weren’t for you I don’t know where I’d be.” Parcells was taken aback. He looked at Curtis, hesitated, then said “I love you too boy wonder.” Then they parted ways. The next year the Jets signed Curtis Martin as a free agent.
When asked by reporters why he would use so much cap space (8 years for $46 million) when the total team cap space was just over $52 million at the time Parcells said:
You know, when you’ve been doing this thing as long as I have, you realize when there’s something special... what’s special about Curtis is not only will he be our best player, but he’ll be our best person also and he’ll make everyone else in that locker room better.
When Martin heard this he said “for me, that was the only compliment that I felt like I got from Parcells until I retired, but it was one of the most meaningful ones.”
With Martin as the bell cow back the Jets made it to the conference finals in 1998. They lost a heartbreaking game to the Denver Broncos after holding a 10-0 halftime lead.
In 1999, the last year of Parcells coaching the Jets, Curtis Martin was named the Jets MVP. Martin was so sure that his life would have been so much less without Parcells help that he wrote Parcells a letter of praise saying in part “you are like a father to me.” Martin snuck into Parcells’ office and left the letter (that was signed “boy wonder”) on his desk just under the Jets MVP trophy that he was gifting to Parcells. Martin said that “Parcells not only helped me become a better football player he helped me become a better man. I really believe that he in a way helped save my life.” Parcells cried when he read the letter.
Curtis Martin went on to lead the Jets on the field and in the locker room. Unfortunately a slew of uneven performances by Jets quarterbacks held the Jets back from reaching the championship game again. Through it all Martin kept piling up impressive seasons with over 1,000 yards rushing and at least 40 receptions until a severe knee injury in 2005 ended his career. His natural running style and superb vision make it look easy like here.
If Martin had stayed healthy I believe the all time rushing mark would have been very achievable. He is still the 6th all time leading rusher in NFL history in only 11 seasons, with one of those seasons cut short. Martin had over 1,000 yards rushing in his first 10 seasons with two 1,400, one 1,500 and one 1,600+ yard rushing seasons. He also had 484 career receptions that could have been much higher with better QB play. Here Ray Lucas gets some great YAC with that great vision of Martin.
Never a speed merchant, Curtis Martin was more of a cutting/slashing runner who looked to set up blocks rather than try and outrun a defender. He has the most total yards from scrimmage in Jets history, almost 1,000 yards more than 2nd place Don Maynard in 49 less games. Martin also had amazing ball security, totaling 17 fumbles on 2,927 touches. He was also far more elusive than ever given credit for and he was not easily tackled. Here he is on a run weaving through traffic heading downfield:
Lastly Martin was also two for two in his career passing, with both being TD passes. I could not miss the opportunity to showcase this pass from one of the greatest teammates to ever play for the Jets to another great teammate while one of the most selfish teammates in Jets history (throw me the damn ball) Keyshawn Johnson looks on. Wayne Chrebet is the receiver.
Curtis Martin gained 14,101 yards on 3,518 carries and scored 90 rushing touchdowns in his career. He rushed for 100 or more yards in a game 57 times. He also caught 484 passes for 3,329 yards and scored 10 receiving touchdowns. Martin’s 17,421 combined yards from scrimmage placed him 10th all time at the time of his retirement.
Curtis Martin exemplifies all the characteristics you would want from a player and more. He also has his own foundation to help others in the community. The Curtis Martin Job Foundation is a non-profit organization that continuously provides financial support to single mothers, children’s charities, individuals with disabilities, and low income housing providers. It also is a program to send doctors to developing countries to perform needed operations for poor and uninsured individuals. For such gracious charity work Martin received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.
Curtis Martin was a special player and a very special person who was one of the greatest persons to be a New York Jet. He was an inaugural inductee into the New York Jets Ring Of Honor in 2010. Martin was inducted into the Pro Football Hall Of Fame in 2012.