This weekend represents the end of an era as the NFL has finally given up on having a Pro Bowl game, instead replacing that with a series of events called “The Pro Bowl Games”.
These days, all-star games aren’t what they used to be but back in the day, they used to really mean something. Over the years, Jets players haven’t had a major impact in the Pro Bowl, but prior to the merger, they played a major role in the AFL all-star game.
Let’s recap the history of this game in terms of Jets players’ contributions to each game:
There was no AFL all-star game after the league’s inaugural season but five players represented the then-New York Titans in the first AFL all-star game after year two. The East lost by 20 despite Al Dorow coming off the bench to throw a short touchdown pass and running in a two-point conversion. Other Titans players taking part were Bob Mischak, Dick Felt, Larry Grantham and Bill Mathis.
The second AFL all-star game was closer, but the West won again on a late touchdown drive, 21-14. That came after Grantham had tied the score on a pick-six. Mischak and Dick Christy also took part for the Titans.
After the Titans changed their name to the Jets, they were represented by Grantham, Mathis and Bake Turner in the 1963 game. The West won again, as the East blew a 24-3 halftime lead. Mathis scored on a three-yard touchdown catch but it was his former teammate Art Powell who scored the winning touchdown to make it 27-24.
In 1964, Grantham was joined by four first-time all-stars; Winston Hill, Dainard Paulson, Matt Snell and Sherman Plunkett. The West moved to 4-0 with an easy 38-14 win in a game that was overshadowed by a civil rights boycott.
The AFL brought in a new format for 1965, perhaps inspired by the West’s consistent domination. In this game, an AFL all-star line-up competed together against the league champion Bills. Paulson represented the Jets along with debutants Don Maynard, Curley Johnson and Joe Namath. This was a coming-out party for Namath, who led the all-stars back from an early 13-point deficit as he replaced the starting quarterback at halftime and led four scoring drives. His 46 and 10-yard touchdown passes to Lance Alworth helped Namath take home the MVP award in a 30-19 win.
In the 1966 game, Verlon Biggs, Emerson Boozer and George Sauer each made their first appearances, joining Plunkett, Grantham and Snell. The East finally got their first win over the West, 30-23, as the old format was re-adopted. The West had been leading 23-2 when Biggs, the defensive MVP, returned an interception 50 yards for a touchdown, setting up a big comeback.
Pete Lammons was the only first-time Jets all-star in 1967, joining Namath, Maynard, Biggs, Hill and Sauer. Namath and Maynard shared the MVP award after leading the East to a 25-24 win as Namath threw for a record 249 yards and Maynard had a record 128 receiving yards, including a 24-yard touchdown. The crowd in attendance was 38,500 which was also a record. Lammons also had a 35-yard touchdown pass from Namath, who had the winning score on a quarterback sneak before George Blanda missed a field goal at the gun.
Just one week after Super Bowl III, a banged-up Joe Namath completed just 7-of-18 passes for 98 yards with an interception. Nevertheless, the East built a 25-13 lead behind first time all-star Jim Turner’s six field goals. Unfortunately, the West scored 25 straight fourth quarter points to comfortably win for the first time since 1964. A record 11 Jets representatives took part, including first timers Gerry Philbin, Al Atkinson, John Elliott and Dave Herman.
The final AFL all-star game saw the West win yet again, this time by a final score of 26-3. 10 Jets took part, all of whom had already been in at least one other AFL all-star game. Namath was selected but unavailable due to injury.