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Legendary Insights: Don Maynard Part 3

This is the final post in a three-part series recounting my recent chat with New York Jets legend Don Maynard. The first two discussed Don’s modified game equipment and the Jets passing attack. Today we take a look at the Jets magical run to Super Bowl 3 and their historic victory.

FEWER SACKS = MORE WINS

Most quarterbacks dropped back about 8 yards to throw. Jets quarterback Joe Namath usually backed up 10-12 yards, compensating for a lack of mobility from chronic knee problems. The few extra yards gave Namath more time to throw, and his sack total is one of the lowest in NFL history. Maynard credited much of the Jets success to an usually low sack total, allowing the passing game to flourish.

1968 AFL CHAMPIONSHIP

The Jets played the Oakland Raiders in the 1968 AFL Championship, a few weeks after their famous “Heidi Bowl” debacle. Maynard guffawed suggestions that the Jets thought about the Heidi Bowl during the championship. “Any game you’ve played has nothing to do with the one you’re playing today,” he said.

In the championship, the Jets trailed Oakland 23-20 in the fourth quarter. Maynard explained that Jets players could provide Namath with information until Joe knelt down in the huddle. After Namath crouched, he’d have the floor. Maynard recognized a weakness in the Raiders coverage and told Namath, “Got a long one when you need it.”

A few plays later, Namath  hunkered down in the huddle and said, “Alright, we’re going to go for it now. Nobody hold on this play.”

Namath launched a high, arching pass toward Maynard, but Shea Stadium’s swirling winds swerved the ball off course. What the New York Jets website dubbed, “Joe Namath’s Greatest Throw”, would have fallen incomplete without Maynard’s incredible adjustments under pressure. “We always had the terminology of catching it over your left shoulder at about ten o’clock,” Maynard said. “The wind caught Joe’s pass and took it around to eleven, twelve, one, and two o’clock. I went all the way around and caught it at two o’clock, going out of bounds on the 6 yard-line.” (Watch the play here.)

Namath then drilled a six-yard pass to Don for the winning score, and the Jets were on their way to Miami for Super Bowl 3.

SUPER BOWL 3

Don said the Jets mostly ignored the media predicting a double-digit loss against Baltimore. “Half of us don’t even read the papers….You just go out and play the other team. Even though the Colts had won something like fifteen straight ball games, we just went out there and played.”

A hamstring injury had impaired Maynard before the AFL Championship. It nagged throughout that game and into Super Bowl 3. Maynard’s 118 yards and 2 touchdowns against Oakland led the Colts to believe Don had fully recovered. “The Colts double-teamed me all game,” he said with a chuckle, adding that George Sauer pulled in 8 catches for 133 yards as a result.

Maynard applauded Matt Snell and Emerson Boozer’s efforts, crediting them with  important roles in the historic win. Snell hammered out 121 yards rushing. “I don’t think Joe threw at all in the fourth quarter,” Maynard recalled.

SUMMARY

The Jets rushing defense rated tops in the AFL in 1968. Their pass defense stood second in the league for two straight seasons. They gave up fewer yards than the Colts vaulted defense, in a league known for its offense. Led by the Hall of Fame tandem of Maynard and Namath, the Jets offense finished second overall in the AFL, outdoing the Colts in total yards and scoring. Kicker Jim Turner led the AFL in field goals and scoring, and averaged over 10 points a game. His 145 points bested Colts kicker Lou Michaels by over 40.  Turner kicked 3 field goals in Super Bowl 3, while Michaels missed both of his attempts.

Blends of outstanding offense, defense and special teams often crystallize into championship rings. The Jets were statistically better than Baltimore in several categories in 1968, including turnover ratio. Consistent to that ratio, the Jets were +4 in turnovers against the Colts on Super Bowl Sunday. While Super Bowl 3 is often cited as one of the greatest upsets in sports history, perhaps the Jets were substantially underrated.

*NOTE* Several of the quotes used above are from The Game Before the Money: Voices of the Men Who Built the NFL. The book will be released by the University of Nebraska Press on September 1, 2014, but you can order it now on Amazon.

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