An Appreciation: Austin “Goose” Gonsoulin

 Austin “Goose” Gonsoulin passed away early Monday morning, September 8, 2014. I had the good fortune of getting to know him. We spent several hours on the phone together over the past couple of years, Goose spinning yarns about the old days. He was tremendously friendly, open, jovial, and I’m very grateful that I had a chance to connect with him.

Austin picked up the “Goose” moniker in college: “We had a coach named Hayden Fry, who went on after Baylor to other colleges. My senior year, I was running a punt back and he hollered, ‘Come on, Goose!’” he explained.

Goose wasn’t particularly fond of the name at first, but over the years he came to appreciate it.

The Dallas Texans scooped up Gonsoulin in the first ever AFL draft in 1960. The San Francisco 49ers selected him in the NFL draft. He signed with the Texans for $8,500. The Denver Broncos promptly traded for him, and he’s widely regarded as the first member of the Broncos franchise. Goose surmised Dean Griffin, Denver’s general manager, liked what he saw of Goose in a college all-star game called the Copper Bowl.

Goose quickly impacted the fledgling league. He intercepted the first pass ever thrown in the AFL, and his second interception of the game stopped the Boston Patriots’ potential winning drive. Gonsoulin amassed 7 interceptions in the first 3 games.

Goose recalled: “We came in the dressing room, and guys interviewed me. I said, ‘What’s the record?’

‘14.’

I said, ‘Gee, I’ll beat that no sweat.’”

Goose chuckled about the comment, noting that his league-leading total topped out at 11 interceptions. While not a professional record (Dick Night Train Lane still holds it with 14), Gonsoulin still holds the single-season mark in Denver.

Goose retired with the most career interceptions in Bronco history, a mark he held until Steve Foley snagged it away in 1987. “Steve Foley finally beat my career record by one interception, but he played in 150 games and I played 108. I wish they’d put a little asterisk by that like they did with Roger Maris beating Babe Ruth,” Goose noted with a laugh. Nobody, however, will eclipse his AFL career mark for interceptions by a safety. Such feats landed Gonsoulin on the AFL All-Time team roster (2nd team).

Goose only played with the Broncos from 1960-1966. He returned to Denver for the 1967 season, coming off a Pro Bowl-decorated 1966 campaign. He received an anonymous phone call telling him he had been released. Goose couldn’t believe it.

“I said, ‘Released? What are you talking about?’

‘You’ve been cut.’

I wasn’t sure. When somebody just calls you on the phone, you don’t know if they’re pulling your leg. I got into my car and started driving. I was listening to the radio, and a guy comes on said, ‘Well, we lost ol’ Goose today.’”

The 49ers still held Gonsoulin’s rights from the 1960 NFL draft. Goose bolstered their secondary at safety in 1967, although a neck injury caused him to miss a couple of games. Goose returned for 1968, but the team told him the neck injury prevented him from playing. The move surprised Goose after he had played 9 games after the injury. His excellent career ended on that note.

In 1984, Broncos owner Pat Bowlen established the Broncos Ring of Fame. He selected Goose for the inaugural class. A bronze pillar of Goose stands outside Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium. Other Bronco Ring of Fame members include Floyd Little, Lionel Taylor, John Elway, and Tom Jackson.

I’ll close this piece with an excerpt from Goose’s chapter in The Game before the Money. It’s one of my favorite Goose stories.

“I played in another exhibition game, against Oakland at the Los Angeles Coliseum. After the game was over, this guy comes in our locker room and says, ‘Hey Goose. Good game.’

‘Thanks.’

He handed me a piece of chalk and said, ‘What’s the hardest play for you to cover?’

I thought, ‘Somebody’s up to something.

I drew an easy play to cover.

Our general manager walks in and says, ‘Al! What are you doing in our dressing room? Get out of here!’

That was the first time I met Al Davis.”

 

NOTE: All quotes in the above post are from The Game before the Money: Voices of the Men Who Built the NFL, published by the University of Nebraska Press.

"AustinGoose Gonsoulin” width=”300″ height=”237″ />Austin William Goose  Gonsoulin

 

 

 

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.

Super-Bowl-IIIRing

Legendary Insights: Don Maynard Part 2

This is the second of three posts summarizing my recent chat with New York Jets legend Don Maynard. The last post highlighted advantages Maynard gained from modified equipment. We now examine the explosive Jets passing offense of the 1960s.

Painting by Robert Hurst. www.ADamnFineArtist.com

Painting by Robert Hurst. www.ADamnFineArtist.com

ROUNDING OFF

Maynard broke into pro football with the New York Giants in 1958.  He played behind Frank Gifford and Kyle Rote as a running back and receiver. He also returned kicks and subbed as the fifth defensive back. “Besides Gifford, I was probably the most all-around ball player they had,” Maynard said.

Don paid attention to how Gifford and Rote ran pass routes and modified their actions. For example, Maynard noticed that when a receiver cuts sharply, he grants the defender an extra second while he stops to cut. Maynard rounded off his routes to keep his momentum going.

The Jets had a “staircase” pattern. A receiver ran several yards, cut across, and flew downfield. Maynard’s rounding approach not only sustained his momentum, but also left turning defensive backs flat-footed. That extra second gave Maynard a head start breaking deep. Huge gains off the staircase helped Don set the NFL record for most yards per catch, a mark he still holds. He graciously points out, however, that it’s for players with over 600 catches and Lance Alworth owns a slightly higher average with 542 grabs.

The Jets' staircase pattern, shown the standard way on the left, Maynard's on the right.

The Jets’ staircase pattern, shown the standard way on the left, Maynard’s on the right.

KEEPING AN EYE ON THE BALL

Don frequently practiced catching with one eye closed. “Often during a game you’re only seeing the ball out of one eye. If you’re running a down and in, you’re only seeing the ball out of your left eye,” he explained. Maynard would have several balls thrown from different angles during practice, catching the ball with one eye closed.

 FLASHING SIGNS

“I taught Namath something that no coach, even in today’s game, has ever taught a quarterback to do: read the defender!” Maynard exclaimed. Pre- and post-snap adjustments were key elements to the Jets success. Receivers employed hand signals before the snap to notify quarterback Joe Namath of changed pass routes. Acting like one was digging with a shovel signaled a down and in; (D-I for dig; D-I for down and in.) Other signs included placing either an open hand or a fist on a knee, one or two hands on the hips, and patting the top of the helmet. Each movement signified a different pattern. The Jets used this system at the line of scrimmage like baseball teams use “steal” signs.

Maynard and tight end Pete Lammons often lined up on the same side. Lammons would run 10 yards and in, and Maynard 15 and in. Teams using zone defenses couldn’t cover both men in the same area. Often the speedy Maynard was left isolated in man-to-man coverage, resulting in big plays.

Pete  Lammons

Pete Lammons

 SUMMARY

Maynard, Lammons, and George Sauer suited up with Namath for several consecutive seasons. Together, they practiced nuances of the passing game every single day.  Their tireless work led to outstanding execution on the field.

The Jets passing attack reached a pinnacle in 1967. Namath became the first quarterback in pro football history to throw for 4,000 yards (4,007). Maynard and Sauer finished 1-2 in the AFL for receiving yardage, with Don averaging over 100 yards per game.

NOTE: Maynard details more of the Jets passing game and his life story in The Game before Money. Two above quotes are from that book.

Don  Maynard and Joe  Namath

Don Maynard and Joe Namath

MaynardLammons

Pete Lammons, Don Maynard and George Sauer