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

Legendary Insights: Don Maynard Part 1

I had lunch with New York Jets legend and Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Don Maynard in Riodoso, New Mexico recently. He lives there part-time, helping his son and daughter maintain an RV park they own. Don spoke in-depth about his NFL career with Joe Namath and the New York Jets. I’ll type this up as a three-part series, starting with Don’s specialized game equipment, then following up with separate inside looks at the Jets passing game and their magical run to Super Bowl 3.

Maynard is a brilliant man and originally attended Rice to study petroleum engineering. He then transferred to Texas Western (now UTEP). Don modified car engines in the 1960s to run off propane, long before Ford and Toyota unveiled concepts like “Flex-Fuel.” His intelligence led him to design gear modifications that worked to his advantage on the football field.

NEVER BUCKLED UP

Maynard didn’t like the feel of the chinstrap, so he never wore one. Instead, he had specially designed cheek pads to hold his helmet on tightly. Note how the pads stuck outside of the helmet in the photos below. When asked how many times he lost his helmet, Don replied, “Twice.”

maynardhelmet3 maynardhelmet MaynardHelmet2

The first time, Tony Banfield of the Oilers shoved his hand against Maynard’s forehead, and ripped Maynard’s helmet off in the process. Maynard later watched game film questioning if the hit was legal, and deemed it a clean hit. Maynard noted Banfield and Goose Gonsoulin as the two of the best defensive backs he faced.

Fred Williamson, nicknamed “The Hammer” for his forearm club tackling technique, had the tactic backfire the other time Don lost his helmet. “I might have gotten a headache out of the deal, but he broke his arm,” Don quipped in describing the play.

CAN SHOES MAKE YOU RUN FASTER?

Don, a collegiate track star, possessed exceptional speed. He found an added advantage in cleats Puma made especially for him. “They were almost like soccer shoes, and had about 24 cleats.” He pointed out that traditional football footwear has far fewer cleats. The Nike Alpha Pro TD worn by Larry Fitzgerald and many others has about 12. The extra cleats provided better traction, and accented Maynard’s quickness.

“I originally ordered 3 or 4 pairs, but once I got them, I ordered about 10 more.” Maynard would wear a pair for a full season only on game day, The next year he’d wear a new pair for games, and use the previous season’s pair at practice.

After Maynard retired, Bob Lilly confided to Maynard about leg soreness during games. Maynard suggested Lilly contact Puma about special ordering the shoes Maynard wore. Lilly later commented to Maynard about how much of a difference the shoes made.

SUMMARY

Practically every piece of equipment Maynard wore was specially designed from head to toe. Many times it was because traditional gear felt uncomfortable. Ill-fitting gear might hamper a player’s movement or distract him.

Besides Don’s shoes and helmet, he was the first player to wear a V-neck jersey. The jersey extended to mid-thigh, longer than most, to provide extra warmth.  His mouthgaurd was specifically molded for his mouth. Don’s shoulder pads came down to protect his chest, but were cut out near the shoulders to improve mobility. Don even had his belt and jock strap made out of elastic to increase movement, making bending easier on low throws. His character trait of ingenuity enhanced his talents, helping his team win an historic championship while blazing his own personal trail to Canton, Ohio.