Throughout the years, I’ve heard the story often. My father started to tell it when I was just a young kid growing up in Buffalo, N.Y., and he repeated it yesterday when we spoke by phone after I attended the Joe Namath March of Dimes Celebrity Golf Tournament at Bethpage State Park on Long Island.
The year after the Jets’ Super Bowl win, they visited Buffalo’s War Memorial Stadium and Bills fans gave Namath and his teammates a standing ovation for their 16-7 victory over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. My dad, a lifelong Bills fan who quietly roots for us in Western New York, was surely proud of the knowledgeable salute to a rival, but he made it clear to me from early on that I should know that this was no ordinary champion.
In my youth, I don’t think I ever fully appreciated that win or its importance to pro football. But now eight years into my tenure with the Jets, I’ve had the opportunity to speak to some of those heroes — Namath, Boozer, Herman, Beverly, Schmitt, Grantham, Hill, Mathis — on at least a few occasions over the years.
And although many of those conversations have been memorable (Ken Ilchuk, who was my former boss, and I interviewed Namath once for more than an hour back at Weeb Ewbank Hall), Tuesday’s golf outing topped them all.
First of all, Namath throws a good party (and kudos to Brooks Thomas, the former Jets PR staffer who put this thing together for the March of Dimes), and all the proceeds will go to a wonderful cause.
Before any celebrity struck a ball, they assembled together and sat on risers for photos. Then former Jets LB Greg Buttle announced all-star casting from the sporting world, including the likes of Julius Erving — Dr. J. — Deacon Jones, Jim Kelly, Gary Carter, Darryl Strawberry, Clark Gillies, “Gentleman” Gerry Cooney, Jonathan Ogden, Ted Hendricks, Steve Largent, a number of Jets alumni and just too many other notables to include in this space.
Buttle saved Namath for last and I have to think Bob “White Shoes” Wischusen will do the same when the Jets honor their only championship team at halftime of the Chiefs game on Oct. 26. Forty years after the Green & White shocked the football world, they’ll come together largely intact in what promises to be an emotional tribute.
During the lead-up to that game, we’re going to relive that magical season here on newyorkjets.com. We’ll give you a snapshot of each game that season with scoring plays and charts, trivia and player commentary included.
Yesterday, I spoke to a number of players from that famed ’68 squad. As expected, some of those regular-season contests are a bit hazy, but these guys still remember many things vividly.
Namath recalled asking for some help from up above when the clock ticked down at the Orange Bowl. John Schmitt told me the Jets had so much hatred for the Raiders that they literally would have fought them in the parking lot. Larry Grantham and Winston Hill praised Ewbank for his ability to connect with players and they both viewed him as a father figure. Randy Beverly discussed his family’s disbelief when they found out the Jets had lost the “Heidi” game in Oakland. And Grantham told me the coaching staff stopped showing them film of the Colts three days prior to the game because they knew the players were so confident that they’d win the game.
I’ve got a few personal favorites that I’ll save for our official 1968 section on the site, but this was a unique group of guys and an excellent football team. There may have been better teams and there were surely better games played, but those Jets won the most important game in pro football history.
The story doesn’t change any — it just gets better with time. Those ’68 Jets are like a fine wine and the organization will pop open that cork at halftime of the Chiefs game.
For people like me, who never saw them play in person or on television, it will be our chance to give them a standing O.
Tags: Emerson Boozer, Greg Buttle, Joe Namath, John Schmitt, Larry Grantham, Randy Beverly, Super Bowl III, Winston Hill
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