Opening day is ahead on Sunday, and if I may digress from the obvious importance of the game to the Green & White’s current fortunes for a short while, one interesting fact about this game is that it is only the second time that the Jets have opened a season at home against Buffalo. The first was 1960, when the Jets were the Titans and they played the very first game in franchise annals against the Bills.
Bill Ryczek knows all about that period of Jets history. He wrote the book. Many of you have read that book, “Crash of the Titans,” and the paperback and e-book versions are still available on amazon.com.
“I got into the Titans when I was in high school, and years later I went back to write a book about what really happened,” Ryczek said.
“Things were so small-time then. Harry Wismer, the owner, wouldn’t turn on the lights in the stadium to save $250 so the Titans would finish some games in the dark. Harry ran the team’s ticket operations out of his bedroom, laying the tickets out on his bed. In the ’62 training camp he told the defense to let Jim Tiller score so his wife would be happy. The players conspired to have Curley Johnson make the team by failing to tackle him and falling down. There were a lot of things you don’t see today.”
And more than a few characters.
“Don Maynard was such an eccentric individual, so self-assured, so unique, and incredibly frugal at a time when he didn’t have to be,” Ryczek said. “He had an idea for propane-powered cars. Everybody was worried about the Cuban missile crisis at that time, but he said, ‘There’s nothing I can do about it, so I don’t worry about it.’
“Lee Grosscup, the quarterback, was so articulate. He wrote a book about the ’62 season, ‘Fourth and One.’ He was genuinely liked. Alex Kroll was not. The players always thought of him as an intellectual outcast, kind of stuck-up. They intentionally broke his hand in a scrimmage. Dick Guesman said he felt badly about it because he meant to break his arm.”
Kroll, the center from Rutgers, got out of the game after that season. All he did with the rest of his life was to become the 10-year CEO of the Young & Rubicam advertising agency.
“The biggest name I’ve ever interviewed was Sammy Baugh,” Ryczek said of the former Redskins superstar and the Titans’ first head coach. “He was just so down-to-earth and he had that drawl. He’d say things like ‘The damn ball didn’t go over the damn wall.’ Every other word was a swear word, and yet for him it wasn’t profane.”
Ryczek even has an artifact or two from those days. He helped the Jets recently, supplying the organization with an elusive team photo of the 1960 Titans that will be used to help complete the collection of team photos gracing the first-floor walls of the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center.
As we mentioned, he’s a fan of both baseball and football, and in fact the national pastime has consumed all of his writing time since he turned out “Crash.” But the Connecticut resident and financial adviser told me he’s now at work on another football book with the perhaps esoteric working title of “It’s Hard to Give Up the Game: The Golden Age of Connecticut Minor League Football.”
Yet even in that small neighborhood, a Jets fan might find some historical nuggets, since players such as John Dockery and Earl Christy made the leap from the Bridgeport Jets to the big club in time for the Super Bowl season.
Ryczek’s love of his subject always comes through. As he explains about his Titans work, “John Thorn, the official historian of the major leagues, writes about the ‘golden age of baseball,’ which he defined as that time when we were all 12 years old. I can tell you more of the men who played for the Jets and Giants in 1964 than I can for them in 2004.”
From here we’ll move on to current events. And this is the time of year when hope springs eternal. May the 2012 Jets open the season with a victory along the lines of their 27-3 crumpling of the Bills 42 years earlier, and go on from their to forge a golden season of their own.
Tags: Alex Kroll, Bill Ryczek, Buffalo Bills, Don Maynard, Earl Christy, John Dockery, New York Titans, Polo Grounds, Sammy Baugh
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