Joe Namath, Johnny Unitas
Joe Namath, Johnny Unitas, NY Jets, Baltimore Colts, Jet X Graphic, Getty Images

Joe Namath is in town for the New York Jets 2021 home-opener vs. the New England Patriots

Following last Sunday’s 19-14 loss at Charlotte to the Carolina Panthers, Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Namath had something to say (via Twitter) about the franchise he spent 12 seasons with and led to a Super Bowl title.

“We need better play by everyone on offense and defense. 1st Half MVP? Ammendola.”

That would be Matt Ammendola, the team’s punter.

You can understand the frustration.

The final score was somewhat deceptive in the debut for new head coach Robert Saleh. The Jets were down 16-0 after two quarters and were outgained 272-82 in total yards in the first half. In fact, Panthers’ running back Christian McCaffrey totaled 124 yards from scrimmage by intermission, outgaining New York by himself in the first two quarters.

By game’s end, Jets’ rookie quarterback Zach Wilson has thrown for 258 yards and two scores to wide receiver Corey Davis. But he was sacked six times, picked off once and did fumble (no turnover), despite finally finding his groove in the second half.

As for the aforementioned Ammendola, he averaged 48.5 yards via his six punts and put two kicks inside the 20.

Still, it’s only on game and Saleh’s club will host the New England Patriots in Week 2. Naturally, the greatest Jet of all time appears to be in town to support his squad when the home-opener kicks off.

If it was up to No. 12, Week 2 this time around will mirror a particular Week 2 matchup from Namath’s day that featured two classic quarterbacks slinging The Duke.

NY Jets-Baltimore Colts in Week 2 of 1972 features a classic quarterback showdown

It was back in 1972 on Sept. 24 that Namath and the Jets took on the Baltimore Colts and legendary signal-caller Johnny Unitas. The clubs would square off at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium and it would prove to be a memorable shootout between a pair of all-time greats.

It is worth noting that in 1972, the National Football League was still six years away from some major rule changes that would open up offenses and make the passing game more prevalent. That year, 26 teams each played 14 contests during the regular season, making for 182 games that season.

Again, the rules were much different. In any case, there were only eight 300-yard passing performances the entire season. In Week 1 of 2021, 11 different players threw for at least 300 yards.

So, where’s the hook? Two of those came on the same afternoon at Baltimore in an epic battle of legends nearly 50 years ago.

That season, there were only 63 100-yard receiving performances and four came that afternoon at Memorial Stadium.

All told, Namath would throw for an amazing 496 yards and six touchdowns, with one interception. What made that even more impressive was that the strong-armed hurler did that on just 15 completions (28 attempts).

Namath and wide receiver Eddie Bell teamed for a 65-yard score in the first quarter to take a 6-0 lead (the PAT was missed). Unitas and the Colts responded with the next 13 points but Namath combined with running back John Riggins for a 67-yard touchdown. But Baltimore quickly responded as Don McCauley returned the ensuing kickoff to give the Colts a 20-13 lead.

But “Joe Willie” was just getting warmed up and the Jets would outscore their hosts 31-14 the rest of the way. It was Namath to Don Maynard for 28 yards and the score. His next three touchdown passes would all go to versatile Richard Caster. The touchdowns covered 10, 79 and 80 yards, respectively.

All told, Caster hauled in six passes for an astonishing 204 yards and those three scores. That season proved to be the first of three Pro Bowl campaigns for the 1970 second-round pick from Jackson State. He finished that year with personal best in receiving yards (833) and touchdowns (10) and his 39 catches was the second-highest total of what proved to be a 13-year NFL career.

Following the game, Namath had a few things to say about his performance (via The Sporting News).

“I know it sounds dumb, but I’ve had better days throwing the ball. … It wasn’t my best day,” Namath said. “Sometimes I was long, sometimes I was short and sometimes I threw it where I wanted to …

“Actually, it’s a helluva thrill to see a guy take the ball and score. The first thing you look for is a flag and when you don’t see any, you start celebrating.”

By the way, the other quarterback that afternoon had quite the game. Unitas hit on 26-of-45 throws for 376 yards and a pair of scores. When it was all said and done, it was a legendary showdown between two players who put up big numbers before the league’s first major set of rules changes in 1978.

So, who knows what will happen on Sunday at Foxborough? The Patriots’ Mac Jones and the Jets’ Zach Wilson could both put up big numbers at MetLife Stadium this weekend. Last Sunday, the four teams in the AFC East scored a total of 63 points.

But that afternoon in Baltimore nearly 50 years ago, the Jets and Colts combined for 78 points and the quarterback play was something special.

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