Maynard, an original Jet, played 13 seasons in New York
The Pro Football Hall of Fame has announced the passing of 1987 inductee Don Maynard at the age of 86. Maynard is the most prolific receiver in the history of the New York Jets with 11,732 yards on 627 receptions, 88 of which have gone for touchdowns.
“(Maynard was) a resilient man on and off the field,” Hall of Fame President Jim Porter said in a statement. ‘(He was) someone that his teammates could always count on. He was humble.”
Maynard is the original New York Jet, as he was the first player to ever sign with the team upon its 1960 founding when it was known as the New York Titans. The Crosbyton, TX had originally entered professional football as a ninth-round pick of the New York Giants three years prior, having impressed as an asset on all three sides of the ball, as well as a track star, at Texas Western (now the University of Texas-El Paso).
His opportunity with the Titans/Jets came after he was surprisingly released by the Giants and a brief interlude with the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
In 1960, Maynard was recruited by head coach Sammy Baugh to play for the Titans in the newly introduced American Football League. The rest is literally history.
Together with teammate Art Powell, Maynard was part of professional football’s first-ever 1,000-yard tandem, as he put up 1,265 in his debut AFL season. The pair duplicated the feat in 1962, one year before the Titans rebranded as the Jets. Though Maynard put up eye-popping numbers over his first five seasons, success in the standings proved elusive thanks to a rotating door at the quarterback spot. That changed when the Jets welcomed in touted quarterback prospect Joe Namath in 1965.
Maynard went on to lead the league by catching 14 of Namath’s 22 touchdown passes en route to his first AFL All-Star nod. Two seasons later, Maynard and Namath helped the Jets clinch their first winning season as a professional franchise (8-5-1) while the former led the league with 1,434 receiving yards.
The pair’s crowning achievements came during the 1968 season: Maynard opened the campaign with a career-best 203-yard performance in a kickoff weekend win in Kansas City, a mark he’d later eclipse nine weeks later in the Jets’ loss in the infamous “Heidi Bowl” in Oakland.
Other historic games featuring Maynard include the 1958 NFL Championship Game (the historic clash between the Giants and Baltimore Colts often referred to as “The Greatest Game Ever Played”) and the 1970 opener between the Jets and Cleveland Browns that served as the series premiere of “Monday Night Football.”
He’d later play a crucial role in avenging that defeat to the Raiders in the 1968 AFL Championship Game, earning 118 yards on six catches, two of which went for scores. The latter was a six-yard reception that gave the Jets the necessary edge in a 27-23 victory at Shea Stadium, shortly after he kept the winning drive alive with a 52-yard haul from Namath.
The stage was thus set for the greatest victory in Jets history, the 16-7 win over the NFL champion Colts in Super Bowl III that changed the history of professional football forever. Maynard, partly hobbled by a hamstring injury suffered against the Raiders, had no receptions in the victory in Miami but told the Hall of Fame’s website that he “had the greatest game in the world”.
“I got out wide to the right side, and I made them double- and triple-(team) me,” Maynard said of his showing in the first AFL Super Bowl victory. “(Baltimore) had to play my game.”
After the Super Bowl win, Maynard played five more seasons, including four in the newly-merged NFL, a union partly brought on by the Jets’ historic win. His final NFL endeavor was a two-game stint with the 1973 St. Louis Cardinals before a year with the Houston Texans/Shreveport Steamer of the WFL ended his professional playing days.
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Upon retirement, Maynard was the NFL’s all-time leader in receptions and yards and second to only Don Hutson in touchdowns. He was also the first professional football player to earn at least 10,000 yards receiving, which he labeled his proudest accomplishment upon induction in 1987.
Maynard is also one of only 20 players who partook in all ten seasons of AFL football and one of seven to play with only one AFL team in that span. He stood as the all-time yardage leader until passed by Charlie Joiner in 1986 and currently sits 31st.
Maynard’s No. 13 is one of five numbers officially retired by the Jets and, along with Namath and Joe Klecko, was one of the original members of the team’s Ring of Honor formed in conjunction with MetLife Stadium’s opening in 2010. In addition to his all-time team-leading marks, Maynard holds the Jets’ single-season touchdown record with Powell (1960) and Brandon Marshall (2015).
“Don was a great player. He made many of his teammates better football players,” an archived quote from Namath reads in the aforementioned statement on the Hall of Fame website. “Don worked with 25 different quarterbacks throughout his career, and he made most of us better football players.”
“He was the man our opponents worried about, the knockout punch. Lightning in a bottle. Nitro just waiting to explode. I mean he could fly. But with the grace of a great thoroughbred. The man could flat play. He galloped through the best of the very best football players of the world.”
Maynard is survived by his son Scott and daughter Terry.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags