Guest Post: The Second Super Bowl season ... that wasn't (Part Three)

JetsFix regular KillerOnFire has been deep into the history books to look back on a great Jets team of the past in this outstanding guest post. Part one, which we ran here back in February, is here if you missed it or would like to re-read and part two from earlier in April is here.

(Previously: The 7-5 Jets were in with a good chance of winning a playoff spot, but needed to beat a tough Raiders team in Oakland. They held a 13-10 lead going into the half...)

The Jets kicked off to start the second half. As they showed first half highlights, including the Biletnikoff touchdown catch, Don Meredith again announced that Steve Tannen, who had been hurt for the second time on the play, was “ruled out for the game.” After the first play, though, the announcers realized that Tannen was playing! Lamonica led the Raiders methodically down the field mostly on the ground and a couple of short passes to Biletnikoff. The Raiders were up 17-13.

On the next drive, Namath hit Bell right between the numbers 20 yards downfield, but Bell dropped it. Number 3. On third-and-long, Namath hit Steve Harkey for the first down. On the next play, Namath hit Bell for a short completion on the sideline. A pissed Willie Brown picked up the diminutive Bell and threw him to the ground. It was totally unnecessary. They were right along the sideline. Bad-ass that he was Bell popped up, he spiked the ball right at the All-Pro corner’s feet. Brown turned around and took a few of steps toward Bell. But then, Namath -- who had run over to congratulate Bell on the catch after the prior drop – stepped between Brown and Bell. He was ready to get in the cornerback’s face. But a Raider stepped in before a full blown confrontation could occur. The drive then stalled, and the Jets had to punt. But Namath had made a statement.

The Raiders got a couple of first downs via the run, but the Jets stopped them near mid-field. The announcers praised Farosopolis as a leading returner. This surprised me, because I always remember thinking that he wasn’t any good. On this play, Rocky Turner – the up man – called for a fair catch, but the ball went to Farosopolis who returned it while Turner threw a block. At least at that time, that constituted unsportsmanlike conduct, pinning the Jets back inside the 15.

Namath hit Caster for a first down to end the third quarter. Cosell predicted that Namath would soon be intercepted because he would have to pass every down. Although the Jets were only down by 4, the running game was non-existent.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, Namath opened with a short pass to Bell. After a couple runs, Joe hit Maynard for 20, leaving him just 2 receptions short of the all-time record. On the next play, another 20-yard strike to Maynard along the sideline. Namath put perfect touch on the ball, lobbing it just over the linebackers dropping into zone coverage. Maynard made a nice catch to share the record with the great Berry.

With the running game going nowhere, Namath called an end around to Caster. It gained a few yards, but center John Schmidt was called for holding, pushing the Jets back 15 yards then the measure for holding. On third-and-24, Maynard got a step on his man and Joe let it go. But Maynard had cut inside while the throw went outside. Gifford called it a bad throw. But Meredith speculated that Maynard had broken the pattern, something that was not unusual for him. Normally, Namath and his receiver were telepathic with that sort of thing. But this time, Namath didn’t recognize it. Howfield hit a 42-yarder, and it was 17-16.

It is interesting to hear the classic MNF announcers. They weren’t the original group. But they are the ones that most fans from the era remember. For an ex-player with a beautiful voice, it is amazing how bad Frank Gifford was. It was like he could barely see the game and never said anything insightful. Cosell really didn’t seem to know the game either. But he was very good at repeating stuff that other people had told him in an intelligent-sounding way. Meredith played the role of the clown. Yet, he was the one who actually made insightful observations.

Expecting the Raiders to try to run out the clock, especially on third and short, Lamonica surprised the Jets with a long pass to Raymond Chester, and just like that the Raiders were up 24-16. It was a complete blown coverage. No one was within 10 yards of Chester. The only bright side was that the Raiders drive took less than two minutes, leaving the Jets over 9 minutes for two scores. No 2-point conversions in those days.

On the first play of the drive, Namath hit Maynard over the middle for 20 yards, breaking the all-time reception record. It was Maynard’s best game of the season. A real rising to the occasion effort for the 14-year veteran who would sadly be cut after the season. The Jets already had Barkum, a future pro-bowler, on the roster. And they would draft David Knight, who was virtually a Maynard clone, by appearance anyway. He didn’t have the old dog’s speed. But for an 11th round pick, he was an amazing route runner with great hands. Eubank, who was also the GM in those days, saw no reason to pay Maynard given his great stable of young receivers. And to be fair to Eubank, Maynard hadn’t had a good year since 1969. Even in ’72, with the seven-catch game against the Raiders, he only had 22 receptions in the other 12 games he played. Maynard, though, would be pissed, saying he was capable of catching Namath’s passes for a couple more years. He did catch on with St. Louis, but caught only one pass. So, this would be the swan song for Joe and Don. But it was a great one. Interestingly, the boys got back together in 1988 for a 20-year Super Bowl reunion. They tossed around the ball a little bit, and Namath hit Maynard on a long one for all times sake.

But the Raider game wasn’t over. On the next play, Namath hit Bell for another 24 yards. Meredith said, “I hope it doesn’t sound like we are all Joe Namath fans, but he is incredible.” Looking back, the season statistics don’t look like much. But Namath was leading the league in passing yards by over 600 yards, while the New York papers complained that he’d grown too conservative. What he’d done was learn to use his running game. But this game, when he had no running game, he was showing that he could still fire it up better than anyone. The announcers pointed out that he had thrown for 324 to that point with 4 drops, two by Bell and two by Caster. As if on cue, on the next play, Caster dropped another one that would have gone for a first down.

Namath stood there with his hands on his hips. Meredith pointed out that Namath had read the blitz and started to throw to a wide open man up the seam. But Caster hadn’t seen the blitz and didn’t look back. Namath realized that and pulled the ball back, waiting for Caster to complete his curl pattern. Joe then drilled it in to his tight end waist high, only to see it dropped. On the next play, Namath tried to hit Bell in the end zone. He was surrounded by three Raider. Jack Tatum picked it off and ran it back 57 yards.

Namath, of course, tried to get in position to make the tackle. When the Jets finally brought him down, the ball came loose as Tatum hit the ground and the Jets recovered. One referee called Jets ball, another said Raiders, literally pushing down the arm of the ref who was pointing the Jets way. They gave it to the Raiders because, of course they did. Meredith even said, “I guess that’s the way it goes. Well, we are in Oakland.” In fairness, it looked like the ground caused the fumble. I think this is about when my 10-year-old self fell asleep. I know, but you have to remember, my bedtime was 10PM!

On first down, a personal foul by Phil Wise gave the Raiders the ball on the 25. And they kept it on the ground, eating clock and driving inside the 10. But the Jets held. The Raiders inexplicably took a 5-yard penalty for delay of game. Still, it was a chip shot for Blanda. Except it wasn’t. He missed it.

Still, the Jets had only 3:12 left and needed 2 scores. Gifford said, “some of the fans are leaving the Oakland coliseum. They must be the ones who don’t know Joe Namath.” On second down, Joe Willie hit Bell for 15 yards. Meanwhile, Phil Velepiano had punched Maynard in the side of the helmet, resulting in another 15-yard personal foul. After the game, Maynard would complain vociferously about the play of the Raiders defense. Velipiano said that he didn’t so much punch Maynard as the receiver ran into his arm. Right. Maynard prophetically predicted that one day the Raiders’ style of play would leave someone paralyzed, which of course sadly happened.

The Jets had it at midfield. On the next play, the Raiders jumped off-side. Knowing he had a free play, Namath rifled a long one for Caster that Tatum picked off. But the penalty reversed that. On the next play, Namath hit Bell for 20 yards. But this time, the Jets were called for illegal motion. The next pass was incomplete, and a Raider rolled up Joe’s leg buckling his knee. It looked bad. Amazingly, the Oakland crowd stood and cheered as Namath hobbled off the field. It was almost surreal for a home crowd to treat an opposing player that way.

Bob Davis came in, and his first pass was batted down. It turned out that Namath’s ankle was hurt, not his knee. Eubank gave him a look as if to say, “can you go back in?” Joe held up his hand, indicating “No.” On third down, Davis he threw a strike to Eddie Bell who dropped it. Was that the fifth or sixth drop of the game?

Namath, who had never removed his helmet, came back in for fourth and 10. Three minutes to go. Joe dropped back and calmly hit Barkum, who the Raiders had blanketed, for the first down. That was the two-minute warning. The Jets needed to score, recover the on-side, and score again with some combination of touchdown and field goal to win.

On the next play, the Jets gave it all back and then some as Namath was sacked for a 15-yard loss. A delay of game penalty followed, and Namath was hot, screaming at the ref. With just over a minute to go, before heading back to the huddle, Namath slapped a Raider lineman on the butt, presumably the guy who had sacked him two plays before. A couple of incompletions left the Jets in a fourth-and-thirty-one situation. Joe dropped back, got time, and hit Barkum in a crowd 40 yards down the field. Revealing the kind of player he would become, Barkum managed to get out of bounds to stop the clock. The replay revealed that the Raider defendants were double covering Barkum, but ran into each other. Still, it appeared that he had been down by contact before going out of bounds. For once, the Jets got a break. And as they walked up the field, Namath chatted with a Raiders lineman.

Amazingly, on the next play, Barkum came wide open in the endzone and couldn’t pull down Joe’s high but catchable throw. Drop number? The replay revealed that Maynard was held on the play. The refs missed it, because of course they did. Namath looked down with his hands on his hips.

Namath then hit Barkum at the 5 on a slant, and it looked like Barkum had rolled over the tackler without going down and extended the all into the end zone. The refs said he was down at the 2. Of course they did. By this point, did it really matter? Under a minute was left with the Jets down by 8. But the clock stopped because there was a flag on the play. The referee indicated pass interference against the Raiders. Gifford can be heard inexplicably saying “it’s against the Jets!” And there, the Youtube video ran out. The final play saw Namath sacked at the 10. He had thrown for 403 yards. In the history of the NFL to that point, a quarterback had reached that plateau only 36 times. This was the third time Namath had done it, and the second time in the 1972 season.

Famously, after the game, Al Davis, the Raiders owner, appeared in the Jets locker room. What was he doing there? He said he wanted to shake Namath’s hand. In the Raiders locker room, Madden was more interested in talking about Namath than his own team. “If he’s not the best,” Madden told reporters, “I don’t know who is.” Darrel Lamonica, a little miffed, said he wouldn’t comment on Namath’s performance, but did say “quarterbacks are measured by how many points they put on the board, and I put up more.”

You know that if the Jets still had a shot at the playoffs, Namath would have played against Cleveland. But they didn’t. He was listed as day-to-day most of the week. But when the ankle didn’t respond, tests revealed torn ligaments. It would be an uneventful 26-10 loss. Virtually no one played. In addition to Namath, Maynard, Bell and Riggins all sat you. Caster caught one pass. Bob Davis had a 17.4 passer rating. Boozer’s 106 yards and another touchdown, his 15th of the season would be the only highlight. If only he could have done that against the Raiders.

If only. It was a season of “If onlys.” If only, the Jets didn’t lose that early season game to the lowly Oilers. If only, Morrall hadn’t taken off on that improbable 31-yard TD run. If only, Riggins hadn’t gotten hurt. If only, Snell had been there to step in for Riggins. If only, the refs hadn’t blown the call on Namath’s throw to Bell at the beginning of the Raiders game. The Jets easily could have been 11-5, and playing the Steelers in the first round. To be sure, the Steelers were tough. But they were mostly a defensive powerhouse at that point. And the Jets had proven that they could score on anybody. And the Dolphins, well, beating them with everything on the line would have been really tough. But the Jets would have been the one team to have done it already. And who knows, it could have been a rematch with the Redskins in the Super Bowl.

I remember my Dad saying, don’t feel too bad. Quarterbacks are just entering their prime at 28, Namath was 29 at the time. They’ll draft some defensive players and come back strong. You know that didn’t happen. The next year, Namath separated his shoulder in the second game, missing 8 weeks. In the off season, he badly tore a hamstring muscle in a water-skiing accident. To my eyes, he was never the same. In 1974, the Jets started 1-7, but then won their final 6 games. Namath played every game throwing 20 TDs and hitting 52.9% of his passes a career high and a good number in those days. Jerome Barkum had become an excellent receiver; Caster made the pro bowl; and a rookie David Knight showed great hands and route running ability. Namath even ran a naked bootleg for a three-yard touchdown in a victory over the Giants. “I didn’t tell anybody I was going to do it,” Namath said, “it works better that way.”

Maybe Joe Willie’s Jets and a 32 year-old Namath would get one last shot in 1975. But it wasn’t to be. The Jets would go 3-11 each of Namath’s last two years with the team. 1972 was the year. It just wasn’t to be.

Thanks again to KillerOnFire for this terrific post. Remember, if YOU want to write a guest post for JetsFix, we'll consider almost anything. E-mail if you're interested.