He was the greatest receiver in Jets history, the slim, lightning-fast, humble country boy with the sideburns and the cowboy boots from El Paso, and without him, there would have been no Joe Namath Super Bowl III Guarantee.
Namath and the Jets needed a touchdown in the fourth quarter of the 1968 AFL Championship game on an arctic, windy afternoon at Shea Stadium against the ferocious Oakland Raiders, and the Hall of Fame quarterback and his Hall of Fame receiver would get it for them, No. 12 getting the football to No. 13, who passed away Monday at 86, when it mattered the most.
“Don Maynard had told me on the sideline that he could get a step on the defense,” Namath told NFL Films many years later, “anytime we needed it.”
The defender was George Atkinson, who had just made the interception that gave the Raiders the lead. Namath launched a wind-aided rainbow and Maynard caught it over his right shoulder for 52 yards. Then he caught the game-winning 6-yard TD. He was enough of a decoy with a sore hamstring in Super Bowl III against the Baltimore Colts to open things up for everyone else.
Before he became the first player to sign with the New York Titans, before the Titans became the Jets, Maynard first was a round peg in a square hole with the 1958 Establishment New York Giants. Coach Allie Sherman looked at his long, loping stride and told him, “This isn’t a track meet.” And Maynard sealed his NFL fate when he shot back:
“I can cover more ground with one stride than anybody else here can with three.”
Turned out he was right.
“I don’t really look at it like I’m the greatest receiver,” he said once. “After you play a while anybody can break certain records. Longevity is the key. The record I’m proudest of is being the first guy to get 10,000 yards in receptions. Others may do it but I’m the first, and only one guy can be the first.”
Martin Gover, sports agent from Momentum Sports Management, met Maynard some 20 years ago at Namath’s old football camp. He remembers Maynard the same way everyone does, as a one-of-a-kind character.
“He had all these odd jobs in the offseason, and he would sell belts, and clothes and boots to his teammates,” Gover recalled. “He was just so loveable, and a real gentleman.
“And Joe loved him, Joe just adored him. And he loved Joe. He thought Joe was a great teammate, but a better guy.”
Maynard would poke fun of Gover, a true New Yorker, a city slicker. “He always told me there was so much traffic, he never loved being in the city when I had events for him,” Gover said.
Gover would accompany Maynard to corporate events, meet-and-greets and autograph shows.
“The public loved him, just loved him,” Gover said. “And he loved his fans. He would carry 8×10 pictures with him in his gym bag and sign autographs. How many people do that?”
Maynard in his later years was a recluse.
“There were times when I needed to get a hold of him when I was working on things for him, I couldn’t get a hold of him for weeks at a time,” Gover said. “He did not own a cell phone. He did not have like a regular working phone because he lives in the sticks. He was a Texas boy. He was not a city guy. He was really different.
“I loved him. He always has the best boots on, and the best cowboy belt. He always has great belt buckles. And then he had great cowboy hats.”
Maynard was proud of his family. “When he talked about his parents,” Gover recalled, “he always cried.”
Of course Namath was his presenter in Canton.
“Don Maynard, he was the man our opponents worried about, the knockout punch,” Namath said. “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.”
And did it his way.
“I came to play,” Maynard said at the end of his speech, “and I came to stay. Football was a game; Country Don was my name. I made a mark, and I became a star, with a lot of help from near and far. There are good ones and great ones, I played with and against. Thank you, good Lord, for that wonderful chance. As I played my part many times even late after dark, I don’t have to look back as I played it with my heart. The direction from where I came, resulted in a whole lot of fame. I played the best and I believe I passed the test. I am glad this is over; I need some rest.”
R.I.P. Don Maynard.