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Gold Jacket Spotlight: Don Maynard, A Man of Many Firsts

Gold Jacket Spotlight: Don Maynard, A Man of Many Firsts

01/24/2021
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Don Maynard’s career was filled with “firsts.” Some of those distinctions he achieved alone; others he shared with teammates.

Collectively, they are worthy of renewed recognition as Don, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 1987, steps into this week’s Gold Jacket Spotlight.

Don, in his colorful 16-year professional career, was:

  • First pro player to reach 10,000 career receiving yards.
  • First player to touch the ball in overtime of “The Greatest Game Ever Played.”
  • First player the New York Titans signed in the American Football League.
  • First player to record 100 receiving yards in 50 games.
  • Member of the first class in the New York Jets Ring of Honor.
  • Participant in the first “Monday Night Football” game.
  • Half of the first tandem of receivers to eclipse 1,000 yards in the same season.
  • Member of the first AFL team to win a Super Bowl.
  • First future Hall of Famer to ride a mule named Kate to attend his grade school.

Yes, Don rode bareback about 6 miles each day to (and from) grade school. And how do you ride a mule? With “still hands and a light touch,” Don recalls his grandfather teaching him.

It was good advice then, and advice that paid off again 25 years later when the sure-handed (and fleet-footed) receiver became teammates with quarterback Joe Namath. Together, the duo rewrote records and helped propel the Jets to their stunning victory over the heavily favored Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.

Their pass-catch partnership was proof opposites could attract – “Broadway Joe” and “Cowboy Don,” a native of West Texas who spoke with a twang and wore boots everywhere except the football field.

“I’m going to make you a better quarterback, and you’re going to make me a great receiver,” Don said he told Namath when they first met. “We’re going to talk on every play, every route ahead of time.”

They practiced timing routes endlessly and developed amazing chemistry.

In 1965, Don totaled 1,218 receiving yards on 68 receptions. His 14 touchdown catches led the league and comprised almost two-thirds of Namath’s 22 rookie-year scoring passes. In 1967, Don totaled a league-leading 1,434 yards as Namath became the first pro quarterback to eclipse 4,000 passing yards in a season.

The next year, Don amassed another 1,297 yards, leading the league with 22.8 yards per reception.

“Nobody caught me from behind,” he said of his deceptive speed.

When Don retired, he held pro football’s top spot for receiving yards with 11,834, a total that still ranks 30th nearly a half-century since his last game. His 18.7 yards per catch ranks 16th all time but first for a player with at least 600 receptions. He scored 88 touchdowns.

For someone who grew up amid the dusty cotton fields of West Texas, Don Maynard thrived under the often harsh spotlight of the media capital of the world. To appreciate his great career again, this week he enters the Gold Jacket Spotlight.

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