It took the 1969College All-Stars just 30 minutes last Friday night to discover that Super Bowlchampions are human, the New York Jets included. Verlon Biggs may weigh 270pounds, but when he knocks you down it only hurts a little. And who saidWinston Hill has fangs? Or that the Jets got Gerry Philbin in a trade with theMafia? And, as Jimmy Marsalis, the gritty defensive back from Tennessee State,pointed out at halftime, Joe Namath (see cover) may be, well, Joe Namath buteven he can't do much if you grab his receivers before they grab the ball—aboutthree seconds before. "They're nothing but a bunch of fat old men,"growled Running Back Ed Podolak.
This is an article from the Aug. 11, 1969 issue
And so, lifted bythe knowledge that the Jets are, indeed, mortal—although still not convincedthat Namath, with a glance, couldn't turn them all to salt—the All-Stars wentout in the second half and scared the life out of the champions of profootball. "We won, didn't we?" snapped the Jets when it was over. Yes,but only by 26-24, and only with the help of an official who became confused bythe game's blending of pro and college rules and nullified a legitimateAll-Star touchdown.
The officialred-flagged the touchdown in the third period after Rudy Redmond intercepted aNamath pass, fell down without being touched, got up and ran 34 yards to theend zone. Under All-Star Game rules a runner who falls in the open withouthaving made contact with a defensive player may get up and go on. Instead, theball was brought back to the point of interception and the All-Stars eventuallysettled for a field goal. By any standard, pro or collegiate, three points isnot seven, especially when you lose by two.
"The officialadmitted later that he was wrong," said Otto Graham, the All-Star coach andsometime sparring partner for Johnny Sample. "Nobody touched ourkid."
At the time thescore was 16-7 Jets, and it gave promise that this might become something otherthan Chicago's annual 60-minute exercise in boredom. Some 74,000 fans hadturned out, but more to see Namath than a football game, and few in this NFLtown dared hope that the Jets would fall on their AFL face masks. The bookieshad said they wouldn't, and probably not by 17 points.
"Oh, is thatthe spread?" Weeb Ewbank, the Jet coach, had asked the afternoon of thegame. "I don't read the papers so I didn't know. Besides, I don't careabout point spreads."
Someone notedthat if it was 17, then the oddsmen were giving the All-Stars a better shot atthe Jets than they gave the Jets in the Super Bowl. The Colts were favored by19 in that one.
"Oh, is thatso," snapped Ewbank, suddenly caring a little. "Well, we'll just seehow often they get to Namath. That's what we'll see. This is a damn importantgame to us. More important than the Giant exhibition. Sure we want to beat theGiants, but we want to beat the All-Stars a lot more. Let's face it: we don'twant to come in here and lay an egg like some NFL teams have. And this isn'tjust for the Jets but for all pro football. And if any of our guys don't feelthe same way, I don't know about it."
The Jets hadpracticed for the game at their training camp at Hofstra University on LongIsland, N.Y., waiting until late Thursday afternoon to fly to Chicago on acharter. That evening they worked out briefly under the dim lights at SoldierField—"50-watt bulbs," said one player—grumbled about the poorcondition of the turf, then disappeared into their hotel rooms. Crowds milledaround in the lobby hoping to catch a glimpse of Namath, but he remained inseclusion until the team left by bus for the game at 4:30 the nextafternoon.
Meanwhile, insuburban Evanston, home of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union anddefinitely not a toddlin' town, the All-Stars sat around their hotel andwondered why they were there. Graham, coaching his ninth such game, had actedlike a regular Vince Lombardi: two-a-day practices for three straight weeks.Drills were scheduled to last 90 minutes but many ran over two hours. Therewere no fat All-Stars. Stung by his recent firing by the Washington Redskins,Graham, though he never admitted it publicly, was looking for vindicationthrough victory. "Oh, yes," said a close friend. "I believe he didmention something about showing those monkeys."
Curfew was 11p.m. In the past Graham was known to forgive first offenders, who usuallynumbered between 25 and 30. This time the first offenders—and there were onlythree—spent 30 minutes after practice rolling around in a whistle drill thatleft them gasping for breath. No more missed curfews.
"Most ofthese guys don't even want to be here," said Podolak, a starkly frankhalfback from Iowa who must beat out Mike Garrett to win a job at Kansas City."I sure didn't want to play in this game. I asked Coach Hank Stram to getme out. I asked other people. And they did. I was already in the Chiefs' camp.But because Simpson and Keyes and Ron Johnson didn't show up, they called me.And you don't have much choice."
The wrong choicecan produce a ban from exhibition games.
"I guess I'mdisappointed," continued Podolak, who, upon his late arrival, was given thelocker originally assigned Simpson. He immediately nicknamed himself O. J.Podolak. "I feel it's a great honor to play in this game. But it's notpractical, especially when you have to go up against a former Heisman Trophywinner on your own team to win a position."
When he arrivedin Evanston, Terry Hanratty, the Notre Dame quarterback who would not have agood night against the Jets, didn't expect to stay. He brought only two shirts,two pairs of slacks. Because of a recent knee operation, the Steelers, whodrafted him, told him he would flunk the All-Star physical. He didn't, so therehe was: no clothes, only a Steeler play book to console him. "I was reallypsyched to go to camp. I was spending time every night calling plays. Butthen...." He laughed. "I've adjusted. I'm happy to be here."
"It's anhonor," repeated Jim Seymour, the Notre Dame receiver who just learnedhe'll report to an Army camp, not to the Rams'. Then he grinned: "But it'sa yes and no honor, since you'd rather not be here. But I guess we all like theidea of a shot at the champion, at Joe Namath. We might never get anotherchance."
And they tooktheir shot, although in the first half, with Hanratty, then Kansas' BobDouglass, and finally Greg Cook of Cincinnati failing at quarterback, it lookedas though it was to be a blank.
Hanratty had wonthe starting role by flipping a coin with Cook. Graham had told Douglass earlyin the camp that he couldn't throw as well as those other two fellows and thesouthpaw didn't get to flip for the honor.
It didn't reallymatter: by halftime all three failed equally. In the first two periods therookies managed one first down on a penalty, seven yards gained passing, 12rushing and had lost 59 yards through penalties. Perhaps all had been afflictedby what Fred Dryer feared the most. "There's a certain fascination in thethought of going against Namath," said the big defensive end from San DiegoState (Giants). "I'm afraid I may just stand there and stare at him for afew plays."
Whatever theStars' problem, Namath, although somewhat rusty from a six-month layoff andwith less than two weeks of practice, had little trouble moving the Jets.Except into the end zone. In that half, Joe went 10 for 19 for 198 yards andthe Jets added 90 more running. But they scored only one touchdown—on athree-yard run by Matt Snell—and two field goals by Jim Turner. Once they evenstalled inside the rookies' three after arriving there with a first down.Still, they led 13-0, and that looked like 12 more points than they wouldneed.
But the rookiesspent the rest period wisely. First they congratulated themselves on stillbeing alive, and they took note that hardly anyone was bloody. Then one playeroffered a startling discovery. "You know," he said, "during onetime-out I was just standing around so I started counting Biggs' arms and legs.You know what, he's only got two of each." And, he informed everyone, hehad counted twice to make sure. It was, as Seymour would say later, thecollective realization that professionals are human, too.
"Well, no,not Namath," said Podolak, with-a cheerful grin. "You know. He'sGod."
"You can saythat again," said Ron Pritchard, the excellent linebacker from ArizonaState who is moving on to the Oilers. "One time we had a blitz and I know Ididn't give it away. But Namath picked it up. Before I even hit the line ofscrimmage Pete Lammons was in behind me and Namath had the ball to him. Hereads, man, he reads."
No longer awed bythe Jets, the Stars went out in the second half to play their game. AltieTaylor got it going with a 78-yard return of a kickoff after the Jets had madeit 16-0 on Turner's third field goal. Then Cook, who had completed but one passfor four yards in the first half, found himself. "He surprised us,"said Podolak. "All of a sudden he seemed to get poise. The whole picture ofwhat was happening snapped into his mind. It was there and he called somebeautiful plays."
Three of theplays were touchdown passes: 17 yards to Gene Washington of Stanford (49ers);12 yards to Bob Klein of USC (Rams); and then, with 16 seconds to play, 19yards to Jerry Levias of SMU (Oilers). Those, with Roy Gerela's 28-yard fieldgoal after the aborted touchdown, were all the clock would allow.
The Jets, in themeantime, had matched their first-half output, again getting a touchdown fromSnell, this on a pretty 35-yard run, and a fourth field goal by Turner. Namathcompleted seven of 13 for 94 yards before leaving with five minutes to play. Hewasn't all that happy with his performance.
"I had somereceivers open and I overthrew them," he said later, with some disgust.Then, shrugging, he added, "But we won, and that's what counts. We've gotfive exhibitions to go and we'll be ready when the season opens."
Best of all, theknees took several savage raps yet held up beautifully. "I just wish,"he said, "I could come out of all the games feeling as good as I donow."
Namath even faredbetter than Graham, who, after an argument with Sample, came away with a cut onthe bridge of his nose. Their quarrel was not new. They have been battlingsince 1958, when Sample was on the All-Stars and Graham didn't let him playuntil the last three minutes. Then Otto wrote Ewbank, who was coaching atBaltimore, and said Sample would never make it as a pro.
The latestincident was touched off in the fourth quarter when Sample raised a mouse underWashington's left eye. "It was a right cross," said Washington. On thenext play, Graham thought he detected Sample clotheslining Washington and heprotested to the officials. Sample dropped by to mention that Graham was, amongother things, a bum, a lousy coach and stupid. Demanding equal time, Grahamrushed out onto the field and, while no one is sure who fired first, Graham gotoff several punches to Sample's helmet, which is not the best move he couldhave made, and the Jet cornerback either led or countered by driving his helmetinto Graham's nose. The officials decided the Stars should be penalized 15yards.
Undaunted, Cookdropped back, watched Levias race into the end zone five yards ahead of Sampleand threw to his speedy little receiver for a touchdown. Seconds later, after afutile onside kick, the game was over and both teams were in their dressingrooms.
It had been acurious game. The All-Stars, even though minus Simpson, Keyes and the rest, hadbeen impressive. Surely Greg Cook, Altie Taylor, Jerry Levias, Gene Washington,Jimmy Marsalis, the defensive back, and Roy Gerela, the field-goal kicker, willbe heard from again, many of them this season.
And so will JoeNamath. O.K., so he didn't complete any touchdown passes. But he did lead theJets to victory, just as he did last January, and anyone who is pleased tobelieve he didn't look as sharp as he did on that memorable afternoon in Miamiwould be wise to check him again when the season starts.