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Hall of Famer and Jets great Don Maynard dies at 86

Former Jets wide receiver at the halftime ceremony

Former Jets wide receiver at the halftime ceremony during the Jets vs. Colts game at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey on Nov. 1, 1987. Credit: Newsday/Jim Peppler

Don Maynard, a Hall of Fame wide receiver who played in two of the most important games in NFL history — one for the Giants and one for the Jets — died at 86 on Monday, his family told the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The first of those games, the Giants’ 23-17 overtime loss to the Colts in the 1958 NFL Championship Game, which came to be known as "The Greatest Game Ever Played," came in Maynard’s rookie season.

He did not catch a pass that day.

The second, the Jets’ 16-7 victory over the Colts in Super Bowl III, came when he was an established star, two weeks before his 34th birthday.

Maynard did not catch a pass that day, either. He mostly served as a double-teamed decoy as George Sauer caught eight balls for 133 yards.

No matter. By the time he was through, Maynard had 633 receptions for 11,834 yards and 88 touchdowns in 15 NFL seasons, all but the first and last coming with the Titans/Jets franchise. He remains the franchise leader in receptions (627), receiving yards (11,732) and receiving touchdowns (88).

"Everyone here in the Jets organization wants to send out their deepest condolences to the Maynard family," Jets general manager Joe Douglas said. "Jets legend and NFL legend, his accomplishments will live forever here."

Hall of Fame president Jim Porter said in a statement: "Our Pro Football Hall of Fame family mourns the passing of Don Maynard. He was a resilient man on and off the field — and someone that his teammates could always count on. The Hall of Fame will forever guard his legacy."

Maynard grew up in Texas, with the lifelong twang to match, and played collegiately at Rice and Texas Western as a two-way player and kick returner.

The Giants cut him after one season and five pass receptions, and after he muffed — but recovered — the opening kickoff in the ’58 title game.

In 1959, he played for the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats and caught one pass for 10 yards.

Still, he became the first player to sign with the Titans of the new American Football League, thanks mostly to fellow Texan and head coach Sammy Baugh’s familiarity with him from his college days.

Maynard was an immediate hit with 72 catches for 1,265 yards in 1960. Then, upon being joined by quarterback Joe Namath in 1965, he topped 1,200 yards in three of the next four years, including the championship season of 1968.

In the 1968 AFL title game, in which the Jets defeated the Raiders, 27-23, Maynard had six catches for 118 yards and two touchdowns.

Maynard played for the Cardinals in 1973 and for one season in the WFL in 1974 before retiring. He then went into the financial planning business in his native Texas.

Looking back at Super Bowl III during an SNY panel discussion in June 2019, Maynard said: "The guys I played with were dedicated to one thing, and that was to try and win the ballgame. We had nothing else to do that night."

Then he recalled their famously socially active quarterback and jokingly added, "Well, Joe did."

Maynard added: "If we didn’t win that game, we might as well not even go home. We were fortunate. Everybody did their jobs. I don’t think we had one mistake in the ballgame."

A lifelong teetotaler, Maynard said he promised some teammates before Super Bowl III that if they "won the ballgame," he would join them for a drink.

"We won the ballgame, and a couple of guys came up to me and said, ‘All right!’ " Maynard recalled in 2019. "And I said, ‘Well, I didn’t tell you which ballgame!’ "

Maynard recalled a close-knit team that paid whatever price was necessary for its success. He said he would far rather be chewed out by coach Weeb Ewbank than let down a teammate.

In the end, Maynard said, it all clicked, "and we wound up with a ring."

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