Don Maynard would have fit right in with these present-day Jets.
When he was asked about the similarities of his 1968 team that won Super Bowl III and these 2009 Jets on the cusp of advancing to Super Bowl XLIV, it was noted that both teams were considerable underdogs against the Colts. Maynard, soon to be 75 years old and living outside El Paso, Texas, bristled at the insinuation that the better team didn't win.
"I'm not sure how you mean that," he said with the kind of tough-guy drawl you'd hear from an Old West gunslinger if you called him yellow.
Maynard insisted that those Jets who shocked the world did no such thing.
"The news media made the other team favorites," he said. "The guys on the ballclub, we knew we were out for a tough game, but by no means did we think they were better than us. We had a great running game, great passing attack and a great defense that was No. 1 in the league, so we weren't scared of anybody. We respected them, but that's about it."
Can't you just hear Bart Scott saying the same thing about this team 40 years down the road?
He might be able to if the Jets can advance to the Super Bowl for only the second time in franchise history. Some of the guys who wear Super Bowl III rings are pulling for some company. They would like nothing more than to share the thrill of ultimate success with a new generation of Jets.
"I would like to see them win every year," said Bill Mathis, a running back on the 1968 team. "We've had a long run, 41 years . . . I hope we're not just a one-Super Bowl-win franchise."
But there are some mixed emotions when it comes to new members in the exclusive club. Even Joe Namath admitted that although he's pulling for the Jets to win, he's enjoyed being the only king for so long.
"It has crossed my mind because it's been brought up," Namath said. "There's that side to most people, all of us who take a special humble pride in accomplishment. But on the other hand, we're mature enough to understand what's going on and are pulling so hard for the fans of the team as well as the guys who are out there working. I know the reality of it is we want to win a championship. There's no doubt about it."
It's not just being underdogs against the Colts that bonds the two teams four decades apart. There is a coaching link, of course. Buddy Ryan was a defensive coach on the Jets' championship team and his son Rex is head coach of the current team.
"I talked to [teammate and linebacker] Larry Grantham this morning and he said he can tell Rex is a Ryan," Mathis said.
This Jets team also relies on ball control and defense to keep it in games. That was how the Jets beat the Colts, 16-7, on Jan. 12, 1969. If the Jets hope to beat Peyton Manning in Indianapolis this Sunday, a 16-7 final probably is the area they're aiming for.
"We just did what you had to do during the course of the game," Maynard said. "The last quarter, we played a little different type of ballgame. Namath never even attempted a pass in the fourth quarter. You do what you have to if you want to preserve a situation that might turn into a victory."
Maynard may have been a wide receiver, but even he knows that sometimes throwing the ball around the field will not help a team win. "They doubled and tripled me the whole game and Namath only threw a couple at me," he said. "You have to go to where the defenders aren't . . . Offense will draw the crowd but defense will win the championship."
The Jets faced the Colts one other time in the postseason, and they did pretty well in that game, too. It was a 41-0 blowout at the Meadowlands in a 2002 wild-card game in which they held Manning to 137 yards on 14-for-31 passing with two interceptions.
"He was young at the time," former Jets cornerback Ray Mickens said of Manning, who was in his fifth NFL season but his first under Tony Dungy. "We came out ready to play and excited about the opportunity we had to be in the playoffs. I remember a lot of big plays. I remember we had a great day."
But Mickens said that when he watches this season's Jets march through the playoffs, he doesn't necessarily think of that 41-0 rout. Instead, he finds himself thinking about the last time the Jets were this close to the Super Bowl, in the AFC Championship Game in Denver after the 1998 season.
"I wish I could go back in time and try to play a little bit harder to win that game, but I can't," Mickens said. "The fact that I had that opportunity [to go to the Super Bowl] was sending chills up my spine. We were up 10-0 [in the third quarter] and I was on top of the world, and all of a sudden it came crashing down."
The Broncos won, 23-10, and Mickens said he remembers thinking that the Jets would be back the next year. But quarterback Vinny Testaverde's Achilles injury in the 1999 opener doomed those hopes.
"Everything went downhill from there," Mickens said. "You never know when your last opportunity is."
But with these Jets, for many former players who have been to the highs and lows in the green and white, it's a chance to do it all over again. For those who won the title, it's a chance to welcome a new group into the fold. For those who missed out on their chance 11 seasons ago, it's an opportunity to ride along the championship trail once again.
"With this year's Jets, I'm living it through them all over again, hoping that they seal the deal this time and make it to the Super Bowl," Mickens said. "That would be something that I can take with me."
The 1968 Jets can take their championship with them. And even though they have bragging rights, they seldom use them.
Namath said he's kept in touch with a few of the Colts players from that Super Bowl that wasn't even officially called the Super Bowl yet. Ray Perkins was his teammate at Alabama, so they've remained close. And living in South Florida, Namath said he often crosses paths with former Colts coach Don Shula.
They rarely talk about the game that was a defining moment in their lives and the history of the league.
"Over the years, nothing has needed to be said," Namath said. "There never had to be anything said to the Colts players. Winning speaks for itself. I talk about it when it's brought up. But when you win, you don't have to say anything."