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Don Maynard, the legendary New York Jets wide receiver who was part of the team that won Super Bowl III, has died at age 86. The Pro Football Hall of Fame announced his death on Monday.
"Our Pro Football Hall of Fame family mourns the passing of Don Maynard," Hall of Fame president Jim Porter said in a statement. "He was a resilient man on and off the field — and someone that his teammates could always count on."
Maynard, who would have been 87 at the end of January, was a frequent standout for the Jets during his 13 seasons with the team. He was signed in 1960 by the New York Titans, who changed their name to the Jets three years later. He compiled five seasons with at least 50 catches and 1,000 receiving yards and is the Jets' all-time receiving leader.
Maynard's most legendary moment came in 1968 when the Jets played Oakland for a spot in Super Bowl III. He caught six passes for 118 yards, including a 52-yard windswept strike thrown by QB Joe Namath that Maynard called "the greatest catch I ever made." He also scored the first and last touchdown of the game, with his 6-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter giving the Jets a 27-23 win over Oakland.
Maynard didn't play a huge role in the Jets' upset victory over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III — he didn't catch a single pass — but was intensely proud of his performance in that game.
“I did my job. I had the greatest game in the world,” Maynard said via the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “I got out wide to the right side, and I made them double- and triple-[team] me, and they had to play my game.”
When Maynard retired from the NFL in 1973 following stints with the New York Giants and St. Louis Cardinals (who are now the Arizona Cardinals), he was the NFL's all-time leader in receptions (633) and receiving yards (11,834), and had already achieved a notable first: he was the first pro player to get to 10,000 career receiving yards, an accomplishment he remained proud of for the rest of his life.
Maynard was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987. Namath, the QB during the Jets' run to Super Bowl III, paid him some incredible compliments.
“Don was a great player. He made many of his teammates better football players,” Namath said. “Don worked with 25 different quarterbacks throughout his career, and he made most of us better football players.
“He was the man our opponents worried about, the knockout punch. Lightening 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.”
Hall of Fame president Jim Porter said in his statement Monday that the best way to remember Maynard is through his own words, from the enshrinement speech he gave in 1987.
"I came to play, 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."