Don Maynard, Hall-of-Fame Jet, dead at 86

Legendary receiver played in the two most important games in NFL history

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RIP Don Maynard.
RIP Don Maynard.
Image: AP

Don Maynard, a wide receiver who played in two of professional football’s landmark games during his Hall of Fame career and son of Texas, died on January 10 at the age of 86.

“Don Maynard is as essential to the history of the New York Jets as anyone. He came to this franchise at our inception and left a Super Bowl champion,” the Jets said in a statement. “On the field, he cemented himself as many things: record holder, Hall of Famer, and forever our No. 13. Off the field, he was unflinchingly himself — a family man who stayed true to his roots, bringing a Texas cowboy to New York.

“His passing is especially difficult as he remained close with the Jets throughout his life. Our thoughts today are with his family and loved ones. We will all miss him.”

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Still the Jets’ all-time leader in catches, receiving yards, and touchdowns — all still by wide margins even as the NFL has gotten ever more pass happy in the half-century since he left New York — Maynard was a key figure on the team that went to and won Super Bowl III against the Baltimore Colts.

Although he didn’t make a catch in that historic game in Miami, Maynard was a huge part of the Jets getting there, with six receptions for 118 yards and a pair of touchdowns against the Oakland Raiders in the 1968 AFL Championship Game. He led the AFL that year with an average of 22.8 yards per catch.

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While his No. 13 is retired by the Jets, Maynard began his pro career with New York’s other team, drafted by the Giants out of UTEP — then Texas Western — in the ninth round in 1957. In the 1958 NFL title game, the first-ever overtime contest and widely seen as the game that vaulted the NFL onto its trajectory to be America’s top sports league, Maynard was the Giants’ punt returner. It was because of his presence on that team that Maynard returned to the Super Bowl — Super Bowl XXXIII — to commemorate the 40th anniversary of “The Greatest Game Ever Played.”

After a year with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in Canada, Maynard returned to the U.S. to join the New York Titans in the AFL’s inaugural season in 1960. He stayed with the team that became the Jets through 1972 as Joe Namath’s top target, before brief stops with the St. Louis Cardinals and the World Football League’s Houston Texans. Maynard was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987.

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Maynard was the first receiver to reach 10,000 yards and held the professional yardage record until 1986, when Charlie Joiner broke it. Maynard remains 31st on the all-time list, right between Antonio Gates and Calvin Johnson.