Don Maynard is One of El Paso’s Greatest Sports Figures
When news broke today that Don Maynard had passed away at the age of 86, a lot of memories raced through my mind. As a longtime New York Jets fan, #13 is the greatest receiver in the history of the franchise and one of the NFL's best ever. However, Maynard's legacy goes much farther than that, especially when you examine the impact that he had in El Paso.
He arrived at Texas Western in 1954 after transferring from Rice. During his three seasons with the Miners, Maynard caught just 28 total passes, but 10 of those receptions went for touchdowns. He also averaged 27.6 yards per catch. When he was not catching footballs for TWC, he served as the team's running back and he also returned punts and kickoffs. He was the perfect definition of an all-purpose back. The New York Giants selected him in 9th round of the 1957 NFL Draft and Maynard spent two seasons backing up Frank Gifford and also returning kickoffs for the team. He played in the famous 1958 NFL overtime title game against the Colts. After spending one season in the Canadian Football League in 1959, Maynard returned to New York to join the AFL expansion team, the Titans. He experienced immediate success with the Titans and later the Jets, where he established an incredible rapport with quarterback Joe Namath that would lead both of them to Canton.
A little more than three years ago, I wrote a story in El Paso Inc. about my Mount Rushmore of El Paso sports. The premise behind it was sports figures who grew up or spent at least 10 years living in the Sun City and made a true impact here. Maynard was a no-brainer for me, along with Don Haskins, Nolan Richardson, and Andy Cohen. That list might change someday, but Maynard has a firm place on that mountain.
When I took over as host of SportsTalk in the summer of 1997, the football great was a frequent caller to my show. He would identify himself as "Don from the Westside", but we always knew when he was on the phone. He enjoyed talking about the UTEP football program and he once offered to take over as the head coach of the program and not take a salary. His favorite topic to discuss was why college and pro football teams never understood the idea of a receiver running a route past the first down marker so they never fell short of moving the chains. If we were lucky, he would tell us how he was always on the same page with his quarterback, Joe Namath no matter what route he was running during his years with the Jets.
It is not surprising that Maynard's relationship with Namath was so strong. The two teamed up to become of the greatest duos in the league's history. From 1965 to 1969, Maynard was nearly unstoppable playing in the American Football League, which developed its reputation as a pass-first league. By the time Namath came to the Jets as a first round pick in 1965, Maynard was already 30 years old and a veteran of seven professional football seasons. However, the two clicked immediately and the Jets became one of the AFL's best teams in the late 1960s.
Maynard led the AFL in receiving in 1967 with 1,434 yards and he added 10 touchdowns. One year later, his 22.8 yards per reception also led the league along with his 99.8 receiving yards per game average. His performance against the Oakland Raiders in the 1968 AFL title game is still talked about today. Maynard caught six passes for 118 yards and a pair of scores, including the game-winner. NFL Films took a look back at that game and the Jets big second half comeback.
After winning the title game, the Jets came into Super Bowl 3 as heavy underdogs against the Baltimore Colts. However, Namath guaranteed victory and his team delivered with a 16-7 win at the Orange Bowl. Maynard was held without a catch in the historic win, although he was content being a decoy against the Colts defense. Years later, he admitted that he had played that game with a pulled hamstring.
By the time Maynard retired from football following the 1973 season with the St. Louis Cardinals, he held every notable NFL receiving record. He continued to live and work in El Paso until he moved to Ruidoso about 10 years ago to be closer to his son, daughter and grandchildren. Maynard did not smoke and he did not drink.
However, he loved to play golf, wear his cowboy boots, and join his Jets teammates at every Super Bowl reunion. He also wrote a book about his life, "You Can't Catch Sunshine," that was published in 2010. I last saw him in Ruidoso in August 2019, when he attended the UTEP football barbecue during their fall camp. As usual, he was the center of attention for Miners players, coaches, and fans.
I will always remember the many conversations I had with the Hall of Famer and how humble and down to earth he was. Like Haskins, Don Maynard was a character and perfect for El Paso. You just don't make them like Don Maynard anymore. Here is a terrific profile on the football legend from the Jets.