Maynard, Don(ald) Rogers

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MAYNARD, Don(ald) Rogers

(b. 25 January 1935 in Crosbyton, Texas), receiver for the New York Jets from 1963 to 1972.

Born in West Texas to a cotton-gin manager, Maynard's family moved thirteen times, and Maynard had little chance to make friends. He attended five high schools in Texas and New Mexico, and it was not until his junior year at Colorado High School in Colorado City, Texas, that he finally joined the football team as a halfback. At a small college called Rice and Texas Western (now the University of Texas El Paso), Maynard excelled as a hurdler on the track team and played safety and running back on the foot-ball team. In 1957, while still a junior, he was drafted in the ninth round as a future player for the New York Giants of the National Football League (NFL).

Maynard made quite an impression in 1958 when he arrived at Yankee Stadium (where the Giants played from 1956 through 1973) wearing a cowboy hat, boots, and long sideburns, a style of dress that struck many as odd since most players at the time sported crew cuts. He printed the number 13 on his boots and asked for a uniform with the same number. When asked years later what might have happened if management had refused his request, Maynard speculated that he would have played for another team. While some perceived the six-foot, one-inch, 173-pound player to be contentious, friends found Maynard easygoing, noting that even during the most trying times he seldom lost his temper.

During Maynard's first season with the Giants, he returned punts and kickoffs and substituted for star running backs. A fumble during a crucial game, however, left Maynard with the stigma of having "bad hands," and he was cut from the team. He played a year with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the Canadian Football League before being offered the first position on a new American Football League (AFL) team, the New York Titans, in 1960.

Titans coach Sammy Baugh decided to try Maynard out as a receiver, and he never regretted it. Maynard developed a reputation for ignoring pre-arranged pass patterns, but while this may have frustrated management, his ability to outrun the defense made him a valuable receiver. During the 1960 season he caught 72 passes (most of them from quarterback Al Dorow) for 1,265 yards and 6 touchdowns. In 1963 Sonny Werblin and several associates bought the New York Giants franchise for $1 million and renamed the team the Jets. After the team drafted a young quarterback from Alabama named Joe Namath in 1965, Maynard's career really took off. In 1965 he caught 68 passes for 1,218 yards; in 1967 he completed 71 passes for a career high of 1,434 yards.

The Jets had their greatest season in 1968. An 11–3 record matched them against Oakland for the American Football Conference title, a game Maynard would later call the most memorable of his life. On the day of the game, the cold wind created poor conditions for passing. Namath persevered nonetheless, throwing a touchdown pass to Maynard in the first four minutes of the game. The Jets led at halftime, but Oakland pulled ahead in the third quarter, threatening to defeat New York as they had earlier that season in the "Heidi" game, when television viewers missed the last few minutes of the game because the network, thinking the game was over, switched to the children's movie. In the fourth quarter the Jets made their move—Namath completed a fifty-two-yard pass to Maynard, placing the team within scoring distance. Several plays later a six-yard pass hit Maynard in the end zone, giving New York the victory.

Although the Jets victory against Oakland allowed them to play Baltimore in Super Bowl III, most sportswriters expected them to lose. But on 12 January 1969 everything went well for the Jets. Namath completed 17 passes for 206 yards, Jim Turner kicked 3 field goals, and the defense intercepted 3 of Oakland quarterback Earl Morrall's passes. The victory proved to be one of the biggest upsets in NFL history. "We didn't think it was an upset," Maynard told the Associated Press. "We thought we were going to win all along."

During his years with the Jets, Maynard gained a reputation for outlandish behavior. He drove a butane-powered Ford coupe that teammates nicknamed the "El Paso Flame Thrower." Once, several teammates bet Maynard $75 that he would not jump into an icy hotel swimming pool fully clothed. He jumped, reasoning that it would cost only a few dollars to have his suit cleaned. Maynard was also known for trying to make extra money on the side, as when he was hired to promote a solvent called Swipe. To prove that it was safe, Maynard drank a glass of it before a Lions Club meeting. The solvent caused no serious injury, but he complained that the liquid drew so much moisture out of his mouth that he had to keep a bucket of ice beside him during practice the next day.

In 1972, during the thirteenth game of his thirteenth season, Maynard caught his 632nd pass, breaking Baltimore Colts receiver Raymond Berry's career record. "[A]s I lay on the ground with the ball," he said to Gwilym S. Brown of Sports Illustrated, "it sort of jumped into my head about how many things had had to go right … to make … one catch possible." This triumph was somewhat tempered by Maynard's dwindling yards per season since 1970.

In 1973 the Jets coach Weeb Ewbank asked Maynard to retire, but the receiver refused, he believed he still had a couple of good years left. The Jets traded Maynard to the St. Louis Cardinals, where he played only three games before being released to the Los Angeles Rams, where he spent the remainder of the season on the bench. Maynard considered playing for the New York Stars of the World Football League but instead decided to hang up his cleats in 1973.

During Maynard's 13 years as a receiver, he caught 633 passes for a total of 11,834 yards. He caught 50 or more passes for 1,000 yards or better in 5 seasons and was the first receiver to exceed the 10,000-and then the 11,000-yard mark. He played in three AFL All-Star games and one Super Bowl, and was added to the All-Time AFL team in 1969. In 1987 Maynard was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Since retirement he has worked as an independent business consultant.

A brief overview of Maynard's career can be found in David L. Porter, ed., Biographical Dictionary of American Sports: Football (1987). Maynard's career is also covered in Howard Coan, Great Pass Catchers in Pro Football (1971), and John Devaney, Star Pass Receivers of the NFL (1972). A lengthy portrait is in Gwilym S. Brown, "Oh How Gently Flows This Don," Sports Illustrated (23 Jul. 1973).

Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.