Friday, January 28, 2011

How Long It's Been: The New York Jets Were World Champions

The Jets' loss probably still hurts to their fans. Not just because they were a touchdown away from going to the Super Bowl, but because of how much they'd talked about winning it all.

They haven't done so since January 12, 1969, when Joe Namath walked off the field at the Orange Bowl waving that "We're Number 1" finger, having predicted that the Jets would beat the Baltimore Colts, and making it happen.

Forty-two years. Here's an idea of how long it's been:

The stadium in question, the Orange Bowl in Miami, no longer stands. Nor does the Jets' home field at the time, Shea Stadium – or the building they moved into afterwards, Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, which, in all that time was planned, built, used, replaced and demolished. Nor does the Colts' home field at the time, Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, still stand. Nor does the building they moved into afterwards, known first as the Hoosier Dome and then as the RCA Dome.

Now the Jets play at the New Meadowlands Stadium (EDIT: Since renamed MetLife Stadium), the Colts play at Lucas Oil Stadium, and the Baltimore Ravens now play at M&T Bank Stadium (which is usually called "Ravens Stadium" or, like the baseball park next door, "Camden Yards").

Of the 26 NFL & AFL stadiums hosting games in the 1968-69 season, only 3 will still be doing so in 2011-12: The Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, San Diego (now Qualcomm) Stadium, and Lambeau Field in Green Bay. Only 5 MLB teams will be playing in their 1969 ballparks in 2011: Boston, Oakland, the Chicago Cubs, and both Los Angeles-area teams. The Knicks and the Oakland-based Golden State Warriors are the only NBA teams still playing where they were in January 1969. The Rangers are the only NHL team doing so.

The Mets, playing in the still-new Shea Stadium, had played 7 seasons, none of them winning. If anyone thought the Jets' AFL and World Championships were a "miracle," they hadn't seen anything yet. The Yankees and the NFL Giants were both playing at Yankee Stadium, which was in serious need of repair. The Knicks and Rangers were in the new Madison Square Garden for less than a year – it really was still the "New Garden."

The Nets were in the ABA and playing at the Long Island Arena in Commack, a place that seated just 6,500, and they couldn’t fill that. They were sharing it with a minor-league hockey team called the Long Island Ducks. (The name is now used by a minor-league baseball team.) The building, built in 1959 and best known for a 1960 John F. Kennedy campaign rally and some rock concerts, was demolished in 1996. The Islanders and Devils did not yet exist.

As I said, there was an NFL team in Baltimore, but it wasn't the Ravens. There was one in St. Louis, but it wasn't the Rams. There was one in Houston, but it wasn't the Texans. The Boston Patriots had yet to move out to the suburbs and change their name to "the New England Patriots." The Patriots, Dallas Cowboys, Miami Dolphins, Pittsburgh Steelers, Oakland Raiders and San Francisco 49ers had yet to win any World Championships. Between them, they have now won 24 (and the Steelers could well make it 25 a week from Sunday). (UPDATE: They didn't.)

The NFL was not even 50 years old. Some of its founding fathers were not only still alive, but still involved: George Halas with the Chicago Bears, Art Rooney with the Steelers, and Dan Reeves with the Los Angeles Rams – no relation to the Cowboys running back of the same name, later to be head coach of the Broncos, Giants and Atlanta Falcons.

The defining football players of my childhood? Roger Staubach was finishing up his U.S. Navy commitment, and would soon join the Cowboys. O.J. Simpson and Mean Joe Greene were in their senior years in college. Terry Bradshaw was in his junior year. Walter Payton was in high school. Joe Montana and Earl Campbell were in junior high. Lawrence Taylor was in grade school.

In baseball, there was an American League team in Washington. All but 1 of the 24 teams about to start the MLB season (including 4 new expansion teams) were playing in stadiums with permanent lights, but only one, the Houston Astros, was playing on an artificial turf field, and only the Astros were playing under a dome (retractable or otherwise).

There was no designated hitter, and no regular season interleague play. The 1st season of divisional play and Playoffs was about to begin: Now, if you won over 100 games and another team in your League won more, so long as you still won your division, you were no longer out of luck.

Jacques Lemaire of the Devils was about to win his 2nd straight Stanley Cup as a center for the Montreal Canadiens. Tom Coughlin of the Giants was about to take his 1st job in football, as a graduate assistant at his alma mater, Syracuse University. Terry Collins of the Mets was at Eastern Michigan University. Mike D'Antoni of the Knicks was a senior in high school. John Tortorella of the Rangers was 10 years old. Rex Ryan of the Jets was 6. Joe Girardi of the Yankees was 4. Avery Johnson of the Nets was 3. Jack Capuano of the Islanders was 2.

The Jets dethroned the Green Bay Packers as World Champions. The other titleholders were the aforementioned Canadiens, the Detroit Tigers and the Boston Celtics. The Heavyweight Champion of the World was Joe Frazier.

The... Ohio State University, led by Woody Hayes and his "Super Sophs," had just beaten O.J. Simpson's University of Southern California (USC) in the Rose Bowl to dethrone them as National Champions of college football. USC's arch-rivals, the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), coached by John Wooden and led by Lew Alcindor (later to be Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and Michael Warren (later to be Sgt. Bobby Hill on Hill Street Blues and Jessica Alba's father-in-law), were about to win their 3rd straight National Championship in basketball, going 88-2 in the process.

The Olympic Games have since been held in America 4 times, Canada 3, Japan twice, Germany, Russia, Austria, Bosnia, Korea, France, Spain, Norway, Australia, Greece, Italy and China. The World Cup has since been held in Mexico and Germany twice each, and once each in America, Argentina, Spain, Italy, France, Japan, Korea and South Africa.

Lyndon B. Johnson was in his last 8 days as President of the United States. Richard Nixon was about to be inaugurated to replace him. Harry Truman was still alive. So was Dwight D. Eisenhower, for 2 more months. Gerald Ford was the Minority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives. Jimmy Carter was a former State Senator in Georgia, about to run his second, much more successful, campaign for Governor. Ronald Reagan was in his first term as Governor of California.

George Herbert Walker Bush was a Congressman from Texas, and his son George had entered the Texas Air National Guard. Apparently, it was okay for him and his father to support the Vietnam War even if he didn't have to actually fight in it.

Bill Clinton was at Oxford University on a Rhodes Scholarship, and Hillary Rodham was about to be named valedictorian at Wellesley College. Al Gore was in the U.S. Army in Vietnam, while Dan Quayle was in the Indiana National Guard. Guess which one supported the war, and which one didn't.

Joe Biden was about to be admitted to the Delaware bar, and too old to be drafted. Dick Cheney and Newt Gingrich both had teaching deferments. Rudy Giuliani got a deferment as a law clerk. John McCain did not have a deferment, and the Navy pilot was a prisoner of war in Vietnam. John Boehner enlisted in the U.S. Navy, but was later discharged for medical reasons, and was now going to college. Jon Corzine was a new college graduate and about to enlist in the Marine Corps.

The Governor of New York was Nelson Rockefeller, having made 3 unsuccessful runs for President. The Mayor of New York City was John Lindsay, who was about to be denied renomination by the City's Republican Party because of his poor handling of snow removal during a blizzard. Later that year, he would win a 2nd term as a 3rd-party nominee. The Governor of New Jersey was Richard J. Hughes, about to wrap up his second term. Former Governor Robert B. Meyner would try to get the office back, but would fail, losing to South Jersey Congressman William T. Cahill.

Hugh Carey was in Congress. Ed Koch, David Dinkins and Mario Cuomo were practicing law. Brendan Byrne was Essex County Prosecutor. Tom Kean was in the New Jersey Assembly, Harry Reid in Nevada’s. Michael Bloomberg was a young stockbroker.

Nancy Pelosi was about to move to San Francisco, where her brother-in-law was on the Board of Supervisors. Jim Florio was the assistant city attorney for Camden. Mitch McConnell was an assistant to the man whose job he would later hold, Senator Marlow Cook of Kentucky. George Pataki and Donald DiFrancesco were in law school.

Christine Todd was about to join the Nixon Administration, working in the Office of Economic Opportunity. (There’s a laugh: The future Christie Whitman working in the War On Poverty? That’s like Jim McGreevey becoming a priest! Wait a minute... ) Richard Codey was in the family business: He was a funeral director. David Paterson was in high school. Barack Obama, Michelle Robinson (Obama), Eliot Spitzer, Andrew Cuomo, Jim McGreevey and Chris Christie were in grade school. Sarah Palin was in kindergarten –- unless she quit.

Canada's Prime Minister was Pierre Trudeau. He was young (49), dashing and charismatic. It was as if John F. Kennedy was singing lead for the Beatles – in French. Canada was also about to get its first Major League Baseball team, the Montreal Expos. And a group called The Guess Who was about to become Canada's biggest rock band ever (to that point). For the first time ever, Canada was hip. Especially if you were an American worrying about being drafted.

The Pope was Paul VI. René Samuel Cassin, President of the European Court of Human Rights, had recently been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Elizabeth II was Queen of England -- that still hasn't changed -- but she was just 42 years old. Britain's Prime Minister was Harold Wilson.

The English Football League was won by Leeds United.  The FA Cup was won by Manchester City, the defending League Champions, beating Leicester City 1-0 on a goal by Neil Young – no, not that Neil Young. Man City have not won either the League or the FA Cup since. (EDIT: Man City won the FA Cup in May 2011, and the Premier League in May 2012 and May 2014.) AC Milan, led by perhaps Italy's greatest player ever, Gianni Rivera, won their 2nd European Cup by beating Ajax Amsterdam, led by 21-year-old wonderkind Johan Cruijff. Ajax and their "Total Football" would be back, big-time.

There were 25 Amendments to the Constitution of the United States. There was no Title IX. There were still surviving veterans of the Spanish-American War and the Boer War. None of the Justices on the Supreme Court at the time are still alive.

Major films out at the time included Easy Rider (one of the 1st mainstream films to have so much rock music, and so much drug use), Midnight Cowboy (one of the first mainstream films to have so much rock music, and so much nudity) and The Lion In Winter (in which the House of Plantagenet, "led" by Peter O'Toole as King Henry II of England, displays a rather different kind of obscenity).

Michael Douglas was filming his 2nd movie, Hail, Hero! Catherine Zeta-Jones was not yet born.
The James Bond franchise was in transition, as Sean Connery had decided not to do any more of the films. George Lazenby, an Australian male model, was cast in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, and opinion on it, then as now, was very mixed, but extreme: People either loved it or hated it. Enough people hated it that Lazenby was dropped, and Connery decided to come back for 1 more film on the basis of having a bundle of money thrown at him. The Adam West TV version of Batman had recently been canceled, and Superman was in a long interregnum between the 1959 death of George Reeves and the 1977 casting of Christopher Reeve.

Major novels of 1969 included The Godfather by Mario Puzo, Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton, The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles, Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth, Rich Man, Poor Man by Irwin Shaw, The Seven Minutes by Irving Wallace (about a novel, of the same title, that was "the most banned book in history," containing a woman's thoughts during 7 minutes of sex), and Naked Came the Stranger by Peneleope Ashe (a name used for a composite of 24 authors, conspiring to see if a novel could be really really bad, but still sell big if it had a lot of sex scenes in it, a truly late-Sixties kind of experiment – and it worked).

Major non-fiction books included the career-launching memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou and the career-launching historical work Mary, Queen of Scots by Antonia Fraser.

Television shows that debuted in the 1968-69 season included Julia (Diahann Carroll as the 1st person of color to be a single star of a TV show, after Bill Cosby had co-starred with Robert Culp on I Spy), Adam-12, The Mod Squad, 60 Minutes (still on the air in 2011), and the original version of Hawaii Five-O. Star Trek was entering its final episodes.

Elvis Presley's "1968 Comeback Special" had aired on NBC 40 days earlier. Just 11 days before that, NBC had aired "Plato's Stepchildren," an episode of Star Trek, where Captain James T. Kirk and Lieutenant Nyota Uhura were forced by aliens to kiss each other, resulting in the 1st interracial kiss on U.S. television (Shatner is white, Nichols is black).

The films Once Upon a Time in the West, The Killing of Sister George, The Night They Raided Minsky's, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Love Bug (the debut of Volkswagen Herbie) were still in theaters. On Her Majesty's Secret Service was being filmed, the only outing as James Bond for George Lazenby. (He could have been taken seriously as a spoof of Bond, but not as 007 himself.)

George Lucas had yet to direct his 1st film. So had Steven Spielberg, although he would soon direct the pilot episode of Rod Serling's TV series Night Gallery.

Psychedelia and bubblegum music peaked in 1969. While Namath was leading the Jets to victory, Paul McCartney was leading the Beatles down the drain during the recording and film sessions for what became Let It Be.

Elvis was recording From Elvis in Memphis, which included Mac Davis' "In the Ghetto," Burt Bacharach's "Any Day Now," and "Only the Strong Survive," which Jerry Butler had just turned into a big hit -- he'd written it with the rising Philadelphia-based geniuses Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. Elvis was reminding everyone who was king around here anyway, and he was enjoying it. Woodstock would happen later that year -- but so would Altamont.

A month later, Johnny Cash recorded At San Quentin, which included "A Boy Named Sue." A woman named Vickie Jones was arrested for impersonating Aretha Franklin at a concert – and it was a performance so good that no one asked for a refund. The very day of Super Bowl III, the self-titled 1st album by Led Zeppelin was released. The next day, Dusty In Memphis by Dusty Springfield was released.

Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees and Scottish singer Lulu were married. Just 4 miles from the site of that Super Bowl, 7 weeks later, the Doors played the Dinner Key Auditorium, and lead singer Jim Morrison allegedly flashed the audience. (He was just pardoned for it by outgoing Florida Governor Charlie Crist.)

A stamp was 6 cents. The Subway fare in New York was 20 cents. The average price of a gallon of gas was 34 cents, a cup of coffee 42 cents, a McDonald's meal 79 cents (49 cents of that being the newly-introduced Big Mac), a movie ticket $1.20, a new car around $2,300, a new house $27,600. The preceding Friday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 925.53.

The month before, Apollo 8 had been the 1st manned mission to reach the Moon, but the 1st to land on it, Apollo 11, was still 6 months away. The only mobile telephones were in a few cars and on a few boats. There were no hand-held calculators, no arcade games, no digital watches, no VCRs, no personal computers, no Walkmans. (Or should that be "Walkmen"?) 

We still didn't have color television in a majority of American homes. Cable TV was in its infancy, and, later in the year, ARPANET would go online, the 1st version of what would later be called the Internet. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Tim Berners-Lee were all 13 years old.

In the opening weeks of 1969, Rupert Murdoch purchased The News of the World, Britain's largest-selling Sunday newspaper. An explosion killed 27 people on the U.S.S. Enterprise -- the real-life U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, not the TV starship. The Saturday Evening Post published its last weekly issue, though it would return as a monthly. In Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that freedom of speech extends to public school students. Levi Eshkol, the Prime Minister of Israel, died in office, and Golda Meir became the country's 1st female Prime Minister.

Allen Dulles, and Boris Karloff, and Gabby Hayes died. Jennifer Aniston, and Pauley Perrette, and Roy Jones Jr. were born.

January 12, 1969. The New York Jets were World Champions. They have not been since. Will they ever do it again? If they can't do it with Rex Ryan in charge -- and, thus far, they can't -- then it looks highly unlikely.

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