The first time I met Weeb Ewbank was in the spring of 1963, right after he had been named general manager and coach of the Jets. I was playing rugby in Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. The ball from the game I was in bounced into some bushes, and when some of the other players and I went to retrieve it, we came upon a group of naked and half-naked young men. We were stunned. Then I spotted a little round guy with a crew cut. I recognized him immediately. It was Ewbank, coach of the 1958 and '59 NFL champion Colts.
"Just changing clothes," he said. "Just be a minute." Ewbank was holding open tryouts for the Jets, but the Polo Grounds wasn't available, and Van Cortlandt Park had no locker facilities, so his players were changing behind the shrubbery. "Don't mind us," Weeb said merrily. "Go on with your game."
Three years later I became a beat writer for the New York Post, and I covered Ewbank's Jets through his retirement in 1973. When I started on the beat, I thought all coaches were like Weeb. I was wrong.
Pro football players, coaches and writers were a big family back then, and we would go out together on the road. Once before a game in San Diego, I was walking with Weeb and a few others down the main drag in-Tijuana, and some guy approached us with a package. "Films?" he said. "Filthy films?"
"Christ, no," Weeb said without breaking stride. "I've been looking at films all week."
Watching Weeb work with Joe Namath was like watching the creation of a great painting. Joe Willie arrived from Alabama as Sonny Werblin's guy, the Jets owner's personal choice. He was an unbroken stallion, able to put up huge numbers—and interceptions in bunches. Weeb tamed him, and by the time Namath led the Jets to their Super Bowl triumph, he had done a 180. To the outside world he was still Joe Willie the wild flinger, but the guys on the beat saw his transformation into one of the game's most meticulous passers.
Ewbank won't go down with the Lombardis and Halases because he didn't often have the players to win with. When he did, though, he produced. Few coaches ever understood their players or their times as well as Ewbank did.
I once asked Weeb how he developed Namath and John Unitas with the Colts. "Everything was there," he said. "I just fine-tuned it. You know the greatest thing about having a Namath or a Unitas? They keep you from making an ass of yourself for 10 years."
China's Foulmouthed Fans
A Chants Encounter
Chinese rulers haven't democratized their government, but a few Western ideas are taking hold. At Beijing's elite league soccer matches, rowdies are unleashing waves of vulgarity of which any hooligan or bleacher bum would be proud. Spectators at Workers' Stadium have become so profane—their favorite derisive chant is Shabi! Shabi!, a crude reference to part of the female anatomy—that the press and soccer officials are calling the problem the Beijing Curse and beseeching fans to behave. "All we can do is hope that fans can restrain and discipline themselves," a spokesman for the Chinese Football Association, told the Beijing Youth Daily.