SI Vault
Edwin Shrake
December 09, 1968
It's crazy, sure, so don't run out and bet all your money that it will happen, but Edwin Shrake, in a moment of sheer fantasy, writes a letter to a friend describing how Joe Namath (see cover) and the New York Jets set the sporting world on its ear
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
December 09, 1968

A Champagne Party For Joe And Weeb

It's crazy, sure, so don't run out and bet all your money that it will happen, but Edwin Shrake, in a moment of sheer fantasy, writes a letter to a friend describing how Joe Namath (see cover) and the New York Jets set the sporting world on its ear

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue


Jan. 14, 1969

Dear Max,
Needless to say, we were all delighted to receive your cable and learn that you are alive, though we remain concerned over addressing you in a hospital in such a remote part of the world. Dons was especially happy about the cable, and I wish you could have seen the faces of your children when she told them their father had not perished. Courageous family that you have, I must admit their hopes of ever seeing you again had begun to lag. After all, we got the news on Thanksgiving Day—served up with the ice cream and hot pumpkin pie, in fact, just as Kansas City finished beating the Oilers on television to give the Jets the division title—that your plane was missing somewhere in the Mato Grosso, probably between the Serra dos Parecis and the Gi-Paran� River, and this cable nearly two months later was the first we had heard since, other than assurances that the search was being pressed forward, etc.

I was aware that the vast area into which you had disappeared is inhabited by thousands of tiny mean fellows with poison-tipped arrows, trophy huts full of soft ball-sized human heads and an unwillingness to listen to Christian reason. "He will march out with a bottle of gin and a jar of olives," your wife kept repeating—staunch girl. But, frankly, I put your chances as no better than I gave the Jets back in August when I saw that photograph of Joe Namath wearing a mink coat.

As your motor stopped, or wing fell off, or whatever happened, your beloved Jets (an affection I have never been able to fathom, but every man has got to kill his own snakes) were a couple of games or so ahead of Houston. However, I know how nervous that made you. I recall our last conversation, in the back room at P.J. Clarke's on the evening NBC cut the Jets off TV in the final minute of the Oakland game and replaced them with Heidi, An hour later we found out that the Jets had blown a three-point lead in that final minute and had somehow contrived to lose the game by almost two touchdowns. "I always felt like a nasty person for not liking Heidi," you said. "It's a rotten story that old people keep pushing off on children, and nobody ever really liked it except a few 8-year-old girls. But in this case I'm glad NBC did it. I couldn't have watched that final minute without doing myself severe emotional damage."

You ordered several Gibsons and placed them about on the tablecloth as if you intended to play checkers with them. "Last year almost took my measure," you told me. "Not being the serious student of the game that I am, maybe you don't remember, but with four weeks to go the Jets led Houston by one whole game. Then New York lost three out of four, the Oilers won three out of four, and the Jets went down the rat hole again. Could it happen this year? Could it? Could it!" You clutched my sleeve, and I saw Frankie, the ma�tre d', look at you rather anxiously. "Last year I had a theory that the trouble with the Jets was that they had too many Texans. This year they have even more—nine or 10 of them are starters, if you count Curley Johnson, the punter. Sauer, Maynard and Lammons, the three receivers, are all Texans. Too many Texans on a football team is like too much pepper in the soup!" you cried.

I'm sure that Texophobia was on your mind even as you flew over the Mato Grosso and may have contributed to your accident in some way. I can picture you swooping headlong into the jungle with a shout that Maynard is all thumbs. As the season proceeded toward its end without you, with many vagaries and odd bounces, the Jets skirting disaster, I was almost glad you were gone, "How lucky he is to be spared this," I said more than once. But I should have known it would be the Jets' year. Of their first seven victories, you will recall that they won four of them in the last few minutes—a sign fortune was smiling. It was the loss to Denver in the fifth game, I believe, that made a change in Namath. The five interceptions he threw in that game, combined with the five he had thrown in the loss to Buffalo two weeks earlier, convinced him that he should not be so reckless, that he should not insist on trying to drill the ball to a receiver who was well covered. Even before you vanished, Namath went one stretch of six games without throwing a touchdown pass. Weeb Ewbank said it was because of an alteration in style of offense, and that was partly true. Namath took to throwing more flares and short, quick patterns and began to use his running game more successfully, setting up those dozens of field goals by Jim Turner. Namath should have got credit for an assist on many of the field goals. But partly, too, the reason he didn't throw a touchdown pass for six games was simply ill luck; he was still completing passes to Sauer and Maynard, but they were not able to escape to the goal line.

I am digressing, Max. You know these things better than I. Let me get on now to the championship and the Super Bowl.

On that last road trip that kept the Jets on the West Coast for a week between games with Oakland and San Diego, Ewbank announced a $5,000 fine for any player caught outside the motel after the 11 p.m. curfew. That struck me as somewhat childish, but Ewbank has had his difficulties with discipline. You remember Namath holding out for $3,000 per exhibition game—a not unreasonable request, considering the moribund state of his knees—and Namath leaving camp last year and visiting one of those East Side saloons where the lonely pursue romance, and later being charged in a lawsuit with slapping a sportswriter around. There was something of a power struggle, hidden from view though it was, between Namath and Ewbank, as you know, but a truce was achieved by the elevating of Namath to offensive team captain, thus forcing on him the responsibility he had been both grabbing and rejecting for years. I am reminding you of all this, Max, merely because I am enclosing a newspaper photograph that was taken in the Jets' locker room the day they won the AFL championship. Look at the expression on Namath's face as he pours the champagne over Ewbank's head. Would you call that gratification?

I will not linger over the details of how Oakland qualified for the championship game, as I know you care little about what transpires in the Western Division. Suffice it to say that by the time the Raiders arrived in New York they had survived three very difficult games in a row, including the playoffs, and were in rather battered condition. The defensive line was ailing, a linebacker and a cornerback were out and Daryle Lamonica was a patchwork of bruises, though certainly game enough. Also, the Raiders' descent into JFK coincided almost exactly with that of a storm. By the day of the contest, it was 18� with a 20-mph wind, and snow was piled around the edges of the field behind those rolled-up tarps that look like huge green sausages. The players squatted around little portable heaters, but the wind whirls inside Shea Stadium and attacks from unexpected angles, and there was not much to be done.

Continue Story
1 2 3