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It took the 1969 College All-Stars just 30 minutes last Friday night to discover that Super Bowl champions are human, the New York Jets included. Verlon Biggs may weigh 270 pounds, but when he knocks you down it only hurts a little. And who said Winston Hill has fangs? Or that the Jets got Gerry Philbin in a trade with the Mafia? And, as Jimmy Marsalis, the gritty defensive back from Tennessee State, pointed out at halftime, Joe Namath (see cover) may be, well, Joe Namath but even he can't do much if you grab his receivers before they grab the ball—about three seconds before. "They're nothing but a bunch of fat old men," growled Running Back Ed Podolak.
And so, lifted by the knowledge that the Jets are, indeed, mortal—although still not convinced that Namath, with a glance, couldn't turn them all to salt—the All-Stars went out in the second half and scared the life out of the champions of pro football. "We won, didn't we?" snapped the Jets when it was over. Yes, but only by 26-24, and only with the help of an official who became confused by the game's blending of pro and college rules and nullified a legitimate All-Star touchdown.
The official red-flagged the touchdown in the third period after Rudy Redmond intercepted a Namath pass, fell down without being touched, got up and ran 34 yards to the end zone. Under All-Star Game rules a runner who falls in the open without having made contact with a defensive player may get up and go on. Instead, the ball was brought back to the point of interception and the All-Stars eventually settled for a field goal. By any standard, pro or collegiate, three points is not seven, especially when you lose by two.
At the time the score was 16-7 Jets, and it gave promise that this might become something other than Chicago's annual 60-minute exercise in boredom. Some 74,000 fans had turned out, but more to see Namath than a football game, and few in this NFL town dared hope that the Jets would fall on their AFL face masks. The bookies had said they wouldn't, and probably not by 17 points.
"Oh, is that the spread?" Weeb Ewbank, the Jet coach, had asked the afternoon of the game. "I don't read the papers so I didn't know. Besides, I don't care about point spreads."
"Oh, is that so," snapped Ewbank, suddenly caring a little. "Well, we'll just see how often they get to Namath. That's what we'll see. This is a damn important game to us. More important than the Giant exhibition. Sure we want to beat the Giants, but we want to beat the All-Stars a lot more. Let's face it: we don't want to come in here and lay an egg like some NFL teams have. And this isn't just for the Jets but for all pro football. And if any of our guys don't feel the same way, I don't know about it."
The Jets had practiced for the game at their training camp at Hofstra University on Long Island, N.Y., waiting until late Thursday afternoon to fly to Chicago on a charter. That evening they worked out briefly under the dim lights at Soldier Field—"50-watt bulbs," said one player—grumbled about the poor condition of the turf, then disappeared into their hotel rooms. Crowds milled around in the lobby hoping to catch a glimpse of Namath, but he remained in seclusion until the team left by bus for the game at 4:30 the next afternoon.
Meanwhile, in suburban Evanston, home of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union and definitely not a toddlin' town, the All-Stars sat around their hotel and wondered why they were there. Graham, coaching his ninth such game, had acted like a regular Vince Lombardi: two-a-day practices for three straight weeks. Drills were scheduled to last 90 minutes but many ran over two hours. There were no fat All-Stars. Stung by his recent firing by the Washington Redskins, Graham, though he never admitted it publicly, was looking for vindication through victory. "Oh, yes," said a close friend. "I believe he did mention something about showing those monkeys."