Don Maynard is the first player in pro football history to amass 10,000 career receiving yards.
A laid-back speedster from a dusty corner of Texas, Maynard was a down-home fellow who made his name in the bright lights of New York City. In 15 seasons, he caught 633 passes for 11,834 yards, both NFL records at the time of his retirement in 1974. Perhaps the most underrated receiver in pro football history, Maynard was the first player to tally 50 100-yard games.
Don Maynard was the biggest deep ball threat in a throw-it-down-the-field league. Skinny and sporting a one-bar facemask with no chinstrap, he averaged over 20 yards per reception in four separate seasons and 19.4 yards per catch in another. Nicknamed Sunshine, Maynard teamed with Joe Namath to form one of the greatest pass-catching duos in football history. A three-time AFL All-Star, he went over 50 catches and 1,000 yards in five different seasons.
Don Maynard’s career 18.7 yards-per-catch average is the highest in history for anyone with more than 600 catches.
In 1967, Namath became the first passer to throw for over 4,000 yards. His favorite target was Maynard, who led the AFL with 1,434 receiving yards while averaging more than 100 yards per game. The following season, the 180-pound Texan averaged nearly 23 yards per catch to lead the league. Both landed as starters when the AFL All-Time Team was announced in 1970.
The Titans/Jets were woeful during Maynard’s first five seasons in New York. The lanky wideout played with 25 different quarterbacks and the moribund franchise was on the verge of folding. Without a marquee franchise in the nation’s largest market, the AFL’s future was in jeopardy. In 1963, Sonny Werblin bought the team, changed the name to the Jets, and hired Weeb Eubank as coach and GM. Two years later, he signed Namath to a then-record contract and the fortunes of the franchise — and of the league — changed forever.
Maynard and Namath formed an unlikely friendship. The speedy wideout — sporting wide sideburns, jeans, and cowboy boots – was hayseed. The brash young quarterback, bedecked in fur coats, bell bottoms and sunglasses, was Hollywood. The two meshed immediately and turned the AFL on its ear. Broadway Joe threw 18 touchdown passes as a rookie – 14 of them to Maynard. Namath called Maynard “New York City’s least-recognized hero.” Sunshine never cared about the spotlight and was often overlooked. Yet he twice led the AFL in receiving yards per game, and led the league in touchdowns in 1965.
Maynard retired as one of only five players to record more than 50 receptions and over 1,000 receiving yards in five different seasons.
Born January 25, 1935, in the tiny west Texas town of Crosbyton, Donald Rogers Maynard was the son of a cotton ginner. The family moved often, and Don attended 13 schools, including five high schools. At Colorado City High School, he lettered in basketball and track, but only played football as a senior, as Texas rules required one year of residency in order to be eligible.
In 1953, Maynard enrolled at Rice, then transferred to Texas Western [later UTEP] after his freshman year. A star on the track as well as the gridiron, Maynard did it all for the Miners. He returned kicks and led the team in receiving yards and interceptions. An All-Border Conference performer, Maynard also rushed for 5.4 yards per carry and handled the kicking duties.
Drafted in the ninth round [109th overall] by the New York Giants in 1957, Maynard played in 12 games as Frank Gifford’s backup at halfback. One of a dozen Hall of Famers to play in The Greatest Game Ever – the 1958 NFL title game between the Giants and Baltimore Colts, he was cut the following year.
After playing one season in Canada, Maynard wrote Titans coach Sammy Baugh, who had coached him in a college all-star game, asking for a roster spot. Baugh obliged and, in 1960, Maynard became the first player to sign with the New York Titans of the upstart AFL.
Possessing blazing speed, sure hands and the guts of a burglar, Maynard moved from the backfield to end. The Titans used him at flanker [lines up wide and behind the line of scrimmage] and end [lines up wide and on the line]. To clarify things, he coined a new term that became part of football parlance. “I’m the guy who taught the New York writers to use ‘wide receiver,’” explained Maynard. “One time I’m an end and one time I’m the flanker. Why don’t I give you a term and make it simple? Call me a wide receiver.”
In his first year in the AFL, Maynard caught a career-best 72 passes for 1,265 yards.
Maynard was instrumental to the Jets winning their only world championship in franchise history. In the 1968 AFL Championship, he caught two passes, including the game-winner, to put New York into the Super Bowl against the Baltimore Colts. Although Maynard did not catch a pass in Super Bowl III, he made an impact. Despite a sore hamstring, Baltimore feared his speed, and double-covered Number 13 all game. The Jets took advantage, with Matt Snell rushing for a then-Super Bowl record 121 yards to lead New York to the most stunning upset in pro football history.
In 1972, after his 13 seasons in New York, the Jets released the best receiver in franchise history. Maynard is one of 20 players who played in the AFL for its entire ten-year existence and one of only seven to spend their entire AFL careers with one team. He played with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1973, then finished his career with the WFL Houston Texans/Shreveport Steamers the following year. The Jets retired Maynard’s number 13 and enshrined him in their Ring of Honor. Mr. Maynard is a member of the AFL Hall of Fame and Texas Sports Hall of Fame. In 1987, the Pride of El Paso was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.