Jim Richards, the Virginia Tech defensive back and special-teamer who balanced his commitments to the Army with his short yet eventful pro football career with the Jets in 1968 and '69, died Tuesday. He was 75.
Richards was drafted in the eighth round (210th overall) of the 1968 AFL/NFL Draft but it took some doing for him to get to New York in time to suit up for head coach Weeb Ewbank and the Jets for the start of that super-duper season.
"I was in the Corps of Engineers at Virginia Tech and I had a two-year contract," he told Jim Gehman in a story that ran on newyorkjets.com a little over a year ago. "When I graduated, I was supposed to go into the Army. So when I got drafted, the military cadre at Virginia Tech allowed me to go and try out for the Jets and deferred me when I made the team from getting drafted into the Army because I made a commitment to come back to school after the season was over and finish my degree."
However, the Jets' season didn't conclude until Jan. 12, 1969, at Miami's Orange Bowl, making Richards two weeks late for the start of classes.
"I had to go around to all my teachers and get their permission and their help" to play in Super Bowl III, he said. "Most of them were great helping me. I can remember my electrical theory teacher looking at me and saying, 'Jim, I've heard them all now, buddy.' "
Richards, described as "one of the fastest men on the squad," played in SBIII and contributed two special-teams tackles on Baltimore kickoff returns to the victory that rocked the football world.
"Jim was a very good special teams player during his time with the Jets," said Frank Ramos, the team's longtime public relations director. "He was used as a gunner on punt coverage and played on the kickoff team, too. He was a backup defensive back but didn't get the opportunity to play much because the guys ahead of him stayed healthy."
Nevertheless, Richards got to play defense a fair amount the following season when he started nine games at safety, including the 1969 playoff loss to Kansas City at Shea Stadium. Also that season, he blocked his only kick as a Jet, a Cincinnati punt that teammate Paul Crane picked up and returned 12 yards for the Jets' final TD in their 21-7 win over the Bengals at Nippert Stadium. Then four games later the two reversed roles, with Crane blocking a Bills field goal and Richards returning it out of harm's way in the 16-6 Shea win over the Bills.
For his two-year Jets and NFL career, Richards (6-1, 180) played in 29 games and started 10, including playoffs. He had three career interceptions, all in '69. He also averaged 14.3 yards on four punt returns as a rookie in '68 and 18.0 on two kickoff returns in '69.
Even though he never played for the Jets after the KC playoff game, he returned to the team twice. In October 1971 he rejoined the team as a practice player and assistant to LBs/DBs coach Walt Michaels. Then the next summer he tried out to make the Jets roster one more time.
"I made it to the very end, and Weeb treated me well," Richards told Gehman. "He came to me and said, 'Jimmy, we don't have room for you but there are a lot of people who would love to have you. ... If you want me to trade you somewhere else ... ' I said, 'Weeb, I've got a daughter, I'm in graduate school. I appreciate you offering but I'm going to go back and get my degree and start working as an engineer.' And that's what I did."
Richards ran his own company in Virginia Beach for six years. He sold the company and became regional manager of Michael Baker Corp. for the southern half of the United States, then moved to AECOM as its mid-Atlantic region manager until he retired several years ago.
But while he focused happily on his longer second career in civil engineering, he still was active in the VaTech alumni community and attended Jets Legends events, including the 50th anniversary dinner at MetLife Stadium in 2018 honoring their Super Bowl team.
And once a year or so, he popped a videotape into his VCR to revisit his short but sweet first career with the Jets.
''My salary that season was $14,000,'' Richards said in a 1999 story in the Daily Press of Norfolk, VA. ''And we got $7,000 for winning the AFL championship and $15,000 for winning the Super Bowl. But it's not about the money. Not many engineers have Super Bowl rings.''
Online condolences may be expressed to Richards' family at Cremation & Funeral Services of Tidewater, 3345 Croft St., Norfolk, VA.