It's a dizzying, humbling concept, not to mention a major undertaking, to hold a "class" reunion a half-century after the fact.
"It's crazy, 50 years, for sure," Joe Namath said Saturday night. "But whenever we get together, it's just like yesteryear. This is like 1968, 1969, this group of guys, these teammates. We had a unity, and to this day, when we look at each other, man, it's like we've been together all these years."
Namath was referring to one of the Green & White highlights of this past weekend, the dinner at MetLife Stadium to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Jets' '68 Championship team and their Super Bowl III victory over the Baltimore Colts.
Several hundred fans joined almost 30 players to share reminiscences about the team that began the 1968 season with a road win over the American Football League's defending champions, the Chiefs, then went on to an 11-3 regular season, dispatched the Oakland Raiders at Shea Stadium in the AFL title game, and rocked the football world and beyond with the 16-7 win at Miami's Orange Bowl on Jan. 12, 1969.
"The greatest part of the game was winning and the end of the game," said LB Gerry Philbin, "knowing that it was over and that we were the world champions and that the AFL finally could be mentioned in the same breath as the NFL, period, bar-none."
Building to that moment was the great fun of the evening. The dinner was hosted by legendary sportscaster and Jets fan Chris Berman, who told the crowd at the outset, "If you don't like what I've done for ESPN all these years, you can blame the '68 Jets. They and Willie Mays are why I do what I do."
Berman led the proceedings through a roll call of the members of the team in attendance, as well as those who couldn't attend and those who had passed on. Several videos were followed by a Q&A session with WR Don Maynard, C John Schmitt, CB Randy Beverly, Philbin and Namath on stage to offer up stories on Shea Stadium, late, great head coach Weeb Ewbank, the win over the Raiders, and Namath's iconic "guarantee" — with longtime public relations director Frank Ramos joining the group to "set the record straight" on the team fallout after Namath's defiant prediction at the Miami Touchdown Club.
And then came the tales about the biggest plays in that biggest of games — Matt Snell scoring the Jets' only touchdown behind running mate Emerson Boozer, George Sauer's receptions, Beverly's two interceptions, and on and on.
"This brings back great memories," said Maynard, the great wideout who Berman said was one of the few who "entered the game fast and left the game fast." "We played together and we lived together. Once or twice we would come out on the short end, but when we got the chance to make up for that, we'd celebrate real good. I just happen to be a guy, I never did drink or anything, but I was tempted after we won that ballgame. So it all turned out great."
But a few of the players had the somber observation that, as Philbin said, "50, that's it, there's no more after 50."
"It's just absolutely wonderful," said LB Ralph Baker, "that the Jets would have us back, seeing this isn't the original ownership. I think that's very classy of them. And it's great to see my remaining teammates. I certainly miss the ones that aren't here, and I think most of us realize that this is probably the last hurrah."
But Christopher Johnson, the Jets owner, said the call to stage this weekend was only natural.
"It wasn't a hard decision at all," Johnson said. "I grew up rooting for these guys."
Johnson represented the Jets' front office contingent at the dinner that included team president Neil Glat and general manager Mike Maccagnan. The week, which included the release of a Marvel digital comic book on the Super Bowl III team, a Sunday morning brunch at the stadium, and a halftime ceremony with the unveiling of a permanent banner honoring the '68 team on the stadium's upper deck facade, was presented by BankUnited, Pepsi and ShopRite.
And during halftime, Namath, standing with his teammates in between large groups of fans who spelled out "SB" on one side and "III" on the other, revved up the fans in the stands for the rest of the current Jets' 42-34 win over the current Colts with remarks that echoed what he told the more intimate gathering in the stadium's United Rentals Club the night before.
"We won it and I'm thankful, yes, I'm thankful. We're thankful to be a part of the Jets organization today," Namath said. "And what we've got to do now is win another one. That's what we've got to do."
Top Photos of the 1968 Championship Team Attending Saturday's Walkthrough at 1 Jets Drive