Weeb Ewbank will be remembered by many for his friendly smile and jovial spirit in his later years. But there was clearly another face to Ewbank, not a mean coaching visage but a serious teaching look that he flashed in some photos from his early years as the Jets' football boss.
"Paul 'Bear' Bryant gave me one bit of advice before I was drafted," Joe Namath told newyorkjets.com during his visit to SUNY Cortland training camp last week, "and that was 'Before you sign, get to know your coach, get to know your owner.' Well, Weeb had coached John Unitas. What young quarterback wouldn't want to play for the coach who coached John Unitas?"
The team of Ewbank and Namath came together in 1965 and helped guide the Green & White into an AFL power that went on to shock the football world with their 1968 season.
That charge to the top secured Weeb's place in pro football history — with the AFL Championship win over Oakland two weeks before the Super Bowl III triumph, he became the only coach to win titles in both the AFL and NFL. He was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame and had his Jets jacket retired in 1978.
Now, 42 years after that glorious '68 season, 12 years after his death — coincidentally on the 30th anniversary of the Jets' loss at Oakland in "the Heidi Game" — Ewbank gets one more tribute when he will be inducted posthumously into the Jets' Ring of Honor, along with Namath and fellow ROH members Don Maynard and Winston Hill, during halftime at Monday night's preseason opener. Ewbank's widow, Lucy, recently taped a message with the Jets for the occasion, and his grandson, Tom Spenceley, will represent the family at the ceremony.
Some say Ewbank was a players' coach, but Frank Ramos, the Jets' longtime public relations director who knew Weeb as well as anyone, said he knew how to get inside his players' heads.
"We lost the Heidi game and we went back to the West Coast the next week to play San Diego," Ramos recalled this week. "The fine for breaking curfew at that time had been $200. But before San Diego, Weeb asked the players what fine they wanted to impose for breaking curfew. The players voted on a $1,000 fine — and some guys were making only $15,000 a year in those days."
So Ewbank shrewdly maneuvered his Jets into policing themselves before the 37-15 road victory over the Chargers that was the springboard for that year's famous six-win closing kick.
And 10 days before that most famous sixth win, to the tune of media critics chirping "Fun-Loving Jets Going to Super Bowl Early," the always-fedoraed coach brought his Jets down to Miami to prepare for the Baltimore Colts.
"Weeb worked them out on Friday, Saturday and Sunday a week before the game," Ramos remembered. "He worked them hard, as if it was training camp — grass drills, things like that. He said, 'I'm going to exhaust them so they won't want to go out on the town."
But he also did something perhaps no other Super Bowl coach has done before or since. He invited the players' wives and families and even the beatwriters to fly down with the team and stay at the team hotel for the week.
"Who better to watch the players than their wives?" Weeb reasoned. "And let's just hope the bachelors don't get lucky."
Besides the 16-7 triumph over the Colts on Jan. 12, 1969, Ewbank was involved in three other of the most important games in NFL history:
■ He was an assistant coach on Paul Brown's Cleveland staff in 1950, the season the Browns, the dominant team of the old All-American Football Conference, joined the NFL. The established league was said to want to teach the AAFC upstarts a lesson, so they scheduled Cleveland's opener on the road against the Philadelphia Eagles, the defending NFL champs. The Browns rolled, 35-10.
■ In 1958 he was the head coach of the Colts, who vanquished the Giants, 23-17 in overtime in "the Greatest Game Ever Played" for the NFL title.
■ And to kick off the 1970 season Ewbank coached Namath and the Jets in the very first Monday Night Football game, which ended in a 31-21 loss to, coincidentally, the Browns in Cleveland.
Ewbank will be remembered for those games and for the totality of his career. He will be forever revered as an inaugural member of the Jets' new shrine. As only Broadway Joe could put it:
"There wouldn't be a Ring of Honor if Weeb Ewbank wasn't in it."