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Two Telling Moments En Route to Super Bowl


1968 Superbowl III Season Photos

Forty years ago today, the New York Jets were crowned champions of the football world.  The underdog Jets, representing the American Football League, carried the play to the NFL's Baltimore Colts and took home a decisive 16-7 victory at the Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida.

If you're fortunate enough to win an NFL championship, your team not only has to succeed at various critical junctures but has to have good fortune as well. And John Schmitt, center of the Jets' 1968 title team, recently recalled two such moments from that unforgettable season.

The Jets' most memorable regular-season game during the 1968 campaign was a loss. After the Green & White had taken a 32-29 lead over the Oakland Raiders with 1:05 to play, NBC decided to leave the contest with less than a minute remaining and allow a children's movie to air on time. While many New Yorkers watched "Heidi," the Raiders scored two touchdowns in the final 42 seconds to win, 43-32.

"We saw 40 guys going 40 different directions," Schmitt said of the immediate aftermath of that game.

The defeat left the Jets with a 7-3 record and they wouldn't return to New York for another week. Head coach Weeb Ewbank gave his players a couple of days off before they'd meet back up at a Travel Lodge in Escondido, California. They had an upcoming date with the Chargers so they stayed on the West Coast..

To rebound, the Jets had to clear their heads and get focused — and a few laughs wouldn't hurt, either.

"The guy that really saved our team that week was Curley Johnson," Schmitt said. "Curley was the team jokester. There was a lounge on the second floor of this place and we went to the lounge every night. He would get up there and he brought the team together — I swear Curley did it. We'd laugh every night, and we got together as the week built up."

Johnson, a punter and tight end, wasn't the only one providing the entertainment. The Jets actually had their own music band.

"George Sauer would play the guitar, Clive Rush, our offensive coordinator, would play the drums, and Bake Turner would play the guitar and sing," Schmitt said. "And Curley would tell jokes."

By kickoff, the Chargers found out that the Jets were no longer in a jovial mood. After a week of California bonding and preparation, they returned to their winning ways with a 37-15 trouncing of the 'Bolts. The '68 Jets would not lose another game.

But they did receive a deathly scare following their regular-season-ending 31-7 triumph over the Dolphins.

In those days, beer was available to players once they boarded planes following games. Schmitt and fellow lineman Randy Rasmussen were sharing a beverage or two when Schmitt noticed something strange.

"Randy, look out the window at how low we are," he told his teammate.

"Yeah, man, really low," answered Rasmussen.

Then the pilot came over the intercom and made a frightening announcement.

"Well, gentlemen, we have a problem. We've lost our No. 3 engine, we've had to power down our No. 2 engine, and we're going into crash procedures right now. Just listen to the stewardesses."

Unfortunately, the stewardesses didn't have much to say. Just minutes after leaving the Miami airport, the Jets were going to make an unscheduled return.

"The stewardesses were crying," Schmitt said. "So we've got the whole team, all the owners, all the press, all the equipment, and we're coming down like a lead balloon. We're basically looking around and saying a few prayers. As we're coming into the airport, you see the fire engines and the ambulances on either side of the runway and we're coming into some outskirt runway."

The plane touched down on the ground and lifted back in the air three times before skidding to a stop.

"It was probably only silence for about a minute, but it felt like it was about half an hour," Schmitt said. "Then Coach Ewbank got on the intercom and said, 'Well, gentleman, we have to thank God that we're safe. We're going to go into the airport now and I've got the first round of drinks at the bar, guys."

Another plane came and picked up players and coaches who wanted to return home that evening. For those who wanted to collect their bearings, they had the option of returning the following day.

"It was the scariest thing," Schmitt said. "This is just before we were getting ready to play the championship game against the Oakland Raiders and we nearly crashed."

Only a few weeks later, the Jets would fly higher than ever before.

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