As humble as he was exceptional on the field, Dainard Paulson is one of the early defensive stars in Titans/Jets franchise history.
Undrafted out of Oregon State in 1961, Paulson headed to New York with no guarantees and no expectations. He was only looking to try out for the American Football League's second-year Titans and hope for the best.
"I wanted an opportunity to play football and they gave me a chance," Paulson said. "That was my first time to New York. I'd grown up in Los Angeles, and yeah, it was really a challenge for me to go there and make the team."
Paulson not only beat the odds and made the team, but when New York opened the 1961 season with a victory over the Patriots in Boston, the rookie was starting at safety for head coach Sammy Baugh.
"I called home and told my parents when I found out I made the team and they were grateful for that as well," Paulson said. "I'm sure they were proud. Coming out of nowhere, not being drafted and doing what I did, it's something to be proud of."
With one interception during his first year – off of Houston's George Blanda – Paulson was moved to cornerback the following season under new head coach Bulldog Turner, and collected three interceptions.
He doubled that in 1963 with six picks under his third head coach in three years, Weeb Ewbank, who had joined the team after nine seasons and two NFL Championships with the Baltimore Colts.
"It was a real breakthrough," Paulson said. "He brought a lot of players to us, and he brought a lot of good plays. He was a good coach."
That was also the inaugural year of the Jets. After three seasons playing as the Titans, the team was not only competing against others in the AFL, but it was also doing battle at home in New York with the NFL's Giants.
"When the AFL was first formed, the Giants had been there for a long time," Paulson said. "And so, we were very competitive at that time and excited about being a challenge."
It's fair to say that Paulson was more than up to the challenge in 1964. Switching back to safety, he led the league and set a franchise record, which still stands, with 12 interceptions.
Twelve interceptions in 14 games!
Add his fumble recoveries, and Paulson averaged one takeaway per game.
"I got used to the position I was playing and I just had a great year," Paulson said. "I preferred playing safety. I got more involved with the whole team. At cornerback, you're out on a limb, outside. And when you're at safety, you're in the ballgame all the time. You're making a lot of tackles. It's a real great experience to play safety."
Also scoring the only touchdown of his career that season on a 32-yard interception return off of Kansas City's Len Dawson, Paulson was named to the All-AFL Team as well as being chosen as the Jets' Most Valuable Player. That was a first for someone who played on defense.
"That was a real wonderful treat," Paulson said. "I was one of the captains of the team. That was a wonderful time, it just made my life comfortable with the New York Jets."
With the Titans/Jets for six seasons, 1961-66, Paulson, a two-time Pro Bowler, never missed a game and totaled 29 career interceptions for 343 yards. That's second all-time in franchise history to Bill Baird.
"It was mindboggling to me," Paulson said. "I wasn't a drafted player; I was just one who had tried out and made it. And then when I made it that big, it was mind-blowing."
Following his playing days, Paulson followed his dad into the Los Angeles-based family business – landscaping.
"I enjoyed working outside," Paulson said. "I started developing some properties and kind of grew up with developing. I started off in Los Angeles, but then we moved to Washington state and I continued that up here."
Now retired, Paulson and his wife, Jean, who make their home in Yakima, "have three daughters and they're all beautiful," Dana, Deri, and Cheryl; and 11 grandchildren.