University at Buffalo defensive end Gerry Philbin was chosen by Detroit in the third round of the 1964 NFL Draft two days after the Jets chose him in the same round of the AFL Draft. They didn’t know it, but the Lions never had a chance.
“I was impressed with New York because No. 1, they treated me a lot better,” Philbin said. “The NFL came with their scouts to the campus and this scout looked and said, ‘Well, you might be too small for the NFL.’ And he was putting down the AFL.
“I was a big New York Giants fan growing up, so I was always an NFL fan, but the Jets took the time to fly me in a private jet to New York and I was met at the airport and so on. They showed me a lot more respect. There was never any doubt in my mind that I was going to sign with the Jets.”
While Philbin may have been smaller than some defensive ends as the NFL scout suggested, he was also stronger and quicker than most.
“I worked on my strength a lot,” Philbin said. “I joined a health club in downtown Buffalo and put on about 30 pounds for my senior year. I weighed 230, 235 and then I put on 10 pounds to play with the Jets. So, I weighed about 245 and was close to 6-2. I was small in comparison. Even then there were a lot of big defensive linemen around the league. But mostly, I worked on quickness and different moves.
“They tried me out at linebacker, offensive guard and I ended up at defensive end. And I enjoyed it. Once they put me there and played a few exhibition games, I stayed there.”
In 1967, Philbin and his teammates posted an 8-5-1 record, the first winning season in team history. The following year, even though sacks wouldn’t become an official statistic until 1982, Philbin was credited with getting to the opposing quarterback 19 times, as the Jets went 11-3 and upset the Baltimore Colts, 16-7, in Super Bowl III.
What’s something he’ll never forget from that Super Sunday?
“The impact of the win,” Philbin said. “The impact was so great that finally, the AFL was on par with the NFL. It really meant so much to the players around the league in the AFL because we were really second-class citizens up until the time the Jets won in the Super Bowl. Because prior to that there were two Super Bowls where the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders got beat pretty good by the NFL (Green Bay Packers).
“So, it really was the impact of the game more or less for the players in the AFL and the fans around the country in the AFL cities. That’s what my biggest thrill was. That and to go home and be No. 1 in New York is another good reason.”
Philbin spent nine seasons with New York, 1964-72, and was named All-AFL twice and selected to play in two Pro Bowls. A member of the AFL’s All-Time team, the Jets inducted him into their Ring of Honor in 2011.
“I got the most out of how hard I worked, because I was a little disadvantaged with size and overcame it,” Philbin said is what makes him most proud of his stellar career. “And then just accomplishing most of my goals that I set. I wanted to be an All-Star. I wanted to win the Super Bowl. And the personal goals of getting elected to All-Time AFL Team, and then finally, becoming a Ring of Honor recipient with the Jets. All those things, I cherish a lot.”
The father or two and grandfather of three, Philbin is enjoying life in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. “I’ve been retired for the last 15, 20 years. I had a business on Long Island for many years, a sand and gravel business,” he said. “And then I sold that and my home and moved to Florida and became a real estate agent. I was in the real estate business for a while and then moved to New Hampshire. But my kids were living in Florida at the time, so I moved back and have since stayed, and I’m here now.”