Where Are They Now

Where Are They Now: Jeff Richardson

Catch Up with the Jets Legend from Michigan State


Jeff Richardson discovered there are worse things than catching the attention of a prospective boss when you're playing in "The Game of the Century."

When top-ranked Notre Dame and second-ranked Michigan State met in November 1966, Jets owner Sonny Werblin was at the game to take a look at Michigan State's defensive line.

"Sonny came to see (defensive end) Bubba Smith in action, and during the game, I made 16 unassisted tackles," said Richardson, a defensive tackle for the Spartans. "And every time Bubba slowed down, you could see it in the huddle that I was grabbing him and trying to get him fired up. And Sonny said, 'I think I want the guy that fires Bubba up. Not Bubba.'"

And while Smith was chosen No. 1 overall in 1967 by Baltimore in the first common AFL-NFL Draft, Werblin got the guy he wanted when the Jets chose Richardson in the sixth round

"I was shocked. My only communication had been with the (San Diego) Chargers. I had no communication with anyone else and then I got drafted by the Jets," Richardson said.

Even though the plan was to bring him in to help fire up New York's defensive line as he had done in college, Richardson soon found himself on the other side of the line of scrimmage.

"The first exhibition game, Sam DeLuca, the starting left guard, got a major knee injury. It ended his career," Richardson said. "I was known to play a number of different positions in college, and so they switched me over to offense."

New position, no problem. Especially when Richardson had veteran teammates on offense like left tackle Winston Hill and others take him under their wings and show him the ropes.

"I was quite friendly with (right tackle) Sherman Plunkett, who taught me a lot of tricks. Especially on pass blocking," Richardson said. "I think he was about 11 years senior to me. He had a whole bunch of tricks and he taught me a few.

"I played both guards, both tackles, and center. I think I spent most of my time at center. But it varied. Some games I would play as many as three positions."

By going 8-5-1 that season, the Jets won more games than ever before and posted their first winning record in team history. Football fans around New York took notice.

The local media took notice, as well. Which led to some of the attention being taken away from the other pro football team in town, the Giants.

"The way I understood it, they designed our camp (at the Peekskill Military Academy) so you had to pass the Jets camp in order to get to the Giants camp," Richardson said. "Before that, reporters just weren't going to the Jets camp at all. But being so close, and now you had Broadway Joe (Namath), so they said, 'Hey, this works out and it's only five miles away.' So they would stop at the Jets camp more and more back then."

The attention magnified the following season when the Jets won seven of their first nine games, and finished with an 11-3 record.

"Late in the season there was a team meeting, and a couple guys, Johnny Sample and Joe Namath, made speeches. 'We're all from different backgrounds and we're all from different colleges, we need to play as brothers and family. Forget our differences off the field, where we came from and how we grew up,'" Richardson said. "And everybody agreed. We just became a big family and did what we needed to do to take care of each other."

The "big family" came up big in the playoffs. They beat the Oakland Raiders in the AFL Championship Game. And then upset the NFL Champion Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.

"With Bubba Smith on the other team, we went through four years of college together, I saw him at dinner in a restaurant the night before the game. I was with some people from my hometown and he was with some people, and we kept trying to send each other drinks. Of course, he didn't drink and I wasn't accepting them," Richardson laughed.

"He came over to my table and told me, 'I know you guys are going to play good tomorrow, but half a check is better than none.' Meaning they were going to whoop our ass and we were going to lose. It was $15,000 for the winner and $7,500 for the loser.

"So after the game. I made sure I found him on the field and I told him, 'Half a check is better than none.' He just gave me one of his famous looks and said nothing."

After two seasons with the Jets, Richardson spent the 1969 campaign with the Miami Dolphins. What makes him most proud of his football career?

"I think making it to the pros. I never expected to. And then making it to the Super Bowl was just unbelievable," Richardson said. "When everything was finished and I looked back, I was fortunate enough to be on two National Championships (football and wrestling) in college and then the Super Bowl. I said, 'Nobody in my hometown has ever done those kinds of things.' It was it was just great."

Following football, Richardson went on to have a successful second career working for Pathway Supermarkets.

"It's a chain that's now folded, but I worked for them for 32 years as the chief of loss prevention," Richardson said. "It was based out of Jersey, but it was a major competitor throughout New York, Pennsylvania, all of New Jersey, and parts of Delaware. It was about a $5 billion company in sales a year. I made it up to a vice president position before I retired."

Retiring in 2003, Richardson and his wife of 51 years, Pat, make their home in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. They have three adult children: Crystal, Angela, and Jeff, Jr.; and nine grandchildren.