A 60-minute man at Hofstra, playing both offensive and defensive tackle, John Schmitt moved to center during his junior season and became a Little All-America at defensive tackle as a senior.
Undrafted by both the NFL and AFL in 1964, Schmitt received feelers from the then-Dallas Texans, who later became the Kansas City Chiefs, and the Canadian Football League’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats. But it was a phone call from his college coach Handy Myers to Jets head coach Weeb Ewbank that kept him in New York.
“Coach Ewbank and (offensive line coach) Chuck Knox worked me out and said, ‘We don’t need any tackles, but our center’s getting old. He’s 27. I was only 20. I said, ‘Yeah, he’s old,’” Schmitt said with a laugh. “They said, ‘We’ll give you a shot at playing center.’ So, I got a $8,500 contract and a brand-new football to practice snapping.”
Unfortunately, it was Schmitt’s cruciate ligament that snapped during only his second game as a rookie. That left him sidelined until there were only two games left to play the following season.
Starting at center in 1966, Schmitt helped the Jets achieve their first winning season the next year when they went 8-5-1, and then post an 11-4 record in 1968 and become the AFL Champions.
“The thing that clicked was the fact that in ’67, we missed making the division championship by a half a game (to Houston) and had to play even though we were eliminated the day before,” Schmitt said. “We played Christmas eve out in San Diego. That was low as far as not being home with your family, being eliminated by a half a game the day before, and the long plane ride home.
“The thought of that in the offseason just gnawed at you, that we were so close and could have gotten into the playoffs and didn’t. We came back with a commitment to ourselves and to our team and to our fans that we were going to win our division and get a shot at getting to the Super Bowl.”
Speaking of shots, Schmitt felt he needed one or two of penicillin leading up to Super Bowl III against the NFL Champion Baltimore Colts.
“I came down with pneumonia after the (AFL) championship game (against Oakland) and Coach Ewbank and the doctors, they thought I was allergic to penicillin. So, they wouldn’t give me anything. And I mean, I was dying. I was coughing up blood and yellow and green, it was unbelievable,” Schmitt said.
“We were at this press thing and (Ewbank) said, ‘You’ve got to practice. You can’t let those people pick up that you’re sick.’ So, I did that for a couple days and finally I said, ‘Coach, you’ve got to give me penicillin. I can’t walk. If you don’t give me penicillin, I’m not playing. I just can’t do it. So, they gave me penicillin.
“(The Jets) sent us the film of our Super Bowl game the following year for a Christmas present.
“You see me at the beginning of the game, I’m running out of the huddle to the line of scrimmage.
“In the second quarter, I’m jogging out to the line of scrimmage.
“In the third quarter, I’m walking out to the line of scrimmage.
“And then in the fourth quarter, the two guards are helping me out of the huddle to the line of scrimmage.
“After the game, I was spent. We knelt down to say the Our Father and Joe Namath was right next to me, and I lost my facilities. Joe turns to me and says, ‘Schmitty, no offense, but I’m out of here.’”
The Jets made history by upsetting the Colts, 16-7. And other than finding out that Namath’s weakness was a queasy stomach – what’s something Schmitt will never forget about the Jets’ Super Bowl experience?
“The big thing is I lived through it,” he said. “The next biggest is a thing that I never experienced before with all the teams in the AFL. The guys would come over to our hotel, guys that we hated, guys from the Oakland Raiders, Kansas City Chiefs, they all came up and hugged us and said, ‘Hey, get this game for us.’ Because (the NFL was) trying to put us out of business. To have all the guys that we played against come over to wish us luck, that was unbelievable.
“Now, they kneel down after a game and say prayers together. In those days, we played against teams like the Raiders, we’d kick each other in the gonads. We didn’t kneel down and pray together. So, to have them come over like that and to wish us luck… We were playing for the league, not just for the Jets and our families.”
Schmitt spent 10 seasons with the Jets, 1964-73, before concluding his career by playing the 1974 campaign with Green Bay. What makes him most proud of his career?
“Well, considering I started off on the taxi squad, I made the team eventually, I became captain, I became player representative, I was All-Pro, all those things contributed to an unbelievable experience to look back at,” Schmitt said. “My children and grandchildren can experience that.
“Especially this past year. I had been, for three years, going to the ownership, to the coaches, to the general manager, to say, ‘Hey, listen, you guys built your whole reputation on our backs. We are the only thing that makes you guys legal, basically, and we should be recognized for that. Not having just two or three of our guys in the Ring of Honor. Our whole team should be in the Ring of Honor. And I kept on to no avail.”
Well, perhaps with some avail. On October 14, 2018, the Jets celebrated the 50th anniversary of Super Bowl III during their game against the Indianapolis Colts.
“We go down on the field at halftime,” says Schmitt, “and they have the electronic Ring of Honor just for the Super Bowl team with all of our names and our numbers on it. That will go around for the rest of our lives, which is phenomenal. All those things that I told you I accomplished, getting that for our team was my biggest accomplishment.”
Schmitt, who has been married to his wife, Joanne, for 56 years, and has three children: John, Timmy and Jacquie; and seven grandchildren; is as accomplished off the field as he was on it.
“When I played football, I had two jobs. I worked in the insurance and investment industry and real estate,” Schmitt said. “But after I retired from football, I went full-time into the life insurance business. My partner and I started the company (PFP in Orange, Connecticut) 48 years ago, that our sons own and run now. We have 300 people in the company and operate in 17 states. It’s whole life insurance and a credit union.
“And I have my own business besides that. I’ve dealt with trade unions for just about 50 years, so I have three companies (John Schmitt Industries) that I run myself. I work 60, 65 hours a week still, but I love what I do.”