Pro Football Hall of Famer and New York Jets great Don Maynard, who was the sport’s all-time leading receiver when he retired, died Monday at age 86, the Pro Football Hall of Fame announced.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame confirmed Maynard’s death on Monday through his family.
Maynard played 15 seasons combined in the American and National Football Leagues between 1958 and 1973 with one season in the Canadian Football League. In his AFL-NFL career, he had 633 receptions for 11,834 yards, averaging 18.7 yards per catch with 88 touchdowns.
Upon his retirement, Maynard was one of only three players to have more than 50 receptions and more than 1,000 receiving yards in five different seasons.
He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987.
“Don Maynard is as essential to the history of the New York Jets as anyone. He came to this franchise at our inception and left a Super Bowl champion,” the Jets said in a statement. “On the field, he cemented himself as many things: record holder, Hall of Famer, and forever our No. 13. Off the field, he was unflinchingly himself — a family man who stayed true to his roots, bringing a Texas cowboy to New York.
“His passing is especially difficult as he remained close with the Jets throughout his life. Our thoughts today are with his family and loved ones. We will all miss him.”
Donald Rogers Maynard was born on Jan. 25, 1935, in Crosbyton, Texas. His father was a cotton gin manager, which meant the family moved often. Maynard attended five high schools in Texas and New Mexico.
“We kept moving around, and I never did play football again until I was a senior in high school at Colorado City,” Maynard said in a 2003 interview with The Coffin Corner’s Jim Sargent. “Under Texas rules, I never was eligible for football as a sophomore and a junior. You had to live somewhere for a year. But I played basketball and ran track.”
After high school, Maynard attended Rice University but transferred after one semester to Texas Western, now known as the University of Texas at El Paso.
After redshirting his sophomore season, Maynard compiled 2,283 all-purpose yards as a halfback and kick returner. He also played safety on defense.
In 1957, the year Maynard would have originally graduated, he was selected by the New York Giants in the ninth round (109 overall) of the league’s draft. Maynard stayed in school before turning pro in 1958.
The Texan came to New York sporting long sideburns, cowboy boots and blue jeans. Superstitious, he asked for and received the No. 13 jersey, the same as he had in college.
Maynard never wore a chin strap during his career because he didn’t like how it felt. He had specially designed cheek pads put in his helmet so he wouldn’t need to use the strap.
Maynard played one season with the Giants as a halfback and punt returner, mainly as a backup, including New York’s 23-17 overtime loss in the NFL championship to the Colts, known as The Greatest Game Ever Played. Maynard was cut the following year and spent the next season playing in the CFL with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
In 1960, Maynard became the first player signed by the New York Titans (now Jets) of the newly formed AFL and eventually was moved to the flanker position. He had 72 receptions for 1,265 receiving yards that season.
In 1965, the Jets signed future Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Namath, and Maynard led the AFL with 14 touchdown receptions.
“Joe was a great listener,” Maynard said to author Jackson Michael in his book “The Game Before the Money: Voices of the Men Who Built the NFL.” “I told him I’d help him be a better quarterback and he was going to help me be a great receiver because we were going to talk on every play ahead of time in workouts.
“I taught Namath something that no coach, even in today’s game, has ever taught a quarterback to do: read the defender! Whatever he does, do the opposite.”
In 19672, Maynard had a then-franchise-record 1,434 receiving yards and was voted the team’s MVP.
In 1968, the Jets won their first division title with an 11-3 record and faced the Oakland Raiders in the AFL championship game, where Maynard had his greatest moment as a pro.
Maynard opened the game’s scoring with a 14-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter. But midway through the fourth quarter, the Raiders took a 23-20 lead. On the second play of the ensuing drive, first-and-10 from their own 43, Namath and Maynard would hook up for the biggest pass play in the franchise’s history.
“Earlier in the game, I told Joe, ‘Down the road sometime, I’ve got things set up pretty good and I’ve got a long one if you need it,'” Maynard recounted to the New York Daily News in 2011. “So, Joe told us in the huddle, ‘Hey, we’re going to go for it, so make sure, no holding by you linemen, we’re going after it.”
In the swirling winds of Shea Stadium, Namath dropped back and threw a deep pass to Maynard running down the right side of the field.
“We always had the terminology of catching it over your left shoulder at about 10 o’clock,” Maynard told Sargent. “The wind caught Joe’s pass and took it around to 11, 12, 1 and 2 o’clock. I went all the way around and caught it at 2 o’clock, going out of bounds on the 6-yard line.”
On the next play, Namath hit Maynard for the winning touchdown, a 27-23 victory that sent the Jets to Super Bowl III. In the Super Bowl, the 19-point underdog Jets defeated the Baltimore Colts 16-7.
Maynard was named to the All-Time AFL Team in 1969 and was a four-time AFL All-Star. The Jets placed him in their Ring of Honor in 2010 while also retiring his No. 13 jersey.
“I don’t really look at it like I’m the greatest receiver,” Maynard said on his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “After you play a while, anybody can break certain records. Longevity is the key. The record I’m proudest of is being the first guy to get 10,000 yards in receptions. Others may do it, but I’m the first, and only one guy can be the first.”
Maynard was inducted into the UTEP Athletics Hall of Fame in 2004.
After his playing career, Maynard worked as a financial planner and ran his own consulting firm.
Maynard was predeceased by his wife, Marilyn, whom he married while in college. They have two children, a daughter, Terry, and son, Scott.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.