If you find yourself headed out to a Super Bowl party someday soon, here is a little Eastern Shore football history small talk for you to share.
When the New York Jets and Baltimore Colts lined up to play Super Bowl III in January, 1969, no one gave the Jets much of a chance. The famous “guarantee” of victory issued by the Jets’ quarterback, Joe Namath, had been mostly laughed off back then as a silly bit of youthful and drunken braggadocio on Namath’s part.
But Namath’s Jets did just what he had promised, delivering a 16-7 victory that still ranks among the greatest of Super Bowl upsets.
There is a pretty amazing Eastern Shore footnote to the game.
• Five players on the two Super Bowl III teams came from the same school, and that school was the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, then called Maryland State College.
• It’s hard to be 100% sure, but that is probably a record even today–one school having five players in the same Super Bowl. (I saw something on Wikipedia about Florida State once having five players in a single Super Bowl, but it didn’t mention the year or the players. I didn’t find any reference about any other school ever having five players or more in the big game.) Another cool thing is how close UMES came to having six players in the game–offensive lineman and UMES alum Sherman Plunkett played with the Jets right around the time of the Super Bowl, but he wasn’t on the Super Bowl roster for some reason. (Trivia: Plunkett is the guy who gave Namath his famous nickname, “Broadway Joe.” Thanks to reader Lanny Butler Jr. for the tip on Plunkett …)
• The UMES alumni in Super Bowl III were Colts defensive back Charlie Stukes; Colts kick returner and defensive back Jim Duncan; Jets running back Emerson Boozer; and Jets defensive backs Johnny Sample and Earl Christy.
So that’s quite an amazing feat, not least because UMES is such a small school and one located about as far as you can get from any national spotlight. But the school actually has quite the rich football history. Between 1948 and 1963 under legendary coach Vernon “Skip” McCain, the Hawks won 109 games, against just 16 losses and four ties. They enjoyed seven undefeated seasons in that time.
Some 20 UMES graduates played in the National Football League, and here is a list of their names. The biggest name in the bunch is Art Shell, a Hall of Fame offensive lineman and eight-time Pro Bowler with the Oakland Raiders. Shell, who also became the first modern-day African-American head coach in NFL history, hosted an annual golf outing to benefit his alma mater for many years.
The defensive end Roger Brown is another UMES grad who became an NFL star of the first order in the 1960s, playing in six pro bowls. He is believed to be the first player in the league ever to clock in at more than 300 pounds. He was one of the Los Angeles Rams’ legendary “Fearsome Foursome,” but his most famous feat came while playing for the Detroit Lions, when he sacked Green Bay Packers quarterback Bart Starr six times in a single 1962 game, including one for a safety. That game is known in Lions’ lore as “The Thanksgiving Massacre.”
Today, Brown lives just across the mouth of the Bay from his old stomping grounds on the Eastern Shore. The last report I saw says he owns three restaurants in the Hampton Roads region, where he also serves on more than a dozen charitable boards and civic committees.
Among the UMES alumni who played in Super Bowl III, it was Sample came closest to turning his appearance into a star turn. When the Colts were driving for a potentially game-changing touchdown at the end of the first half, he intercepted a pass by Colts quarterback Earl Morrall at the two-yard-line and kept the momentum on the Jets’ side.
It was a moment of sweet revenge for Sample, who harbored quite a grudge against the Colts for releasing him early in his career. “I was almost in a frenzy by the time the game arrived,” he has said of the Super Bowl.
Enjoy the big game on Sunday, everyone–here’s hoping it turns out as memorable as Super Bowl III.
–written by Jim Duffy
• The old UMES publicity photo up top here features four stars from UMES in the old days–(from left) Emerson Boozer, Lanny Butler, Curtis Gentry, and Leslie Donaldson. You will find three of those names on that list of Hawks who played in the NFL that I linked to above.