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How the New York Jets were born - a history on the Browns’ Week 2 opponent

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Began in the fifth league with the name “American Football League”

Jets QB Joe Namath had chronic knee problems as a professional but would still show up for gameday as a spectator in his iconic fur coat

As with a lot of teams currently in the NFL today, the New York Jets were members of the fifth American Football League, an NFL rival league that began its first season of 1960. It was important for the new league to anchor a club in New York City; and so, the “Titans of New York” were born.

The NFL already had the New York Football Giants. Harry Wismer, the AFL’s New York owner, called his team the “Titans” because he accessed “titans are bigger and stronger than giants.”

The team languished in the gloomy antiquated Polo Grounds with the gate usually fewer than 10,000 per game. This stadium was nicknamed “The Bathtub” because of its bathtub shape and was built in 1890 for baseball with the first tenants the New York Metropolitans and later the New York Gothams (later renamed the New York Giants). By 1960, the stadium was dark, moldy, antiquated with horrible parking because when built, the stadium relied on street cars to bring fans.

After the first few games in 1962, the players went on strike after not receiving either game check. By the third year, debt mounted and only a $40,000 bailout by the AFL allowed the team to make payroll for the end of the season.

On December 15, 1962, the Titans lost 44-10 at home to the Houston Oilers, one of that league’s best clubs. The gate was announced as 8,167 but more realistically was around 2,000. The AFL office had been covering player checks since November and at the conclusion of the year, the AFL revoked Wismer’s franchise as the team went into bankruptcy.

A five-man group headed by Sonny Werblin purchased the club in 1963 for $1.3 million, which covered all debts including the $225,450 value of the team. The new organization was officially named the “Gotham Football Club, Inc.”

Werblin changed the colors to green and white to honor his St. Patrick’s day birthday, moved the club into Shea Stadium and renamed them the “Jets.” His reasoning was that the United States was entering the space age and also that the new stadium was located between LaGuardia and JFK Airports. Shea was also the home of the Mets, so the name association was friendly.

When the AFL and NFL merged in 1970, the Jets were placed in the AFC. And just like the Raiders, the NFL’s initial plan was to fold the club in order to give the cross-town Giants New York City in its entirety; or relocate them to possibly Memphis. But the risk of repealing the merger by Congress caused the NFL brass to rethink that plan, and then Giants’ owner Wellington Mara agreed to allow the Jets to stay put and not antagonize their fanbase. The NFL then accepted all 10 AFL teams and in their existing location.

Alabama quarterback Broadway Joe Namath made this franchise famous when he signed a $400,000 contract after being the first overall pick in the AFL draft in 1965. The NFL St. Louis Cardinals had taken Namath with the 12th pick in the NFL draft and were confident that could sign him for the unheard amount of $200,000, but Werblin shocked the pro football world with at-the-time the largest professional football contract ever. The contract also included a brand new green Lincoln Continental convertible.

The franchise has won one AFL title and one Super Bowl.

Origin Facts:

  • Established: 1960
  • Original Owner: Harry Wismer
  • Original Colors: Blue & yellow
  • First Stadium: Polo Grounds, seating 55,000
  • Retired Jerseys: No. 13 Don Maynard, No. 12 Joe Namath, No. 73 Joe Klecko