When I was charged with the task of honoring George Sauer and attempting to describe his greatness as a player and place in Jets lore, I was hesitant. Hesitant not because of lack of knowledge of the player but because, by circumstances of my birth, I was not fortunate enough to see him play.
However, for those who are old enough to remember, Sauer was one of “Joe Willie’s” favorite targets whose crowning moment came in what still remains the biggest game in franchise history, Super Bowl III. Sauer was the team’s leading pass-catcher in the Super Bowl, hauling in eight passes for 133 yards, five of which were for first downs. For some reason, when the 1968 Super Bowl team gets brought up Sauer somehow seems to get overlooked because of the greatness of Hall of Famers Joe Namath and Don Maynard as well as the formidable backfield of Emerson Boozer and Matt Snell.
In fact, Sauer is arguably one of the most underrated Jets of all time if you actually think about it. Sure, Maynard was seen as the true co-star of the high flying offenses of the late-sixties Jets teams but it could be argued that without Sauer, those teams would not have been nearly as prolific.
From 1966-68, Sauer racked up three straight season of at least 1,000 yards receiving and was the leading receiver on the 1967 team that set the then professional passing record of 4,007 yards. He was also named to four straight Pro Bowls between 1966-69 and earned back-to-back First-Team All-Pro selections in 1967 and 1968. 1967 was also Sauer’s best professional season as he set career highs in receptions (75) and receiving yards with 1,189.
Before he became a pivotal part of the Jets first and only Super Bowl title, Sauer was a key member of the University of Texas team that went undefeated and were named consensus National Champions. The scraggly, bespectacled wide receiver was undrafted out of college in 1965, but had friends in high places, so to speak. His father, George Sr., just so happened to be the Jets Director of Player Personnel. George Sr. was quite the football player in his own right, having been named an All-American while playing halfback at the University of Nebraska and played a couple of years professionally for the vaunted Green Bay Packers. Anyway, I digress, George Sr. saw it fit to pick up George Jr. but this was not a charity case by any means.
Granted, Sauer did have his fair share of troubles as a rookie in 1965, (coincidentally the same rookie year as a certain fur coat clad quarterback), as he was plagued by a bad case of the “dropsies”. By all accounts he did not strike the figure of a football player, sporting “horn-rimmed glasses beneath a head of heavy blonde hair”. Sauer’s early on-field problems stemmed from not being able to see the ball (shades of “Wild Thing” Ricky Vaughn). The Jets apparently sent him to an eye specialist where he was fitted for contact lenses and the rest is history. Citing his combination of speed and precise route-running skills, head coach Weeb Ewbank likened him to a faster version of legendary former Baltimore Colts receiver, Raymond Berry.
Connie Carberg, who was became the first female NFL scout while working for the Jets, knew Sauer very well and was kind enough to share some thoughts on George for his induction: “Although Maynard was the speed guy, George was the best route-runner and had the best hands on the team.” A little fun fact: Sauer was Carberg’s tennis partner during the off-season, which he did in lieu of a traditional off-season training program, since there was no such thing at the time.
Carberg’s father, former team doctor, Dr. Cal Nicholas had this to say: “Every player is different on the sidelines, some you don’t go near. George Sauer could play a game of chess on the sidelines, and was always calm, cool, and collected. He didn’t have an intensity off the fields, but somehow was able to tactically execute plays.”
One thing that one should keep in mind about Sauer, Maynard, and other receivers/skill players from that era is that the game was vastly different from the one we know and love today. The rules were skewed in favor of the defense and guys like Sauer were allowed to be mauled by defensive backs in ways that would not only be considered penalties but would likely draw the ire of the commissioner in the form of fines or suspensions in today’s game. With that in mind it creates some context and perspective for Sauer’s accomplishments, the fact that he was so prolific for a significant amount of time is even more impressive when you consider the state of the game in those days.
One can only wonder what Sauer’s place in Jets history would be had he not opted to cut his career short at the age of 27, citing what he described as a fundamental lack of freedom. “The system, the power structure of coaches and people who run the game works to mold you into something easy to manipulate. It is a sad thing to see a 40-year-old man being checked into bed at night. It is personally embarrassing to realize that you are all part of this.”
According to Carberg, George was very smart and musically inclined, playing both piano and guitar, and “wanted to be known as more than a football player.” Upon his retirement, he went back to school for three years and then attempted to get back into football as a member of the New York Stars of the now-defunct World Football League.
Despite his short career, Sauer owns the sixth and 11th-best seasons in terms of receiving yards in franchise history and also ranks 10th on the all-time receiving list. It is tough to truly quantify what Sauer meant to those Jets teams because for all the greatness of Namath and Maynard it’s tough to say whether they would have experienced the same success without his presence. When asked to sum up George Sauer in one sentence, the aforementioned Carberg said it best: “The inscription on the side of the Super Bowl Ring describes George on the field – “Poise & Execution”.
We at the Jets Blog are proud to induct George Sauer into the TJB Hall of Fame. Sound off in the comments section below with thoughts, memories, recollections, etc. of George’s career and his place in Jets history.