Note: This article was written by Andrew Garda
When the TJB guys approached me about writing an official Jets Blog entry for their Hall of Fame I said yes despite not knowing exactly how the heck one approaches such things.
Would I focus on stats? Should I look for one big moment where my subject impacted either the NFL, the Jets franchise or both? Should I talk about what he did off the field, how he impacted the community around him for the better?
It all snapped into focus when I saw legendary Jets coach Weeb Ewbank on the list of choices. I could clarify something Jets fans have wondered for decades.
Just what the heck is a Weeb?
Turns out, Weeb stands in for Wilbur, Coach Ewbank’s actual name.
That didn’t take nearly as long as I thought it would take.
Maybe a little more detail is needed for a man whose name once adorned part of the facility at Hofstra, the former home of the New York Jets.
It’s impossible to encapsulate the entirety of a coach’s career in one article without sounding like a Wikipedia entry. I’m sure I’ll miss something someone thinks is vital or perhaps spend time on something else you think trivial.
The fact is that Weeb Ewbank was an interesting coach and you could spend pages just listing details on his various jobs. Overall his record was ok, about a .500 win/loss career. He wasn’t a coach who changed the way the game was played in the manner a Dick LeBeau or Don Coryell. He didn’t pile up wins to an undefeated season like Don Schula.
What Ewbank did do was prove once and for all that the Super Bowl – the Championship game of the young merged NFL – was not only a good competition, but that the unexpected could happen at any moment.
What Ewbank did was win Championships in two leagues, something never accomplished before (and really impossible to do since…)
What Ewbank did was turn a pair of sloppy, young, haphazard teams and not only turn them around but win Championships with them.
Ewbank was also involved in two significant NFL games involving mythical events: “The Guarantee” and “The Greatest Game Ever Played”.
Wow, for a guy with a .500 record, Ewbank did some tremendous things. Let’s take a closer look at some of them.
Getting the obvious out of the way: The Jets victory over the Baltimore Colts was certainly a huge catalyst for the survival of the NFL. We all know that prior to the Jets win, the AFC was thought to be a lesser conference.
Certainly that’s part of the perception battle that Joe Namath was trying to fight when he uttered “The Guarantee”, an action which resulted in a private talking-to from Coach Ewbank.
However, it was just as much the preparation and film work Ewbanks had the team work on and the conservative game plan which resulted in the only Super Bowl victory in Jets history.
The game plan was one which countered the Colts’ blitzing with short strikes to tight ends and running backs whenever one came in. It focused on controlling the clock and controlling the ball. It relied on solid defense.
Wish I knew why that sounds so familiar…..
The Jets and Colts had roughly the same amount of rushing yards but the Jets ruled time of possession, 36:10 to the Colts’ 23:50. Defensively, they generated five turnovers, including four interceptions.
From that point on, it wasn’t just the NFL and friends. It was The NFL and anything could happen.
Interestingly, the “Greatest Game Ever Played” in 1958 was another huge catalyst for league survival and in that one, Weeb kept things simple as well.
The back and forth nature of that game, which included the first ever Championship OT and occasionally sloppy play causing many turn-overs, played in front of a nationally televised audience at legendary Yankee Stadium was enough to hook the whole country on football and led to much of the success it has seen today.
In both games, Ewbank’s patience and methodical game plan resulted in an all important win in the end.
That attitude also served him well in building both franchises. It took Weeb 4 years to even reach .500 and three more years to win a Championship. In Baltimore he made it to a winning record by his fourth year and then won two Championships in a row.
Ewbank looked for long term, end goal results. He wanted to win, of that I’m sure, but he wasn’t going to sacrifice that long term success he wanted for short term gain. He knew that took time.
I think it’s something we should all think about in today’s NFL where results are expected instantaneously.
Ewbank knew how to develop a team and the players on it. Among the men he coached were Hall of Famer quarterbacks Joe Namath and Johnny Unitas, as well as Colts defensive tackle Art Donovan.
Namath had bad knees, Unitas had been cut by the Steelers and out of football while Donovan played for three different teams in his first three seasons (the first Baltimore Colts, the New York Yanks and the Dallas Texans).
Ewbanks knew a football player when he saw one though.
Colts running back and wide receiver Lenny Moore once said of Ewbank, “You can take 50 guys and run them a couple laps around a ping pong table and Coach Ewbank will pick out the football players. He knows talent like nobody I’ve ever seen. There isn’t a better football man on this earth.”
He should know as Moore had a great career under Coach Ewbank in Baltimore.
Weeb Ewbank’s coaching career ended sort of like it started—with a team stumbling to an inauspicious end. Only this time, Coach Ewbanks was going, not coming.
However looking over his career with both the Jets and the Colts, Ewbanks accomplished a tremendous amount. Not only did he give the franchise its sole Championship (so far!) but validated an entire league not once but twice.
He was the type of coach players loved to play for and believe in, much like the present day leader of the Jets, Rex Ryan. He knew what it took to win and while not flashy or grandiose, had the will to see his game-plan through, not jump in a different direction if things seemed to go awry for a little while.
Every place Ewbank went – from Baltimore to New York or in college as a coach at Miami (Ohio) – he left in his wake loyal friends and colleagues whose names are synonymous with either college or pro football: Joe Paterno, Paul Brown, Buddy Ryan, Chuck Knox to name a very, very few.
Ewbank was everything a Jet should be; hard working, determined, methodical, tough and carrying just a bit of a chip on his shoulder.
Without him this franchise, and the league, would not be where they are today.
For that, I welcome him into the hallowed halls of The Jets Blog Hall of Fame, where he doesn’t have to share a room with the babbling bust of John Madden.
Info in this article gathered from multiple sources including The University of Miami (OH) website, profootballhof.com and Pro Football Reference.com