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Jets-Raiders far cry from Joe Namath vs. Al Davis rivalry

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They were brass-knuckled, bone-crunching bloodbaths that could have been scheduled inside a steel cage.

When the 0-11 Jets meet the Raiders on Sunday at MetLifeless Stadium, it will be far more civil than the Joe Namath Jets versus Al Davis’ Raiders back in the good old AFL days, when it was the Ali-Frazier of rivalries even before The Fight of The Century and The Thrilla in Manila.

“When I went out to the Raiders’ office years later,” Namath told The Post, “they had a picture when you walked into the Raiders’ front door, they had a picture that was about 15 feet high and about 8-, 10-feet wide, and it was a picture of me flying through the air, and the helmet flying through the air. I thought it was [Ben] Davidson, but I was told that maybe [Ike] Lassiter was the one that broke my cheekbone at the time.

“But that picture was … man, it was like, ‘Look what we do.’ [Laugh] It was really a heckuva photo.”

Super Bowl III tight end Pete Lammons feels the exposure that Namath brought to the Jets in those days made him a marked man.

“Everybody just wanted a piece of him, that way they could get their picture in the paper or mentioned on TV,” Lammons told The Post.

“And Oakland had a group of … just saying less scrupulous players,” he said with a laugh, “and we seemed to bring out the best in them and they in us. Out there you had to buckle your chinstrap when you started walking out of the dressing room. The play could be over about five minutes and here they come and put a little cheap shot on ya.”

Davidson was arguably the biggest culprit.

Joe Namath and the Jets vs. the Raiders in 1968 in the Heidi game.
AP

“Joe had thrown the pass,” Lammons said, “and all of a sudden, a little bit late, that’s when he hit Joe in the head and turned that helmet, he was looking out of the earhole, and that’s when he broke his jaw.

“And then one time, [receiver] George Sauer and I were on opposite sides, so we were downfield, and he’s throwing a block or he’s on the ground, and in the film you could see Big Ben, and he was a long way from the play, but he saw Sauer on the ground, and he shortened up his stride and stepped right on his back.”

A menacing defensive end named Dan Birdwell presented a clear and present danger to Lammons.

“A three-point stance back then in the old AFL, you had different rules,” Lammons said. “You could hit with an open hand. He’d just come up off of the ground with one hand and hit you with the other one.”

Lammons recalls watching film of Birdwell smacking Boston Patriots tight end Jimmy Whelan during the previous week’s game and implored offensive coordinator Clive Rush:

“Run that back, Clive. Let’s pay attention here.”

Poor Whelan forgot to duck.

Joe Namath
AP

“He took about four steps off the line of scrimmage and was just wobbling around like a chicken with his head cut off,” Lammons said. “Birdwell had come off that ground and hit him in the helmet.”

So the Jets devised a plan where Lammons would line up wider and wider in an attempt to take Birdwell away from the play.

“I could just move further out to see how far Birdwell would move out with me,” Lammons said. “I said, ‘Hell, let me go a little further.’ And sure enough, he came out there on me. After a while he decided not to do that. But prior to doing that he hit me in the head one time where he’d come off that ground with that big old paw of his, I was looking out that earhole in my helmet.

“Later on I got him back going across the field, and I peeled back on him and hit him right in the chest and first thing he hit was his head.”

Lammons recalled Jets guard Dave Herman telling him, “Way to go Pete!” Lammons responded: “ ‘Shhhh!’ I didn’t want him to know who it was that hit him. I had to line up there again on him the next play, and I didn’t know if I was going to the hospital or what. He says, ‘That that was a good lick, Lammons,’ and he never hit me again.”

In his book, “All the: Way My Life in Four Quarters,” Namath addressed the brutality of the 1968 AFL Championship game win over the Raiders at an arctic Shea Stadium:

“Oakland was real good, but certainly had some players who completely disregarded the rules of decent sportsmanship. Ben Davidson, known as Gentle Ben, was also around six-foot-seven, and during one of our first games he hit me late. He jammed his elbow into my gut while on top and pushed off my head to get up, smooshing my face into the muddy field. He had also once stuck his hand under my mask and clawed his fingers down my face. … Those games against Oakland were hell, but it was a special kind of anticipation going into them because you knew how sore you were going to be the next morning, win or lose.”

Namath mentions simply requiring smelling salts for a hit that today would have required concussion protocol.

“There were tackles when Oakland would get you down and just keep piling on,” Namath wrote. “And let me tell you — they do fall on you on purpose. Putting my hand up to keep an Oakland player off me caused a dislocated middle finger.”

Namath described the famous “Heidi” game earlier in the season as typical of Jets-Raiders games: “A bloody battle of wills.”

Referring to Davis, Namath said over the phone: “He liked that renegade, rough, tough style.”

The specter of Davis engulfed Jets coaches from Weeb Ewbank to Walt Michaels in paranoia. Ewbank was certain Davis had sent a spy to a Jets practice one day.

“Al was always trying to find out some things, he was accused of some things,” Namath said with a laugh, “watering down the field out in Oakland before we’d go out there, taking some of the air out of the balls so Jim [Turner] couldn’t kick it properly. He was always on, always trying to find a good way to get an advantage for his team to win.”

Lammons: “At one time Al Davis was the AFL commissioner. We all felt like he had the officials kinda on his side, so to speak. I don’t know if that’s really right, but we always felt like playing them we were gonna get the short stick all the time.”

Mark Davis, the son of the late Hall of Famer, is the current Raiders owner. And that’s where the similarities between Jets-Raiders then and now end. Will the 2020 Jets win a game?

“I can only hope,” Namath said.

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