George Sauer, Jets' Leading Receiver in Super Bowl III, Dies at 69

Rocco Constantino@@br_jets_reportContributor IMay 11, 2013

Photo courtesy of US Presswire
Photo courtesy of US Presswire

George Sauer, the Jets leading receiver in Super Bowl III and four-time AFL All Star, died on May 7 according to the New York Times.  The shifty slot receiver who walked away from the game at the age of 27 died from congestive heart failure and complications from Alzheimer's disease at the age of 69.

After playing three years for the University of Texas, Sauer signed with the Jets in 1965, the same year the team drafted Joe Namath.  Together, Sauer, Namath and Hall of Famer Don Maynard developed one of the top passing offenses in the AFL through the later half of the 1960s.

As a rookie, Sauer established himself as a reliable yet underused split end as Namath began to find his way professionally.  He finished with 29 catches for 301 yards and two touchdowns.

Sauer, however, broke out during his second year, playing a complementary role to Maynard's deep game.  Although the 6'2" Sauer didn't have game-breaking speed, he was an exemplary route-runner and had tremendously reliable hands.

He finished the 1966 season with 63 receptions for 1,079 yards and five touchdowns and was named 2nd Team All-AFL by the Associated Press.

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Sauer broke through for his best season in 1967 when he led the AFL with 75 receptions, and his 1,189 receiving yards was second in the AFL behind his teammate Maynard.  He was named the top split end in the AFL in 1967 by the Associated Press, UPI and the Sporting News.

As Sauer continued to develop, so did the New York Jets.  By 1968, the Jets were firmly established as one of the top teams in the AFL and Sauer was one of the main cogs in Namath's high-flying offense.  

With a 34-year-old Maynard starting to show signs of aging and Sauer coming into his prime at the age of 25, Sauer surpassed Maynard as Namath's top target in 1968.  Sauer caught 66 passes for 1,141 yards in 1968 to help the Jets to an 11-3 record.  

Sauer caught seven passes for 70 yards in the Jets thrilling 27-23 playoff win over the Raiders to help the Jets to a berth in Super Bowl III.

While Maynard was the star in the receiving game in the win over the Raiders, a pulled hamstring slowed him in the Super Bowl.  This allowed Sauer to step up and deliver perhaps his most important performance as a Jet.

Despite the Jets' run-heavy game plan in Super Bowl III, Sauer finished with a game-high eight catches for 133 yards.  Sauer caught two key passes, each converting first downs, on the Jets' only touchdown drive of the game.  His 11-yard reception early in the second quarter set the Jets up at the Colts' 23-yard line, and when Matt Snell punched the ball into the end zone it gave the Jets a lead they would not relinquish.

Sauer looked as if he was going to become a breakout star as the AFL and NFL began to plan their merger, but the receiver became disenchanted with life as a professional football player.  

In a 1972 article in the Tuscaloosa News, Sauer discussed his choice to leave the sport.

“I never liked the hatred in football.  I enjoyed the competition.  I enjoyed the friendships I made.  But I was appalled by the negating of the qualities of true competition and the emphasis on lucrative contracts.  The rationale is that this is just a surrogate war and a harmless way to let out our natural aggressive instincts.  If that's the case, wouldn't it be healthier to just hit your head against a padded wall?  Why hate your fellow man, even artificially?" 

After leaving the NFL, Sauer pursued a career in writing and publishing.  

According to his obituary, Sauer is survived by his sister, Dana Keifer of Westerville, Ohio, two nephews, his aunt and uncle, and numerous cousins.