LORHAM PARK, N.J. — George Sauer had a huge day in the biggest game in New York Jets history, and then surprisingly walked away from football a few years later.
Sauer, a wide receiver on the Jets’ only Super Bowl championship team, has died. He was 69.
The team and Moreland Funeral Home in Westerville, Ohio, confirmed Saturday that he died Tuesday after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease.
Sauer played a key role in the Jets’ 16-7 win over the Baltimore Colts in the 1969 Super Bowl. He caught eight passes from Joe Namath that day in one of the greatest upsets in pro football history.
He played for the Jets in the AFL and then the NFL from 1965-70, but left the game after the 1970 season still in his prime because, he said at the time, he was unhappy with the way the game treated players. Sauer briefly returned to football in 1974 with the New York Stars and Charlotte Hornets of the World Football League before retiring from playing for good.
Sauer later was an assistant coach for the Carolina Chargers of the American Football Association in 1979.
“We will always remember George Sauer for his role in the New York Jets’ run that culminated with a historic victory in Super Bowl III as well as the strength of his convictions off the field,” Jets owner Woody Johnson said in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family as we say goodbye to someone whose unforgettable contributions will always be a part of this organization’s history.”
Sometimes overshadowed by fellow wide receiver Don Maynard, a Hall of Famer, Sauer had an extremely productive career. He was chosen to four all-star teams and was a two-time All-Pro.
His best moment came in the Super Bowl when, with Maynard hampered by a pulled hamstring, Sauer helped lead the Jets past the Colts. His 39-yard catch to the Colts 10-yard line late in the third quarter set up the Jets’ final field goal early in the fourth that gave New York a 16-0 lead.
Current Jets coach Rex Ryan was 6 years old when his father Buddy became an assistant with the team in 1968, and remembers watching Sauer.
“Everybody knew about Don Maynard, obviously, because he was a great receiver, a Hall of Fame receiver,” Ryan said. “But George Sauer stepped up in the biggest moment. He was obviously a tremendous player.”
Sauer had at least 1,000 yards receiving for three straight years from 1966-68, with his best season coming in 1967 when he led the AFL with 75 catches for 1,189 yards and six touchdowns. His 309 career receptions rank him ninth in franchise history, while his for 4,965 yards receiving are sixth on the team’s list.
“RIP George Sauer,” former Jets wide receiver Wayne Chrebet wrote on Twitter. “One of the heroes on the Jets Super Bowl III championship team.”
Sauer, who was born in Sheboygan, Wis., on Nov. 10, 1943, wrote novels and poetry after football, according to the Jets’ website, and most recently was a textbook graphics specialist in St. Paul, Minn., in the 1990s. His father, George Sr., worked as the Jets’ director of player personnel in the 1960s.