Sun, 26 Sep 2021

Where Are They Now: Billy Joe

New York Jets
30 Jul 2021, 18:56 GMT+10

Catch Up with the Former Jets Fullback Jim Gehman

Billy Joe ran the gamut in the AFL before playing a single down with the Jets.

A fullback, he was the 1963 Rookie of the Year while with the Denver Broncos. Two seasons later, he helped the Buffalo Bills win the league championship.

And then following the 1966 season, he was released by the Miami Dolphins.

"As soon as I got cut, (Jets head coach) Weeb (Ewbank) called. I don't think he gave anybody a chance to call me or to serenade me, and I wasn't willing to wait around," Joe said. "I knew the New York Jets had a better team and a better future than the Miami Dolphins, so I was excited.

"Weeb told me he was bringing me to back up Matt (Snell). He thought Matt was getting injured a lot and he wanted to have a good backup. I was willing to do that because, of course, I was happy to have a job, and happy to be closer to home, Philadelphia."

In 1967, Joe's first season playing closer to home and in a reserve rule with the Jets, he finished fourth on the team in rushing behind Emerson Boozer, Snell, and Bill Mathis, with 154 yards and two touchdowns.

"We got along beautifully. I had no issues, no problems," Joe said. "I had a great relationship with Matt and a great relationship with Emerson, as well. And I still have an unbelievably close relationship with Earl Christy."

The following season during an October 27 game against the Patriots at Shea Stadium, Joe steamrolled himself out of the shadows and into the spotlight when he rushed for 7-, 15-, and 32-yard touchdowns. Three touchdowns, all in the fourth quarter!

"What I remember mostly is running over (Patriots linebacker) Nick Buoniconti. I had an opportunity to run over him a few times in that one quarter," Joe said with a laugh. "(My teammates) were fired up and excited because I did it after we already had a sizeable lead. The game was already over, but they were excited that I had a chance to really carry the ball and score."

Three weeks later, the Jets played in Oakland, in a game which became known as the "Heidi Bowl." With New York leading 32-29 in the fourth quarter, at 7 p.m. EST, NBC switched to the children's movie, Heidi.

One problem: The Raiders scored two touchdowns in the final 1:05 and won 43-32. Television viewers didn't see the Jets loss, and they also didn't see Joe suffer a career-ending knee injury.

"I was running down for a kickoff, and a gentleman, I remember his number, 65, his name slips me, but he came out of, it seemed like, nowhere. All it was was a blur coming at my left knee and I got hit," Joe said. "I spent six weeks in the hospital, three weeks at the UCLA Clinic on the west coast and then three weeks in the Lennox Hill Hospital in New York City.

"I had an infection and almost lost my life. But I did come back for summer camp in 1969 and worked with Dr. (James) Nicholas, trying to get the knee strong. And, of course, it never did come around."

That, unfortunately, meant Joe was unable to play in the Jets' Super Bowl III victory over the then-Baltimore Colts.

"I was on the sideline for the Super Bowl on crutches and in a cast from my hip all the way down to my toes," Joe said. "But I did enjoy being out there with the guys. Of course, it would have been great if I had an opportunity to play in the game."

Later having the opportunity to go from the field to the sideline, Joe had nothing short of an incredible career. After two seasons as an assistant coach at the University of Maryland, he became the head coach at Cheyney University for seven years.

And then following two seasons in the NFL as the running backs coach in Philadelphia, where he helped the Eagles win the NFC title and reach Super Bowl XV, Joe returned to the college ranks as the head coach at Central State University. There, over the course of 13 seasons, his teams won five consecutive Black College Football National Championships and two NAIA National Football Championships.

Concluding his coaching career by spending 11 seasons at Florida A&M, where his team made six straight playoff appearances, advancing to the national semi-finals in 1999, and five seasons at Miles College, Joe finished with an all-time record of 246-131-4, second only to Grambling's Eddie Robinson among coaches at black colleges.

Why was he so successful as a coach?

"I think because I had an opportunity to play professional football for four different teams, so I learned a lot of different schemes and a lot of concepts playing under some great coaches," Joe said. "Having that experience of coaching in the pros, playing in the pros, when I became a head coach, I was really well prepared. I was well schooled.

"I really enjoyed the fact that I could make an impact on the players' lives, help them grow, develop, mature, and be all the person that they can be. Making an impact on their lives, that was very important to me, very gratifying, and quite rewarding personally. Helping them realize their dreams, goals, and aspirations, I really enjoyed that part of coaching."

Joe was enshrined into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2007. One of 10 Hall of Fames that he's in as a coach.

"That was very special and unexpected. I wasn't expecting the call," Joe said. "But they called and said, 'You've earned your way in. And we're going to induct you the same year as Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden.'"

Now retired, Joe and his wife, Debra, who make their home in Hoover, Alabama, have three children and four grandchildren.

"I'll tell you one thing, retirement is great. If I knew it was this great, I would have done it five or 10 years earlier," Joe laughed. "I'm doing a lot of things that I want to do and I don't have enough time to do all the things that I want to do. And all the things that I want to do are enjoyable, spending a lot of time with friends and family. I'm traveling, I do a lot of writing, I'm watching a lot of sports. Reading magazines and books and papers. I'm enjoying retirement."

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