The crowd was in an uncontrollable frenzy. The TV audience could barely hear the broadcasters over the insanity that echoed through the stadium. The Giants’ first overtime possession of the Super Bowl stalled at their own forty-eight-yard line, and their punting team jogged onto the field.
The drama had been building ever since halftime, when the Jets’ Doug Maxwell emerged from the tunnel. The best player in the league for the past four seasons – maybe the greatest athlete to ever play professional sports — was knocked senseless from the game early in the first quarter on a dirty hit from the Giants’ Willie Williams, who was immediately ejected from the game for the flagrant foul. Without their two-way superstar who typically dominated both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, the Jets were listless, and went into halftime trailing twenty-seven to three.
The medical team carted Maxwell off the field on a stretcher to a chorus of boos and cheers — the boos directed at Williams. They immediately administered the concussion protocol in the locker room. The hit was brutal and inexcusable. Maxwell had plowed up the middle for a tough nine-yard run. It took four Giants’ defenders to drag him to the ground. The whistle blew the play dead, and as Maxwell started to get to his feet, Williams came soaring through the air like a missile, his helmet aimed squarely at Maxwell’s dome. The violent helmet-to-helmet collision sent Maxwell sinking to the turf. Williams, too, was woozy, but was able to stand, and the crowd rained down a massive wave of jeers, tossing cups of beer and spitting at Williams while he was escorted off the field. No one expected Maxwell to return to the game. After the first half dominated by the Giants, no one thought the Jets would have any chance to come back, especially without their injured star.
During halftime, the announcers speculated about the senseless play.
Former quarterback-turned-broadcaster Phil Ramsey noted, “I’m going to state the obvious – Willie Williams’ career is over. He is going to get a hefty fine and a lengthy suspension. I’d look for the Giants to cut him from the team before the Lombardi Trophy is awarded after this game.”
Long-time play-by-play expert Jimmy Seals added, “We’re all in agreement there, Phil. The bigger question is how is Doug Maxwell? The team has been mum on the results of his concussion test and CAT scan. I cannot imagine anyone returning from a hit like that, but then again, this is no ordinary athlete.”
Maxwell was the last player back onto the field following the halftime festivities. He trotted out slowly, holding his helmet under one arm, his curly brown locks bouncing and his muscles rippling through his uniform and pads. He had a menacing, steely stare that meant bad news for the Giants. His eyes were clear and laser-focused; no foggy gaze at all that one would expect after such a massive blow to the head.
Every Giants’ player looked up at the huge high-def screen that showed Maxwell returning to the playing field. A defeated look poured over the team. The crowd that was nearly lulled to sleep during the lop-sided first half rose to their feet in unison, cheering frantically for Doug Maxwell. Many Giants’ fans instantly became Jets’ fans at that moment.
Giants’ coaches tried valiantly to rally the troops. “We’re up twenty-seven to three, fellows! One player cannot possibly lead a team back from that. No way in hell!”
Jets’ fans – really, every football fan in the nation – knew that if any player could return from a hit like that it was Doug Maxwell.
The Jets received the second-half kickoff, and after a touchback, started at their own twenty-five. Maxwell was still on the bench for the first two plays, which were incomplete passes.
“Maybe Maxwell is just a decoy who came out this half for inspiration,” Ramsey commented.
After a false-start penalty pushed the Jets back to their twenty, Doug Maxwell entered the game.
“I don’t believe what we’re seeing!” Ramsey said.
The stadium erupted. The team could not hear Jets’ quarterback Nick Miller’s signals, and Miller took a timeout before the play clock expired.
“I’ve never heard a crowd this loud, Jimmy!”
Throughout the timeout, the noise was deafening: “Maxwell! Maxwell! Maxwell! Maxwell!”
The next play call was brilliant. At third and fifteen, the defense expected a pass, and sent a mad-dog blitz at Miller. Maxwell lunged toward the linebacker, pretending to chip-block. Instead, Maxwell let the defender rush past him, and Maxwell slid out into the flat. Miller tossed a perfectly executed screen pass to Maxwell, who raced through the defense, making a quick cut at midfield and crossing the goal line after a spectacular eighty-yard touchdown.
After the extra point, the Jets were still down twenty-seven to ten, but momentum had completely shifted in favor of the Jets.
Maxwell and the Jets dominated the second half. Maxwell, also the team’s middle linebacker, recorded eleven tackles during the half, and forced a fumble. He completely clogged the middle of the field and disrupted the Giants’ offensive game plan.
Back on offense, the league’s first back to rush for twenty-five-hundred yards in a season was nearly unstoppable. Maxwell scored three touchdowns and ran for a Super Bowl record two-hundred-fifty-six yards.
As time expired in regulation play, the teams were tied thirty-all, and headed to overtime.
During the break before overtime, league Commissioner Jon Heller stopped by the broadcast booth for an interview with Phil Ramsey and Jimmy Seals. Commissioner Heller had raised eyebrows when he ordered weekly random drug tests of Doug Maxwell. Heller proclaimed that he had the authority to mandate extensive drug tests beyond what the league’s agreement with the players association allowed, if the commissioner believed a player was violating the substance abuse policy. The move led to a lawsuit from the players association and created a massive rift between Maxwell and Heller.
“Commissioner Heller, thank you for joining us,” Seals started the interview. “You couldn’t ask for a more exciting Super Bowl.”
“No, we couldn’t have scripted it better ourselves. Two New York teams playing against each other for the first time in a Super Bowl … The league MVP coming back from injury … and now overtime …”
Ramsey interjected, “About Maxwell’s injury … What do you expect will happen to Willie Williams?”
“Well, he was ejected from the game, so that usually results in some sort of fine. I can’t comment beyond that. I’m sure the league will look at the play closely to determine how flagrant the foul was.”
Seals followed up, “Commissioner, come on, sir. We all saw the hit replayed in slow motion about a dozen times. All due respect, is there really a question about his intent to injure Doug Maxwell?”
“That’s not for me to say at this time.”
Doug Maxwell and the rest of the Jets’ players watched the interview from their locker room. All eyes turned to Maxwell after the commissioner’s comments. Maxwell shook his head in disgust.
Doug Maxwell did not usually return punts. That was Othello Brown’s specialty. As the Giants’ punt team trotted onto the field, Maxwell raced to the special teams’ coach, Tim Rooney.
“Timmy, let me take this one!”
Rooney glanced over to the speedy return specialist, who just smirked and nodded in approval. Brown was a terrific punt returner, but he was not Doug Maxwell.
The Giants’ coaches spotted number forty-four, and frantically yelled to their punter, “Out of bounds! Do not kick it to Maxwell!”
The punter fielded the snap and booted the ball high, angling for the sideline. Maxwell ran to catch the ball and was able to snag it at the ten-yard line, inches from the sideline, without stepping out of bounds. Maxwell spun quickly and reversed his field, outrunning the defenders who had been racing the opposite direction.
Maxwell’s speed did the rest. Flying past defenders grasping at air, Maxwell flew toward the end zone. The only man in his way was the scrawny one-hundred-seventy-pound punter, Hal Harris. Maxwell made no effort to run around Harris, who had an angle on Doug and threw his body in front of the powerful athlete. Harris was no match for the great Doug Maxwell. Doug never broke stride. He galloped the final twenty yards to the end zone and chucked the football eighty yards into the stands. The stadium rocked in celebration of Maxwell’s miraculous run, and fans and players swarmed the end zone.
The scoreboard flashed the final score: Jets thirty-six, Giants thirty. The Jets were once again Super Bowl champions.
“That was no doubt the most exciting football game I have ever witnessed!” Jimmy Seals proclaimed.
It took several minutes for the stadium to stop shaking. The TV broadcasters, Commissioner Heller, Jets’ coaches and players crowded onto the platform at mid-field for the Lombardi Trophy presentation, as well as the MVP award that would clearly go to the magnificent Doug Maxwell.
Mumbles and whispers grew louder, and heads turned frantically, looking for Maxwell somewhere in the mass of humans. It became apparent that Maxwell was not on the field. A slew of players, coaches, league officials and broadcast crew members sprinted toward the players’ tunnel and locker room in search of Doug, but he had disappeared.
Panic spread quickly. The commissioner presented the Lombardi Trophy to Jets’ owner Nelson Bryant for the fourth consecutive year. Bryant plastered a weak smile on his face, masking concern over Doug Maxwell’s whereabouts. When it came time for the MVP announcement, Seals had to ad lib, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are scratching our heads right now. The MVP award goes to the Jets’ Doug Maxwell, but as you can see, Maxwell is not on the dais. We have folks combing the stadium, but there is apparently no sign of Maxwell. So, this incredible game, with some astonishing twists and turns, ends with a mysterious twist – the superstar who has carried the Jets to four straight world championships is … well … he has disappeared for now.”