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Catching Up With Emerson Boozer, ex-Maryland State and Jets running back

Emerson Boozer went to Maryland State, then helped the Jets beat the Colts in Super Bowl III

Come autumn, Emerson Boozer's thoughts turn to ... leaves?

"They're a pain to rake," said Boozer, 71, onetime running back for Maryland State (now UMES) and the New York Jets. "There are 25 big oak trees in my yard, and they really shed. Sometimes I use a leaf blower, which is even louder than the noise you heard at Jets games at old Shea Stadium — unless there was an irate fan sitting next to you."

Boozer played 10 years for the Jets, retiring in 1975 as the team's career rushing leader (5,135 yards). He also left with a Super Bowl ring, from New York's 16-7 upset win over the Colts for the 1968 championship. Forty-six years later, that game is still a buzzword.

"At a friend's birthday party last weekend, Super Bowl III came up again," Boozer said by telephone from his home in Huntington Station, N.Y. "Someone asked me what it felt like to be 17-point underdogs that day. I told him that, as far as the players were concerned, we were even up with the Colts.

"It was during the postgame celebration that we learned [Jets officials] must have thought we'd lose because they hadn't ordered any victory champagne. So someone went next door to the Colts' locker room and 'borrowed' their champagne."

Those were heady times for Boozer, the Jets' sixth-round draft pick in 1966 from Maryland State, a no-frills school on the Eastern Shore whose 36-man team shared everything from shoulder pads to football pants.

"Going there was the smartest move I ever made," said Boozer, a two-time small college All-American who rushed for 2,537 yards and 22 touchdowns for the Hawks. "I'd wanted to go to school at New Mexico — as a young man I was looking for adventure in a cowboys-and-Indians type setting — but my high school coach [in Georgia] had gone to Maryland State and took me there for a visit."

Then the Hawks' coach, Skip McCain, made his pitch.

"Skip told my parents, 'I want your son to come here, and all you need do is make sure he gets on the bus. I'll pay the fare. Send him to me with just the clothes on his back and I'll treat him like a son.'"

That did it. Boozer landed in Princess Anne, a 5 feet 11, 205-pound slasher who would average nearly seven yards per carry over four seasons.

"My second year [1963], Maryland wanted me to transfer there," he said. The Terps had begun integrating their sports program, but a trip to College Park convinced Boozer to stay put.

"I didn't see anybody there who looked like me," he said.

Boozer graduated on time with a degree in industrial arts. It wasn't easy.

"One semester I carried 21 credits [seven classes] during football," Boozer said. "I learned you couldn't hang around the canteen, or spend hours with your girlfriend, unless you wanted to be left behind."

He signed with the Jets for $105,000 over two years, bought a house for his folks in Georgia and banked the rest. In his first rookie start, Boozer scored twice, one a 96-yard kickoff return against Miami. That winter, he worked out with the Colts' Lenny Moore.

"I got off to a helluva start in 1967," he said of the season in which he scored 13 TDs in seven games before being shelved by a crippling knee injury. But Boozer recovered and, though he rushed for only 19 yards in Super Bowl III, played a pivotal role in the Jets' defeat of the Colts.

"My job that day was to block for [quarterback] Joe Namath and [fullback] Matt Snell," he said. Namath passed for 206 yards and Snell ran for 121 yards and a touchdown.

"I'd always been a Colts fan," Boozer said. "But they didn't take our [American Football League] seriously. At the 8-minute mark, I remember Mike Curtis, their All-Pro middle linebacker, breaking the huddle and pleading with his defense, with such urgency in his voice, to stop us."

On the field that day were four other backs from Maryland State: the Colts' Charlie Stukes and Jim Duncan, and the Jets' Johnny Sample and Earl Christy.

"We all felt a lot of pride in that," Boozer said.

A two-time Pro Bowler, he retired in 1975.

"Ten years was my target to play," he said. 'I had a 10-year mortgage on that house in Georgia, and when I retired, I sent the last payment off."

After football, Boozer worked as a CBS commentator, owned a machine shop and then a bar/restaurant on Long Island. Eight years ago, he retired as head of his town's parks and recreation department. Married 46 years, he mentors at-risk youths at local schools, plays golf and walks as much as 1 1/2 miles daily.

Four years ago, Boozer was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. Never mind that UMES dropped its football program in 1979.

"It's unfortunate that football took the hit, but academic expansion takes money," he said. "Yes, football put me where I am, but that was then and this is now.

"To me, it was a great trade-off."

mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

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