As America watches this season’s Super Bowl, we would like to remember Cape Charles’ own Johnny Sample, who played a major role in the New York Jets drubbing of the 3 touchdown favorite Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. During the game, Sample intercepted a pass, stopping a Baltimore Colts drive at the 2 yard line, and then asked the receiver “Is this what you’re looking for?” Later in the game, Baltimore Coach Don Shula confronted Sample claiming he had pushed a receiver over the Colts’ bench. In his face, Sample told Shula, “I wish I had pushed you over the bench.”
While becoming the prototype NFL cornerback (he was big at 6’1” 210lbs), he defined the pressing, bump and run style of pass defense.
In his 1970 autobiography, Confessions of a Dirty Ballplayer, he writes of growing up in segregated Cape Charles, the son of John B. Sample, a barber, and Evlyn Sample, a stenographer–and having to cross the hump to get to the “Colored” Rosenwald School.
As an athlete, he was outspoken about the rights of black players in the NFL. His views may have cost him some playing time. After leaving the Colts over a fine in the 1961 preseason, he believes that led to his being blackballed after the 1965 season.
In 1966, needing a job, and the Jets needing an accomplished cornerback, Johnny called former coach Weeb Ewbank, who had coached him to the two N.F.L. titles with the Colts and was now with the Jets. While not the best of friends, Ewbank and Sample came to agreement and signed a contract.
His quarterback, Joe Namath loved Sample, “Johnny liked to talk because he was opinionated…He had established that reputation in Baltimore. He honed his skills, let’s say, with the Jets. And he backed it up with his play, big time.” Days before Super Bowl III, Johnny was elected the Jets’ defensive captain. Known as a smart player and student of the game, he kept a notebook on the tendencies of every receiver he would be facing.
Johnny attended Maryland State College, now the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. He was the first player from a historically black university to participate in the College All-Star Game, an annual exhibition held in those days between pro rookies and the reigning N.F.L. champion.
In Super Bowl III, the 18 point underdog Jets won, 16-7, and it was sweet revenge and payback against the N.F.L. From his book, “I got into plenty of trouble. But I stood up for what I believed in.”