Shea Stadium Memories: 'White Shoes' Wears Out New York Jets 3
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 23: Wide reveiver Billy (Whiteshoes) Johnson of the Atlanta Falcons celebrates after a 71 yard touchdown in a 27 to 21 win over the New York Jets on 10/23/1983. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

ESNY has looked back at some of the previous matchups between the New York Jets and Atlanta Falcons this week.

In our latest trip down memory lane between these two franchises, let us go back to the final season the New York Jets played at Shea Stadium.

In 1983, the Jets’ 20-year lease playing at the ballpark in Queens was expiring. For many reasons, Jets’ primary owner Leon Hess had grown very dissatisfied with the Stadium built at the same site the World’s Fair took place in 1964.

Hess chafed at the stadium’s condition and sightlines, at paying for the New York Mets‘ electricity during the football season, paying more than $200,000 to convert Shea to football after each baseball season and at what he repeatedly called his ”second-class” tenant’s status, according to Met and Jet management sources.

The Mets went as far as to build Hess a luxury box to watch the games in 1981. However, because it was built without his consent, Hess refused to use it or let anyone else use it.


Other petty details such as not dealing with New York City mayor Ed Koch himself—Hess told a longtime business acquaintance that he was annoyed with Mr. Koch because he had appointed the city’s corporation counsel, Allen Schwartz, to begin negotiations with Hess—were other reasons why the New York Jets were on their way to New Jersey in 1984.

New York Jets

After making a run to the AFC Championship Game in 1982, much was expected of the Jets in 1983. Joe Walton replaced popular head coach Walt Michaels, whose firing was controversial. Many theories have been debated as to why Michaels was really fired.

After struggling through the first few years of his career, Richard Todd looked like he had turned the corner. In 1980, Todd led the NFL with 30 interceptions as the Jets finished 4-12. From 1981-82, the Jets went 16-8-1 with Todd under center as he threw 39 touchdowns and just 21 picks.

The Sack Exchange was in full effect and led a dominating defense that finished sixth in the NFL in total defense in 1982.

Despite all that momentum, the Jets had lost four of their first seven games, including two straight, when the Atlanta Falcons came to Shea Stadium on Oct. 23, 1983.

After starting the season 2-1, the Falcons entered their Week 8 matchup with the New Jets on a four-game losing streak.

When the game started, it seemed as though Gang Green would put this game away early. However, first-half half drives ended when a Todd pass was intercepted and a fumble by tight end Jerome Barkum was lost.

Two other first-half drives ended on missed field goals by Pat Leahy – one went wide and one was tipped. Since they were unable to take advantage of first-half opportunities, the Jets only led 7-0 at the half. However, third quarter touchdown runs by Scott Dierking and Mike Augustyniak gave the Jets a 21-0 lead and turned the game into a laugher.

That is until someone named Billy “White Shoes” Johnson made his mark on the game.

Johnson first connected with QB Steve Bartkowski with just four seconds remaining in the third quarter on a 15-yd TD pass to cut the lead to 21-7.

As the fourth quarter started, the Falcons held the New York Jets to a three-and-out. Johnson then made two spectacular punt returns within one minute and 44 seconds.

The first one saw him return a Chuck Ramsey punt 41 yards to the Jets 25-yard line where Bartkowski hit William Andrews on a 25-yard TD pass on the next play to cut the lead to 21-14.

Johnson’s next punt return, just a minute later, went 71 yards for a TD to tie the game. Suddenly, no one at Shea Stadium was laughing and the New York Jets’ season was on the verge of slipping further away.

I wish there was a light at the end of this tunnel for Jets fans, but sadly there was not. After completing 17 of his 23 throws through three quarters, Todd completed just 3-of- 14 throws in the fourth quarter as the Jets offense stalled. Two long completions to tight end Mickey Shuler were wiped out by penalties. Another long pass was dropped by wide receiver Johnny “Lam” Jones.

The Falcons then added two late field goals of 32 and 40 yards by Mick Luckhurst to defeat the Jets 27-21.

However, the hero that day was “White Shoes” Johnson. Along with his four punt returns that totaled 116 yards, he caught four passes for 57 yards and was the game’s leading rusher with 53 yards on only three carries. He scored two of the Falcons’ TDs.

Johnson now had his own game in Jets history, along with Eric Allen, Dan Marino, AJ Duhe, Vince Evans and countless others. Those specific game names are not just for opposing players either, as Doug Brien, Mark Gastineau, Eric Barton and Rick Mirer can attest too.

The game that day was significant because it was the first time the Jets blew a 21-point lead. Since then, it has happened three other times—in 1993 vs the Eagles, 1995 vs the Colts and 1996 vs the Patriots. Each time it occurred at home.

There you have it. This is exactly why New York Jets fans struggle so much when things start to go wrong, especially at home.

Special thanks to Gerald Eskenazi of the New York Times.

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