Bill Mathis, a versatile running back who was an original member of the New York Jets franchise, died on Tuesday. He was 81.
The team announced his death but did not say where he died or specify the cause, although it said that he had been dealing with “physical and cognitive issues” for some time.
Mathis played his entire career in New York. He joined the Titans, as the Jets were originally known, in 1960, the year the American Football League began. He was named the franchise’s Most Valuable Player in 1961 and was selected an A.F.L. All-Star in 1961 and 1963. And he helped the Jets beat the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III in 1969 in a stunning upset.
In his 10-year career, Mathis rushed for 3,589 yards and 37 touchdowns. He also caught 149 passes for 1,775 yards and nine scores.
William Hart Mathis was born in Rocky Mount, N.C., on Dec. 10, 1938, and grew up in Manchester, Ga. He was a star at Clemson University in South Carolina and was named a member of the school’s Hall of Fame. He is also in the Georgia and South Carolina sports halls of fame.
In 1960 he was drafted by both the Denver Broncos of the newly formed A.F.L. and the San Francisco 49ers of the N.F.L. His draft rights were later held by the A.F.L. Houston Oilers, who traded him to New York shortly before the start of the league’s first season.
Mathis earned a reputation as a tough competitor who pushed through injuries. A knee injury kept him out of three games in 1962, but he played in every other one of the team’s 143 games over his 10 seasons with the franchise, including the team’s lone Super Bowl appearance.
The star of that game, the flamboyant quarterback Joe Namath, was Mathis’s roommate on the road. According to the Jets, Coach Weeb Ewbank asked Mathis to room with Namath with instructions to “keep Namath out of trouble.”
After being one of the team’s primary ball carriers early in his career, Mathis became a lead blocker for Matt Snell and Emerson Boozer. He had three catches for 20 yards in the Super Bowl, with two of them prolonging scoring drives in the Jets’ 16-7 victory.
He played one more season after that before retiring.
Mathis was one of only 20 players who played in the A.F.L. for the league’s entire 10-year existence., and one of just seven who played all 10 seasons with one A.F.L. franchise. The A.F.L. and N.F.L. merged in 1970.
He remained in New York after his playing career and found success on Wall Street.
Information on survivors was not immediately available.