My Memories of the NY Jets in Peekskill

With the start of the new NFL football season this week and the high expectations for the NY Jets following last year’s outstanding showing, I thought I would reminisce about the years the Jets held their training camp in Peekskill.

Anyone who lived in Peekskill from 1963-1968 could give his or her own accounts of the players’ exploits and influence throughout the city. For me, between the ages of 5 and 10, I was treated with a rather unique perspective on the team’s impact.

The team’s owner, David “Sonny” Werblin purchased the NY Titans, changed their name to the Jets and established their training camp at Peekskill Military Academy beginning in the summer of 1963. Werblin had a financial interest in the academy (not sure how much) and his son was a student there so it was easy to see why he chose PMA.

The players didn’t much like the arrangement since the academy was old and the dorm rooms had no air conditioning. However, they made up for that by spending most evenings at one of the local bar/restaurants. I was not old enough to witness the colorful stories that emerged from many of those evenings but I have heard enough about them second hand.

For me, the memories all took place literally in my back yard. I grew up on Walnut Street just behind the Academy’s Administration Building. In fact, it is the only building that still stands from the academy and is presently the Administration Center for the Peekskill City School District. The rear of the building faced my backyard and the door to the locker room was a mere 50 feet away. There is a private sidewalk that leads from the locker room door directly to the practice field. My back yard ended just a few feet from this sidewalk. So every day, to and from practice, the players walked right past my house. My friends and I would greet them every day, help carry their helmets, talk to them, get their autographs and they would always be so nice and accommodating. They never seemed to get tired of us. One time on a very hot August day on the way back to the locker room after practice a few players ran into my backyard and jumped into our swimming pool – with all of their equipment on!

Because my father worked at PMA I was also able to see some of the players “after hours” around the academy. I would mostly just hang out around them but also talk to them. I remember quite a number of players who over the years were memorable for their kindness and just basically putting up with us kids. Players like Jim Turner, Matt Snell, Emerson Boozer, Don Maynard, Larry Grantham, George Sauer, Winston Hill and Sherman Plunkett.

Sam DeLuca leaving the locker room behind PMA.

However, there was one player who took me under his wing, so-to-speak, and let me pal around with him. He was Sam DeLuca. I would change the key on the “Universal Weight Bench” that changed the amount of weight (this was a new technology at the time that replaced barbells), we would talk about my schooling or whatever and he would bring me over to “Chet’s” (deli) on the corner of Elm and Wells Streets to buy me a soda to thank me for helping him. What a wonderful experience for a kid. I still think about it often.

Besides having some great players the Jets also had coaches that were already successful in professional football and others who would go on to make a name for themselves. Head Coach Weeb Ewbank was already a winning coach from the Colts and others were winning coaches in the making, such as Chuck Knox and Walt Michaels.

Of course the big year was 1965 when Joe Namath came to town. Werblin spent a lot of money to sign him and much was expected. The media was also right there to capture much of it. I didn’t realize how much of an influential person Sonny Werblin was until long after the Jets left Peekskill for good in 1968. He was a powerful and successful man who made his mark through the Music Corporation of America (MCA). He was one of the biggest talent agents in the country and managed dozens of stars including Ed Sullivan, Jackie Gleason (who has his own Peekskill Story), Abbot and Costello, Joan Crawford, Eddie Fisher, Jack Benny and Liberace to name just a few. He also handled some of the major TV shows of the day like My Three Sons, Wagon Train, Mike Hammer, The Virginian and Bachelor Father. On top of that he was the Director and major stakeholder in Monmouth Park Racetrack.

Namath was an experience all in itself for me. He was under a lot of pressure and frequently teased by his teammates so he wasn’t particularly as friendly as the other players. One time a player instructed me to say something to Namath, I can’t remember which one or what he had me say, but Joe didn’t like it. Yes, I remember what he said back to me but I can’t say it here. My father had some interesting interactions with Namath which he enjoyed telling people about for many years.

Growing up in Peekskill was a wonderful experience and having the NY Jets be a part of that for a short time contributed greatly to that. Having a professional football team come to town each year was a great treat and could never happen in the same way today. We were all sad when they left in 1968. PMA closed it doors after that year as well. Most of the buildings were demolished and Peekskill was never the same. Some day I will tell the PMA story as well. However, 1969 was great for one reason, we were able to watch some of the players we knew win a National Championship and give us in Peekskill a lifetime of memories.

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About Legislator John G. Testa

John G. Testa, a life-long resident of Peekskill, began his first term on the Westchester County Legislature in January 2010. Prior to his successful run for the District 1 Legislative seat, he served 3 terms as Mayor of Peekskill from January 2002 until December 2007. Before becoming mayor he also served a four-year term as a Councilman. From his first days in office Testa worked tirelessly to set the City on the path of economic stability. Peekskill flourished under this plan, increasing the city fund balance to its highest in history. During John’s tenure in office, the NY State Comptroller’s Office named Peekskill one of the most fiscally sound municipalities in the State; independent auditors proclaimed Peekskill as being in its best fiscal condition in over 30 years; and Moody’s Investor Service agreed to upgrade its bond rating, resulting in further savings. The plan he put in place was so successful that it enabled the City of Peekskill to pass three budgets in a row with a 0% tax increase. These fiscal skills will prove valuable to Testa as he works to put the brakes on what has been wildly escalating county spending and unchecked government growth. He has pledged his efforts to work to consolidate services, eliminate wasteful spending and improve efficiency. In addition to the fiscal conservatism that served Peekskill so well, Testa worked to promote the city, attracting investment, jobs and an increased tax base. Over $100 million of private investment came to Peekskill in the forms of new residential construction, retail space, and the redevelopment of historic structures. As Mayor, Testa led a successful battle to stop the unfair and unsafe plan to send sewage to the Peekskill plant from outside the sewage/water district. John’s roots are deep within the soil of Northern Westchester. His father’s family has lived here for more than a century and his mother’s family is nearing that mark. He is proud that he was born in Peekskill and has lived and worked here all his life and, with his wife Nancy raised their two children here.
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2 Responses to My Memories of the NY Jets in Peekskill

  1. tony says:

    I to lived in peekskill back then- and my Dad and the neighbor who happened to be a coach at henry hudson high, took me to PMA to see the Jets the first year they trained there. I was 9 and was in owe of the whole thing- I remember Lee Grosscup was still at QB, Snell and Boozer were there, I recall Maynard and a few others. I know those were the standout guys and locked into all of their moves. Loved evry minute of it.

  2. Eric Arens says:

    My name is Eric Arens, and I attended PMA from the fall of 65 til it’s end in the spring of 68. These were great pictures! And your stories were awesome as well. We are missing a picture of Coach Napolitano hawking peanuts and drinks!
    Thanks for the memories.
    Sincerely, Eric Arens

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