It’s one of them most famous anecdotes in football history, Joe Namath, “Broadway Joe,” “Joe Willie” and his New York Jets teammates pulled arguably the greatest upset in league history. On January 12th, 1969, they knocked off the Baltimore Colts as an 18 point underdog in Super Bowl III at the Orange Bowl in Miami.
And the game of Pro Football was changed, for the better, for good.
That’s because Namath and the Jets had been part of and champions of the old American Football League (AFL), and in this third match-up against the “big brother” NFL (Green Bay decisively beat the Chiefs and Raiders in the first two), finally the AFL proved it belonged in the biggest game.
And, what made it more noteworthy was that Namath knew the Jets and the AFL belonged. And he said so. Famously at pool side in Miami Beach with the sports writers gathered around him late in the week, the shirtless swimsuit wearing QB told the media in multiple answers that he would “guarantee” the epic upset.
He was so confident, because he believed that the Jets pass game with Don Maynard and George Sauer at receivers and Pete Lammons at tight end would be able to move the ball on the Colts defense led by legendary Bubba Smith and ILB Mike Curtis.
“Broadway Joe” was right.
Even though his numbers from that day were not spectacular, 17-28 for 206 yards without a TD, but more importantly, no turnovers, either. The biggest impact was that Namath’s passing opened up the run game against Baltimore and Matt Snell ended up with 121 yards on 30 carries and the Jets lone TD.
Further, the Jets defense was better than Don Shula’s Colts were on offense. New York intercepted Earl Morral three times and even when Johnny Unitas came off the bench, he threw a pick as well.
In the end, the Jets built a 16-0 lead into the fourth quarter, and the Colts could only muster one score in the final four minutes to avoid the shutout.
The game led to the Chiefs eventually upsetting the Vikings the next year in the Super Bowl, and then eight AFL teams including the Chiefs, Jets, Raiders, etc. joined the Browns, Dolphins, Bengals Steelers and Colts to form what is now, the American Football Conference (AFC).
And the AFC and the NFC meet every year now, in the Super Bowl.
It’s been nearly a half a century, since Namath jogged towards that Orange Bowl tunnel waggling his #1 finger in the air in the twilight. He was representing that the new teams coming into the “new” NFL were ready to play.
The “guarantee” was completed.
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