Saturday is a “Golden anniversary” in the NFL, as January 12th, 1969, Joe Namath and the New York Jets pulled arguably the greatest upset in football history. Against the Colts and an 18 point spread that day in Superbowl III in Miami, Namath and the upstart Jets legitimized the old American Football League and forced the merger with the NFL.
That’s because Namath and the Jets had been part of and champions of the old 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 Super Bowl IV, 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 now been 50 years, since Namath jogged towards that Orange Bowl tunnel waggling his #1 finger in the air in the twilight. Re-live it one more time here:
He was representing that the new teams coming into the “new” NFL were ready to play.
The “guarantee” was completed.
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