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Half a Century Since Jets’ Super Bowl Upset

January 11th, 2019 · 1 Comment · Football, NFL, Rams

Just read a piece in the Wall Street Journal by a reporter noting today is the 50th anniversary of the New York Jets’ 16-7 upset of the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl 3.

Most football fans who were over the age of 10 or 12, on January 12, 1969, remember the event.

I fall into that demographic and the idea that the game was half a century ago prompts head-shaking (where did the years go?) as well as some flashes of recollection on the game itself (Joe Namath celebrating), as well as its build-up (Namath’s apparent “guarantee” of Jets victory, days before the game, despite being 18-point underdogs.

Key factors in the ongoing notoriety of that game?

–The rivalry that existed, back then, between the tradition-steeped National Football League, represented by the Colts, and the upstart American Football League. The NFL’s Packers had won the first two “Super Bowls”, the name that was attaching itself to the game, and neither game was very competitive.

–The presence in the game of “Broadway Joe” Namath, beloved in the nation’s No. 1 media market for being a party animal and playboy prone to fur coats and drinking bouts. He also wore white cleats, back when everyone else wore black, and had long hair and, remember, the late 1960s were about culture wars.

–Oh, and he could play a little.

–The presence in the game of a team from New York, the nation’s media giant now, as then.

I was a fan of the Colts … well, actually a fan of the NFL, because I tend to prefer the old to the new, the traditional to the revolutionary.

Plus, my team, the Los Angeles Rams, were in the NFL, and a victory by the Colts would at least allow me to believe my team had finished behind to the best club — as was the case when the Packers of the NFL won the first two Super Bowls.

I recall mostly being frustrated at the Colts’ inability to generate any offense. These were the Colts of Johnny Unitas, one of the great quarterbacks in the history of the game, but Unitas had been injured most of the 1968 season, and a journeyman named Earl Morrall got the start, as he had for the latter half of the season.

Turns out, the Jets did not fear Morrall or his passing, and concentrated on stopping the Baltimore running game, led by Tom Matte.

Unfortunately for Morrall, he picked a bad day to have a horrible game. He was 6-for-17 for 71 yards and three interceptions, and the Colts did not score until he was replaced by Unitas, who promptly drove the Colts to a touchdown — leading to Colts partisans everywhere wondering why Johnny U had not been playing all along. (Even though he also added an interception to make four of them, from the Colts.)

The Jets didn’t exactly turn the game into an offensive showcase. Namath passed for a modest 206 yards on 17-for-28 accuracy. He was named MVP because, well, he had to be.

Meanwhile, Matt Snell ran for 121 yards on 30 carries, and scored the Jets’ only touchdown, a 4-yard run in the second quarter. Snell and the offensive line were key as the Jets dominated the time-of-possession stat 36:10 to 23:50 while building a 16-0 lead.

My take on all this, as an NFL fan, was bewilderment. The Colts had gone 13-1 in the regular season and I thought they would win as easily as the Packers had the previous two seasons.

In retrospect, the game indicated that the AFL was essentially on par with the NFL, as hard as it was for many of us to accept.

And the most lasting memory of all? The still-often-seen, slow-motion film clip of Namath with his finger in the air, after the upset victory that made him a household name — even if he never was a particularly good quarterback.

Fifty years ago. Wow.

Namath is still a name familiar to most, and in 1977, my first year covering the Rams, Namath was signed by Carroll Rosenbloom in hopes of getting coach Chuck Knox to pass the ball a bit more.

But Namath struggled — his knees were shot and the partying was catching up to him — and he was yanked from Game 4 that season, on the road against the Chicago Bears, after throwing four interceptions and being replaced by Pat Haden — and that was the big story that night, a 24-23 Rams defeat.

Namath’s big story had come eight years before.

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1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Gil // Jan 12, 2019 at 9:27 pm

    I remember we saw him holding court in Coco’s late one night after playing in “Li’l Abner” at California Theater.

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