Three days before the big event took place the man
they called "Broadway Joe" stood up at an awards banquet in
Miami Springs, Florida and said, "We're going to win this game. I
guarantee it. I guarantee we will beat the Colts."
His statement was looked upon as bold and over the
edge by many in the media, and many more in established football circles.
But the guy from Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania was ready to put his
performance where his mouth was.
On January 12, 1969 - 31 years ago today - the Colts
and Jets lined up at the Orange Bowl in Miami. What had been interpreted
as Namath's outrageous comments had placed Super Bowl III center-stage. In
attendance for the event were many celebrities including President Richard
Nixon, Vice President Spiro Agnew, astronaut Jim Lovell and comedian
New York's confidence grew as the game moved along.
"We saw panic in the Colts," kicker Jim
Turner said. "It was interceptions (the Jets defense forced 5
turnovers) and panic, then despondency, then history."
Namath's numbers (by his standards) were modest - 17
of 28 for 206 yards, with no touchdown passes. But he gave nothing away -
that was the key to his performance.
Even more important was his play-calling. Jet coach
Ewbank, canned by Baltimore before linking up with New York, was a master
of having his quarterbacks alter and change plays at the line.
Namath's audibles had the Colts off balance and on
their heels all day. Star wide receiver Don Maynard was utilized as a
decoy, and George Sauer became a primary receiver. Namath hit him eight
times for 133 yards. Matt Snell ground out 121 hard yards on 30 carries,
largely on a play called '19 Straight,' a play that followed the fierce
blocking of Winston Hill, the Jets' star left tackle.
Ninety-four seconds into the fourth quarter, Turner
kicked his third field goal. The Jets had a 16-0 lead. But Baltimore was
not done, not yet. Johnny Unitas, the legendary quarterback, had sat out
most of the season with an elbow injury. Now he came out onto the field in
a trot in his black hightops. Unitas led the Colts to a touchdown, but it
was too little and too late - there was but 3:19 left in the game.
The final score was New York 16 Baltimore 7. One of
the enduring images of professional football originated as the game ended:
Joe Namath running off the field, index finger waving . . . . NFL
Commissioner Pete Rozelle came into the locker room of the jubilant Jets
and Jim Turner screamed out, "Hey, Pete, welcome to the AFL!"
Curt Gowdy, who was there on that historic day doing
play-by-play, called it the greatest single impact game in NFL history.
Unfortunately, Namath never played in another Super
Bowl. But what he accomplished that January day in Miami locked his name
and image into NFL lore for all time.