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Celebrating "Broadway Joe" Namath - Part II

The match-up for Super Bowl III was out of Hollywood central casting. Joe Namath and the 18-point underdog New York Jets of the nine-year-old American Football League versus the Baltimore Colts of the established National Football League.

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 Jackie Gleason.

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.

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You can reach Harvey Frommer at:   

Email:  harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU 

About the Author:

Harvey Frommer is in his  38th year of writing books. A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE STADIUM was published in 2008 and his REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF RED SOX NATION was published to acclaim in 2011.  The prolific Frommer is at work on When It Was Just a Game, An Oral History on Super Bowel One. 

His work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, New York Daily News, Newsday, USA Today, Men's Heath, The Sporting News, among other publications.

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Harvey Frommer along with his wife, Myrna Katz  Frommer are the authors of five critically acclaimed oral/cultural histories, professors at Dartmouth  College, and travel writers who specialize in cultural history, food, wine, and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. 

This Article is Copyright 1995 - 2014 by Harvey Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

 

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