Super Bowl III Review: Jets vs. Colts
By Loot, NFL Handicapper, Lootmeister.com
Date: January 12, 1969
Site: Orange Bowl, Miami, Florida
Point-Spread: Baltimore Colts -18/New York Jets +18
Score: New York Jets 16, Baltimore Colts 7
MVP: QB Joe Namath
Super Bowl III still stands out as the most historic of all Super Bowls. Until this time, the AFL was considered by most to be a joke. The point-spreads for the first 3 Super Bowls were so huge, the only time you would see them today is if the best team in football played the worst team. And even then, the spread would probably not be the 18 points that the Colts were favored to win by when facing the Jets in Super Bowl III.
First of all, it was a mammoth upset--almost unfathomable at the time. The result was so cataclysmic that it alone made Joe Namath a NFL superstar for life. 18-point favorites just don’t lose NFL games and certainly not Super Bowls. To this day, it is easily the biggest upset in superbowl history and probably won’t be repeated. It’s hard to imagine a Super Bowl team even being an 18-point favorite nowadays. It just might be the greatest upset in the history of American team sports.
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More importantly, the game validated the AFL, now known as the AFC. At the time, the real championship was thought to be the game that decided who would play against the AFL representative. This game was considered an afterthought. When on the week of the game, Joe Namath guaranteed victory, people thought he was off his rocker. Winning the game the way they did gave credence to his league, his team, and made him an icon.
This was the first game to start introducing some of that Super Bowl razzle-dazzle that would later become the trademark of Super Bowl Sunday. Bob Hope did a pre-game show in honor of the Apollo astronauts and Anita Bryant sang the National Anthem. In fact, this would be the first game that was billed as a Super Bowl, with the first two billed as the AFL-NFL Championship Game.
Having flirted with greatness the previous few years, the Don Shula-led Colts had put together a great season in 1968, going into Super Bowl 1969 considered one of the best teams of all time. Their 13-1 record was highlighted by a 10-game winning streak where they scored 4 shutouts and gave up only 7 touchdowns. Their only loss that year to Cleveland was avenged when the Colts smashed the Browns 34-0 in the NFL Championship Game to earn a spot in this game.
The Jets were led by head coach Weeb Eubank, who won the championship in 1958 with the Colts, but was deposed after a run of bad seasons. The Jets finished the season 11-3, beating the previous year’s AFL representative Oakland in the title game. Namath did well to lead his team to the big game, but during the year he completed under half of his passes and had 17 picks--proving people remember champions more than impressive stats.
Super Bowl 3 Recap
First Half: It looked good for the Colts early in Super Bowl 3. On their first drive, Earl Morrall, who had played most of the year brilliantly in replacement of Johnny Unitas, drove the team down the field, but a 27-yard field goal attempt was no good and the Jets caught a break. The Jets started taking advantage of the Colts’ fear of the big playmaker Don Maynard and started working underneath with the running game and WR George Sauer. Late in the first, Sauer fumbled deep in Jets’ territory, giving the Colts the ball at the 12 yard line. The Jets got lucky, however, when a Morrall pass was tipped and intercepted.
The Jets took advantage and began a deliberate drive, featuring the hard running of RB Matt Snell. To cap it off, Snell ran for a 5-yard touchdown to send the Jets up 7-0 in the second quarter. Morrall and the Colts got on another roll and looked poised to strike. But once again, their drive petered out late and Lou Michaels missed another field goal.
After the Jets’ next drive stalled out, leading to a missed field goal, the Colts again looked ready to start being the team everyone expected to see. Rapidly, they went from their own 20 to the Jets’ 15-yard line. Another Earl Morrall interception took a lot of wind out of the sails of Baltimore. And it wasn’t over. After stopping the Jets on their next drive, the Colts tried a flea-flicker, which fooled the Jets’ defense. But Morrall failed to spot a wide-open Jimmy Orr for what would have tied the game and instead threw his 3rd pick of the half to end a deflating 30 minutes of football. The Colts just never looked to be a winner in this game.
Second Half: The Colts ran only 7 plays in the third quarter, as the Jets took firm control of the game. The New York offense was efficient, leading them to two field goals in the period. The Colts tried to jump-start the offense by putting Johnny Unitas in the game, but he couldn’t get much of anything going either.
Early in the 4th, the Jets, who didn’t run a pass play the entire quarter, marched the ball deep into Colts territory, leading to another field goal to build their lead to 16-0. Soon after, Unitas drove the Colts deep, only to be intercepted in the end zone--continuing an agonizing pattern for the Colts, who would have been in the game if they managed to convert just a few of their many scoring opportunities.
It wasn’t meant to be for the Colts. With 3:19 left in the game, the Colts finally got a score to make it 16-7 and even recovered an onside kick. But after turning the ball over on downs, it was a wrap and the greatest upset in football history was in the books. Joe Namath was the winner of the Super Bowl MVP.