Revisiting last Super Bowl championship of the Jets
By Bob Lederer
Super Bowl III will be remembered as the biggest upset in NFL history. Here’s remembering the last Super Bowl championship of the New York Jets.
January 12, 1969. That’s the date forever forged in the history books for the huge New York Jets victory in Super Bowl III that will never be forgotten by fans of the franchise. But it is even more memorable to football fans who were not Jets fans. In the opinion of many, it was the most important game in pro football history
This first American Football League victory in a Super Bowl followed decisive wins by the NFL’s Green Bay Packers over Kansas City in 1967 and Oakland in 1968. No wonder, the 15-1 Baltimore Colts (who were called the greatest football team of all time) were 17.5- to 21-point favorites entering the game.
To this day, Colts’ fans claim that their team beat themselves that day with four interceptions in the Jets’ red zone and a fumble. Most NFL executives felt that way after the Jets’ 16-7 win and were not hesitant to say it. Three days after the game, the New York Times’ lead pro football writer, William Wallace, took a cheap shot at the Jets.
He wrote that Super Bowl III proved that with Joe Namath, any mediocre team could pull such an upset. He added that the roster of the 1968 Denver Broncos (winners of three games that season) could have been substituted for every player on the Super Bowl Jets, except for Namath, and accomplished the same result.
They refused to acknowledge that the Jets had executed in ways that were completely unexpected.
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Namath eschewed his gunslinging, long-ball style, and became a Bart Starr-like field general–only one with a Sonny Jurgensen shotgun arm that he only needed to use a handful of times. His statistics didn’t sparkle (17 for 28, for 206 yards), but the way he conducted coordinator Clive Rush‘s game-planned ball control offense sure did.
Star flanker Don Maynard entered the game with a serious leg injury. He applied enough heat and underwent a few injections to loosen things up, then did what no other receiver had done all year to the Colts: he got behind Baltimore’s deep zone in the first quarter and again in the third. The shaken Baltimore pass defense rolled its zone to Maynard’s side of the field to stop him, leaving split end George Sauer, Jr. one-on-one on the opposite side of the field against the Colts’ right corner, Lenny Lyles. Sauer caught 8 passes for 133 yards; Maynard had one of two games in his long career where he didn’t record a catch.
After the first two Super Bowls, the “experts” had analyzed AFL teams as being too young and inexperienced to handle the best in the NFL. Matt Snell‘s 121 yards on the ground led a shocking Jets’ running game, but it was their relatively young offensive line that made the difference. Winston Hill, John Schmitt, Dave Herman and Randy Rasmussen, complemented by veteran Bob Talamini, dominated the Colts much older defensive line. Youth had become a Jets’ asset. In fact, according to the New York Daily News’ Dick Young, this Jets team was the youngest to win a pro football championship in a decade.
The AFL’s top defense in 1968 –the Jets – shut Baltimore out in the first half (first time all year that it happened to the Colts) and held them off the scoreboard until less than three minutes remained in the game. It might not have been that big a surprise: in the regular season, the Jets’ defense had surrendered fewer yards than the Colts’ far more publicized defense.
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All in all, not just a game to remember, but one to always be revered by Jets fans for the total team effort. For everyone else, the game’s impact was prodigious: transfer of the NFL Colts, Cleveland Browns, and Pittsburgh Steelers as essential parts in the creation of the American Football Conference; sizeably larger TV contracts; the introduction of Monday Night Football and significantly larger contracts for long-underpaid pro players.