If you're a NY Jets fan you probably know all about the Jets' stunning 16-7 victory over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. Regardless of whether you are young, old, or in between you've either heard or read about Joe Namath's guarantee for a win.
By now you also know that the team went out and backed up Joe Willie's proclamation by stunning the world and beating the heavily favored Colts.
What a lot of fans may not know or remember is what happened to the Jets the following season and just how close the team came to repeating as Super Bowl champions.
The 1969 season started off with great expectations and many of the so-called experts felt that the Jets were even a stronger team than the previous year.
It was believed that the Jets' defensive unit was even stronger and could match up with the already high-powered offense led once again by quarterback Joe Namath.
In particular, the defensive line and the linebacker corps were stout and led by the likes of perennial all-pros, Gerry Philbin, John Elliott, Al Atkinson, and Larry Grantham.
Adding to the optimism of the coming season was the preseason thrashing of the cross-town rival New York Giants by a score of 37-14. This was the first-ever meeting between the two teams and it brought even more legitimacy to the notion that an AFL team could compete against an NFL team.
At the time, the battle between the two New York rivals was regarded with more importance than it is today.
Another fact that some fans may not realize is that after the Jets won Super Bowl III, the AFL and NFL remained separate leagues for one more final season. It wasn't until the start of the 1970 season that the two leagues merged into the NFL.
How did the NY Jets fare in the 1969 season?
The Jets started the 1969 regular season strong by defeating the Buffalo Bills by a score of 33-19 but then lost back-to-back games to the Denver Broncos and the San Diego Chargers.
After those disappointing losses, the Jets reeled off six wins in a row proving that they were still the team to beat in the AFL. The Jets never looked back and easily won the Eastern Division with a 10-4 record. The closest team to them were the 6-6-2, Houston Oilers.
The only real blemish to the regular season were losses to the Western Division powerhouse Kansas City Chiefs and the Oakland Raiders. The loss in particular to the Chiefs would later prove to be an ominous sign of things to come.
In this final AFL season, the league had adopted an expanded playoff format to which the first and second-place finishers in each division would make the playoffs. Previously, the two division leaders would play each other with the winner going to the Super Bowl.
With the new format, the first-place New York Jets would play against the second-place Kansas City Chiefs of the Western Division. Many people in the know felt that the three best teams that year in all football were the Chiefs, Oakland Raiders, and the Jets.
On December 20, 1969, on a frigid and windy afternoon, 62,977 excited fans braved the elements at Shea Stadium to see the Jets and Chiefs do battle in the AFL Divisional Playoff game.
Joe Namath would later say that this was the toughest game he had ever played in due to the windy and cold conditions affecting the passing game.
The Chiefs were regarded as a very strong team that was stockpiled with players that would later go on to be selected into the Pro-Football Hall of Fame. Len Dawson, Bobby Bell, Willie Lanier, Buck Buchanan, Jan Stenerud, and Curley Culp were all members of the 1969 team.
The strong and gusty winds wreaked havoc for both teams as neither quarterback could mount any type of passing attack. Both teams relied on short passes and a heavy dose of running due to the weather conditions.
The wind also affected the kicking game which was demonstrated when the usually reliable Jan Stenerud had a first-quarter 40-yard field goal attempt held up by the wind and fall short of the goal post.
The contest settled into a defensive struggle for each team and at halftime, the score was tied at three. In the third quarter, the conditions only worsened, but the Chiefs managed to get into field goal range and took a 6-3 lead heading into the final quarter.
This set the stage for what would prove to be the turning point of the game. A pass interference call on Kansas City defensive back Emmitt Thomas gave the Jets the ball and a first and goal on the Chiefs one-yard line.
The Jets chose to run the ball on consecutive plays, first to Matt Snell and then to Bill Mathis but to no avail. Facing a third down and about six inches, Joe Namath chose to run a play-action pass and immediately rolled out to his right.
The results were disastrous as he faced a heavy pass rush and was forced to throw the ball away as he was pummeled by multiple Chiefs' defenders.
The Jets had to settle for a chip shot field-goal tying the game at 6-6 but the momentum from the defensive stand was clearly now in the Chiefs' favor.
On Kansas City's next possession, Len Dawson found his groove and connected on a touchdown pass to receiver Gloster Richardson giving the Chiefs a 13-6 lead which they would not relinquish.
The Jets did have their chances to tie the score but twice came up just short deep into Kansas City territory. When punt returner Mike Battle fumbled a punt with 44 seconds remaining the Kansas City victory was sealed.
After the game, Namath received heavy criticism for the play call on the third-down pass inside the one-yard line but was defended by head coach Weeb Ewbank who stated that he wasn't in the business of second-guessing already called plays.
From a personal standpoint, this was the first of many gut-wrenching losses that I would experience as a New York Jets fan, but at the time, I felt confident that the Jets would bounce back and be in the Super Bowl hunt for many years to come.
Obviously, that turned out to be wrong as the Jets would go into a long tailspin after being defeated by the Chiefs and would not make the playoffs again until 1981. Kansas City would go on to win Super Bowl IV by easily defeating the Minnesota Vikings by a score of 23-7.
One can only wonder what might have been if on that cold, windy Saturday afternoon at Shea Stadium the Jets could have punched the ball into the end zone early in that fourth quarter when given the opportunity to take control of the game.
Namath would be plagued by injuries for the remainder of his career, and one-by-one, players like Don Maynard, George Sauer, Pete Lammons, Matt Snell, and Emerson Boozer all retired.
The year after winning the Super Bowl was a successful one for the New York Jets as they proved they were no fluke and could complete with the best teams in the league.
However, the playoff loss to Kansas City was a bitter pill to swallow and a loss that we old-time fans will never forget.