Best Super Bowls of all-time – #9 – Super Bowl III – Baltimore Colts vrs. New York Jets

This is the game that put the Super Bowl, and the AFL, on the map.  The first Super Bowl was met with extreme skepticism when it was established, people didn’t think the new AFL teams could compete with the old school NFL teams.  The Green Bay Packers validated that skepticism early by winning the first two Super Bowls easily.  Joe Namath and the New York Jets changed all of that in Super Bowl III however and the Super Bowl went on to become America’s biggest sports game.

Super Bowl III – Baltimore Colts vrs. New York Jets – January 12, 1969, broadcast on NBC, announced by Curt Gowdy, Al DeRogatis, and Kyle Rote

Earl Morrall threw an INT after a long first drive by the Colts

The New York Jets were 18 point underdogs in this game.  “We’re gonna win the game. I guarantee it.”  Those were Joe Namath’s famous words three days before the game was played.  People were astonished at Namath’s prediction.  No one thought that the Jets had a chance.  The Jets came out and looked flat early on.  After gaining once first down on their first drive, the Colts defense held them and they were forced to punt.  Colts quarterback Earl Morrall quickly tried to establish their NFL dominance by embarking on on 11 play drive that started at their own 27 yard line and brought them all the way down to the Jets’ 19.  The Jets stiffened up their defense and Colts kicker Lou Michaels failed to convert on a 27 yard field goal attempt and the Colts came away empty handed.  The Jets defense stiffened from here on out but the Colts wouldn’t let the Jets do anything offensively.  Then the Jets made a crucial mistake with about 2 minutes left in the quarter.  Jets receiver George Sauer fumbled the ball deep in Jets territory and it was recovered by the Colts at the Jets’ 12 yard line.

Jets fullback Matt Snell paced the Jets offense and scored the first TD of the game in the 2nd quarter

The Colts started off the 2nd quarter with the ball deep in Jets’ territory but on 3rd down an Earl Morrall pass was tipped high in the air and caught by Jets cornerback Randy Beverly in the end zone.  The Jets started the next drive at their own 20 yard line and started to get their offense going, thanks in large part to the power running of fullback Matt Snell.  Snell ran 5 times and caught a pass and capped the drive off with a 4 yard TD run to give the Jets a 7-0 lead.  That was the first time in the Super Bowl that an AFL team had a lead in the game.  Morrall once again attempted to drive the Colts down the field but once again the drive stalled in New York territory and once again Michaels failed to convert on a field goal attempt, this time from 46 yards out.  Namath struck quickly after the field goal, hitting Sauer with a 36 yard throw on the 2nd play of the drive.  The drive stalled at the Colts’ 34 yard line however and Jets’ kicker Jim Turner missed his 41 yard field goal attempt.  The Colts went back to work and running back Tom Matte had a 58 yard run and once again set the Colts up deep in Jets’ territory as halftime neared.  Morrall was intercepted again at the Jets’ 2 yard line and another drive Colts drive ended in a turnover.  The Jets went three-and-out and the Colts had the ball back and a chance to get on the board before halftime.  The Colts ran a flea flicker play and had the Jets defense fooled as receiver Jimmy Orr was wide open in the end zone.  Morrall didn’t see him though and attempted to complete a pass to running back Jerry Hill but the ball landed in the hands of Jets’ safety Jim Hudson for Morrall’s 3rd interception of the 1st half.  The game went into halftime with the Jets leading 7-0.

If the first half didn’t demoralize the Colts than the 3rd quarter certainly did.  The Colts could only manage to hold the ball on offense for 3 minutes in the quarter.  Tom Matte lost a fumble on the Colts’ very first offensive play of the half and set up a 32 yard field goal by Turner to give the Jets a 10-0 lead.  Namath took the next possession and took the ball 40 yards on 4 pass completions to set up another Turner field goal, this one from 30 yards out, to give the Jets a 13-0 lead.  With 4 minutes left in the 4th quarter Colts coach Don Shula decided to bench Morrall in favor of Johnny Unitas, who was in the twilight of his career and had struggled with arm injuries all season long.  Unitas’ first possession was a three-and-out and the Jets went into the 4th quarter with the improbable 13-0 lead.

Namath famously celebrates the Jets' improbable Super Bowl victory

On the first drive of the 4th quarter Namath once again found George Sauer for a deep 39 yard pass but the Colts defense stiffened up when the Jets got the ball down to the 2 yard line and the Jets settled for another Turner field goal.  The lead was 16-0 and neither Morrall nor Unitas could produce any sort of offense by the Colts.  Unitas started to drive the ball down the field on the Colts first possession of the 4th quarter.  He got the Colts all the way down to the Jets’ 25 yard line but the Jets recorded their 4th interception of the game when Randy Beverly picked off a Unitas pass in the end zone.  The Jets drove the ball down the field but Turner missed a 42 yard field goal.  Time was running out and after Unitas threw incompletions on the first 3 passes of the next drive the Colts were forced to go for it on 4th down.  Unitas connected on the 4th down play for 17 yards to receiver Jimmy Orr.  Ten plays later Jerry Hill finally got the Colts on the board with a 1 yard TD run to make the score 16-7 with only 3:19 left to go.  The Colts recovered an onside kick and Unitas quickly moved the offense to the Jets’ 19 yard line after 3 pass completions in a row but Unitas couldn’t connect on the next 4, turning the ball back over to the Jets.  The Jets held onto the ball until there was :08 left in the game.  The Colts attempted two meaningless passes before time expired and the Jets were the 1st Super Bowl champions fro the AFL.

Final Score:  New York Jets 16, Baltimore Colts 7

Years later Namath claims that he was just going back and forth with an unruly Colts fan at a press conference when he made the guarantee.  Nevertheless the Jets players privately seethed in the locker room at the perception that they had no chance in the game.  Still the Colts couldn’t get out of their own way in the game, throwing for 4 INTs, fumbling the ball away once, and missing 2 FGs.  At the end of the day the Jets made enough plays to take the game and put the AFL on the map and helped change the face of the NFL into what we see today.

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About evonsports
30 year old sports enthusiast and aspiring writer from Boston.

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