Forty-four years ago, on January 12, 1969, quarterback “Broadway Joe” Namath led the New York Jets to an upset 16-7 victory over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III in Miami.
A powerhouse in 1968-69, the Colts were 13-1 during the season, giving up a record tying low of 144 points in 14 games, and beating the Cleveland Browns 34-0 in the NFL championship game.
The Jets were 11-3 during the season and beat the Oakland Raider in the AFL championship game. Virtually no one gave them a chance to win the Super Bowl, but they believed they were headed for victory.
Namath had bragged that the Jets, 19-point underdogs, would beat the Colts, widely seen as the best team in NFL history, saying, "We're going to win Sunday. I guarantee it."
Despite criticism from those who doubted the AFL could compete with the NFL, he was right. The ever-confident Namath completed 17 of 28 passes, for a total of 206 yards. George Sauer caught eight passes for 133 yards, and fullback Matt Snell ran for 121 yards.
The Jets drove 80 yards in the first quarter and had a 7-0 lead in the second with a four-yard touchdown run by Snell. The Jets defense intercepted Colts quarterback Earl Morrall three times to prevent Baltimore from scoring.
Two Jets’ field goals in the third quarter and another one in the fourth put them ahead 16-0. Though Baltimore scored a touchdown late in the game, the Jets’ victory secured the legitimacy of the AFL and ensured that Namath would be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Born in Pennsylvania in 1943, Namath had starred on the high school football team and was offered $50,000 to play professional baseball, but chose to play football at the University of Alabama, where he was an All-American.
Drafted by both the St. Louis Cardinals of the NFL and the Jets, Namath chose the Jets, who paid him a signing bonus of about $400,000. In his first season, he was voted Rookie of the Year. He was also the first pro quarterback to pass for 4,000 yards in a single season, in 1967.
“When we won the league championship,” said Namath, who owned an Upper East Side penthouse and led an active social life, “all the married guys on the club had to thank their wives for putting up with all the stress and strain all season. I had to thank all the single broads in New York.”