Super Bowl III
|Super Bowl III|
|Super Bowl III logo|
|Date||January 12, 1969|
|Stadium||Miami Orange Bowl, Miami, Florida|
|MVP||Joe Namath, Quarterback|
|Favorite||Colts by 18|
|Future Hall of Famers|
Jets: Weeb Ewbank (coach), Don Maynard, Joe Namath. |
Colts: Don Shula (coach), John Mackey, Johnny Unitas.
|National anthem||Lloyd Geisler of the Washington National Symphony Orchestra|
|Halftime show||"America Thanks" with Florida A&M University band|
|TV in the United States|
|Announcers||Curt Gowdy, Al DeRogatis and Kyle Rote|
(est. 41.66 million viewers)
|Cost of 30-second commercial||US$55,000|
Super Bowl III was the third AFL-NFL Championship Game in professional American football, the first to officially bear the name "Super Bowl". The game, played on January 12, 1969, at the Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida, is regarded as one of the greatest upsets in American sports history. The heavy underdog American Football League (AFL) champion New York Jets defeated the National Football League (NFL) champion Baltimore Colts by a score of 16–7. This was the first Super Bowl victory for the AFL.
Entering Super Bowl III most sports writers and fans believed that AFL teams were less talented than NFL clubs, and expected the Colts to defeat the Jets by a wide margin. Baltimore posted a 13–1 record during the 1968 NFL season before defeating the Cleveland Browns, 34–0, in the 1968 NFL Championship Game. The Jets finished the 1968 AFL season at 11–3, and defeated the Oakland Raiders, 27–23, in the 1968 AFL Championship Game.
Undaunted, Jets quarterback Joe Namath made an appearance three days before the Super Bowl at the Miami Touchdown Club and brashly guaranteed a victory. His team backed up his words by controlling most of the game, and built a 16–0 lead through the fourth quarter off of a touchdown run by Matt Snell and three field goals by Jim Turner. Colts quarterback Earl Morrall threw three interceptions before being replaced by Johnny Unitas, who then led Baltimore to its only touchdown during the last few minutes of the game. Namath, who completed 17 out of 28 passes for 206 yards, was named the Super Bowl's Most Valuable Player, despite not throwing a touchdown pass in the game or any passes at all in the fourth quarter.
A Super Bowl between the Colts and Jets cannot occur again, barring a future shift to the National Football Conference (NFC) by either one. After the AFL-NFL Merger in 1970, the Colts were one of three teams moved to the newly formed American Football Conference (AFC), the same conference as the Jets. The former Super Bowl combatants became divisional rivals in the AFC East until the 2002 realignment shifted the Colts, who by then had moved to Indianapolis, to the new AFC South.
The game was awarded to Miami on May 14, 1968 at the owners meetings held in Atlanta. 
The National Football League had dominated professional football from its origins after World War I. Rival leagues had crumbled or merged with it, and when the American Football League began to play in 1960, it was the fourth to hold that similar name to challenge the older NFL. Unlike its earlier namesakes, however, this AFL was able to command sufficient financial resources to survive; one factor in this was becoming the first league to sign a television contract—previously, individual franchises had signed agreements with networks to televise games. The junior league proved successful enough, in fact, to make attractive offers to players. After the 1964 season, in fact, there had been a well-publicized bidding war which culminated with the signing, by the AFL's New York Jets (formerly New York Titans), of University of Alabama quarterback Joe Namath for an unprecedented contract. Fearing that bidding wars over players would become the norm, greatly increasing labor costs, NFL owners, ostensibly led by league Commissioner Pete Rozelle, obtained a merger with the AFL. That merger agreement provided for a single draft, interleague play in the pre-season, a championship game to follow each season, and the integration of the two leagues into one in a way to be agreed at a future date. As the two leagues had an unequal number of teams (under the new merger agreement, the NFL expanded by one team to 16, and the AFL by one to 10), realignment was advocated by some owners, but was opposed. Eventually, three NFL teams (Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Baltimore Colts) agreed to move over to join the original AFL franchises of 1960 in what became the American Football Conference.
Despite the ongoing merger, it was a commonly held view that the NFL was a far superior league. This was seemingly confirmed by the results of the first two interleague championship games, in January 1967 and 1968, in which the NFL champion Green Bay Packers, coached by the legendary Vince Lombardi, easily defeated the AFL's Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders. Although publicized as the inter-league championship games, it wasn't until later that the moniker for this championship contest between the now two conferences (National and American) began having the nickname of "Super Bowl" applied to it by the media and later began being counted by using roman numerals, the creation of the term being credited to then-owner of the Kansas Chiefs Lamar Hunt.
For more details on this topic, see 1968 Baltimore Colts season.
The Baltimore Colts had won the 1958 and 1959 NFL championships under Coach Weeb Ewbank. In the following years, however, the Colts failed to make the playoffs, and the Colts dismissed Ewbank after a 7–7 record in 1962. He was soon hired by New York's new AFL franchise, which had just changed its name from the Titans to the Jets. In Ewbank's place, Baltimore hired an untested young head coach, Don Shula, who would also go on to become one of the game's greatest coaches. The Colts did well under Shula, despite losing to the Cleveland Browns in the 1964 NFL Championship Game and, in 1965, losing in overtime to the Green Bay Packers in a tie-breaking game to decide the NFL Western Division championship. The Colts finished a distant second in the West to the Packers in 1966, and in 1967, with the NFL divided into four divisions of four teams each, went undefeated with two ties through their first 13 games, but lost the game and the Coastal Division championship to the Los Angeles Rams on the final Sunday of the season—under newly instituted tiebreakers procedures, L. A. won the division championship as it had better net points in the two games the teams played (the Rams win and an earlier tie). The Colts finished 11–1–2, out of the playoffs. In 1968, Shula and the Colts were considered a favorite to win the NFL championship again, which carried with it an automatic berth what was now becoming popularly known as the "Super Bowl" against the champion of the younger AFL. The NFL champion, in both cases the Green Bay Packers, had easily won the first two Super Bowls (1967 and 1968) over the AFL winner, establishing for a while then the superiority of the older NFL circuit.
Baltimore's quest for a championship seemed doomed from the start when long-time starting quarterback Johnny Unitas suffered a pre-season injury to his throwing arm and was replaced by Earl Morrall, a veteran who had started inconsistently over the course of his 12 seasons with four different teams. But Morrall would go on to have the best year of his career, leading the league in passer rating (93.2) during the regular season. His performance was so impressive that Colts coach Don Shula decided to keep Morrall in the starting lineup after Unitas was healthy enough to play. The Colts had won ten games in a row, including four shutouts, and finished the season with an NFL-best 13–1 record. In those ten games, they had allowed only seven touchdowns. Then, the Colts avenged their sole regular-season loss against the Cleveland Browns by crushing them, 34–0, in the NFL Championship Game.
The Colts offense ranked second in the NFL in points scored (402). Wide receivers Jimmy Orr (29 receptions, 743 yards, 6 touchdowns) and Willie Richardson (37 receptions, 698 yards, 8 touchdowns) provided Baltimore with two deep threats, with Orr averaging 25.6 yards per catch, and Richardson averaging 18.9. Tight end John Mackey also recorded 45 receptions for 644 yards and 5 touchdowns. Pro Bowl running back Tom Matte was the team's top rusher with 662 yards and 9 touchdowns. He also caught 25 passes for 275 yards and another touchdown. Running backs Terry Cole and Jerry Hill combined for 778 rushing yards and 236 receiving yards.
The Colts defense led the NFL in fewest points allowed (144, tying the then all-time league record), and ranked third in total rushing yards allowed (1,339). Bubba Smith, a 6'7" 295-pound defensive end considered the NFL's best pass rusher, anchored the line. Linebacker Mike Curtis was considered one of the top linebackers in the NFL. Baltimore's secondary consisted of defensive backs Bobby Boyd (8 interceptions), Rick Volk (6 interceptions), Lenny Lyles (5 interceptions), and Jerry Logan (3 interceptions). The Colts were the only NFL team to routinely play a zone defense. That gave them an advantage in the NFL because the other NFL teams were inexperienced against a zone defense. (This would not give them an advantage over the upstart New York Jets, however, because zone defenses were common in the AFL and the Jets knew how to attack them.)
New York Jets
For more details on this topic, see 1968 New York Jets season.
The New York Jets, led by head coach Weeb Ewbank (who was the head coach of the Colts when they won the famous 1958 NFL Championship game and later the '59 title also), finished the season with an 11–3 regular season record (one of the losses was to the Oakland Raiders in the infamous "Heidi Game") and had to rally to defeat those same Raiders, 27–23, in a thrilling AFL Championship Game.
Jets quarterback Joe Namath threw for 3,147 yards during the regular season, but completed just 49.2 percent of his passes, and threw more interceptions (17) than touchdowns (15). Still, he led the offense effectively enough for them to finish the regular season with more total points scored (419) than Baltimore. More importantly, Namath usually found ways to win. For example, late in the fourth quarter of the AFL championship game, Namath threw an interception that allowed the Raiders to take the lead. But he then made up for his mistake by completing 3 consecutive passes on the ensuing drive, advancing the ball 68 yards in just 55 seconds to score a touchdown to regain the lead for New York. Future Hall of Fame wide receiver Don Maynard caught the game-winning pass in the end zone but strained his hamstring on the play.
The Jets had a number of offensive weapons that Namath used. Maynard had the best season of his career, catching 57 passes for 1,297 yards (an average of 22.8 yards per catch) and 10 touchdowns. Wide receiver George Sauer, Jr. recorded 66 receptions for 1,141 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Jets rushing attack was also effective. Fullback Matt Snell, a power runner, was the top rusher on the team with 747 yards and 6 touchdowns, while elusive halfback Emerson Boozer contributed 441 yards and 5 touchdowns. Meanwhile, kicker Jim Turner made 34 field goals and 43 extra points for a combined total of 145 points.
The Jets defense led the AFL in total rushing yards allowed (1,195). Gerry Philbin, John Elliott, and Verlon Biggs anchored the defensive line. The Jets linebacking core was led by middle linebacker Al Atkinson. The secondary was led by defensive backs Johnny Sample (a former Colt who played on their 1958 NFL Championship team) who recorded 7 interceptions, and Jim Hudson, who recorded 5.
Several of the Jets' players had been cut by NFL teams. Maynard had been cut by the New York Giants after they lost the 1958 NFL Championship to the Colts. "I kept a little bitterness in me," he says. Sample had been cut by the Colts. "I was almost in a frenzy by the time the game arrived," he says. "I held a private grudge against the Colts. I was really ready for that game. All of us were." Offensive tackle Winston Hill had been cut five years earlier by the Colts as a rookie in training camp. "Ordell Braase kept making me look bad in practice," he says. Hill would be blocking Braase in Super Bowl III.
At an all-night party to celebrate the Jets victory over the Raiders at Namath's nightclub, Bachelors III, Namath poured champagne over Johnny Carson as the talk show host commented, "First time I ever knew you to waste the stuff."
Super Bowl pregame news and notes
After winning the AFL championship, Namath was asked by a reporter to state his opinion of Earl Morrall. Namath said that at least four AFL quarterbacks were better than Morrall: Himself, his backup (38-year old Babe Parilli), John Hadl of the San Diego Chargers, and Bob Griese of the Dolphins.
Despite the Jets' accomplishments, AFL teams were generally not regarded as having the same caliber of talent as NFL teams. However, three days before the game, an intoxicated Namath appeared at the Miami Touchdown Club and boldly predicted to the audience, "We're gonna win the game. I guarantee it." Jets' head coach Weeb Ewbank, in an NFL Films segment, once joked that he "could have shot" Namath for the statement. Namath made his famous "guarantee" in response to a rowdy Colts supporter at the club, who boasted the Colts would easily defeat the Jets. Namath said he never intended to make such a public prediction, and never would have done so if he had not been confronted by the fan. Nevertheless, his comments and subsequent performance in the game itself are one of the more famous instances in NFL lore.
Some analysts[who?] suggested that the Jets' record in the NFL might have been 9–5, which would have made them unlikely to have made the 1968 NFL playoffs altogether, let alone competitive against the dominant Colts.
Despite this, the AFL champions shared the confident feelings of their quarterback. According to Matt Snell, all of the Jets, not just Namath, were insulted and angry that they were 18-point underdogs. Most of the Jets considered the Raiders, whom they barely beat (27–23) in the AFL title game, a better team than the Colts. However, watching films of the Colts and in preparation for the game, Jets coaching staff and offensive players noted that their offense was particularly suited against the Colts defense. The Colts defensive schemes relied on frequent blitzing, which covered up weak points in pass coverage. The Jets had an automatic contingency for such blitzes by short passing to uncovered tight ends or backs. After a film session the Wednesday prior to the game, Jets tight end Pete Lammons, a Crockett, Texas, native, was heard to drawl, "Damn, y'all, we gotta stop watching these films. We gonna get overconfident."
Television and entertainment
The game was broadcast in the United States by NBC Sports – at the time, still a "Service of NBC News" – with Curt Gowdy handling the play-by-play duties and joined by color commentators Al DeRogatis and Kyle Rote in the broadcast booth. Also helping with NBC's coverage were Jim Simpson (reporting from the sidelines) and Pat Summerall, on loan from CBS (helping conduct player interviews for the pregame show, along with Rote). In an interview later done with NFL Films, Gowdy called it the most memorable game he ever called because of its historical significance.
"Mr. Football" was the title of the pregame show, which featured marching bands playing "Mr. Touchdown U.S.A." as people in walking footballs representing all NFL and AFL teams except the Jets and Colts were paraded, after which performers representing a Jets player and a Colts player appeared on top of a large, multi-layered, smoke topped cake. Astronauts of the Apollo 8 mission (Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William Anders), the first manned flight around the Moon, which had returned to Earth just 18 days prior to the game, then led the Pledge of Allegiance. Lloyd Geisler, first trumpeter of the Washington National Symphony Orchestra, performed the national anthem. The Florida A&M University band was featured during the "America Thanks" halftime show.
This game is thought to be the earliest surviving Super Bowl game preserved on videotape in its entirety, save for a portion of the Colts' fourth quarter scoring drive. The original NBC broadcast was aired as part of the NFL Network Super Bowl Classics series.
New York entered the game with their primary deep threat, wide receiver Don Maynard, playing with a pulled hamstring. But his 112-yard, two touchdown performance against the Oakland Raiders in the AFL championship game made the Colts defense pay special attention to him, not realizing he was injured. Using Maynard as a decoy—he had no receptions in the game—Joe Namath was able to take advantage of single coverage on wide receiver George Sauer, Jr.. (After studying the Colts' zone defense, Ewbank had told his receivers, "Find the dead spots in the zone, hook up, and Joe will hit you.") The Jets had a conservative game plan, emphasizing the run as well as short high-percentage passes to minimize interceptions. Meanwhile, with the help of many fortunate plays, the Jets defense kept the Colts offense from scoring for most of the game.
The Jets, led by captains Namath and Johnny Sample, and Colts, led by captains Preston Pearson, Johnny Unitas and Lenny Lyles, met at midfield where referee Tom Bell announced the Jets had won the coin toss and had elected to receive the football. The coin toss had been conducted an hour prior to kickoff but this was done for the benefit of the spectators. Colts kicker Lou Michaels kicked the ball off to Earl Christy who returned the ball 25 yards to the Jets' 23-yard line. Namath handed the ball off to Snell on first down who carried it 3 yards. On second down, Snell carried the ball for 9 yards, earning the Jets' first first down of the game. Colts free safety Rick Volk sustained a concussion when he tackled Snell and was subsequently lost for the game. On the ensuing play, Emerson Boozer lost four yards when he was tackled behind the line of scrimmage by Don Shinnick. Namath threw his first pass to Snell that gained 9 yards on 2nd and 14, but a 2-yard loss by Snell on the following play forced the Jets to punt the ball.
The Colts began their first offensive series on their own 27-yard line. Quarterback Earl Morrall completed a 19-yard pass to tight end John Mackey and then running back Tom Matte ran for 10 yards to place the ball on the Jets' 44-yard line. Jerry Hill's runs of 7 and 5 yards picked up another Colts first down, then Morrall's pass to tight end Tom Mitchell gained 15 yards on third and thirteen and saw the ball placed at the Jets' 19-yard line. In scoring position, Morrall attempted to score quickly against a reeling Jets defense. Receiver Willie Richardson dropped Morrall's pass on first down followed by an incompletion on second down after Mitchell was overthrown. On third down, none of his receivers were open and Morrall was tackled at the line of scrimmage by Al Atkinson. Michaels was brought out to attempt a 27-yard field goal, but it was wide left. "You could almost feel the steam go out of them," said Snell.
On the Jets' second possession, Namath threw deep to Maynard, who, despite his pulled hamstring, was open by a step. The ball was overthrown, but this one play helped change the outcome of the game. Fearing the speedy Maynard, the Colts decided to rotate their zone defense to help cover Maynard, leaving Sauer covered one-on-one by Lenny Lyles, helping Sauer catch 8 passes for 133 yards, including a crucial third quarter 39-yard reception that kept a scoring drive alive. The Jets kept rushing Snell to their strong left, rushing off tackle with Boozer blocking the linebacker, and gained first down after first down as the Colts defense gave ground. The Colts defense was more concerned about Maynard, the passing game, and the deep threat of a Namath to Maynard touchdown. Although the Colts were unaware of Maynard's injury, the Jets were aware that Lyles had been weakened by tonsillitis all week, causing them great glee when they saw the one-on-one matchup with Sauer.
With less than two minutes left in the period, Colts punter David Lee booted a 51-yard kick that pinned the Jets back at their own 4-yard line. Three plays later, Sauer caught a 3-yard pass from Namath, but fumbled while being tackled by Lyles, and Baltimore linebacker Ron Porter recovered it at New York's 12-yard line. However, on third down (the second play of the second quarter), Morrall's pass was tipped by Jets linebacker Al Atkinson, bounced crazily, high into the air off tight end Tom Mitchell, and was intercepted by Jets cornerback Randy Beverly in the end zone for a touchback. "That was the game in a nutshell," says Matte. Starting from their own 20-yard line, Snell rushed on the next 4 plays, advancing the ball 26 yards. The Jets would have success all day running off left tackle behind the blocking of Winston Hill, who, according to Snell, was overpowering 36-year-old defensive end Ordell Braase, the man who had tormented the rookie Hill in Colts' training camp. Said Snell, "Braase pretty much faded out." Namath later completed 3 consecutive passes, moving the ball to the Colts 23-yard line. Boozer gained just 2 yards on the next play, but Snell followed it up with a 12-yard reception at the 9-yard line and a 5-yard run to the 4-yard line, and capped the drive with a 4-yard touchdown run, once again off left tackle. The score gave the Jets a 7–0 lead, and marked the first time in history that an AFL team led in the Super Bowl.
On Baltimore's ensuing drive, a 30-yard completion from Morrall to running back Tom Matte helped the Colts advance to the New York 42-yard line, but they once again failed to score as Jets cornerback Johnny Sample broke up Morrall's third down pass and Michaels missed his second field goal attempt, this time from 46 yards. Two plays after the Jets took over following the missed field goal, Namath's 36-yard completion to Sauer enabled New York to eventually reach the Baltimore 32-yard line. But Namath then threw two incompletions, and was sacked on third down by Colts linebacker Dennis Gaubatz for a 2-yard loss. New York kicker Jim Turner tried to salvage the drive with a 41-yard field goal attempt, but he missed.
On their ensuing possession, Baltimore went from their own 20-yard line to New York's 15-yard line in three plays, aided by Matte's 58-yard run. But with 2 minutes left in the half, Morrall was intercepted again, by Sample at the Jets' 2-yard line, deflating the Colts considerably. The Jets then were forced to punt on their ensuing drive, and the Colts advanced the ball to New York's 41-yard line. What followed is one of the most famous plays in Super Bowl history. Baltimore tried a flea flicker play, which had a huge impact on the momentum of the game. Matte ran off right tackle after taking a handoff, then pitched the ball back to Morrall. The play completely fooled the NBC Camera Crew, and the Jets defense, leaving receiver Jimmy Orr wide open near the end zone. However, Morrall failed to spot him and instead threw a pass intended for running back Jerry Hill that was intercepted by Jets safety Jim Hudson as time expired, maintaining the Jets' 7–0 lead at halftime. Earlier in the season, against the Atlanta Falcons, on the same play, Morrall had completed the same pass for a touchdown to Orr, the play's intended target. "I was the primary receiver," Orr said later. "Earl said he just didn't see me. I was open from here to Tampa." "I'm just a lineman, but I looked up and saw Jimmy open," added center Bill Curry. "I don't know what happened." Some speculated that Morrall couldn't see Orr because the Florida A&M marching band (in blue uniforms similar to the Colts) was gathering behind the end zone for the halftime show.
The third quarter belonged to the Jets, who controlled the ball for all but three minutes of the period. Baltimore ran only seven offensive plays all quarter, gaining only 11 yards. Matte lost a fumble on the first play from scrimmage in the second half, yet another demoralizing event, which led to Turner's 32-yard field goal to increase the Jets' lead, 10–0. Then, after forcing the Colts to punt again, Namath completed 4 passes for 40 yards to set up Turner's 30-yard field goal to increase the lead, 13–0. On that drive, Namath temporarily went out of the game after injuring his right thumb, and was replaced by backup quarterback Babe Parilli for a few plays. Namath returned by the end of the third quarter, but the Jets would not run a pass play for the entire fourth quarter.
Matt Snell said, "By this time, the Colts were pressing. You saw the frustration and worry on all their faces." After Turner's second field goal, with 4 minutes left in the third quarter, Colts head coach Don Shula took Morrall out of the game and put in the sore-armed Johnny Unitas to see if he could provide a spark to Baltimore's offense. Unitas could not get the Colts offense moving on their next drive and they were forced to punt again after 3 plays. Then, aided by a 39-yard pass from Namath to Sauer, the Jets drove all the way to the Colts 2-yard line. Baltimore's defense wouldn't quit, and kept them out of the end zone. Turner kicked his third field goal early in the final period to make the score 16–0.
On Baltimore's next possession, they managed to drive all the way to the Jets' 25-yard line. However, Beverly ended the drive by intercepting a pass from Unitas in the end zone, the Jets' fourth interception of the game. New York then drove to the Colts 35-yard line with 7 consecutive running plays, but ended up with no points after Turner missed a 42-yard field goal attempt.
Unitas started out the next drive with 3 incomplete passes, but completed a key 17-yard pass to Orr on fourth down. Ten plays later, aided by three Jets penalties, Baltimore finally scored a touchdown on a 1-yard run by Hill to cut their deficit to 16–7, but with only 3:19 left in the game. The Colts then recovered an onside kick and drove to the Jets 19-yard line with 3 consecutive completions by Unitas, but his next 3 passes fell incomplete. Instead of kicking a field goal and attempting another onside kick (which would have been necessary in the end), they opted to throw on 4th down, and the pass fell incomplete, turning the ball over on downs. That ended any chance of a Baltimore comeback, as the Jets ran the ball for 6 plays before being forced to punt.
When the Colts got the ball back, only 8 seconds remained in the game. The Colts then attempted two final passes before time ran out, and the game was over. Matt Snell said, "Leaving the field, I saw the Colts were exhausted and in a state of shock. I don't remember any Colt coming over to congratulate me." As he ran off the field, Namath, in a spontaneous show of defiance held up his index finger, signaling "number one."
Years later Morrall said, "I thought we would win handily. We'd only lost twice in our last 30 games. I'm still not sure what happened that day at the Orange Bowl, however; it's still hard to account for." Wrote Matt Snell, "The most distinct image I have from that whole game is of Ordell Braase and some other guys—not so much Mike Curtis--having a bewildered look."
Namath finished the game having completed 17 of his 28 passes. He is the only quarterback to win Super Bowl MVP without throwing a touchdown pass. Snell rushed for 121 yards on 30 carries with a touchdown, and caught 4 passes for 40 yards. Sauer caught eight passes for 133 yards. Beverly became the first player in Super Bowl history to record 2 interceptions. Morrall had a terrible day—just 6 of 17 completions for 71 yards, and was intercepted 3 times. Despite not being put into the game until late in the third quarter, Unitas finished with more pass completions (11) and passing yards (110) than Morrall, but he also threw one interception. Matte was the Colts' top rusher with 116 yards on just 11 carries, an average of 10.5 yards per run, and caught 2 passes for 30 yards. The Colts were minus-4 in turnovers throwing four interceptions, all of which were deep in Jet territory.
Source: NFL.com Super Bowl III
Statistics provided by NFL.com
Starting lineup provided by NFL.com
Note: A seven-official system was not instituted until 1978.