There's plenty of history between AFC finalists Jets and Colts
Jets-Colts goes back to the most important game ever played -- Super Bowl III
New York handed Indianapolis its first loss in Week 15 after Colts pulled starters
With a Super Bowl berth on the line Sunday, this time the game in Indy counts
Colts-Jets. It's history.
The upstart New York Jets are going to Indianapolis to play in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday and I can't get all this history out of my head.
The most important NFL game ever played was Super Bowl III, a 16-7 Jets victory over the Colts 41 years ago in the Orange Bowl.
The most important game of the 2009 NFL season also featured the Colts and Jets. For a different reason.
And the chiseled profile of Don Shula was part of both games.
Listen up, young folks. Let me explain:
Every NFL fan should know the folklore of Super Bowl III. The 1968 Colts, coached by Shula, were considered one of the greatest teams in the history of professional football. Led by quarterback Earl Morrall (he had an aging backup named John Unitas), the Colts went 15-1. They beat the Cleveland Browns, 34-0, in the NFL championship game. They were established as 18-point favorites in the Super Bowl against the Jets.
Super Bowl III was actually the first NFL-AFL championship game which was called the Super Bowl. Vince Lombardi's Packers had cleaned up on the Kansas City Chiefs and the Oakland Raiders, respectively, in the first two title games between the leagues. AFL teams were regarded as significantly inferior which is probably what agitated young Jets quarterback Joe Namath. Days before Super Bowl III, Namath "guaranteed" victory for the AFL Champs. Then he delivered.
On a day when he was statistically-ordinary (17 of 28, 206 yards) Namath was the Super Bowl MVP in a 16-7 shocker. The Jets intercepted Morrall three times which prompted Shula to try Unitas in the fourth quarter. Unitas got the Colts into the end zone but it was a day of abject humiliation for the Colts and in the annals of NFL history, it was more important than the epic championship ("Greatest Game Ever Played") at Yankee Stadium between the Giants and Colts in 1958. Those Colts were coached by Weeb Ewbank, who also coached the 1969 Jets.
Fast forward more than four decades to Lucas Oil Stadium on December 27, 2009. The 2009 Indianapolis Colts (they fled Baltimore under the cover of darkness in 1984) were 14-0, threatening to become only the second team in NFL history to go 16-0 in the regular season. They had won an NFL-record 23 consecutive regular-season games and had a chance to join the 1972 Miami Dolphins (coached by Shula) as only the second undefeated team in league history.
Indy bolted to an early lead over the moribund Jets (then 7-7) and still led when coach Jim Caldwell pulled Peyton Manning with 5:36 left in the third quarter. While the hometown fans booed, the Colts coughed up the lead and opened the door for the Jets. Shula sent congratulations to the Colts for a nice run at history but Caldwell and Indy GM Bill Polian were ripped for thumbing their nose at immortality. Manning gathered his angry teammates and told them to re-focus on the playoffs. The Colts mailed it in again in their regular-season finale at snowy Buffalo, but the strategy looked sound in the wake of Saturday's 20-3 thrashing of the Ravens.
Nobody could have imagined at the time that Caldwell's white flag in Game 15 would have given birth to the monster that has become the 2009 playoff Jets.
Here we getting ready for conference championship weekend and the Jets, not the Colts, are the story of the NFL. Bombastic coach Rex Ryan, who told the media his team was done ("We're out of the playoffs") after the Jets lost to the Falcons on Dec. 20, now has the Jets one game from the Super Bowl. Buoyed by the win at Indianapolis, the Jets are on fire. They won at Cincinnati on Wild Card weekend and on Sunday shocked the world with a 17-14 victory at San Diego. The Chargers had won 11 consecutive games.
Sunday's Jets victory was the only competitive game -- and the only upset -- last weekend. The Jets have a rookie quarterback, Mark Sanchez, and were not good enough to win their division. They are the story of these playoffs.
Ryan has become the latter-day Namath. He's not ''guaranteeing" victory, but before the start of the playoffs he told us that his team should be the favorites and thus far the Jets have done nothing to discourage the outrageous notion. The Jets are the pigs at the NFL party and they owe it all to the team that paved their path by quitting in Game 15 -- the same team they'll face Sunday in the AFC Championship.
It's history and it's rich.
After shocking the Chargers in San Diego, Ryan went to the podium and said, "It's probably the matchup nobody wanted, but too bad -- here we come.''
Wrong, Rex. This is the matchup everybody wanted.
Jets at Indianapolis II: This Time It Counts.
Dan Shaughnessy is a columnist for The Boston Globe. Read more of his columnshere.
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