SUPER BOWL III: Jets-Colts
Say It's So,
And say it Joe did, boasting over and over again that his Jets would whip the mighty Colts in the Super Bowl. Then came Sunday -- and Joe Namath quit talking and began to throw. Just like he said...
By Tex Maule
Issue date: January 20, 1969
Broadway Joe Namath is the folk hero of the new generation. He is long hair, a Fu Manchu mustache worth $10,000 to shave off, swinging nights in the live spots of the big city, the dream lover of the stewardi -- all that spells insouciant youth in the Jet Age.
Walter Iooss, Jr
Besides all that, Namath is a superb quarterback who in the Super Bowl last week proved that his talent is as big as his mouth -- which makes it a very big talent, indeed. He went from Broadway Joe to Super Joe on a cloud-covered afternoon in Miami, whipping the Baltimore Colts, champions of the National Football League, 16-7 in the process.
Almost no one thought the New York Jets could penetrate the fine Baltimore defense, but Namath was sure of it and said so. "We're a better team than Baltimore," he said before the game. He was lying by the pool at the Galt Ocean Mile Hotel, where the Jets stayed, tanned and oiled against the sun. Namath reminds you a bit of Dean Martin in his relaxed confidence and in the droop of his heavy-lidded eyes. He is a man of immense self-assurance and, he showed early in the week, a man of startling honesty.
"Earl Morrall would be third-string quarterback on the Jets," he said. "there are maybe five or six better quarterbacks than Morrall in the AFL."
It was called loudmouthing, bragging, but as it turned out, Super Joe told it the way it was. In a surpassing display of passing accuracy and mental agility, he picked the Colt defense apart. Then, with a comfortable 16-0 lead, he prudently relied upon a surprisingly strong running game through most of the fourth quarter to protect that lead. He read the puzzling Colt defenses as easily as if they had been printed in comic books, and the Colt blitz, a fearsome thing during the regular NFL season, only provided Namath with the opportunity to complete key passes.
"We want them to blitz," Jet Coach Weeb Ewbank had said before the game. "Joe reads the blitz real well. We like blitzing teams." When it was over, Namath said, "I'll tell you one thing. No champagne in the dressing room of the world champion is a ridiculous thing. Of course, I've never been here before."
Having embellished his image a bit, he went on to more serious things. "Do I regret what I said before the game?" he said rhetorically. "No, I meant every word of it. I never thought there was any question about our moving against their 'great' defense. I'm sorry that Don Shula took what I said about Morrall as a rap. I only meant it as a statement of fact."
"Can you go over your emotions now?" someone asked him, and Namath thought for a moment. "No," he said. "That would take too much time and too much thinking. I'd rather just enjoy it."
Aside from the virtuoso performance by Namath, the Jet victory was built on an exceptionally strong performance from an offensive line that has protected Namath like the palace guard all year, dogged, insistent running by fullback Matt Snell and an inspired performance by the supposedly weak Jet secondary.
The Joe Namath of the defensive troops was elderly Johnny Sample, who once played for Baltimore and who had the difficult task of guarding the Colts' Willie Richardson. "We can win," Sample said before the game. "I've been waiting for three years for this. The National Football League blackballed me and took the bread off my table."
The Jet defense planned to deny the Colts the devastating inside running that had riddled the Cleveland Browns in the NFL championship game. Larry Grantham, a light corner linebacker who played 20 pounds better than his weight, said, "All week long all you read about was Joe Namath against the great Baltimore defense, and nobody wrote anything about our defense. But we felt that we had a chance to shut them out. You know, all season their defense has been giving Morrall the ball in good field position so he never had to drive more than 50 or 60 yards for a touchdown. We knew if we could make him go farther than that he would mess up eventually -- and he did."
The weak spots in the Jet defense, supposedly vulnerable to the Colt passing attack, were believed to be cornerbacks Randy Beverly and Sample, but both proved to be exceptionally prickly obstacles. The Baltimore offense, even with Morrall having a disastrous day, often moved the ball rather handily, but each time it arrived at the gates to the end zone the Jets produced a drive-stopping play. Often it was Sample or Beverly who played William Tell.
On its first offensive series, Baltimore appeared ready to substantiate the opinion of the bookies and the sportswriters. "The writers said the NFL would kick the hell out of our quarterback," Sample said. "But players play the game, not writers."
Morrall passed to John Mackey and Mackey rumbled over two Jet tackles for 19 yards. Tom Matte swept right end for 10 yards and Jerry Hill swept left end for seven more. Then Morrall passed to tight end Tom Mitchell at the 19 for still another first down. But at this point the Jet defense forced two incompletions and on third down Sample and Beverly clung to Colt receivers so closely that Morrall could not find a target and ran for no gain. Lou Michaels missed a field goal from the 27-yard line and it was still 0-0.
The next time Baltimore threatened, Beverly made the first of his two key interceptions. The Colts had recovered a Jet fumble on the New York 12, and on third and four from the New York six Morrall fired a cannon-shot pass at Mitchell over the Jet goal line. The ball hit Mitchell in the shoulder pad, caromed high in the air and Beverly made a diving, off-balance interception 10 yards away in the corner of the end zone.
Namath used this break as the springboard for a brilliantly executed 80-yard touchdown drive that pointed up the reasons he is no longer just Broadway Joe. He took 12 plays to negotiate the touchdown and he accepted all the variations, stunts and devices of the Colt defense with equanimity.
On this drive Namath began by using Snell four times in a row for 26 yards. Snell is a 219-pound fullback in his fifth year with the Jets and he reserved his best performance of the season for this game. Early in the week Snell had had a damaged knee drained of fluid, but now he ran as friskily as if he had 18-year-old, undamaged legs.
"Their defensive line likes to hit and slide off the block," he said later. "They have great pursuit, so we didn't want to try to run anything that would delay hitting the hole. We were hitting to the right of their defensive line. I've been telling reporters for a long time that Winston Hill is a great offensive tackle and today he proved it. I mean when he blocks, he doesn't just get a stalemate with the guy he's on. He blows him out."
The long gainer for Snell on his four carries was a draw, a play that stung the Colts over and over again as the Jets did what the Colts were supposed to do -- control the ball on a long drive. With the Colt defense properly concerned with the Jet running attack, Namath went to the air.
The Colt defense demonstrated a fascination for Don Maynard, the fastest of Jet receivers, who has been described as a faster Raymond Berry with not quite as good moves. He may be better than that. "They had a strong rotation toward Don," said George Sauer, the other wide receiver. "Most clubs will do that to the receiver who has the most speed."
On the first pass after Snell's four runs, Namath went to Sauer. Don Shinnick, the linebacker, had dropped back deep in the area. He nearly intercepted the ball. "I was a little off balance and I had to make sure I knocked it down," Shinnick said. "I should have had it."
Namath hit Bill Mathis, in for Snell, on an outlet pass for six yards, then came back to Sauer in the cracks of the zone twice, once for 14 yards and again for 11. The Colts had not expected him to throw much to his running backs, figuring that he would have to keep them at home to protect him from Baltimore's pass rush. But now he hit Snell for 12 yards, down to the Baltimore nine.
From there, Namath calmly went back to the run and Snell carried twice, scoring the second time from four yards out over the vulnerable right side of the Colt line. Again he started inside, veered out and slashed across off a block by Tackle Hill.
"Snell is a great runner," Hill said after the game. "He doesn't ask for much room. The mediocre backs come back to the huddle and cry if they didn't get a hole big enough to back a truck through. I knew we could do it. We ran against the best teams in our league. What's so special about the Colts?"
By now five minutes and 57 seconds had elapsed in the second quarter and the Colts began to come apart a bit. A player who preferred to be unidentified said, "We should have had points on the board with the way we moved the ball, and we were behind 7-0. We should have stuck to the game plan, but we began to panic. That's what they were supposed to do, but they played with great poise. We didn't."
Late in the second period, strong safety Jim Hudson made a good play on a Colt maneuver that might have turned the game around. The Colts had the ball on the New York 41 with 25 seconds to go, and Morrall tried a bit of razzle-dazzle that should have resulted in a touchdown.
He handed the ball to Tom Matte on a sweep to the right -- a play on which Matte had been effective -- and Matte, in mid-sweep, stopped and threw a long lateral back across the field to Morrall. Far downfield in the corner near the goal line, Jimmy Orr was jumping up and down and waving his arms frantically, completely overlooked by the Jet defense. But Morrall did not see him and threw over the middle deep toward fullback Jerry Hill. Hudson nipped in ahead of Hill and intercepted the ball.
"I was the primary receiver," Orr said later. "Earl said he just didn't see me. I was open from here to Tampa."
Bill Curry, the Colt center who was in shock for an hour after the game, said, "I'm just a lineman but I looked up and saw Jimmy open. I don't know what happened."
On the first play of the second half, the Jets recovered a Matte fumble and Jim Turner kicked a field goal to make it 10-0. When the Jets stopped Baltimore again, Namath took his team back down the field, where Turner kicked another field goal.
At this point, with some three minutes left in the third quarter, Baltimore Coach Don Shula turned to John Unitas, the master quarterback who spent this season on the bench nursing a tennis elbow. Johnny U. got the Colts their touchdown and showed flickers of his old mastery as he led them 80 yards for the score, completing four passes on the drive. Yet, in a way, it was sad. Unitas hit four passes, but he missed six, and when the Colts tried an onside kick and recovered the ball on the Jet 44 with three minutes and 14 seconds to go, Unitas didn't pull it off. He hit three passes in a row, but then he missed three to lose the ball. He got it once more but he could not score again.
So the era of John Unitas ended and the day of Broadway Joe and the mod quarterback began. John is crew cut and quiet and Joe has long hair and a big mouth, but haircuts and gab obviously have nothing to with the efficiency of quarterbacks.
Namath won this one -- a historic game for the AFL after eight years of existence, but only the third Super Bowl matchup. It might convince some AFL owners they should keep the present league alignments intact when the two meet in Palm Springs on March 17 to arrange the scheduling merger. Wayne Valley, an owner of the Oakland Raiders, is one AFL owner who wants to keep his league as it is.
If the AFL stays together as an operating unit, it will owe its existence in part to a stubby little man named Weeb Ewbank, who last week gave Joe Namath a brilliant game plan and who won NFL championships in 1958 and 1959 with Johnny Unitas and the Colts. Ewbank, in discussing the two great quarterbacks he has coached to championships, often mistakenly says Namath when he means Unitas.
But it was Broadway Joe -- or Super Joe, if you prefer -- who did the big job in this game. It is easy to understand why Ewbank has difficulty separating Johnny U. and Super Joe in his mind. They are so different -- yet so very much alike.