Vince Lombardi Super Bowl trophy. Photo: Erik Drost, via flickr
For frustrated, pessimistic, self-loathing New York Jets fans, January 12 marks a bittersweet 50th anniversary.
It was on that day in 1969 that the Jets metaphorically bowled a 300 and hit a hole in one – at the same time. In other words, the franchise did something monumental that is the stuff of dreams. But they haven’t done it since and so their fans have only a beautiful memory to hang on to.
That was the Sunday afternoon when the “J-E-T-S Jets-Jets-Jets” won Super Bowl III in Miami by defeating the heavily-favored Baltimore Colts, 16-7. In sports annals, this event has been remembered as a championship game of historic proportions. And the team, as its miserable fans know all too well, have not won a title since.
The Jets were an 18-point underdog because the team was unheralded and the Green Bay Packers, of the all-powerful National Football League, had trounced the American Football League’s Kansas City Chiefs and the Oakland Raiders in the first two Super Bowls. The NFL was regarded as unbeatable in this game. The Jets had quarterback Joe Namath and, apparently, not much else. But the Jets played a flawless game, while the supremely overconfident Colts made mistake after mistake. Not even legendary Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas could save them.
Namath also made sports history by publicly guaranteeing a Jets victory a few days before the kickoff. He promptly changed the way that the press and fans would look at professional athletes forever. No sports figure had ever before had the chutzpah to guarantee a victory, especially when his team was given virtually no chance to win the game. Now, athletes are expected to do their fair share of “trash talking.”
Amazingly, the Jets took control early and built a 16-0 lead. Namath was voted the Most Valuable Player, though he had an unremarkable day, statistically, and fullback Matt Snell had a big game.
Since that epic day, Namath has remained a god among Jets fans. He is still mobbed in the city and Jet fans constantly thank him for enriching their lives, if only once. Perhaps only fellow quarterbacks Tom Brady, Joe Montana and John Elway are as completely identified with their franchises as Namath is with the Jets.
On the flip side, Baltimore sports fans can only shake their heads at this karmic catastrophe. It was as if the sports gods had unleashed a New York curse on them. A few months after the Super Bowl debacle, the upstart New York Knicks swept the Baltimore Bullets in four games in the National Basketball Association playoffs. Then, that October, the Miracle Mets upset the powerful Baltimore Orioles in five games in the World Series. You couldn’t blame Baltimore sports fan for lamenting a New York jinx.
The Jets finished the 2018 season with a 4-12 record, one of the worst in the NFL. The team’s rookie quarterback Sam Darnold showed promise. The franchise has one of the top picks in the college draft. The fans believe in the team’s potential and, you bet, the faithful will come to the home games next season chanting their trademark call of “J-E-T-S Jets Jets Jets!”
But nothing can top the memory of that historic time when Joe Namath guaranteed a victory and the Jets upset the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.