1969: Joe Namath Guarantees A Super Bowl Victory For His Underdog Jets
In 1969, the New York Jets were headed to the Super Bowl III (previously called the AFL-NFL Championship) and Joe Namath really stepped in it. The quarterback guaranteed to the press that his Jets team -- champs of the AFL, considered the inferior league -- would defeat the Baltimore Colts. The guarantee was one of the most famous statements ever made by an athlete, in no small part because it came to pass. The upstart Jets beat the odds and won the game, and Namath -- who was already a popular player known for his charisma -- became a quasi-magical figure in sports.
Athletes Usually Avoid Making Predictions
The only people asked to predict the future more often than professional athletes are fortune tellers. Before and after just about every game, reporters will inevitably ask players what they think will happen in the next contest, especially in the playoffs. Just about every time -- unless they're Muhammad Ali -- athletes will fall into cliches about playing hard and putting themselves in a position to win. They avoid saying anything controversial or bold, afraid of creating motivation for their opponent. One man, appropriately nicknamed Broadway Joe, didn’t just predict a win, he guaranteed it. This is the story of Joe Namath’s famous Superbowl promise and the underdog, New York Jets.
In the '60s, the NFL wasn’t the only professional football league in America. The AFL began in 1960 as an upstart league, one many considered the junior varsity compared with the NFL. But the AFL attracted many big-name players, and showcased a more offense-oriented game that pleased fans, and its popularity grew. The two leagues agreed to a final game between champions -- called the AFL-NFL World Championship Game -- that was first played in 1967. The first two of these championship games were won handily by the NFL. Everyone and their mother expected the Baltimore Colts to roll over the longshot New York Jets in the third installment, which was the first to be dubbed The Super Bowl.
Super Bowl Wagers
The NFL has always thrived on gambling and the first Super Bowl was no different. The Baltimore Colts opened as 7-1 favorites. Meaning, if you bet $100 on Jets, you’d win $700. On the other hand, if you bet $100 on the Colts, you’d win only $14.29. So obviously the Colts were massive favorites and people still heavily bet on Baltimore. By the day of the game, the point spread was +18. Oddsmakers expected Baltimore to win by more than two touchdowns, which was a lot, as scores tended to be low back then.
Joe And The Jets Vs. The Mighty Baltimore Colts
Former Jets owner Sonny Werblin described Broadway Joe thusly, “When Joe Namath walks into a room, you know he’s there. When any other high-priced rookie walks in, he’s just a nice-looking young man.” He also told Joe, “I don’t know whether you’ll play on our team or make a picture for Universal.”
Luckily for old Werblin, Joe could do more than look pretty. Nevertheless, they faced stiff competition. The Colts had just put the finishing touches on a dominant 13-1 season, including 4 straight shutouts where the opposing team failed to score a single point. They were coached by Hall of Famer Don Shula and helmed by quarterback Earl Morrall who led the league in passing that season.
Broadway Joe’s Bold Prediction
On January 9, 1969 Namath was honored by the Miami Touchdown Club when someone yelled out, “The Colts are going to kick your ass.” In his cooler than a New York winter way, Joe responded, “Hey, I got news for you. We’re going to win Sunday, I’ll guarantee you…” Naturally, when Jets coach Weeb Ewbank found what Namath had said, he was apoplectic. “Ah Joe, Joe, Joe,” said the coach, “you know what they’re going to do?,” referring to Baltimore. “They’re going to put that [story] up on the locker room wall. Those Colts are gonna’s want to kill us.”
Weeb failed to understand what Namath’s supreme confidence would do for the rest of the team. Special team player Bill Rademacher voiced that sentiment, “Joe has been trying to shake us up. That’s why he started all the talking. Well, now we’re properly shook and I’ll tell you something else. It’s more than just his pregame behavior. He’s telling the truth. We are going to win.”
Of course, once the media caught wind of Joe’s prediction, they went to him over and over to see if he’d back off his intrepid prognostication. In true Namath fashion, he doubled and tripled down, “We’re a better team than Baltimore.” He even took a shot at the Colts quarterback, “There are maybe five or six better quarterbacks than Morrall in the AFL.” Namath even shared a heated exchange at a Miami nightclub with Colts defensive end Lou Michaels who took exception to Namath’s comments. The scene was set and the Super Bowl was properly charged.
As the game began, the bookies looked like prophets as the Jets struggled against the Colts’ vaunted defense. Quickly, the New York defense found their footing and the first quarter ended without either team scoring. In the second quarter, the Colts squandered a golden opportunity after the Jets fumbled just outside their own end zone. But then Jet Randy Beverly made a spectacular interception, the first of two for him, giving the ball back to Namath. On the ensuing drive, Joe led his team 80 yards for the game’s first touchdown. Three more field goals by the Jets put the game out of reach as the Colts only managed a single touchdown.
Joe Namath was named Super Bowl MVP and earned the respect of Don Shula. “Namath’s quickness took away our blitz,” said the Colts’ coach. “He beat our blitz more than we beat him.” As teammate John Dockery said of Namath “He never let up all game. Every time he’d come to the sidelines after a series he’d pat everybody and keep telling us, ‘C’mon, c’mon — today is our day.'”
New York sportswriter Mike Lupica put the perfect bow on Namath’s performance, “Nobody ever proved that [Babe] Ruth actually called his [home run] shot in that World Series against the Cubs. Namath called his.”