Sunday, January 12, 2014

Namath's Guarantee

On this day 45 years ago, Broadway Joe Namath made good on his famous guarantee, and Namath's underdog New York Jets became the first members of the old AFL to win the Super Bowl, defeating the Baltimore Colts, 16–7.

It was also the first time that the name Super Bowl was used officially.

Before the game, there was a widely held belief that the AFL was inferior to the NFL in every possible way. Baltimore was favored by 18 points — and that was surely seen by many as too few. The Colts, they would have told you, were certain to beat the Jets by more than that. They had outscored their opponents by more than 18 points in more than half of their regular–season games that year (and came within a point of an 18–point victory margin in three other games), and they had won the NFL championship two weeks earlier by nearly five touchdowns.

And, with a defense that was coached by future Hall of Famer Chuck Noll and featured players like Bubba Smith, Billy Ray Smith and Mike Curtis, it was easy to imagine the upstart Jets being manhandled as the Chiefs and Raiders had been in the previous two Super Bowls.

The AFL began to gain some grudging acceptance when the Jets managed to sign Namath, who played his college ball at Alabama for Bear Bryant. In fact, it was due in large part to Namath's decision that the NFL agreed to merge with the AFL a few years later. The NFL feared bidding wars for the top collegiate talent and felt that bringing the AFL into the fold and subjecting its teams to the annual draft would prevent such wars from happening.

The merging of the two leagues didn't happen until 1970, more than a year after Namath's Jets beat the Colts in what has come to be regarded as one of sports' greatest upsets.

Namath's guarantee was the result, perhaps inevitably, of accumulated frustration from suggestions that the AFL was inferior. Some analysts had suggested that, if they had played in the NFL, the Jets would not have qualified for the playoffs, let alone made it to the Super Bowl.

Three days before the game, Namath appeared at the Miami Touchdown Club. A belligerent Colts fan heckled Namath and taunted him with claims that the Jets would lose. Exasperated (and intoxicated), Namath said, "We're gonna win the game. I guarantee it."

Without question, there have been times — in the histories of all sports — when players for one team believed they didn't have a snowball's chance in hell of winning a certain game. Sometimes it happens in championship games.

On this day 45 years ago, there might even have been a few Jets players who believed they would lose to the mighty Colts. But Joe Namath was not one of them.

The year before he led the Jets to the Super Bowl, Namath was the first pro quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards, and he is still the only one to accomplish the feat in a 14–game regular season.

Ironically, Namath was the MVP of Super Bowl III in spite of the fact that he didn't throw a touchdown pass in the game. In fact, he didn't attempt a single pass in the final quarter.

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