Jan. 12, 1969. New York Jets 16, Baltimore Colts 7. The famous Joe Namath guarantee game. The third AFL-NFL Championship Game, and the one that altered the relationship between the established NFL and the upstart AFL forever. Forty-two years later it remains the single greatest day in Jets franchise history.
Magical moments in time should never be taken for granted, and by now Jets fans should understand that all too well. For more than four decades they have waited for their team to scale that mountain again, and it has not happened. With Rex Ryan at the helm the last two seasons the Jets have gotten close, losing in the AFC Championship Game both times. The magic, though, has not seen fit to visit the Jets again.
With the Jets running anywhere from 18- to 23-point underdogs Namath, the brash Jets quarterback said "The Jets will win on Sunday, I guarantee it."
Blasphemy, considering that the Colts were one of the great NFL franchises of all time and the Jets represented a league commonly looked at as the junior varsity. Would the UFL champion Las Vegas Locomotives dare to opine that they could defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers
or Green Bay Packers
? Don't think so. That, however, is the way Namath's boast was looked upon.
There was no play to the guarantee. Before the Super Bowl, a big, heavy Colts fan in the back of the room said, "Hey Namath, we’re gonna kick your (expletive)," and I said it. "We’re gonna win the game. I guarantee it." Having played for great high school, college and pro coaches, I was taught not to be overconfident, but that’s the way I felt. I was trained for that game since I was a young boy. My basic goals were always: 1. Earn a spot on the team; 2. Show them you’re a man; and 3. Win a championship.
My teammates were a little p.o.’d with me (after the guarantee). Dave Herman, our guard, was playing with me a little but said, "Why you getting ’em mad, you jerk? Now they’re going to kill us." The next day, we’re standing at midfield and Coach (Weeb) Ewbank says, "Gosh darnit, Joe, look at how confident those guys are." I said, "Hey, Coach, it’s your fault. You’re the one who made us believe we are going to win the game."
To this day, that game remains a great example of how you can get something accomplished when most of the experts don’t think you can. And it really changed my life. Ever since, folks say hello to me more often. Ninety percent of them have a smile on their face when they’re talking about Super Bowl III. The other 10 percent are Baltimore fans.
Namath, of course, backed up his words by completing 17 of 28 passes for 206 yards as the Jets ran out to a 16-0 lead that even the great Johnny Unitas, summoned from the Baltimore bench, could not overcome.