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51 for LI: Broadway Joe Delivers Super Bowl III

[lead align=”default”]Only three days remain until Super Bowl LI, which won’t be as momentous as Super Bowl III, but hopefully will be a good game.[/lead]

The merger between the AFL and NFL was at a crossroads during the 1968 seasons for both. As the two football powerhouses moved towards their union, the NFL remained the dominant power. After all, the NFL was around much longer, and its teams were established. Not to mention, the Green Bay Packers of the NFL won the first two Super Bowls.

It appeared that the AFL was very much a junior partner in the merger. Worse than that, that league couldn’t compete against the NFL. When the NFL champion Baltimore Colts met the AFL champion New York Jets in Super Bowl III, one of the most meaningful upsets in pro football history, the tables turned.

Super Bowl III: 1968 Baltimore Colts

Don Shula, a man who would coach in a number of Super Bowls, helped get the Colts to this one. His Baltimore Colts were 13-1 during the regular season, mostly blowing out the competition in so doing. Their only defeat was an October 20 loss against the Cleveland Browns. The NFL Coastal Division was theirs by a comfortable margin.

Earl Morrall, the quarterback, was the NFL’s MVP in 1968. He helped the Colts to a point differential of 402 to 144. The defense did the rest, allowing just over ten points per game in a season when they pitched three shutouts.

They won the NFL Western Conference by beating the Minnesota Vikings. Baltimore’s fourth shutout avenged their loss to the Cleveland Browns to clinch the NFL championship.

Super Bowl III: 1968 New York Jets

The Jets were an okay team in 1967, but they rose to power in the AFL in 1968. New York’s less established team was talk of the town that year, going 11-3 and winning the AFL East. Things started in very average fashion for the Jets, opening with a 3-2 record, but they hit their stride with a late pair of four-game win streaks.

Led by the irreplaceable Joe Namath, who completed less than half his passes and threw more interceptions than touchdowns, the Jets found ways to win. The defense was a component in that success, but despite some of the statistical shortcomings, Namath was the league MVP.

New York became AFL champions by beating the Oakland Raiders in the league title game. It was on to Super Bowl III, in which the Jets were set to be heavy underdogs. Then, one fateful night, Joe Namath got in front of a bunch of people and said of a win: “I guarantee it.” No pressure, guys.

Super Bowl III: The Game

Baltimore entered the game as an 18-point favorite over the Jets. With that Namath guarantee still hanging out there, the pride of the AFL was at stake.

The Jets punted on their first possession, and when the Colts had the ball first, they whiffed on a short field goal attempt. When New York got the ball back, with the Colts fearing Don Maynard as a deep-ball threat, the Jets opened up a shorter game. In the second quarter, the Jets became the first team to find the end zone on a Matt Snell touchdown run.

Their lead 7-0 at halftime, it eventually grew to 16-0 early in the fourth quarter. Baltimore, a team with a powerful offense during the regular season, was getting shut down in a way they did to many of their opponents. Though they eventually scored a late touchdown, Namath’s guarantee was coming true. Five turnovers by the Colts, including three picks by NFL MVP Morrall, sealed the Jets first, and only Super Bowl victory.

More importantly, the Jets’ victory was one for all of the AFL. Not only did the Jets avoid getting blown out, they won a defining game in football history. Had New York not won this Super Bowl, the perception of the AFL in the late 1960s and entering the 1970 merger may have been quite different.

Super Bowl III: Highlights

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