FROZEN IN TIME
Three days before the 1969 Super Bowl, Joe Namath appears before the Miami Touchdown Club, tosses a few footballs into the audience, jests briefly and then, growing serious, announces: 'The Jets will win on Sunday, I guarantee it.'
Such a pronouncement is almost without precedent in American sports, especially because the speaker represents a team who are judged 18- to 23-point underdogs against the powerful Baltimore Colts, who have been beaten only once, by Cleveland, 30-20, in the 1968 regular season.
By contrast, the New York Jets lose to Buffalo, Denver and Oakland in the regular season before defeating Oakland, 27-23, for the AFL championship.
From the day he became a Jet, ex-Alabama All-American Namath gives full rein to his opinions. A night person, he is a patron of saloons and discotheques, as well known for the white llama rug in his East Side penthouse as for the white low-cut football shoes he wore among black-shod teammates.
Wherever night life existed, Namath found it, brightening dialogue with his one-liners and expressing views that were always honest, if not quite conventional.
Typically brash were his opinions on the Colts in the days immediately following the two leagues' championship games.
Earl Morrall, who got the Baltimore starting job with Colts hero Johnny Unitas out injured, is Namath's favourite target. Despite the Colts' success with Morrall, Namath says there are five better quarterbacks in the AFL.
The Colts are indignant. 'I have a lot of respect for Joe,' says Baltimore defensive end Bubba Smith. 'He's an exceptional quarterback. But a football player who's real good doesn't have to talk. The Green Bay Packers were real champions. They never talked. They never had to. That's the way I visualise all champions, dignified and humble. All this Namath talk isn't going to fire us up.'
In preparing the Jets for the game, coach Weeb Ewbank had cautioned the players 'not to get fancy. Let's do the things we can do best and do them well'.
The Jets take the game to the Colts, running into the teeth of Baltimore's veteran defence. On his third carry in the first series, Matt Snell crashes into Rick Volk, sending the safetyman to the sideline groggy and rubber-legged.
On four consecutive plays, Snell smacks into the right side of the Colts defence, moving the ball to the Baltimore 46 as tackle Winston Hill clears the way.
Namath moves the Jets to the nine and, when Snell bulls over and Jim Turner converts, the Jets lead 7-0.
The Colts came storming back and, with 43 seconds remaining in the first half, they have moved to the New York 42. Only 25 seconds show on the scoreboard when Morrall takes the snap and hands off to Tom Matte. Suddenly, Matte pulls up and laterals back to Morrall. It is the ancient flea-flicker, used successfully by the Colts against Atlanta in a regular-season game.
Wide receiver Jimmy Orr is the target and is standing at the 10-yard line in acres of space waving frantically in an effort to attract attention.
Morrall pays no heed to Orr and throws to Jerry Hill, but the pass is intercepted.
Explaining his failure to throw to Orr, Morrall says, 'As we headed for the locker room, Jimmy screamed, 'Didn't you see me? Didn't you see me?' I told him, 'No, Jimmy, I didn't'.'
With Baltimore struggling and the Jets having stretched their lead to 13-0, Unitas is brought in to replace Morrall, who has completed just six of 17 passes for 71 yards.
Unitas fares little better than Morrall and the third period ends with the Colts having run only seven plays with a net gain of 10 yards.
Two minutes into the last quarter, Turner kicks a nine-yard field goal, his third, and the Colts need two touchdowns, two conversions and a field goal to avert one of history's most stunning upsets.
There is time for Baltimore to score a consolation touchdown, but Unitas, conqueror of countless peaks on a football field, is unable to work a miracle and the Jets pull off a huge, 16-7 upset.
When Namath announces above the post-match din that: 'I'm only talking to New York writers - they were the only ones who believed in me,' Ewbank and Jets president Phil Iselin hasten to his side and dissuade him from such a radical posture.
Recovering quickly, Broadway Joe, who completed 17 of 28 passes for 208 yards and was named MVP, quips: 'You know me, I'm a poor winner.'