New York's Matt Snell scores in the second quarter to give the Jets the lead.
The Broadway Joe
January 12, 1969
Three days before the 1969 Super Bowl, incomparable Joe Namath appeared before the Miami Touchdown Club, tossed a few footballs into the audience, jested briefly and then, growing serious, announced:
"The Jets will win on Sunday, I guarantee it."
Such a pronouncement was almost without precedent in American sports, especially because the speaker represented a team that was judged an 18- to 23-point underdog against the powerful Baltimore Colts, who had been beaten only once, by Cleveland, 30-20, in the 1968 regular season before defeating Minnesota, 24-14, and Cleveland, 34-0, in the NFL playoffs.
By contrast, the New York Jets lost 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, richer by $400,000 and a green Lincoln convertible, ex-Alabama All-America Namath gave full rein to his opinions. A night person, he was a patron of saloons and discotheques, as well known for his 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, Joe 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 was Joe's favorite target.
Morrall, like Namath, was the Most Valuable Player in his league, but there the similarity ceased. Morrall was 34, Namath 25. A graduate of Michigan State, Morrall was as retiring as Namath was flamboyant. A crewcut, homebody sort, Morrall had played for San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Detroit and the New York Giants before being obtained by the Colts as insurance for perennial quarterback star Johnny Unitas just prior to the start of the 1968 season.
The deal created no stir in the NFL, but it had far-reaching effects on the fortunes of the Colts. In the last pre-season game, Unitas, in the act of passing, was knocked down, suffering a serious tear on the inside of his right elbow. His throwing motion was impaired, as was the velocity on his passes. He was handicapped throughout the season.
Coach Don Shula was acquainted with Morrall's talents. Shula had been an assistant coach on the Detroit staff when Morrall quarterbacked the Lions, and he was not reluctant to make him Baltimore's starter. Under Morrall's leadership, the Colts failed to score at least 20 points in only one game, a 16-3 victory over Green Bay.
In Namath's eyes, Morrall was not the equal of five quarterbacks in the AFL. In addition to himself, said Joe, quarterbacks superior to Morrall were Daryle Lamonica of Oakland, John Hadl of San Diego, Bob Griese of Miami and, yes, even Babe Parilli, Namath's own aging backup.
"I study quarterbacks," said Namath. "I assure you the Colts have never had to play against quarterbacks like we have in the AFL."
Indignation among the Colts was instant. "How can Namath rap Earl?" wondered Shula. "Earl is No. 1 in the NFL. He's thrown all those touchdown passes (28). He's thrown for a great percentage of completions without using those dinky flare passes. We're proud of him. But I guess Namath can say whatever he pleases."
Morrall refused to take the Namath bait. "He's got his newspaper space and that's what he wants," said Morrall. "A lot of players have opinions on other players that would send writers running for their typewriters if they expressed 'em.
"But players keep these opinions to themselves-at least that's the way it has been. Maybe Namath represents the new breed of athletes, the kind of athletes the coming generation wants. . . . I hope not.
"When you've been playing football for 12 years, as I have, you eventually come up against virtually every type of individual from the quiet introvert to the swinger and loudmouth. Some guys never get their name in anything but the program. Other guys would do anything or say anything to get their names in the paper. Neither characteristic, as far as I'm concerned, has any effect on what happens on the football field."
"I have a lot of respect for Joe," added 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 visualize all champions, dignified and humble.
"All this Namath talk isn't going to fire us up."
On that point, Namath agreed, saying, "If they need newspaper clippings to fire them up, they're in trouble."
Even when he wasn't being interviewed, Namath was making news. Shortly after he registered in room 534, the Governor's Suite, at the Gait Ocean Mile Hotel in Fort Lauderdale, the Jets' training base, Joe was visited by two FBI agents.
Namath's life had been threatened in New York, the agents explained, and they had reason to believe that the culprit had transferred to the Miami area. They wanted to be sure that there was no exterior point of concealment that might shield a would-be sharpshooter.
On Sunday night, January 5, Namath and his roommate, safety Jim Hudson, stopped at a restaurant for a steak and a few glasses of cheer.
They were recognized by Lou Michaels, defensive end of the Colts and a younger brother of Walt Michaels, an assistant coach with the Jets. Lou was accompanied by teammate Dan Sullivan. Shortly there were four occupied chairs at Namath's table.
The conversation, reportedly, followed these lines:
"Namath," said the visitor, "Lou Michaels."
"You're doing a lot of talking," continued Michaels.
"There's a lot to talk about, we're going to beat the hell out of you," Namath promised.
"Haven't you ever heard of humility?"
Silence ensued, then Namath asked:
"You still here?"
"Damn right, I'm still here. I wanna hear everything you gotta say."
"I'm gonna pick you apart."
"You're gonna find it tough throwing out of a well," Michaels assured Namath.
"My blockers will give me time."
"I never heard Johnny Unitas or Bobby Layne talk like that."
"I believe that."
"Even if we do get in trouble we'll send in Unitas, the master."
"I hope you do because that'll mean the game is too far gone."
"Suppose we kick the hell out of you," offered Michaels, "what will you do?"
"I'll sit right down in the middle of the field and cry."
When the check arrived, Namath paid it with a $100 bill.
"You guys got a ride to the hotel?" Namath asked.
"We'll grab a cab," said Michaels.
"Don't be silly, we'll drop you off," said Namath.
Back at the Colts' hotel, the Statler-Hilton, Michaels murmured to Sullivan, "He's not such a bad kid after all."
The next day's journals carried accounts of the Namath-Michaels "brawl," with complete details.
Commented one amused Colt teammate, "Namath is the 837th guy that Michaels has challenged. If Lou had belted him he would have been about the 37th guy that Lou actually hit."
Added Hudson: "What else can you expect when two hard-headed coal miners from Pennsylvania get together?"
On Monday, January 6, Namath made news by sleeping late. It was picture day and Joe, along with Jets running backs Emerson Boozer and Matt Snell, failed to put in an appearance.
"I always sleep late in the morning," explained Joe limply when he showed up in early afternoon. "A fellow has to get his sleep."
Boozer and Snell heard the wakeup call, but, forgetting it was picture day, rolled over, they said, in the belief it was only a nuisance call.
The three were fined $50 apiece.
When defensive end Billy Ray Smith was asked for his opinion of Namath, the Colts' defensive captain said, "He hasn't seen defenses like ours in his league; our defenses are as complicated as some teams' offenses. We have 20 variations of our blitzes and five or six variations up front.
"That lets us do a lot of things. I think reading our defenses will be a new experience for the man.
"He's a good quarterback, but he's still a young man.
"When he gets a little older he'll get some humility."
Conspicuous by his silence in the midst of the week-long whoop-de-do was Wilbur (Weeb) Ewbank, the 61-year-old Jets coach to whom championship games were nothing new. Weeb was assistant to Paul Brown when the Cleveland Browns were annual title contenders. Also, he had guided the Colts to NFL championships in 1958 and '59. He had been released by the Colts in 1962 after finishing with a .500 record.
The preliminaries out of the way, the Colts, the Jets, the nation and the National Broadcasting Company, which paid $2.5 million for air rights, were set for the January 12 encounter between the new breed, the kids from across the tracks, who were free with their opinions, and the clean-cut wholesome fellows who practiced all of life's virtues.
Before the first fan was permitted through the gates, however, the bomb squad of the Miami Beach Police Department checked out the Orange Bowl, searching for a bomb that, according to a telephone caller, had been placed there.
Finding none, authorities gave the all-clear signal and the first of the 75,377 spectators filed into the huge horseshoe for the 3:05 p.m. (EST) kickoff.
Crowd-scanners recognized celebrities such as Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew, newly-elected President and Vice-President; Senator Edward Kennedy and his father, Joseph P. Kennedy, former ambassador to England; comedians Bob Hope and Jackie Gleason, and astronauts Frank Borman, Bill Anders and Jim Lovell.
In preparing the Jets for the game, Ewbank had cautioned the players "not to get fancy. Let's do the things we can do best and do them well. Other AFL teams got licked in this game because they lost their poise. That happened to us once during the season (a 43-32 loss to Oakland) and we can't let it happen again."
Shula's message to the Colts was: "Don't wait for them to lose it. We've got to win it ourselves."
Shula pointed out to his players that "Namath is a great passer. He has played with the same set of receivers over a period of four years. Namath is the best pure passer in the game. He is intense on the field and prepares himself well, as is evidenced by the way he executes. He has a lot of (Johnny) Unitas in him. He is convinced of his own ability, and will stay in the pocket until the last possible second. He has been criticized for his lifestyle but as far as I'm concerned his personal life is his own as long as he meets the rules."
When referee Tommy Bell signaled the team captains to the middle of the field for the pregame coin toss, Namath was warming up on the sidelines. Joe had stiff-legged his way onto the team bus for the ride to the Orange Bowl and was still trying to work out the last kinks. Several days earlier, when asked about his weak knees, he had wisecracked: "I'm not bad off, some folks don't even have knees."
To replace Namath for the coin toss, the Jets sent in cornerback Johnny Sample, a former Colt still bitter over what he considered injustices perpetrated against him by the entire NFL.
When Sample arrived at midfield, he found old buddy Lenny Lyles, also a cornerback, representing the Colts. Calling the coin toss correctly, Sample said the Jets would receive, then needled Lyles, "The first one goes to us."
The game had scarcely commenced before spectators recognized that they were watching a contest quite dissimilar to the first two Super Bowls. The Jets were not playing in awe of the Colts, as Kansas City and Oakland had played in awe of Green Bay.
The Jets took the game to the Colts, running into the teeth of Baltimore's veteran defense. On his third carry in the first series, Snell crashed into Rick Volk, sending the safetyman to the sideline groggy and rubber-legged.
Four minutes after gaining possession of the football, the Jets were forced to punt and the Colts took over on their own 27-yard line.
A screen pass to tight end John Mackey gained 19 yards. Tom Matte gained 10 around right end. Jerry Hill, Matte and Hill again picked up 10 yards for a third first down. A 15-yard pass to tight end Tom Mitchell gave Baltimore a first-and-10 at the New York 19.
When flanker Willie Richardson dropped a pass, another toss was overthrown and Morrall was sacked by middle linebacker Al Atkinson, the Colts went for a field goal, but Michaels' kick into the tricky winds blowing out of the end zone was wide to the right from the 27-yard line.
Late in the first quarter, pinned deep in their own territory, the Jets moved to a first down on their 17, where split end George Sauer Jr. fumbled and the Colts recovered on the 12.
Two plays consumed only six yards and on a third-and-four, Morrall fired down the middle where Atkinson flicked the ball, which bounced off Mitchell's shoulder and high into the air.
In the end zone, cornerback Randy Beverly, who had hoped that "I won't look like a clown out there," made a diving interception in the end zone. It was the Jets' ball on the 20.
On four consecutive plays, Snell smacked into the right side of the Colts defense, moving the ball to the Baltimore 46 as tackle Winston Hill cleared the way.
When Namath read the Colts' blitz and passed short to fullback Bill Mathis, the Jets were in enemy territory for the first time, at the 48-yard line.
Passes to Sauer for 14 and 11 yards, a two-yard burst by Boozer and a 12-yard completion to Snell carried to the 9.
Snell gained five to the right side, then smashed to the left where Winston Hill rode Michaels out of the play, Boozer erased safetyman Volk and, at the goal line, Snell bulled over middle linebacker Dennis Gaubatz. When Jim Turner converted, the Jets led, 7-0.
"That touchdown," wrote Larry Fox in "Broadway Joe and the Super Jets," "meant more than seven points, much more. The Jets had not only survived the mistake of Sauer's fumble, they had taken the ball back and rammed it under the Colts' chin straps on an 80-yard drive that took 12 plays. This is the way one football team demonstrates its superiority over another. Only one touchdown behind, the Colts and Morrall came back, trying the bomb. That's when the Jets knew they might have 'em on the run."
Once more the Colts stormed back and, with Matte eating up 58 yards on one gallop, reached the Jets 16. Again Morrall went to the air with the same calamitous results as Sample intercepted a pass intended for Richardson, blunting a Baltimore thrust that appeared certain to make points.
"Here it is, here's what you're looking for," Sample taunted Richardson, who smothered the urge to strike back.
With 43 seconds remaining in the first half, the Colts had moved to the New York 42.
Only 25 seconds showed on the scoreboard when Morrall took the snap and handed off to Matte, running to the right. Suddenly, Matte pulled up and lateraled back to Morrall. It was the ancient flea-flicker, used successfully by the Colts against Atlanta in a regular-season game.
Wide receiver Jimmy Orr was the prime target and he was standing at the 10-yard line waving frantically in an effort to attract attention. Not a single New York player was within 20 yards.
Morrall gave no heed to Orr, throwing instead in the direction of Jerry Hill on the 12-yard line, where Hudson intercepted. It was the Jets' third interception of the game.
Explaining his failure to throw to Orr, Morrall said, "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.' I had to turn to the right in order to take the pass from Matte and when I looked up, Jimmy wasn't in my line of vision. Hill was, so I went to him."
Shula was perplexed himself. Walking off the field, he remarked to an aide, 'Dammit, the flea-flicker is designed especially for Orr. Morrall is supposed to look for him. What in hell is happening?"
Another explanation for the Morrall-Orr misconnection, perhaps more plausible than any other, was submitted by veteran Baltimore sports journalist John Steadmari. Writing in his book, "The Baltimore Colts," Steadman offered:
"No explanation was ever given for what happened. Except Morrall couldn't find Orr. It wasn't as if Jimmy had headed for the men's room or stepped out to the nearest bar for a scotch and water. It's the belief of this observer that Orr's blue jersey blended in with a marching band of musicians that was headed for the end zone to perform at the intermission. The backdrop was blue, the same color the Colts were wearing, and Morrall just couldn't pick up the primary receiver. It was almost as if he was camouflaged."
Shula's halftime speech stressed: "We're making stupid mistakes, we're stopping ourselves. You've got them believing in themselves. You've got them believing that they're better than we are."
"It really got us mad," Morrall reported. "We went out for the second half with fire pouring from our eyes."
Shula had considered turning the second-half quarterback chores over to Unitas, who was openly disappointed that he had not been given the starting assignment although conceding that he was only about 80 percent recovered from his injury.
At the final moment, however, Shula decided to give Morrall one more chance to strike a spark for the NFL champions.
When Matte fumbled on the first play from scrimmage in the second half, linebacker Ralph Baker recovered for the Jets on the Baltimore 33. Five plays later, Turner kicked a 32-yard field goal, increasing the Jets' lead to 10-0.
On the sideline, Weeb Ewbank heaved a sigh of relief. "Ten points are a helluva lot better than seven," he muttered.
Because of Matte's fumble, Shula reasoned, Morrall had not received a full-blown opportunity to exercise his talents, so Earl was still at quarterback on the Colts' next possession.
Again the chance went glimmering. One pass netted no gain, a second was overthrown and, trying to scramble, Morrall was tossed for a two-yard loss.
As Unitas warmed up for his Super Bowl baptism, the quarterback situation across the field had taken an unfavorable turn. Namath's right thumb, troublesome for two seasons, had "gone weak" and Parilli, one of the five AFL quarterbacks Namath had rated as superior to Morrall, was directing the Jets. Parilli guided the team into Baltimore territory and then spotted the football as Turner booted a 30-yard field goal. New York partisans grew more comfortable with a 13-0 cushion.
Morrall expressed no bitterness over being replaced. "If I was a coach and my team was being quarterbacked by a guy who couldn't get the ball over the goal line, I'd sure as hell do something," said Morrall, who had completed six of 17 passes for 71 yards.
The "something" that Shula did on this Sunday did not provide the answer. Unitas fared no better than Morrall and the third period ended with the Colts having run only seven plays with a net gain of 10 yards.
Two minutes into the last quarter, Turner kicked a nine-yard field goal, his third, and the Colts were now in the almost impossible situation of needing two touchdowns, two conversions and a field goal to avert one of history's most stunning upsets.
One Baltimore drive was thwarted by Beverly's interception, the cornerback's second of the game and the fourth by the Jets, but with less than four minutes remaining, Jerry Hill scored on a one-yard plunge and Michaels converted to account for the final score of 16-7.
Unitas, conqueror of countless peaks on a football field, had not been able to provide the solution that Shula had sought. On this afternoon, against a determined team led by an inspired quarterback, it is doubtful that such a miracle worker existed.
Johnny U. completed 11 of 24 passes for 110 yards, but only two of his passes traveled over 20 yards and both fell incomplete.
As the coaches met at midfield at the final gun, Ewbank said: "We got all the breaks."
"Your team played well," rejoined Shula.
In the victors' locker room, no voice rang louder than that of Johnny Sample, the ex-Colt.
"It'll take the NFL 20 years to catch up," he prophesied. "They panicked. They were so shaken up they forgot their game plan. We're the greatest team ever, better than the champion Colts of 1958 and '59 that I played on."
When Namath announced above the 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 hastened to his side and dissuaded him from such a radical posture.
Recovering quickly, Broadway Joe checked his forensic signals and quipped: "You know me, I'm a poor winner."
"This is a new era in pro football," declared Ewbank and, in truth, it was. Henceforth, the Super Bowl would rank with the World Series, the Kentucky Derby and the Indianapolis 500 as a premier event on the national sports calendar.
To Shula, the story of the game was simple. "We didn't do it and they did," he said. "We had all the opportunities, especially in the first half. We didn't make the big plays we have all season. We had a lot of dropped balls. They deserved it."
Another factor in the Colts' demise was offered by Steadman, who wrote:
"Much of the after-game second-guessing had to do with the way the Colts had prepared in the days leading up to the Super Bowl. Wives and children were invited to join the team at the Statler-Hilton Hotel ... and the night before there was a dinner in the elegant restaurant for all to attend. Had the Colts beaten the Jets this would have been cited as the perfect way to relax a team for a major game. But the thought was introduced and unfortunately perpetuated . . . that the Colts thought they were a bunch of volunteer firemen at a beach convention. The only fault was to be found in the net result. . . they didn't win."
When the Colts returned to their Statler-Hilton headquarters they were greeted by feminine screams for a doctor. The lady was Mrs. Rick Volk, whose husband, knocked groggy early in the game and carried from the field later after a second collision, was lying on the bathroom floor in convulsions, vomiting and about to swallow his tongue.
Dr. Norman Freeman, Baltimore team physician, was close at hand and, using a ballpoint pen, freed Volk's tongue. The player was rushed to the hospital where, on regaining consciousness, he greeted his wife with, "Who won?"
Meanwhile, the Jets were enjoying victors' spoils to the fullest, starting with the $15,000 won by each player, double the amount earned by each Colt.
"Our offensive line won the game with its straight-ahead blocking," Snell informed a cheering audience.
"It was our defense that broke their back," added Boozer.
"It was execution," added assistant coach Walt Michaels, who designed the Jet defense. "And don't forget the great play of our safetymen."
"We didn't win on passing or running or defense," corrected Namath. "We beat 'em in every phase of the game. If ever there was a world champion, this is it."
Namath, completing 17 of 28 passes for 208 yards, was named the game's Most Valuable Player and was presented the game ball by appreciative teammates. The ball, Joe announced to yet another wave of cheers, would be presented to the league office as a symbol of the AFL coming of age in professional football.
Savoring his finest moment, Ewbank regaled the crowd with an account of an incident that occurred prior to the game. As Shula and Colts owner Carroll Rosenbloom strolled around the field in their customary pre-game conference, they encountered Ewbank.
"We're having a victory party at my home after the game," Rosenbloom informed Ewbank. "You know where it is. I want you and Lucy (Mrs. Ewbank) to come on over."
"Lucy and I couldn't make it," Weeb quipped. "We've got a party of our own and I'd rather be here."
As the Jets partied far into the night, a solitary policeman patrolled the Rosenbloom property. Darkness veiled the house and tent that had been erected to accommodate the party-that-never-was.
The next day, when the Jets returned to New York for a giant civic reception, it was discovered that the 21-inch sterling silver championship trophy had been left behind in the hotel vault.
No problem, somebody volunteered. The newly-won prize was placed aboard the first New York-bound jet, riding first class, presumably.