Don’t know if any of you caught it, but the NFL channel had Super Bowl III on yesterday — the Broadway Joe Namath New York Jets dismantling of the heavily favored Baltimore Colts, 16-7. It was a terrific trip down memory lane–who could forget the Namath “guarantee” of a victory at a time when the AFL was thought to be light years behind the NFL — a guarantee that only served to drive up the betting line from 13 to as much as 20 points.  I was just a kid at the time — but was an avid fan of the AFL and watched in delighted disbelief and Jets delivered on Namath’s guarantee.   The New York Times headline after the game read: JETS UPSET COLTS BY 16-7 FOR TITLE IN THE SUPER BOWL; A.F.L. Club Wins for First Time as Namath Pierces Baltimore Defense MILLIONS WATCH GAME Morrall Is Harried Into 3 Interceptions by Rushers — Snell Is Standout JETS UPSET COLTS BY 16-7 FOR TITLE And then Dave Anderson’s NY Times article started: “In a memorable upset that astonished virtually everyone in the football realm, the New York Jets of the American League conquered the Baltimore Colts, the supposedly impregnable National League champions, 16-7, today for the Super Bowl prestige and paycheck.”

It was an epic moment in sports, but I don’t think I ever had the opportunity to watch a replay of the game until yesterday, 40 years later. Some impressions: (and scroll down for Youtube clips of the end of the game and commercials that aired during it.)

  • It was a kick to hear the NBC (and hence AFL) broadcast team of Curt Gowdy, Kyle Rote, and Al Derogatos.  As the game unfolded, I was really struck by their restraint.  They treated the game as “business as usual” even though from the beginning it was clear that the Jets were taking it to the Colts.  They just reported the game as if it were “just a game”, and it was only as the game entered the fourth quarter with the Jets leading 16-0 that they started carefully talking about the magnitude of the upset.
  • Actually the first person on screen who put the game in perspective was Bob Hope, who gave an interview just before the start of the second half with the Jets leading 7-0 and dominating in statistic.  He seemed in a state of shock — kept coming back to “can you believe the Jets” even when Rote set him up to plug some of his personal appearances and projects.
  • The Jets dominated even more than I remembered.  Three interceptions in the first half certainly helped.  But what really struck me was that the Jets offensive line and defensive line just dominated the line of scrimmage.  How could everyone have been so wrong on the expectation that the Jets couldn’t stay with the Colts?
  • Although the jets dominated there were a number of turning points in the game which could have sent it in the other direction.  There were the untimely Colts interceptions, several on or near the goal line and one in the end zone….there were missed field goals…..and there was one play, a gadget play, in which Raymond Barry was completely absolutely wide open for a touchdown and Earl Morral didn’t see him.  If anyone of these had gone the other way, the outcome might have been different.
  • Namath was in complete command all through the game.  He got the ball off quickly and picked apart the Colts defense with short, slashing passes.  But when he threw it long, he threw it on a string — unlike Earl Morral (and even Johnny Unitas in the 4th quarter), who, when they threw it deep, heaved it in the kind of great rainbow arc that I remember from my very first memories of watching the pro game.
  • The players for both teams just seemed so …. well … businesslike.  In a game of this magnitude, there was little demonstration of emotion.  The Colts didn’t have much to celebrate, but even the Jets seemed very workmanlike in their approach and reactions to their success.  The Jets seemed like they really expected to win, and they proceeded to outplay the Colts from start to finish.
  • The graphics — OMG how bad and amateurish!  Were they really that bad in 1969?
  • NFL Network — how could you show the game and not show any of the post-game?  Here is one of the great upstes in sports history and you didn’t even stick around for the presentation of the Lombardi trophy or the MVP trophy to Namath?  Guys, that’s a mistake.  I was waiting for the iconic image of Namath being carried off the field, and was curious to see the mood of the presenters given the enormity of the upset.  You need to fix that for future broadcasts.

The final moments of the NBC Gamecast:

And a sample of the commercials that aired that day:

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