- The Washington Times - Monday, January 20, 2003

Three days before the game, a Baltimore Colts fan attending a dinner at the Miami Touchdown Club made his own oral attempt to sack Joe Namath, the New York Jets' brash, young (25) quarterback. "Siddown, ya bum," the heckler yelled, or words to that effect. "The Colts will wipe that smile off yer face, pretty boy."
Namath's grin grew wider and his eyes sparkled. "Hey, pal, we're gonna win Sunday I guarantee it."
Thus evolved perhaps the most famous "guarantee" in sports history and perhaps the most emphatically supported. On Jan.12, 1969, Namath's Jets dominated the 17-point favorite Colts in a 16-7 victory, establishing the 3-year-old Super Bowl as the premier annual event on the nation's sports calendar.
Thirty-four years later, nothing matches Super Sunday as a day for celebrating the glory and hype of professional sports. Advertisers pay millions of dollars for a 30-second spot on the telecast. Fans stage parties of every sort in every imaginable locale. And around 6:25p.m., when the opening kickoff interrupts the commercials, there comes a universal sigh of relief at last the interminable pregame period is over. All that remains is the game, plus an equally endless halftime show.
In its earliest incarnations, however, the battle between the champions of the NFL and old AFL was nothing special. As expected, Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers toyed with the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders, the first two sacrificial lambs offered up by the presumedly inferior AFL. A similar result was anticipated in Super Bowl III until Namath went to work before 75,389 eyewitnesses at the Orange Bowl. It was Joe Willie who made the Super Bowl seem truly super, then and forevermore.
Expecting another blowout, a young sportswriter in Alexandria skipped the NBC telecast in favor of a dinner date possibly the worst mistake in judgment he ever made. Not for another three decades, until a colleague loaned him a grainy tape, did he see the entire game.
And, yes, it was still unbelievable.
Though the Jets' domination of the Colts prevented the game from being a thriller, it qualifies as one of the landmark contests in the NFL's 84 seasons. It established the AFL, then just 9 years old, as a competitive entity and helped move along a merger of the leagues a year later. (Ironically, the Colts were one of three NFL teams that were shifted to the new AFC to achieve numerical balance.)
Before Super Bowl III, veteran observers were calling Don Shula's Colts one of the best teams in NFL history. Not even the loss of star quarterback Johnny Unitas for most of the season with a muscle tear in his right elbow slowed this juggernaut. With career backup Earl Morrall filling in so well that he was named league MVP, Baltimore rampaged to a 13-1 regular-season record, defeated Minnesota in a Western Conference playoff and drubbed Cleveland 34-0 in the NFL title game. (In the '50s and '60s, Charm City's geography teachers had a tough time explaining why Baltimore was in the Western anything.)
That Colts team featured many of the famous names in franchise history: Ordell Braase, Bill Curry, Mike Curtis, Alex Hawkins, John Mackey, Tom Matte, Ray Perkins, Willie Richardson and Bubba Smith. Ask one of them today what happened, and chances are he still won't be able to explain it. Shula, who won more games than any other NFL coach in history with the Colts and Miami Dolphins, still shakes his head when the game is mentioned.
Namath, drafted and signed out of Alabama by Jets owner Sonny Werblin four years earlier for a record $400,000 bonus, quarterbacked the Jets to an 11-3 regular-season record and a skimpy 27-23 victory over the Raiders in the AFL title game. The Jets had stars of their own Don Maynard, Johnny Sample, Matt Snell, George Sauer but overall the Colts appeared to have a huge edge in talent.
Appeared to.
Before this day, Namath probably was known more widely as a playboy than a quarterback. The handsome bachelor owned part of a New York City nightclub before commissioner Pete Rozelle made him sell out, and he usually was surrounded by enough female admirers to make the Beatles jealous.
Broadway Joe didn't exactly hide his talents, such as they were, under a bushel. His dates with Hollywood starlets like Ann-Margret were front-page news. And in December 1969, he told Playboy magazine, "I don't expect to go to bed with every good-looking girl I meet. I'd like it, but I don't expect it. All I want to do is get to know them and hope to get sexually involved with them. I'm a great believer of sex. I spent the nights before the Jets' two biggest games last year the AFL championship and the Super Bowl with girls."
Coaches around the country must have shuddered, except for the Jets' Weeb Ewbank.
Whether by accident or design, the Jets did in the Colts with a time-consuming ground game rather than through the air. Namath, who completed 17 of 28 passes for a modest 206 yards, was voted the game's MVP surprise! but fullback Snell was equally deserving. He carried 30 times for 121 yards, caught four passes for 40 yards and scored New York's only touchdown in the second quarter on a 4-yard run that capped a methodical 80-yard drive. Jim Turner provided the other points with field goals of 32 and 30 yards in the third quarter and 9 yards in the fourth (the posts were still on the goal line then).
Meanwhile, Morrall was having his worst day of the season against the Jets' stout defense, completing just six of 17 passes for 71 yards and suffering three interceptions before yielding to Unitas in the third quarter. Johnny U. wasn't much better, 11 of 24 for 110 yards, although he led the Colts on an 80-yard drive culminated by Jerry Hill's 1-yard TD plunge with 3:19 left.
Namath remained a dangerous passer for eight more seasons with the Jets and part of a final one with the Los Angeles Rams in 1976 (Broadway Joe in La La Land?), but he and the Jets never returned to the Super Bowl. Five knee operations, the first only weeks after he signed with the Jets in 1964, cost him most of his mobility and made him an increasingly easy target for rushing linemen and blitzing defensive backs.
Well remembered is a game in 1972 when an interception of Namath and his fumble handed the Washington Redskins two touchdowns in a 35-17 victory over the Jets at Shea Stadium. Afterward, a late-arriving writer from Washington found the battered quarterback sitting alone in front of his locker and trying to summon up the strength to take a shower.
"Sorry to bother you, Joe," the writer said, "but I just got here and I wonder if you could answer one or two quick questions."
Namath smiled wearily. "Take all the time you need," he said. "I'm not going anywhere any time soon."
Broadway Joe was a champion that day, too.
After passing for 27,663 yards and 173 touchdowns, he clearly deserves his bust in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. But he'll always be most remembered and honored for the Guarantee and the result.


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