January 12, 1969 was the greatest day in franchise history: the New York Jets became Super Bowl Champions. For many of us younger fans, we can only dream about what that feeling was like when the final whistle blew. As the Jets prepare for their Monday Night Football matchup against the now Indianapolis Colts, let's take a look back at that historical game against the Baltimore Colts.
It began when Joe Namath guaranteed a victory on the Thursday before the game. The Jets and the American Football League were considered a downright joke. Hall of Fame quarterback Norm Van Brocklin said before the game, "This will be Namath's first professional football game". The Colts had lost just once in 16 games all season. Namath's prediction was considered ludicrous.
Perhaps an early sign that Namath would end up correct was when Colts kicker Lou Michaels missed a 27-yard field goal after a long drive in the first quarter. After a couple of traded punts, the Jets began their third drive on their own 4-yard line. On a 3rd down and 1, Namath would find George Sauer for the first down, but Sauer fumbled the ball away, giving the Colts excellent field position. Fortunately for the Jets, Colts quarterback Earl Morrall, who took over for the injured Johnny Unitas at the beginning of the season, threw an interception in the endzone to put the Jets back in business.
Namath would then orchestrate a 12 play, 80 yard drive, finished by a 4-yard Matt Snell touchdown run. 7-0 Jets. The Colts would respond with a drive of their own, but kicker Lou Michaels missed another field goal, this time from 46-yards out. Fun fact: Michaels was also a defensive end. Jets kicker Jim Turner would follow suit on the next possession, missing a 41-yard field goal to give the Jets a 2 possession lead.
Can you imagine if we told these guys that 46 years later we would be moving the extra point back because kickers nowadays are just too good?
With 4 minutes to play in the first half, Colts running back Tom Matte found a hole on the right side and took it 58-yards to the Jets 16-yard line. 2 plays later though, Morrall would throw yet another redzone interception just before the 2 minute warning. After a Jets punt, the Colts would try a last minute heave as time expired, but was once again picked off. 3 interceptions for Earl Morrall in the first half.
As if the 1st half couldn't have ended any worse for the Colts, on the first play of the 2nd half, Matte fumbled the ball away on their own 25 yard line. The Jets would have to settle for a 32-yard field goal. 10-0 Jets. After an ensuing Colts punt, the Jets again would settle for a Jim Turner field goal, this time from 30-yards. Down 13-0 with 4 minutes left in the 3rd quarter, Colts head coach Don Shula desperately decided to substitute injured Johnny Unitas for Earl Morrall. His first possession would result in yet another Colts punt.
On the next Jets possession, Namath would find Sauer on a 39-yard pass, which would set up another Turner field goal, this time from 9-yards out. Yes, you read that correctly. Back then, the posts were at the front of the endzone. It was the shortest and will always be the shortest field goal in Super Bowl history. 16-0 Jets.
After throwing an interception on the following possession, Unitas would ultimately orchestrate the Colts only scoring drive in the middle of the 4th quarter, a 1-yard touchdown run by Jerry Hill. Unfortunately for the Colts, the NFL did not adopt the 2-point conversion rule until 1994, so they kicked the extra point to make it 16-7, the final score of the game.
Joe Namath would win MVP, finishing 17/28 with 206 yards, 0 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. Many felt that running back Matt Snell should have won the award, as he had 30 carries for 121 yards and the Jets only touchdown.
Here are the highlights from the game:
So how exactly did the Baltimore Colts get to Indianapolis, where the Jets will be Monday night?
When the Colts arrived in Baltimore in 1953, owner Carroll Rosenbloom claimed that Memorial Stadium was inadequate for both his Colts and the Baltimore Orioles. After several years of feuding and negotiating funds with the city, Rosenbloom announced that the Colts would not return to Memorial after their lease was up in 1972. Here's where things get interesting.
Real estate investor Will Keland was originally slated to buy the Colts from Rosenbloom, but could not generate the necessary funds. His golfing partner, Robert Irsay, who was originally only supposed to own 1% of the team, could actually support much more than that. In a predetermined arrangement, Irsay actually bought the Los Angeles Rams for $19 million, then traded them to Rosenbloom for the Colts and $3 million in cash. All of the players stayed with their respective teams. Robert's son, Jim Irsay still owns the Colts today and will see the Green & White first hand in a couple of days.