25 years later, Jets'win is still upsetting

January 29, 1994|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Staff Writer

It was the evening after the New York Jets had recorded the biggest victory of their often-laughable nine-year history -- a come-from-behind 27-23 victory over the defending champion Oakland Raiders in the 1968 American Football League final.

"Broadway Joe" Namath, the Jets' flamboyant quarterback, was celebrating at a private team party with his date while violins played in the background.

A waiter whispered in Namath's ear that Las Vegas oddsmakers had just made the Baltimore Colts, who blitzed the Cleveland Browns, 34-0, in the National Football League championship game, an 18-point favorite over the Jets in Super Bowl III.

"Eighteen points! Geez, I wish I could make a bet!" said Namath, who later would guarantee a Jets victory. This year is the 25th anniversary of that 16-7 upset.

Yes, the 1968 Baltimore Colts -- who had gone 15-1, won 10 in a row and registered four shutouts, including the victory over the Browns in the championship game -- were even more overwhelming favorites than the Dallas Cowboys are in their Super Bowl rematch with the Buffalo Bills in Atlanta tomorrow night.

The Colts and their fans believed the lopsided odds were justified. After all, hadn't Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers routed their upstart AFL rivals Kansas City and Oakland by a combined score of 68-30 in the first two Super Bowls?

"People kept telling us we were the greatest thing since bubble gum," recalled Colts tight end John Mackey, who was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1992. "If people keep telling you you're the greatest, you start believing it."

Mackey and linebacker Mike Curtis said they think team management could be faulted for changing the weekly regimen and allowing wives and girlfriends to accompany the players to Miami.

"I'd spent all season rooming on the road with [wide receiver] Willie Richardson, and we'd talk football and watch tapes," Mackey said. "Now I'm at the biggest game of my life sleeping with my wife, and she's asking me if she has to abide by the 11 p.m. curfew and worrying me over how she's going to get to the game."

Curtis, now a Washington real estate developer, said: "We thought our season was over after kicking the Browns' butts. I couldn't believe all the women and kids running around our Florida hotel. Losing that game to the Jets happened 25 years ago, but it's still embarrassing."

Colts owner Carroll Rosenbloom contributed to the aura of overconfidence. "I remember Carroll Rosenbloom telling us on Wednesday before the game that he was planning a victory party at his home in North Miami Beach, but he'd have to limit guests to 500 people," Mackey said.

"Crazy talk, but I still believe we'd have beaten the Jets nine out of 10 times if we played our normal game. We made mistakes that cost us a couple of touchdowns in the first half, and when we fell behind 7-0 our whole psyche changed. We started thinking, 'How can we be losing to an AFL team?' "

The Colts had believed the hype and the words of then-coach Don Shula, who said in retrospect, "When we looked at films of the Jets, we felt we could control both lines of scrimmage. Sure, we were confident."

The Jets, save for Namath, were a rather faceless lot, with ex-Colts defensive back Johnny Sample as one of their most recognizable names.

When Jimmy Orr, the Colts' top receiver, was asked before the game if he knew any of his rivals, he quipped, "Yeah, I know [wide-out] Don Maynard. We were roommates in the Blue-Gray game. He's a good guy. I remember he used Mexican dimes as quarters for the pay phone."

L Such levity hardly put the Colts in the right frame of mind.

"When Namath guaranteed the Jets would win, we all figured he was just talking," said Bubba Smith, the Colts' massive defensive end. "We felt he'd take a wild shot at it, and if a miracle happened, he'd look like a prophet."

Smith insists the Colts practiced as hard as usual for the Super Bowl and that Mackey once hit him hard enough on a block for halfback Tom Matte to bloody Bubba's forearm and his own nose.

"The first time we ran that sweep play against the Jets, Matte made a 58-yard run. But for some reason, we never went back into it," said Smith, currently working on a football movie with Alex Karras called "Tuesday Night Football." Smith, who played on a badly swollen ankle, also objected to the Colts' defensive scheme that allowed the Jets to dominate the clock with Matt Snell repeatedly gaining ground up the middle.

"I begged our coaches to move me over their center," Smith said. "Instead, they had me trailing plays, and Snell kept killing us with the same play. Somehow, I still think it would have been different if Unitas had been healthy and played the whole game. Johnny U. always found ways to win close games.

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