Sunday, May 25, 2014

Super Bowl III: New York Jets versus the Baltimore Colts

Super Bowl III Program
Weeb Ewbank Was Super

The media reported extensively on the Super Bowl and followed the stars around before the big game looking for sound bites and lead stories.  Few doubted "Broadway Joe" Namath’s ability to provide great copy.  When talking to the press, Namath guaranteed that the Jets were going to win Super Bowl III against the favored Baltimore Colts. 

"The Jets will win.  I guarantee it." 

Many people thought this was a ridiculous statement.  Jets' Coach Weeb Ewbank was not happy that it was made certainly.  

 “It nearly killed me when Namath told everyone we were going to win.” 
Ewbank had concerns about playing the Colts, but he certainly did not believe they were invincible.  In jest, he said:

"I'm not showing our people the Colt films until we get to Florida… I'm afraid if they do see them, they won't get off the airplane."

As it turned out, Ewbank showed the films repeatedly to his team.  And the more the Jets watched, the more confident they became.  According to Ewbank, the Colts were being hyped as the greatest team of all time, and his opinion was that they were a good team, but not that good.  Ewbank understood two things that were key.  First, the odds makers were putting all the pressure on the Colts, not the Jets.  And second, the more the media berated the Jets, the more motivated his players became.  The media was helping the Jets’ efforts as long as the Jets’ players did not believe the stories. 
Ewbank told his players:

"Fellas, we're not going to change anything.  You're going to conduct yourselves like you have throughout the season.”   

Ewbank brought his team out early, a full ten days before the game, and he allowed the players to bring their wives and families as well. Ewbank made one strategic change before the game.  He moved veteran guard Dave Herman to tackle so he could block the monstrous 6-foot-7 Bubba Smith.  After the game, Ewbank congratulated Herman on a job well done:

 “How many guys could I ask to do that?” 
Herman never forgot his coach’s comment. 

The game took place on January 12, 1969 at the Orange Bowl in Miami.  The Jets received the kick to start the game and managed a drive led by very conservative play calling just shy of the Jets’ 40-yard line when they punted to the Colts.  The Colts looked impressive on offense for the first part of their series.  Earl Morrall hit John Mackey on a 19-yard pass play that was followed by a 10-yard run by Tom Matte and a 7-yard scamper by Jerry Hill.  When Morall hit Tom Mitchell for 15 yards for another first down, the Colts looked like they were about to score.  A few plays later the drive stalled and the Colts teed it up and missed a field goal.  

When the Jets gave up the ball deep in their own territory on a fumble late in the first quarter, the Colts returned the favor when a tipped ball thrown by Morrall careened off tight end Tom Mitchell and into the hands of the Jets’ Randy Beverly.  At that point in the game, neither team was playing winning football. 

The Jets found success on the ground with Snell and kept after it.  Namath passed a few times to force the Colts’ defense to defend against the pass, but the Jets managed a long drive featuring their ground game.  The drive was capped off by a 4-yard touchdown run by Snell. 
After the Colts and Jets exchanged possessions, the Colts came down the field in a hurry.  On the strength of a 58-yard run by Matte and a couple of Morrall completions, the Colts were on the Jets’ 15-yard line. Morrall threw another interception and the Jets took over at their own 2-yard line.  
The Jets were once again anemic on offense and punted back to the Colts.  As time was running out in the half, the Colts tried a flea flicker in which Morrall handed off to Matte who turned and gave the ball back to Morrall to pass.  Morrall did not see a wide open Jimmy Orr in the end zone and tossed an interception to Jets’ safety Jim Hudson ending the drive and the half with the Jets ahead 7–0.  The Colts had been in the red zone three times and came away with no points. 
Early in the second half, the Jets did not move the ball, but were able to kick a field goal.  On the next Jets’ series, they were able to drive to field goal range and kick another one to put them up 13–0.  Namath injured his thumb on the drive and was replaced by Babe Parilli. 
Shula pulled Morrall and put Johnny Unitas in, but the Colts remained listless on Unitas’s first series and had to punt without gaining a first down.  Namath came back on the following Jets’ possession; he completed a 39-yard toss to Sauer.  Sauer was aided by the Colts’ attention to Maynard.  After the Jets moved down to the Colts’ 2-yard line, the Colts held and Jim Turner kicked another field goal putting the Jets ahead 16–0.
Later in the quarter, the Jets used running plays exclusively to use up time and push the ball down field where their drive stalled at the Colts’ 35-yard line.  After a missed a field goal, the Colts took over.  Unitas was able to lead a scrappy drive downfield that scored the Colts’ first touchdown, but left them with barely three minutes to play and a 9 point deficit.  The Colts kept things interesting.  After a successful onside kick, the Colts were able to move down field again, but they ran out of time and downs on the Jets’ 19-yard line.  The Jets had beaten the Colts, 16–7.  
Super Bowl III was a surprise.  Neither team played particularly well on offense.  Essentially what won the day was Weeb Ewbank’s conservative game plan, the Jets’ execution of it, and some uncharacteristic flops on the part of the Colts.  Namath to his great credit, played well within himself.  The Colts’ offense succumbed to the tremendous pressure and turned the ball over five times.  Both Namath and Morrall had thrown 17 interceptions for the regular season, but Morrall had three interceptions on the day and Namath had none.  
Matt Snell ran for 121 yards on 30 carries.  Maynard, who featured so prominently in the conference championship, had a hamstring injury and played decoy much of the day.  Sauer caught 8 passes for 133 yards.  Eleven Jets were named to the AFL's All-Star team.  Namath was selected Super Bowl MVP.  

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