Members of Maryland State College who played in Super Bowl III recall their experience 50 years later.
Richard Pollitt, Salisbury Daily Times
When quarterback Joe Namath made his famous guarantee that the New York Jets would upset the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, he was actually repeating what he had heard from a teammate days prior.
Suiting up for football’s biggest game on Jan. 12, 1969, Jets’ running back Earl Christy was told his team would hoist the Super Bowl trophy nearly a week before both squads took the field.
His grandmother, a religious woman, had prayed and informed Christy the Jets would walk away victors of Super Bowl III. When Christy and teammates got on Namath for his statement, he replied, “I was just repeating what you told me.”
But win or lose, the Super Bowl marked the peak of Christy’s football journey which he began just years prior at the Maryland State College — now the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.
Christy was one of five former Hawks to suit up in Super Bowl III. Running back Emerson Boozer and corner Johnny Sample also played for the Jets, while defensive backs Charlie Stukes and Jim Duncan represented the Colts.
On Sunday, the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams will play in Super Bowl LIII — the 50th anniversary of New York’s 16-7 victory over Baltimore. The Jets have not played in a Super Bowl since.
Maryland State had the most athletes from any college playing in Super Bowl III, and although they weren’t all on the same team, the former Hawks were eager to represent Maryland’s Eastern Shore in a positive light.
“We were no joke (at Maryland State College),” Christy said. “I must have played with 10 or 15 players that went on to the NFL. We wanted to be winners there. It’s just amazing, and it felt great to have us all at the Super Bowl.”
UMES Hawks legends
Of the five, only Christy, Boozer and Stukes are still alive.
Sample, who later became a top-ranked men’s tennis player by the United States Tennis Association, died in 2005. Duncan died by suicide in 1972 using a police officer’s gun.
But on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, the five players wreaked havoc, each earning a spot in the Hawks’ athletics hall of fame.
Throughout his career, Boozer saw much success at the professional level, rushing for more than 5,000 yards and 52 touchdowns during his career.
At Maryland State, he was named to the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association All-American team twice and ran for 22 touchdowns, tallied 2,537 yards and averaged 6.78 yards a carry.
He was drafted by New York in the sixth round of the 1965 draft, and he played for the Jets for 10 seasons. In 2010, Boozer was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
“We had some pretty good clubs, but we could never put together a winning streak long enough to capture the CIAA title,” Boozer told The Daily Times in 2012 regarding Maryland State.
“We would always end up losing two games or more per season — which we had to go pretty much undefeated to win the conference. You lose one or two, you could forget about winning it all.”
But the other former Hawks also made strong impacts throughout their college and professional careers.
Before enrolling at Maryland State, Christy had never played a down of football in his life. He would eventually become a three-sport athlete, participating in football, basketball and track while in school.
A four-year letter winner in football, Christy helped the Hawks to a 17-9-2 record throughout his career. Signed by the Jets in 1966, he was a defensive back, kick and punt returner, and halfback. He played three seasons for New York before ending his playing career after the Super Bowl win.
“We took pride in working hard,” Christy said. “The most important thing I learned at Maryland State was to outwork everyone. That was one of the key factors to my success. Work hard, go hard — that’s what I did.”
Stukes was an all-conference defensive back at Maryland State and also excelled in basketball and baseball. He was sought after by as many baseball scouts as football, according to his Hawk Hall of Fame bio, but ultimately chose a professional career on the gridiron.
He was drafted in the fourth round of the 1967 draft by the Baltimore Colts and earned a starting job by the time Super Bowl III came around. Throughout his career, Stukes compiled 32 interceptions for nearly 450 return yards.
His final season came in 1974 as a member of the Los Angeles Rams. Although the Colts lost Super Bowl III, Stukes later helped Baltimore defeat the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl V.
“We all never knew how good we really were until we started to compete,” said Marshall Cropper who played with many of the athletes who went on to Super Bowl III. Cropper also made it to the NFL, suiting up for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“You looked up at guys like Boozer and Stukes, guys like that and said, ‘I’m there with the best.’ Our school was competing 50 years ago with the best.”
Sample was the oldest of the Maryland State players to suit up in Super Bowl III. Starting his career with the Colts, Sample came to New York and played against his former team for the championship.
In the game, he picked off quarterback Earl Morrall on New York’s 2-yard line and called the opening coin toss to give the Jets the first possession. According to a university news release, Sample stared down one of his former teammates and said, “the first one goes to us,” following the coin toss.
At Maryland State, Sample was regarded as a legend, making the All-American team three times. He was an all-around athlete, racking up 2,381 rushing yards and 37 scores. He also made four field goals.
Sample played in what has become known as “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” featuring the Colts and New York Giants in 1959. In the contest, he recorded two interceptions, including a 42-yard touchdown to help Baltimore claim the victory.
“In a lot of ways, he was ahead of his time,” said Ray Didinger of NFL Films in a UMES news release following Sample’s death. “John was very much a student of the game. The perception was that he was the rough guy who knocked people around. He was a cerebral type of player, too.”
Playing in three seasons, Duncan played most of his career with the Colts before he was traded in 1972. A starting corner at one point who recorded two picks and five fumbles, the former Maryland State athlete suffered from mental illness.
According to the New York Times, Duncan entered a police station Oct. 21, 1972, pulled an officer’s revolver from his holster and shot himself in the right temple before the officer could stop him.
Along with psychiatric problems, the article stated Duncan dealt with drug issues, a broken marriage, a loss of $22,000 to $58,000, a bleeding ulcer and the end of his professional football career.
He was inducted into the Hawk Hall of Fame in 1975 and helped Maryland State to a 19-11-1 overall record during his time with the program.
Playing in Super Bowl III
In 1969, the five stood on football’s biggest stage. Although they no longer all wore the same uniform, their backgrounds remained the same — before the pros, they were Maryland State College Hawks.
“Those were some special times on the Eastern Shore,” Christy said. “We were close as people. We had great relationships, and that was so important back then.”
After winning the coin flip, Super Bowl III started with a kickoff to Christy who took the ball 25 yards to the New York 23-yard line.
Story continues after video
The first quarter saw multiple possessions for each team but no score. The Colts had the best chance to find the scoreboard early, but a 27-yard field goal attempt by Lou Michaels went wide left. Baltimore did recover a Jets’ fumble deep in opposing territory to end the quarter.
But New York forced an interception and later drove down the field for the first touchdown of the day. While Jets’ back Matt Snell scored and saw the bulk of the runs, Boozer served as a second run option and reliable blocker.
The Jets entered halftime up 7-0 after Sample’s interception with less than two minutes remaining.
“No one gave us a chance,” Christy said. “It was like David and Goliath, and we had come to play.”
Holding the ball the bulk of the third quarter, New York managed just six points — both coming from Jim Tucker field goals. Trailing 13-0 near the end of the third, Colts’ coach Don Shula replaced Morrall with Johnny Unitas, who had dealt with an injury since the preseason.
A third Turner field goal in the fourth made it 16-0, but Baltimore finally got on the board midway through the quarter on a 1-yard run by Jerry Hill.
Although the Colts recovered the onside kick, a failed fourth-down conversion in New York territory gave the Jets the ball with time quickly ticking away.
With 8 seconds left, Baltimore got the ball back, but it was too late — the Jets had won their first Super Bowl championship.
“No Joy In Colts-Ville! Just Shock!” the headline of The Daily Times read on Jan. 13, 1969. The Jets had shocked the world, and members of the Eastern Shore played a part.
“I still have to pinch myself sometimes,” Christy said. “Playing against my hometown team the Baltimore Colts, Johnny Unitas. I just said, ‘Wow!’ It’s so hard to get to the Super Bowl, and it’s a blessing that I was able to play in that game.”
Namath was named the Super Bowl MVP, going 17-for-28 for 206 yards. Boozer finished with 19 rushing yards on 10 attempts, while Christy had the one kick return for 25 yards.
While the Colts returned to the Super Bowl two years later, the Jets would struggle for the next 50 years, coming close, but never advancing to big stage.
Several other players from Maryland State College advanced to the pros before the school’s football program was disbanded in 1980, including Art Shell (Oakland Raiders), Mack Alston (Washington Redskins), Bill Thompson (Denver Broncos) and Sherman Plunkett (Cleveland Browns.)
But no Super Bowl ever featured more players from Maryland State, making Super Bowl III an unprecedented moment in Eastern Shore football history.
“It was kind of a big honor to have guys on both teams at the time,” Cropper said. “It put the school out there, put the guys out there and it gave off that winning atmosphere. You can never go back. You can move on, but you can never go back, and I think we were all winners because we were part of the super team (at Maryland State).”
‘I’m truly blessed’
As Super Bowl LIII kicks off Sunday, Boozer, Christy and Stukes will be watching as spectators, remembering the glory days when they played in front of thousands of football fans.
Christy, who is now a minister and runs the Earl Christy Sports Network, is still active and always jumps at the chance to talk football.
He said what he’s doing now, helping others and interacting with people from all walks of life, is even bigger than winning a Super Bowl.
“Over 90 percent of my dreams have come true,” he said. “I’m truly blessed.”
But when he watches the sport, he can’t help but think back to those days at Maryland State College, going to parties, dancing and watching card games from across the room.
Super Bowl victories are hard to come by, said Christy. But the former Hawk is grateful he was able to spend one of his greatest days of his life surrounded by former college teammates.
“It’s amazing,” Christy said. “I actually feel better than I did 30, 40 years ago! I can still catch the rock, and I still love football.”
SUPPORT LOCAL JOURNALISM: 6 benefits of a Delmarva Now digital subscription