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What they were saying 50 years ago when the Jets upset the Colts in Super Bowl III

Even those of us too young to remember Jan. 12, 1969 — which is most of us — know the basics: The Jets were huge underdogs against the Colts in Super Bowl III, and their 16-7 victory 50 years ago Saturday stunned the football world.

But this is the rare case in which an old tale has not grown taller over time. If anything, a review of what people were saying and writing before the game reveals a shocker befitting its reputation.

Joe Falls of the Detroit Free Press predicted the Colts would win 270-0, adding of Joe Namath: “He’d better grow that mustache again and that goatee and those sideburns because they’re going to rearrange his face in Miami on Jan. 12.”

He added that the Orange Bowl would need more than a scoreboard that day: “They’ll need a computer to keep up with the Colts.”

To be fair, Falls was typing in the press box in Cleveland after watching the Colts crush the Browns, 34-0, in the NFL Championship Game, avenging their only loss of the season.

Even reporters who knew how good the Jets were seemed awed by the challenge.

In the very Newsday story in which he reported on Namath’s famous guarantee that the Jets would win, beat reporter George Usher called the Colts “the awesome National Football League champions.”

He added, “The Colts will most likely cut off the running game as quickly and as efficiently as a guillotine.” (The Jets’ Matt Snell ran for 121 yards and a touchdown that day.)

Usher was one of two Newsday writers among the five nationally who went out on a limb in their predictions and took the Jets, joining columnist Stan Isaacs. Their colleague, Dick Clemente, had it 27-0 for the Colts.

“Baltimore’s front four, incensed at Namath’s antics and remarks during the week, has secretly pledged to make Broadway Joe an older, sadder and wiser young man,” Clemente wrote.

Isaacs called Colts defensive end Bubba Smith “the greatest thing since peanut butter” and wrote an entire column in which he imagined an interviewer asking questions of David after his big upset of Goliath.

The point spread approached three touchdowns, but perhaps even more startling was that famed bookmaker Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder declared the Colts 7-1 favorites to win outright.

“The Colts have the greatest defensive team in football history,” Snyder told The New York Times.

(The Colts allowed 10 or fewer points in 11 of their 14 victories leading up to the Super Bowl.)

The Jets were quietly confident after a 27-23 victory over the Raiders in the AFL title game, but coach Weeb Ewbank played along with the narrative.

Upon arriving in Florida, he cracked, “We didn’t show our men the movies [of the Colts]. I’m afraid I’d have trouble getting them on the airplane.”

Namath did not play along. His guarantee was not even the most outrageous thing he said before the game, by the standards of 21st century hot-take social-media fallout.

On the charter flight to Florida, the Times’ Dave Anderson sat next to Namath, who listed for him five quarterbacks in the 10-team AFL better than the Colts’ Earl Morrall. Among them was Namath’s 38-year-old backup, Babe Parilli.

(There are reasons that reporters no longer fly on team charters.)

The Colts were unamused. Said defensive lineman Billy Ray Smith: “I think Namath ought to keep his mouth shut. He’ll keep his teeth longer.”

The best thing about time travel is observing people who do not know what is ahead, even though you do. But by early evening on Jan. 12, everyone knew, and football never was the same.

After back-to-back blowouts by the Packers, the Super Bowl was validated as a competitive enterprise.

“Because of what Joe Namath accomplished in the Super Bowl yesterday, pro football will never quite be the same again,” William Wallace wrote in the Times.

(By the way, no one called Super Bowl III “Super Bowl III” at the time. The Roman numerals gimmick came along two years later.)

Isaacs called Namath’s performance “one of the most cocky and daring personal triumphs of this sporting time.”

The AFL-NFL merger already was in the works for the 1970 season, but the Jets’ victory, followed the next year by the Chiefs’ upset of the Vikings, went a long way toward ensuring public acceptance.

In Usher’s lead paragraph in Monday’s Newsday, he quoted a “well-dressed woman” shouting assorted obscenities at media members, most of whom had doubted that the men in white had a chance.

“Now what do you SOBs think?” she said.

Namath himself could not have said it any better.

Super Bowl III

Jets 16, Colts 7

1 2 3 4 — Total

Jets 0 7 6 3 — 16

Colts 0 0 0 7 — 7

2Q (9:03) NYJ, Matt Snell 4 run (Jim Turner kick)

3Q (10:08) NYJ, Jim Turner 32 FG

3Q (3:58) NYJ, Jim Turner 30 FG

4Q (13:26) NYJ, Jim Turner 9 FG

4 (3:19) BAL, Jerry Hill 1 run (Lou Michaels kick)

Team statistics

Jets Colts

First downs 21 18

By rush 10 7

By pass 10 9

By penalty 1 2

Rush yards 142 143

Passing 17-29-0 17-41-4

Pass yards 195 181

Total yards 337 324

Punts 4-38.8 3-44.3

Fumbles-lost 1-1 1-1

Penalties 5-28 3-23

Jets individual leaders

Passing Com. Att. Yds. TD Int.

Namath 17 28 206 0 0

Rushing Att. Yds. TD

Snell 30 121 1

Boozer 10 19 0

Mathis 3 2 0

Receiving No. Yds. TD

Sauer 8 133 0

Snell 4 40 0

Mathis 3 20 0

Lammons 2 13 0

Colts individual leaders

Passing Com. Att. Yds. TD Int.

Morrall 6 17 71 0 3

Unitas 11 24 119 0 1

Rushing Att. Yds. TD

Matte 11 116 0

Hill 9 29 1

Receiving No. Yds. TD

Richardson 6 58 0

Orr 3 42 0

Mackey 3 35 0

Matte 2 30 0

Hill 2 1 0

Mitchell 1 15 0

Attendance: 75,389

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