Super Bowl III: The True Story


The Luckiest Football Game Ever Won:
The True Story of Super Bowl III


INTRODUCTION
On January 12, 1969, in Miami's Orange Bowl, the New York Jets met the heavily-favored Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, the championship game of professional football for the 1968 season. The Jets, winners of the American Football League playoffs, sought to avenge the drubbings AFL teams had taken in the two previous meetings between the upstart "Mickey-Mouse" league and the "Establishment" National Football League. In those two contests, the AFL champion had been so thoroughly dominated by its NFL counterpart that cracks began appearing in the proposed merger of the two leagues. If the AFL didn't prove it could compete soon, the merger would be in serious jeopardy. A 26-team league with ten "last-place" teams would hardly seem credible to the ticket-buying public.
The NFL Colts' 1968 season had been spectacular, by any measure, even though their legendary quarterback, John Unitas, had missed the entire regular season due to injury. Their 13-1 record was the best in football, they had scored 402 points and yielded only 144, and they had avenged their only loss, to Cleveland, by destroying the self-same Browns in the NFL championship game, 34-0. Some analysts called the Colts "the best team ever." Meanwhile, the AFL Jets paled in comparison, having been fortunate to become the champion of their league. Their only hope against the Colts seemed to be their loud-mouthed quarterback, Joe Namath, whose passing ability gave them at least some chance to score against the Colt defense. Nonetheless, the Jets were 18-point underdogs at game time.
ANALYSIS OF THE TEAMS
The Colts finished 1968 with a 13-1 record and a point-scoring differential of +258, a number reached by only a handful of teams to this day. Eleven of their 13 wins could be described as "crushing." The Jets' record, meanwhile, was just 11-3 and their scoring differential was only +139; their mediocre defense yielded 280 points, almost twice as many as Baltimore. It should be noted that the second best team in the Jets' division had a record of just 7-7, and the Jets benefited from a soft schedule. The other teams in their division had a feeble combined record of 17-37-2, and they played four games against teams with truly pitiful defenses. Nonetheless, the Jets had still managed to lose to hapless Buffalo (1-12-1) early in the season, 35-37. The score was typical of the AFL's "wide-open" (i.e., no defense) style of play.
The Colts, meanwhile, had to play both their arch-rival Rams (10-3-1) and a tough 49er team (7-6-1) twice, as both were in their division. The Colts won all four games, and nine others (including a hard-fought win over defending Super Bowl champ Green Bay), losing only to the Cleveland Browns (10-4), whom they whipped 34-0 in the NFL championship game. The three other teams in Baltimore's division had a combined record of 19-21-2 -- fairly typical -- and a much better record than the teams in the Jets' division.

Two other AFL teams, the Chiefs and Raiders, had better regular season records than New York and were statistically superior. Additionally, the Jets were fortunate to win their championship game against Oakland, recovering a lateral at game's end which their opponents ignored -- apparently believing it to be an incomplete forward pass.

While the two Super Bowl III teams appear statistically similar (without factoring in the Jets' easier schedule and the generally-accepted overall inferiority of the AFL itself), the Colt defensive unit was clearly superior where it counted -- keeping opponents' points off the scoreboard.


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Text copyright © 1997, 2002 by the author. All rights reserved.