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mdrunning

January 12, 1969 - Super Bowl III

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Forty-nine years ago today, in what amounted to one of the biggest upsets in pro football history (and a very dark day in Baltimore sports history), the heavily-favored NFL champion Baltimore Colts were beaten the AFL's New York Jets, 16-7 in Super Bowl III. 

Given the results of the previous two Super Bowls, when Green Bay soundly defeated Kansas City and Oakland, respectively, the result looked pre-ordained. The Colts were 18-point favorites going into the game and the numbers seemed to suggest a rout. (One bookie in Baltimore was said to have been giving 40 points. Ooops!) The Colts came into the game with a composite 15-1 record, and had crushed Cleveland, 34-0, in the NFL Championship Game two weeks previous. They had finished second in the NFL in 1968 in points scored (402), but were led by a spectacular defense which had posted four shutouts during the season, surrendered just 144 points, and, during the Colts' 10 game winning streak, had allowed just seven touchdowns.

The Jets, led by former Colt coach Weeb Ewbank, posted an 11-3 record in 1968, but were led by a quarterback, Joe Namath, who threw more interceptions during the year (17) than touchdowns (15), and had completed just 49 percent of his passes, a rather low figure even by the standards of the time. Unlike the Colts, who had cruised to their championship victory, the Jets had to rally to defeat Oakland, 27-23, in the AFL Championship.

The Colts started out as if determined to prove the oddsmakers correct, driving almost effortlessly to the Jets 19 yard line. But in what would become a recurring theme of the day, the Colts bogged down and were turned away when kicker Lou Michaels missed a short field goal. Colt quarterback Earl Morrall, who at the age of 34, had turned in a Cinderella season for the Colts after stepping in to replace the injured Johnny Unitas, quickly turned into a pumpkin. Morrall, the NFL's MVP that season, would throw three interceptions in the first half (one on the famous missed "Flea Flicker" play just before the half), and hit on just 5-of-15 passes. 

As the Colts struggled and the Jets began to take over the game, Colt coach Don Shula finally in desperation turned to Unitas early in the fourth quarter. Unitas would lead the Colts to their only touchdown late in the game, but it wasn't enough to overcome the 16-0 hole the Colts had dug for themselves. Unitas would finish with more completions (11) and passing yards (110) than Morrall, but four interceptions--all deep in Jet territory--doomed the Colts. 

Namath, who had brashly guaranteed a Jets victory several days before the game, finished 17-for-28 for 206 yards and no TDs, still the only winning quarterback in Super Bowl history not to throw a TD pass. The Jets, by the way, did not throw a single pass in the fourth quarter. On the other side, Morrall's 9.3 passer rating ranks as the third-worst in Super Bowl history. On the other hand, Colt halfback Tom Matte, who despite an unfortunate fumble to start the second half--played a brilliant game with 116 yards on just 11 carries, and also caught two passes for 30 more yards. Matte's counterpart on the Jets, Matt Snell, would gain 121 yards on 30 carries (then a Super Bowl record) and scored the Jets' only TD early in the second quarter.

Years later Morrall said, "I thought we would win handily. We'd only lost twice in our last 30 games. I'm still not sure what happened that day at the Orange Bowl, however; it's still hard to account for." 

Morrall and the Colts would gain a modicum of redemption two years later with a 16-13 win over Dallas in Super Bowl V, aptly dubbed the "Blooper Bowl." Earl would later join Shula in Miami in 1972, and in similar fashion to 1968, would step in for the injured Bob Griese early in the 1972 season and guide Miami to a perfect 14-0 record. The Jets would go on to win the AFL's Eastern Division in 1969, but would fall to Kansas City, 13-6, in the first round of the playoffs. The Jets would never win another playoff game under Namath and have not returned to the Super Bowl since.

Link to NBC's coverage of Super Bowl III

Hey, on the bright side, today is also the fifth anniversary of the Mile High Miracle.

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by mdrunning

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I remember reading a book called "The Long Pass", which chronicled the Jets from their inception as the NY Titans to that Superbowl.  In that book Weeb Ewbank said that after watching film on the Colts they were sure they could run right at Ordell Brasse.  Ewbank was convinced that Brasse and the Colts were covering up an injury.  It was later revealed that Brasse had a bad back.  He was finally replaced by Roy Hinton late in the game.  Matt Snell ran for 121 yards on 30 carries that day.  Much of that came at the expense of Ordell Brasse.  

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11 minutes ago, cprenegade said:

I remember reading a book called "The Long Pass", which chronicled the Jets from their inception as the NY Titans to that Superbowl.  In that book Weeb Ewbank said that after watching film on the Colts they were sure they could run right at Ordell Brasse.  Ewbank was convinced that Brasse and the Colts were covering up an injury.  It was later revealed that Brasse had a bad back.  He was finally replaced by Roy Hinton late in the game.  Matt Snell ran for 121 yards on 30 carries that day.  Much of that came at the expense of Ordell Brasse.  

I've read that as well. Braase was not only playing with a bad back, he was also 36 years old and playing the last game of his career. I don't know if you remember The Flaming Pit restaurant in Timonium? That was Ordell Braase's. My dad took us there for dinner one night and Braase was there, but I was too shy to go up and ask him for an autograph.

The Jets ran almost all of their plays to the left (the right side of the Colts' defense) that day, not only because they felt Braase and Don Shinnick were more vulnerable, but because they didn't want to deal with Bubba Smith and Mike Curtis over on the other side. And what a lot of old Colt fans probably don't realize is that Colt safety Rick Volk almost died after the game. Early in the game, he got knocked out (literally) making a tackle on Matt Snell and almost assuredly suffered a concussion. Unlike today, he went back in and played the rest of the game. (Volk said years later that everything in that game appeared to be in slow motion). After the game, Volk started convulsing and had to be rushed to intensive care, where he spent two days before being moved to a regular room. A different time, to be sure.

The Colts left as many as 27 points on the table in the first half alone, and as the minutes ticked off the clock and they found trailing this team they were supposed to handle easily, I think they panicked a bit. They weren't supposed to just win, they were supposed to defend the NFL's honor by kicking the Jets' rear ends all over the field. There was way more pressure on the Colts than the Jets that day, and it began to show. The Jets ran the ball effectively that day, but they also had the luxury of never having to play from behind because the Colts couldn't get on the scoreboard. Had the Colts jumped out to a commanding early lead, Namath almost unquestionably would have started throwing almost every down, a practice that got him in trouble more than once. Against the Raiders in the AFL Championship, Namath attempted 49 passes and completed just 19.

Interestingly, the next time the two teams met, in 1970 as divisional rivals after the merger, the Colts beat the Jets and intercepted Namath six times, and returned two for touchdowns. Those were simply the types of big plays they couldn't come up with in Super Bowl III.

 

 

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I have read that about Volk.  It is amazing to think he stayed in the game.  I don't really remember the Flaming Pit.  I was only 7 years old when SB III was played.  I grew up in Northwood, about 2 miles North of Memorial stadium.  To us, Timonium was deep into the suburbs and Hunt Valley was nothing but farm land.  I did have a friend I went to high school with who worked for Art Donovan at his liquor store.  (I think it was on York Rd.)   I don't remember that game where the Colts intercepted Namath six times, but I do remember a game in the early 70's where Unitas and Namath had an epic QB duel.  The Jets won the game 44-34, but it was remembered for what both QBs did.  Unitas threw for 376 yards and 2 TDs and Namath threw for 496 yards and an incredible 6 TDs.   I remember every time the Colts mounted a drive, the Jets would score in like one or two plays on the next drive.  The numbers that Unitas and Namath had that day would be talked about if it happened in today's game, back then in an era where CBs could maul receivers and defensive lineman could nearly decapitate QBs, it was unheard of.  

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I actually worked at Donovan's country club for a while back in the day, and while I can't say I loved the job, a lot of old Colts were constantly in and out of there, which was pretty cool. I can't say Artie and I got along famously, but that was probably more a reflection on me than on him. I'm sure he'd dealt with more than his share of snot-nosed teenagers over the years. He was impressed that I knew a lot of the Colts from that era; I don't think he expected someone my age to know guys who were playing before I was even born.

The Colts-Jets game you're referring to was early in the 1972 season at Memorial Stadium. It was Namath's first appearance ever in Baltimore since the Super Bowl. Interestingly, even though he threw for almost 500 yards that day, Namath attempted only 28 passes (completing 15) and his 496 yards passing were the third-highest in league history at the time. Four of Namath's TD passes went for 65 yards or more, a feat still unmatched even to this day. Ironically, a week after this record-setting performance, the Jets would lose to the Houston Oilers, Houston's only win that season before beginning an 18-game losing streak.

Unitas's 396 passing yards that day were the second-highest of his career (he threw for 401 against Atlanta in 1967), but the glory was short-lived. As the aging Colts slipped into mediocrity, Unitas was benched, head coach Don McCafferty was fired and the Colts suffered the first of three consecutive losing seasons. Unitas would finish his career in 1973 in San Diego, where he helped mentor a young QB named Dan Fouts.

I remember a Sun article a couple of years ago when Big Ben passed Unitas for 14th all-time in career passing yards. If Baltimore fans were a tad incensed at a Steeler QB passing Unitas, they could at least take some comfort in the fact that today's game little resembles the game Unitas played. In 1956, Unitas's rookie year, quarterbacks averaged just over 22 pass attempts per game and 147 yards. It wasn't much different when Unitas retired 17 years later. In 1973, teams still averaged just 24.3 attempts and just under 141 yards.

By 2015, when Roethlisberger eclipsed Unitas (and Joe Montana), those averages had leaped to 36 and 249, respectively. I'm other quarterbacks have and will eventually pass Unitas, but even when compared to completely different times, Johnny U. still stacks up pretty well.

 

 

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SB 3 got Namath into the HOF and Snell should of been MVP. 

Shula got outcoached.

Turner actually missed 2 FG's in the game. 

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7 hours ago, johnpolitics said:

SB 3 got Namath into the HOF and Snell should of been MVP. 

Shula got outcoached.

Turner actually missed 2 FG's in the game. 

Absolutely. Namath made his entire career off of that one game. Lou Michaels also missed two field goals for the Colts, which proved to be critical.

I don't think Shula adjusted well during that game, particularly on defense. The Colts telegraphed their blitzes and the Jets were ready for them. 

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49 minutes ago, mdrunning said:

Absolutely. Namath made his entire career off of that one game. Lou Michaels also missed two field goals for the Colts, which proved to be critical.

I don't think Shula adjusted well during that game, particularly on defense. The Colts telegraphed their blitzes and the Jets were ready for them. 

I've watched the game a couple times on youtube and the Jets got a lot of lucky breaks in the 1st half but really controlled the clock with the run game in the second half. 

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Great posts everyone. I enjoyed reading them. I was not a Colts fan until 1975. My uncle who lived in Baltimore at the time took me and my sister to my first NFL game. He also took us to my first MLB game in Baltimore two years earlier. In that game someone spilled beer all over us.

In my first game, the Colts scored a lot of points ( I don't really remember too much more other than it was a nice day) but lost to the Buffalo Bills; but from that point on I was a fan. I started collecting football cards and I followed them every game (on TV or the radio) that season. They started out at 1-4 and then won the rest of their games that season. I was hooked. I also got to meet some of the players through my uncle's business. When they left in the Mayflower fans I was in high school and just cried. It happened so quickly.

 

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40 minutes ago, johnpolitics said:

I've watched the game a couple times on youtube and the Jets got a lot of lucky breaks in the 1st half but really controlled the clock with the run game in the second half. 

There were a lot of flukish plays which went against the Colts in the first half, particularly the goal-line pass which was tipped, hit Tom Mitchell on the shoulder pad, went about nine miles in the air and was intercepted by the Jets in the end zone. Then of course, there was the infamous "Flea Flicker," in which Jimmy Orr was wide open, yet Morrall didn't see him and instead was intercepted over the middle. 

As I said earlier, the Colts left some 27 points on the table in the first half alone, then, to compound the problem, Tom Matte fumbled on the first play from scrimmage in the second half. The Jets definitely controlled the clock in the final 30 minutes as you said, but the Colts' defense was also put in a position where they couldn't gamble for fear of giving up another touchdown. 

I think the Colts were just over-confident, pure and simple. Yet, when things started going against them, they started to press and that ultimately led to more mistakes.

I know there have been claims over the years that Super Bowl III was fixed, but I've never believed that. I think most of the conspiracy theories came from old Colt fans, who could at least take some comfort in thinking the only reason the Colts lost was because they weren't trying to win. It certainly was a devastating loss to the Colts and to Baltimore as well. I've always felt that game started in motion events which eventually led to the team pulling out of Baltimore.

Edited by mdrunning

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1 hour ago, ncbirdfan said:

Great posts everyone. I enjoyed reading them. I was not a Colts fan until 1975. My uncle who lived in Baltimore at the time took me and my sister to my first NFL game. He also took us to my first MLB game in Baltimore two years earlier. In that game someone spilled beer all over us.

In my first game, the Colts scored a lot of points ( I don't really remember too much more other than it was a nice day) but lost to the Buffalo Bills; but from that point on I was a fan. I started collecting football cards and I followed them every game (on TV or the radio) that season. They started out at 1-4 and then won the rest of their games that season. I was hooked. I also got to meet some of the players through my uncle's business. When they left in the Mayflower fans I was in high school and just cried. It happened so quickly.

 

I remember that year.  I believe that was the year the Colts beat Miami by a FG in Baltimore in a blinding fog late in the season.  That was the Bert Jones era.  Also, as a side note, I think Bill Belicheck was an assistant coach on Ted Marchibroda's staff.  That was back in the era when the season was still only 14 games long.  

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50 minutes ago, cprenegade said:

I remember that year.  I believe that was the year the Colts beat Miami by a FG in Baltimore in a blinding fog late in the season.  That was the Bert Jones era.  Also, as a side note, I think Bill Belicheck was an assistant coach on Ted Marchibroda's staff.  That was back in the era when the season was still only 14 games long.  

Belichick called Bert Jones the best pure passer (as opposed to the other kind, I guess) he's ever seen. A lot of people who call themselves Baltimore football fans today have barely heard of Bert, and certainly have no idea how good he really was. 

I went to that Miami game in the fog. We were back in the lower deck at about the 30-yard line down at the closed end of the stadium, which was a godawful vantage point. You couldn't follow kickoffs or punts because they disappeared from your view. You just had to wait until they came back down. You could hardly see the field, which from our seats, wasn't the easiest thing to do even on a clear day.

Even though the Colts would lose to Pittsburgh in the playoffs (Marty Domres played QB for the Colts most of that game, which should have been illegal), things were really looking up for Baltimore again football-wise. The Colts would win the AFC East two more times, losing to Pittsburgh in 1976 and the Raiders in the Christmas Eve, double OT affair 1978. Then came that fateful night in Detroit during the 1978 exhibition season when Jones got slammed on his shoulder. Things were never the same after that.

Speaking of that 1976 playoff game against the Steelers, do you remember the plane crashing into the upper deck of Memorial Stadium late in the game? I wasn't there for that one, but I certainly remember the pictures in the paper the next day. 

Years later, I read the pilot was a guy named Donald Kromer, and MTA bus driver and private pilot. He had recently been fired from the MTA for "unsatisfactory job performance," and the Friday before the game, had been kicked out of the Iron Horse Restaurant (owned by former Colt Bill Pellington) for being drunk and disorderly. Just the kind you want piloting a plane.

 

Edited by mdrunning

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4 minutes ago, mdrunning said:

Belichick called Bert Jones the best pure passer (as opposed to the other kind, I guess) he's ever seen. A lot of people who call themselves Baltimore football fans today have barely heard of Bert, and certainly have no idea how good he really was. 

I went to that Miami game in the fog. We were back in the lower deck at about the 30-yard line down at the closed end of the stadium, which was a godawful vantage point. You couldn't follow kickoffs or punts because they disappeared from your view. You just had to wait until they came back down. You could hardly see the field, which from our seats, wasn't the easiest thing to do even on a clear day.

Even though the Colts would lose to Pittsburgh in the playoffs (Marty Domres played QB for the Colts most of that game, which should have been illegal), things were really looking up for Baltimore again football-wise. The Colts would win the AFC East two more times, losing to Pittsburgh in 1976 and the Raiders in the Christmas Eve, double OT affair 1978. Then came that fateful night in Detroit during the 1978 exhibition season when Jones got slammed on his shoulder. Things were never the same after that.

Speaking of that 1976 playoff game against the Steelers, do you remember the plane crashing into the upper deck of Memorial Stadium late in the game? I wasn't there for that one, but I certainly remember the pictures in the paper the next day. 

Years later, I read the pilot was a guy named Donald Kromer, and MTA bus driver and private pilot. He had recently been fired from the MVA for "unsatisfactory job performance," and the Friday before the game, had been kicked out of the Iron Horse Restaurant (owned by former Colt Bill Pellington) for being drunk and disorderly. Just the kind you want piloting a plane.

 

Oh yeah, remember all of that.  I was at the double OT Christmas Eve game against the Raiders.  And definitely remember being in the lower deck of Memorial stadium for both Colts and Orioles games.  I remember having near last row lower deck seats to the first AL championship playoff game against the California Angels in 1979.  Every time a team hit a fly ball you had to look at which outfielder was looking up at the ball because you had no idea where it actually was.  And I did have a few of those obstructed view seats where you had to look around a pole!  

I do remember the plane crashing into the stadium.  I didn't go to the game, but watched it on TV.  It was the first game that Sunday, I think the Rams/Cowboys was second.  I lived in Northwood about two miles north of the stadium at the time.  The first I heard of it was at halftime of the second game when Brent Musberger announced breaking news that a small plane had crashed into Memorial stadium after the game was over.  

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