I watched Super Bowl III recently on YouTube. Why would I watch a game that occurred over 50 years ago? Because as a fan of the New York Jets, that’s pretty much the only way to see the Jets in football’s biggest game. As I watched, I became an 18-year-old, high-school senior again, and I remembered a few things about the game that I had forgotten or didn’t realize in the first place.
Before I describe my observations, though, let me offer up some historical information. First, the American Football Conference and the Jets were heavy underdogs. In Super Bowls I and II, the National Football Conference easily won with Vince Lombardi and the Green Bay Packers defeating the Kansas City Chiefs and the Oakland Raiders handily by scores of 35 to 10 and 33 to 14 respectively. No one really expected the Jets to do well against the mighty Colts, and the odds makers in Las Vegas favored Baltimore by 18 points.
In addition, I had big money riding on the game. When I told my friend and baseball teammate Gerry Gustas that I was rooting for the Jets, he laughed at me, and said, “I’ll bet you two dollars that the Colts win, and I’ll even give you the 18 points.”
Normally, I am not a betting man, and I didn’t even have two dollars in my pocket at that point, but I instinctively rose to my team’s defense and took the bet. Quite honestly, I wasn’t sure the Jets could win, but I believed in my heart they wouldn’t lose by 18 points. Thus, when I sat down in front of the television in our living room on that January Sunday, I was both excited and worried — excited that both my team and I might win but also worried that Gerry Gustas and his hearty laugh would tease me unmercifully at school on Monday.
Observation One. Jets’ running back Matt Snell was amazing. Their quarterback, Joe Namath, got all the attention prior to the game and afterwards because he boldly “guaranteed” that the underdog Jets would win. And Joe played a great game, don’t get me wrong. He completed 17 of 28 passes for 206 yards, and he outsmarted the Colts defense during the entire game. But if Matt Snell doesn’t contribute his 121 yards on 30 carries (plus four receptions for 40 yards), if he doesn’t score the Jets’ only touchdown, and if he doesn’t eat up the clock during the second half when the Colts finally came to life, the Jets might not have won that game. He was definitely amazing, much like running back John Riggins was in 1983 when his Washington Redskins defeated the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XVII.
Observation Two. Jets’ receiver George Sauer was also amazing. Going into the game, most people assumed that veteran receiver Don Maynard would be Joe Namath’s main target. After all, the 33-year-old Maynard had just had the best year of his career, leading the Jets with almost 1,300 yards and ten touchdowns. However, in the Super Bowl, Namath and Maynard were unable to connect, so Sauer dominated instead. On this day, the much younger Sauer had eight receptions for 133 yards, one of his best games ever. He, too, was amazing, much like receiver Julian Edelman was last year when his New England Patriots defeated the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII.
Observation Three. The Jets’ defensive secondary was most amazing. Again, the aura around Joe Namath leading the offense seems to cloud everyone’s memory. But the Jets only scored 16 points, with one touchdown and three field goals, and one of those field goals came after the Colts fumbled deep in their own territory. No, the real key for the Jets was the five turnovers: the previously mentioned fumble recovery and four interceptions. Yes, four interceptions. In the first half alone, the Jets intercepted three passes — one in the end zone, one near the end zone, and one more when Earl Morrall, the Colts’ quarterback, failed to see a receiver wide open near the end zone and threw into coverage instead. If the Colts scored a touchdown on any one of those early possessions, the tenor of the game may have changed completely. The Jets’ defensive secondary was truly amazing, much like linebacker Malcolm Smith was in 2014 when he and his Seattle Seahawk teammates destroyed the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII.
Finally, Gerry Gustas was amazing. I couldn’t wait to get to school the next day, not only to collect on my bet but also to see big Gerry’s reaction. And quite honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect: anger, frustration, jealousy. Instead, I got laughter. As I was retrieving textbooks from my locker for my morning classes, Gerry approached me with a big grin on his face and two crisp dollar bills in his hand. “Congratulations! Your Jets played great yesterday.” And at class reunions through the years, we always had a good laugh about our shared Super Bowl experience. Unfortunately, Jerry didn’t make it to our recent 50th reunion because he passed away a few years back.
So, as we all gather this Sunday for our Super Bowl parties, we will enjoy the game, the commercials, the halftime show, and all the treats and snacks. But the best parts of this annual athletic spectacle are the lighthearted conversations we share about the game both before and afterwards and the special people with whom we enjoy this unique sporting holiday.