On January 12, 1969, in the most celebrated performance of his prolific career, quarterback Joe Namath leads the New York Jets to a stunning 16-7 victory over the heavily favored Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, held in Miami, Florida.
Born in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, in 1943, Namath starred on his high school football team and at one point was offered $50,000 to play baseball for the Chicago Cubs. He chose to play football for Coach Paul (Bear) Bryant at the University of Alabama, where he was an All-American. Drafted by both the St. Louis Cardinals of the National Football League (NFL) and the Jets of the upstart American Football League (AFL), Namath chose the Jets, who paid him a signing bonus of close to $400,000. Three games into his first season, he earned the starting quarterback job; he was later voted the AFL Rookie of the Year.
With a notoriously lavish Upper East Side penthouse apartment and an active social schedule, the handsome Namath became known as Broadway Joe. He also distinguished himself on the field, becoming the first pro quarterback to pass for 4,000 yards in a single season in 1967. Namath’s brash confidence was never more on display than in a public appearance in the days leading up to Super Bowl III, when he assured a heckler that the Jets (19-point underdogs) would beat the Colts (reputedly the best team in NFL history), even going so far as to say “I guarantee it.” Namath’s trash-talking drew criticism from many in the NFL, who doubted his ability and insisted the AFL could not really compete with the older, more established NFL.
Namath proved to be as good as his word, however, as the Jets drove 80 yards in the first quarter and grabbed a 7-0 lead in the second with a four-yard touchdown run by fullback Matt Snell. The defense intercepted Colts quarterback Earl Morrall three times to prevent Baltimore from scoring. Two Jets field goals by Jim Turner in the third quarter and another at the start of the fourth put New York up 16-0. Though Baltimore was able to score a single touchdown in the fourth, it would not be enough. Namath completed 17 of 28 passes, for a total of 206 yards, while wide receiver George Sauer caught eight of those for 133 yards, and Snell ran for a Super Bowl record 121 yards. Apart from ensuring the legacy of Broadway Joe, a future Hall of Famer, the victory gave legitimacy to the AFL and assured the competitive viability of the AFL-NFL rivalry.