Esposito: Celebrating the Super 50th a Big Kick With Jets-Colts

With Joe Willie in the building and many of his Super Bowl Champion teammates by his side, the 2018 Jets celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the franchise’s greatest day by kicking the Indianapolis Colts, 42-34.

Kicking being the operative word as Jason Myers led the Jets’ scoring with seven field goals, a personal best, a team record, and a new entry in the NFL record books with only six other kickers in history to have banged in as many in one game.

Rob Bironas legged eight field goals in game for the Tennessee Titans in 2007. Others who have launched seven include: Jim Bakken (1967), Rich Karlis (1989), Chris Boniol (1996), Billy Cundiff (2003), and Shayne Graham (2007).

It was only fitting then as the Jets honored their Super Bowl heritage, as it was a three field goal game that led to their 16-7 victory on Jan. 12, 1969, following the 1968 season.

Staying true to its history, the Jets even deferred from their traditional home green unis Sunday and wore the more road-worthy whites, with the Colts in their blue “home” uniform, as that’s what both teams wore in Super Bowl III, the first annual event that was to be called a Super Bowl, by the way. The first two end-of-season clashes between the AFL and NFL were called exactly that – the AFL-NFL Championship Game.

It was that game, when Joe Namath and his heavy underdog mates upset the NFL’s finest that season and heralded the eventual merger of both leagues, creating the massive juggernaut NFL that it is today.

Everyone made a big deal of the fact Namath “guaranteed” the victory and it is brought up to this day – hey, I just did so again here, too! Three days before the Super Bowl, Namath “entertained” the media at the Miami Touchdown Club by brashly declaring a victory, and underscored his confidence by adding, “I guarantee it!”

Well, of course, the writers took off with that comment and blasted headlines with it, but really, it was, and is, just an expression. To this day, the media tries to bait athletes into guaranteeing anything they do, but really, what is the recourse?

What would Namath have done had he lost? Offer refunds to every Jets fan? Quit playing football? Issue an apology would have been the worst-case scenario, and for Jets fans, it’s a good thing it didn’t come to pass, literally. Perhaps Namath never would have made the Hall of Fame had he lost, but we’ll never know the answer to that what-if either.

Namath was named MVP of Super Bowl III with a passing line of 17 of 28, 206 yards, and no interceptions. Today, that’s a first half for many quarterbacks, but 50 years ago, it was for his managing the all-important game, alluding the Colts defense which had guided a Baltimore club to a 13-1 record that year, and perhaps a bit for his braggadocio personality.

After the AFL Championship Game, when the Jets defeated the Oakland Raiders at Shea Stadium, 27-23 – following an 11-3 season, Namath had told beat writer Dave Anderson of the NY Times, “There are five quarterbacks in the AFL better than (Colts starter) Earl Morrall.” He named himself, plus his 38-year-old backup, Babe Parilli, Chargers QB John Hadl, and Dolphins quarterback Bob Griese as superior to Baltimore’s field leader.

As an aside to that, the press box held a moment of silence for Anderson at Sunday’s Jets-Colts 50th Anniversary rematch. Anderson passed away earlier in the week.

Jets players from the Super Bowl III team hoist the Lombardi trophy during half time festivities to hone the team on the 50th anniversary of the championship. N.Y. Jets vs. Indianapolis Colts at MetLife Stadium Sunday, October 14, 2018. (Photo by David L. Pokress)

Morrall was the Colts QB for much of the season, as future Hall of Fame incumbent Johnny Unitas had suffered an arm injury during the preseason. We’ll never know if the outcome would have ended differently had Unitas been healthy from the kickoff, but as it is, he led the Colts to their only touchdown late in the game after relieving Morrall, or the Jets might have pitched a shutout.

Namath became the only Super Bowl MVP quarterback to have never thrown a touchdown pass in the game, and the Jets became the only winning club to have scored only one touchdown. Their points were accrued with a Matt Snell run and three Jim Turner field goals.

The halftime ceremony celebrating the return of the ‘68 Champs was brief – after all, what can you do when halftime is only 12 minutes long. The conquering heroes gathered midfield en masse wearing their white jerseys, culminating with Namath offering a few grateful remarks.

They were not individually recognized, as that would have taken too long, but the love by the sold-out throng of just under 78,000 showered them with affection nonetheless. Hundreds of fans broke out their white Namath jerseys for the occasion, as well as many of the other stalwarts, such as Hall of Famer Don Maynard.

It was time once again to cheer the dozens of returnees, including: Namath, Maynard, Pete Lammons, John Schmidt, Jim Turner, John Elliott, John Dockery, Paul Rasmussen, Gerry Philbin, Al Atkinson, Earl Christy, Mike D’Amato, Bill Baird, Billy Joe, Raymond Hayes, Michael Stromberg, Paul Rochester, Cornell Gordon, Carl McAdams, Sam Walton, Larry Grantham, Jim Richards, Paul Crane, Randy Beverly, Jeff Richardson, and Mark Smolinski.

They brought out the Super Bowl trophy and put that on a pedestal next to the podium, and they honored the entire team by collectively placing it in the ring of honor.

The current Jets were quite enamored of their predecessors and honored to meet them. There was a collective meeting between both teams the day before where they mingled and as Avery Williamson later said, “tried to get their mojo to rub off on us.”

“That was great (meeting them),” said DB Morris Claiborne, who led off the scoring Sunday with a 17 yard Pick-Six just seconds into the game.

Of his Pick-Six. “I knew it was going to happen. I knew (Colts QB Andrew Luck) was going to throw it. I walked around all week with a football in my hand, and I’m going to carry it around all next week, too.”

On meeting the ‘68 Jets. “I didn’t know much about them. But just being around them and what they accomplished – that’s what we’re trying to do. It was good energy, positive vibes. I just tried to take it all in. I shook the hands of legends.”

The legends are now back in the history books and have left a positive impression on this Jets team. They now have met their heritage, and Jets fans are hopeful the new gang of green and white are ready to make a little history of their own after their win against the Colts…again!

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