Beyond Broadway Joe: The Super Bowl TEAM That Changed Football
By Bob Lederer
Dey Street, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers; hardcover, $27.99; available this Tuesday, September 11
The New York Jets, then of the American Football League, stunned the heavily favored Baltimore Colts of the National Football League, in Super Bowl III on January 12, 1969.
Jets quarterback Joe Namath, known to all as “Broadway Joe,” became synonymous with victory and was transformed into a household name.
In the new book Beyond Broadway Joe: The Super Bowl TEAM That Changed Football, Bob Lederer gives a behind-the-scenes account that looks beyond Namath’s role in the win, and at the Jets as a whole.
As we near the 50th Anniversary of the Jets’ historic victory, members of the 1968-69 Jets share their often funny, poignant, and insightful personal personal stories about their teammates. They also reflect on how the team evolved from being part of a so-called “Mickey Mouse” league, through the sudden transformation caused by the signing and introduction of Namath on America’s sporting scene.
Fullback Matt Snell wrote the foreword of Beyond Broadway Joe representing the offensive side, and linebacker/defensive end Gerry Philbin wrote one for the defensive unit. There is also a complete roster of the 1968-69 Jets and Lederer gives biographies of each coach and player.
One of the most famous moments in the two weeks ahead of the game was when Namath guaranteed the victory. Lederer writes, “On the Thursday night prior to the big game (January 9, 1969), Joe Namath was driven to the Miami Touchdown Club banquet to be awarded a plaque as the ‘Outstanding Professional Football Player of 1968.’ The American Football League’s hierarchy loved the ceremony because Namath was the league’s first player to be so honored.
“As chronicled in Dave Anderson’s epic book that detailed the two weeks that preceded Super Bowl III, Countdown to Super Bowl, Namath delivered a few remarks to the packed audience. He thanked his parents and family, his high school coach Larry Bruno, Alabama coach Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant, former Jets owner Sonny Weblin, Jets coach Weeb Ewbank, the Jets’ owners, and his teammates for his past and current football success.
“Then came the spontaneous words that would cement the legend of Broadway Joe Namath in the annals of NFL history: ‘You can be the greatest athlete in the world,’ he said, ‘but if you don’t win those football games, it doesn’t mean anything. And we are going to win Sunday. I guarantee you.’
“The New York Times‘ Anderson, the only New York media reporter there that evening, didn’t think Joe’s words were particularly noteworthy. It was just one more matter-of-fact utterance from the quarterback who had said several times over that he expected to win Super Bowl III, so Anderson didn’t even send a dispatch about the dinner remarks to his editors.
“Anderson didn’t even report Joe’s first public salute to the Jets’ defense. (‘I read where one [reporter] wrote that our defense can’t compare with the Colts,’ Joe had remarked. ‘Anybody who knows anything about football knows that we have five guys on defense alone better than them [the Colts].’)
“The following morning, a lone article about Namath’s remarks appeared in a Miami Herald sports section story under the banner headline ‘Namath Guarantees Jets Victory.’
“Well, even Namath almost immediately recognized that he had gone further out on a limb than in any of his earlier public pronouncements. ‘When he got back to the hotel that night, Joe called me,’ explained defensive captain Johnny Sample to NFL Films. ‘Joe said, ‘I said something and I think it is going to be in all the news, the papers, TV, radio, everything.’ What the heck did you say? Joe responded, ‘I just told them I guaranteed we were going to win.’ I said, ‘You didn’t do that, did ya?’ Namath said, ‘Yes, I did. We’re going to win, aren’t we?’ I said, ‘You’re right. We’re gonna win, but you shouldn’t have said that.’
“In the first days of Super Bowl preparation, Weeb Ewbank, after studying films of the Colts, had told his assistants: ‘If we can’t pass on these guys, we ought to get out of the business….We can beat these guys. We’re going to win this game.’ That set the tone for the team. However, according to defensive lineman Carl McAdams, Ewbank had admonished the Jets players the day before the awards dinner ‘not to say anything to make these [Colts] players mad.’
“Linebacker Ralph Baker was having breakfast when he saw the Miami Herald sports section. ‘Winning was tough enough without giving them extra incentive,’ he said. ‘I figured we’d be in for a lecture from Weeb, but it never happened.’ Ewbank read his newspaper and saw it as the worst kind of bulletin board material for the Baltimore locker room.
“Center John Schmitt remembered, ‘Weeb was so pissed off, Weeb came down from his room and Joe was at the table next to me. Joe was kind of hungover to be honest. Weeb rarely lost his temper with Joe and he was never angry with Joe. Weeb held the newspaper, ‘Joseph, did you say this? I asked you not to do this,’ he scolded Joe.'”
Lederer gives some history on the Super Bowl III that is sure to fascinate, including how Namath was able to manipulate the Baltimore defense. The Jets figured out early in the game that both teams were employing almost identical offenses, including offensive-play and signal-calling but that the plays were in opposite directions. Knowing that, Namath came to the line without a huddle and barked out signals that sent Baltimore linebackers and safeties shifting in one direction, and he immediately reversed that with an audible that changed the play and sent the Baltimore safeties and linebackers in the opposite direction that the Jets planned to run or pass.
A Jets player, Curley Johnson, convinced Namath he was a “hot date” to prank the playboy quarterback. Johnson, the team prankster used a falsetto voice to interest Joe in a “liaison” off the Jets’ training grounds, which Namath bit on, hook, line, and sinker.
Jets Coach and General Manager Weeb Ewbank employed a secret personnel evaluation system. While coaching college football in the late 1940s, Ewbank deployed a ratings system for each of his players. Every starting player on offense and defense was rated from “0” to “5” on every play. That statistical report was complemented by a comprehensive written evaluation of the players’ strengths and weaknesses. Ewbank employed that two-tier system with the Jets, which produced never-before-seen revelations.
Lederer writes of the Jets’ preparation for the game and keys to their victory, “During film sessions, the coaching staff, receivers, and running backs had glared at dead spots in the Colts’ zone, particularly when Baltimore blitzed. The Jets’ running game kept the Colts’ defense off-balance, and Namath’s pass protection and quick release kept the heat off Joe. When Namath read upcoming blitzes, Jets receivers angled to predetermined spots based on the film, and Namath hit them in stride.
“Don Maynard and George Sauer Jr. were a scary one-two receiving duo, with Maynard’s breakaway speed and long-ball threat complemented by Sauer’s precise routes. In Super Bowl III, Don Maynard’s legs were not 100 percent recovered from a December injury, yet his jaunts past Baltimore’s deep zone in the first and third quarters gave the Colts the willies. Defensive coordinator Walt Michaels alerted the bench from the press box when the Baltimore zone concentrated to Maynard’s side, leaving Sauer with single coverage on the opposite side of the field. Maynard had no catches in Super Bowl III, however Sauer dominated Colts’ right cornerback Lenny Lyle, with eight catches for 133 yards…
“It seemed ironic that Baltimore succumbed to the same loss of poise that had done in Kansas City and Oakland in Super Bowls I and II. Mark Smolinski thought Ewbank’s pre-Super Bowl media strategy in telling reporters the Jets were ‘so darn lucky to be on the field with’ Baltimore ‘snookered them.’ Smo said, ‘We slapped them in the face, and they didn’t respond.’
“Football’s elite writers and reporters had spent nearly a decade building the case that the AFL couldn’t compete with the NFL because of so few experienced players. Super Bowl III turned that argument upside down. These Jets were a young team, far more youthful than many graying Colts at several positions, and the Jets’ personnel boasted three to six years of professional experience at nearly every position. Youth and talent served the Jets well in Super Bowl III, particularly in the offensive trenches (Herman and Hill, 27; Schmitt, 26; Rasmussen, 23; Talamini, 30). The Jets’ offensive linemen had their way with Baltimore’s more established, aging defensive unit. The Jets became one of the youngest teams in a decade to win a pro football championship.
“Finally, the Jets’ defense received little acclaim despite leading the AFL in rush defense and starring sack specialists Gerry Philbin, Verlon Biggs, and John Elliott. Linebackers Larry Grantham, Al Atkinson, and Ralph Baker were a tough, swift, steady, strong tackling group. In the secondary, with the exception of second-year right cornerback Randy Beverly, the starters – Jim Hudson, Bill Baird, and Johnny Sample – had extensive experience. The overlooked story in Super Bowl III was the surprising, unanticipated near-shutout by the Jets’ defensive eleven.
“The Colts hadn’t been shut out in four years, nor had they failed to score in the first half of any game in 1968, yet they were blanked until three minutes remained in Super Bowl III. The Jets’ defense executed as designed in the team’s playbook: it bent several times that day (fighting the Colts drives downfield), but didn’t break (permitting only one TD – and that took three plunges from inside the five-yard line). All told, the Jets forced five Baltimore turnovers.
“There exists a body of opinion that Joe Namath’s ‘guarantee’ of a Jets win had psyched up the Jets and psyched out the Colts. ‘Namath psyched two teams,’ the Oakland Raiders’ George Blanda, pro football’s oldest professional player, said after the game. ‘He psyched the Jets into believing they could win and he psyched the Colts into doubting that they could win.’
The biggest impact of Super Bowl III was that it led to the merger of the AFL and the NFL. It also may have saved the existence of several AFL teams. The NFL’s Green Bay Packers thoroughly defeated the AFL representation in the first two Super Bowls in 1967 and 1968. With the Colts expected to follow suit, some Jets players heard rumors that NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle was considering not including some financially strapped AFL franchises, including the Boston Patriots and Denver Broncos, from being part of the merger. Imagine how NFL history would have changed if that happened.
Beyond Broadway Joe is one of the most detailed books you will read on the Jets’ championship team, a must-have for Jets diehards, as well as anyone interested in the role this team played in the history of professional football.