It's Super Bowl week, but unfortunately the Indianapolis Colts won't be playing in it, as this year's game features the Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots. The Colts' franchise, dating back to their days in Baltimore, has played in four Super Bowls, however, and we're going to take a look at each one of those this week leading up to this year's Super Bowl. Some games will be good ones for the Colts, while others won't be. Today we begin by looking at one that clearly falls in the second category, and it goes back all the way to 1969 and Super Bowl III in a game between the New York Jets and the Baltimore Colts.
Up to this point in the history of the National Football League, one of the conferences had dominated the other. The NFL, which included the Colts, had won the first two Super Bowls and was considered to be the far superior conference to the AFL, which was still trying to get up to the level of the other conference. The Colts, meanwhile, were one of the best teams in the league and were the heavy favorites in the Super Bowl. They had gone 13-1 that season and won the NFL Championship game while the Jets, meanwhile, finished the season 11-3 and were AFL champions. The Colts would represent the NFL in the Super Bowl for the first time, though they were no stranger to championship games. The 1958 Championship game is still regarded as one of the most important games in NFL history, and the Colts came out on the winning side of it.
Before the game, Jets quarterback Joe Namath made a bold prediction - he guaranteed that his team would win. The NFL was considered the far superior league to the AFL and the Colts were heavy favorites, so this guarantee seemed laughable. But as the game itself started, on January 12, 1969 in Miami, Florida, it soon became clear that it was no laughing matter: the Jets were for real. A second quarter touchdown and two third quarter field goals put the Jets up 13 points, and they added a field goal in the fourth quarter to make the score 16-0 Jets.
Colts' quarterback Earl Morrall, who had started much of the season in place of the injured Johnny Unitas and had won the MVP award, threw three interceptions and had an awful day before he was replaced by one of the game's all-time greats in Unitas. Number 19 led the Colts a touchdown to make the score 16-7, but it was too little too late. The Jets had stunned the Colts and won the first ever Super Bowl for the AFL, following up on Namath's guarantee. For his performance in which he completed 17 of 28 passes for 206 yards in leading the Jets to victory, Namath was named the game's MVP and forever cemented his place in NFL lore.
This game has gone down as one of the most important games in league history, as the AFL finally took a major step to showing that they belong - and that's on top of Namath's now famous guarantee of victory. For the Colts, however, it's not as fondly remembered and it was a big hit to their reputation, as they were the first NFL team to lose a Super Bowl to the AFL. The loss stung, for sure, but the Colts wouldn't have to wait long to get another shot at a Super Bowl, as two years later they were back on the game's biggest stage - this time looking for a different result, which we'll look at tomorrow.
Statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference page for Super Bowl III.