55 Years Since The New York Jets Soared in the Super Bowl

By Peter Mann

“We didn’t think they (the Jets) were really impressive,” those were the words of legendary ex-Baltimore Colts and Miami Dolphins Head Coach, Don Shula (1930 – 2020) in his autobiography, The Winning Edge.’

Image Credit: New York Jets

Who he’s talking about, was the 1968 New York Jets franchise, led from the front by General Manager/Head Coach, Wilbur ‘Weeb’ Ewbank (1907 – 1998), and their MVP quarterback, ‘Broadway’ Joe Namath. 

Broadway, the vibrant and culturally rich part of mid-town Manhattan, a 30-plus mile stretch running from State Street in New York’s Financial District, to Mount Pleasant’s Sleepy Hollow; it was also the nickname attributed to Joe Namath (62-63-4; 173 TDs, 220 INTs) due to his love for New York’s nightlife after his arrival in the city, and at the Jets franchise, in 1965.

Broadway Joe and the Jets gate-crash the 1968 season

Having been plagued by injuries, to both knees, throughout both his college football (Alabama) and professional football career, Namath, and the high-soaring Jets, were, technically, not supposed to achieve as much when they gate-crashed through the 1968 season. 

Going into that season, the 1968 NFL Draft would see the Jets select some seventeen players, of which half-a-dozen were afforded spots on the regular season roster; their first three picks of running back Lee White, defensive end, Thompson, and offensive tackle Sam Walton, were joined by defensive back Jim Richards, defensive tackle Karl Henke, and offensive tackle Ray Hayes – pre-season meanwhile saw them win three of their five outings including, on 7 September, a narrow, 9-7 success over the Detroit Lions, at the Cleveland Municipal Stadium. 

A bye was afforded the Jets going into that 1968 season, they finally began their campaign with back-to-back victories on weeks two and three, against Kansas City Chiefs at Municipal Stadium (20-19, 15 September), then a week later against Boston Pirates (47-31, 22 September, at Legion Field); by week six the Jets found themselves 3-2 ahead of what was their first, four-game winning streak. 

Those four victories would see successes over Houston Oilers (20-14), Boston Pirates (48-14), Buffalo Bills (25-21), and the Oilers again (26-7), within the space of a month, and Ewbank’s Jets found themselves moving from 3-2 to a healthy, 7-2 record.

Image Credit: Sports Illustrated

Jets fall in the first of two classics with Oakland Raiders (Jets at Raiders, November 1968)

Then came the first of two, season-defining games, against John Rauch’s Oakland Raiders, this being at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, on 17 November; forever known as The Heidi Game. This was due to television viewing issues with an episode of Heidi, which caused chaos on both sides of the coin.

The Raiders were also a 7-2 franchise and were coming off the back of a 43-7 demolition of hosts Denver Broncos, at Mile High Stadium. 

A pair of Jim Turner field goals, 44 and 18 yards respectively, gave the Jets an early, 6-0 lead. However, back-to-back TDs from Warren Wells and Billy Cannon, off Daryle Lamonica, passes, and converted by George Blanda, saw the Raiders take a 6-14 lead early in the second quarter; Broadway Joe brought the Jets back within touching distance as the Raiders led 12-14 at the half. 

 The lead changed hands in what was a tight, third quarter, as Bill Mathis put the Jets 19-14 up before Charlie Smith scored for the Raiders to edge back in front, by three, 19-22, ahead of that final quarter. 

Four TDs and two FGs were registered in a 34-point, fourth quarter, in favour of hosting the Raiders; not for the lack of trying from the visiting Jets though. 

Don Maynard collected a 50-yard pass from Namath, then a 12-yard field goal from Turner, saw the Jets lead 29-22, before Lamonica combined with Fred Biletnikoff, to tie the game up. Although another Turner goal, this from 26 yards, gave the Jets hope, the Raiders finished the contest in the ascendency. 

First Charlie Smith collected a 43-yard pass from Lamonica to restore the Raiders’ lead before Preston Ridlehuber completed the scoring on a 2-yard special teams fumble (Blanda registering his fifth, successful conversion) as the Raiders notched a 32-43 win to move to 8-2, and the Jets falling to 7-3. 

The loss would afford the Jets the kick up the derriere needed in order to push themselves for a spot in the off-season, and with it, a date with destiny; for the second time during the 1968 regular season, the Jets embarked upon a four-game winning streak. 

(Jets dismantle the Miami Dolphins twice, in December 1968)

Having already defeated the Patriots and Oilers twice apiece, the game after the Raiders would see the Jets defeat San Diego Chargers (37-15) for the second time, prior to a pair of December ’68 victories against the Miami Dolphins, a win over the Cincinnati Bengals sandwiched between; on both occasions against the Dolphins, the Jets would soar past the thirty-point mark, on 1 and 15 December respectively, they eventually closing the regular season with an 11-3 record. 

In the first game with the Dolphins, at Shea Stadium, Babe Parilli posted 3 TDs, 166 yards, and Broadway Joe 2 TDs, 104 yards for the Jets, whilst in the return, at the Orange Bowl, Parilli was on the mark with 1 TD, 121 yards, the Jets claiming the AFL Eastern Division ahead of the 7-7 Houston Oilers and setting up an AFL Championship battle with the AFL Western Division champions – 

The 12-2 Oakland Raiders…

Revenge is sweet as the Jets beat the Raiders, in the AFL Championship game

The Western champions hadn’t lost since mid-October, and were riding on the crest of an eight-game winning streak, one which included big, back-to-back victories against their divisional rivals, Kansas City Chiefs (38-21), and Denver Broncos (43-7), whilst also posting a 34-0 shut-out win at the Bengals, Blanda imperious with the boot; the Jets were sure to have their work cut out. 

At Shea Stadium, on 29 December, Jets Head Coach, Weeb Ewbank, created his own slice of pro football history when becoming the first, and only coach, to win NFL, and AFL, championships (Baltimore Colts, 1958 and 1959), (New York Jets, 1968). 

The Raiders though, they’d already stretched their unbeaten run to nine following a divisional play-off victory against the Chiefs (41-6), ahead of that 50-point, championship game, in New York, as both franchises claimed two quarters apiece (0-10, 10-3, 3-7, 10-7; 23-27 Jets).

Image Credit: Medium

The game itself meanwhile, that was watched by an impressive crowd of 62, 627 spectators, with Broadway Joe releasing Don Maynard for the opening score before the latter kicked an FG to extend their lead; the Raiders’ reply was akin to that of the two franchise’s first meeting with Lamonica to Biletnikoff before another set of FGs tied the game up at 13-13 going into the third quarter, one for Turner, and two for Blanda. 

Pete Lammons then received from Namath to end the third at 13-20 in favour of the Jets, prior to a back-and-forth fourth; a Blanda FG was followed up by a Pete Banaszak rushing TD from close to put the Raiders three up, but Broadway Joe and Maynard combined once again for a stunning, 23-27 success, which put the Jets into the world championship game.

Jets Win, Jets Win, the Jets have won the Super Bowl

Going into Super Bowl III, at Miami’s Orange Bowl, on 12 January 1969, Weeb Ewbank’s New York Jets collided with Don Shula’s Baltimore Colts, the Jets heading into the clash as massive underdogs against a highly-fancied Colts franchise who’d won their previous eighteen straight outings. 

In his autobiography ‘The Winning Edge,’ Colts’ Head Coach, Don Shula’s full quote of the build-up to the Super Bowl was: “We didn’t think they (the Jets) were that impressive. 

“Their defense was awfully weak, it was tough showing the films to your squad and not having them get overconfident.” 

For Namath however, there was but one outcome firmly in his mind, understandably that of a Jets win, and he’d say in the days building up to the game that: “We’re going to win Sunday. I’ll guarantee you.” 

A low-scoring contest ensued and it would take until the second quarter before the Jets broke the deadlock when, following an 80-yard drive, Namath hit Matt Snell four yards out for a 0-7 lead at the half; Turner helped himself to two more FG attempts in the third quarter, from 30 and 12 yards respectively, to stretch to a 0-13 advantage. 

At one point during the Super Bowl, Namath et al were seen to ignore pre-game orders from HC Ewbank; in all fairness though, it worked as well. Ewbank had told his players beforehand that they were not to try any offensive sweeps against what was then the most feared defense in the game – the Jets offense listened, agreed, then at a key moment during the game, ignored their HC with Jets’ full back Matt Snell saying afterward that: “I don’t know what happened but Namath for some reason called for a weakside trap (suckering the defense in the wrong direction to open a hole for the running back to utilise).

Image Credit: New York Jets

“I looked at Emerson Boozer, he looked at me, and we both knew we’d heard Namath right. 

“And it worked, it broke free, and I felt like I was 10 to 15 yards downfield before Rick Volks (Colts defensive safety) came up to tackle me.” 

It would be perhaps, in that moment, that play, that gave the Jets the belief that they could, maybe, actually win the whole show. 

Although the Colts did eventually make a go of it late on, it was to be too little, too late where they were concerned, especially as a third Turner FG had the Jets up 0-16 in the fourth, before the Colts’ attempted fight-back, Jerry Hill with a close-range TD (Lou Michaels conversion). 

The Jets though, held on in front of a crowd of 75, 389, for a famous 7-16 victory, Namath hitting 17 of 28 passes for 206 yards, whilst Matt Snell competed for 30 carries for 121 yards and 1 TD, to soar the Jets to victory. 

It has now been some 55 years since the New York Jets not only won, but reached the big one; throughout their history, there have been just the four, divisional championships, AFL East (1968, 1969), and AFC East (1998, 2002), whilst they’ve also made the post-season play-offs on fourteen occasions, the last being in 2010 (lost the AFC Championship game, 24-19 against Pittsburgh Steelers), it was the sixth time they’d made the post-season during that decade. 

For now though, the wait for the New York Jets, it goes on…

Feature image credit: NBC Sports