The New York Jets have a long history filled with interesting players, games and moments. Championships? Not so much.
It is hard to point out any of the previous 57 seasons as “glory years” full of consistent play—no more than two-or-three years would qualify as such. However, if you are a fan of “Gang Green,” you can unequivocally say that the Jets history hasn’t been without its memorable moments.
Where do we start? Well, let’s start with the AFL years, when the Jets, charter members of the league in 1960, were known as the New York Titans.
The Original Titans
In 1963, two things happened that forever changed the franchise. First, the team name was changed from the Titans to the Jets. Second, they hired former Baltimore Colts head coach Weeb Ewbank.
Ewbank was known for his time coaching Johnny Unitas and leading Baltimore to a win over the New York Giants in “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” the 1958 NFL Championship Game.
Little changed for the Jets under Ewbank, until the 1965 NFL draft when the Jets drafted a QB named Namath out of the University of Alabama.
The Namath Years — Part 1
The Jets chose Namath with the first overall pick in the 1965 AFL draft (the St. Louis Cardinals of the NFL also drafted Namath), but the new Jets ownership group led by Sonny Werblin made Namath the highest paid player in football ($427,000, including a new car).
While the excitement went up, the results didn’t change much for the Jets. In 1966 and 1967 Namath’s penchant for throwing interceptions cost them dearly. In three losses and two ties in 1966, Namath threw 19 picks, costing them the AFL East division title. In 1967, despite becoming the first QB to throw for 4,000 yards, Namath’s 18 INT in four losses and a tie cost the Jets another title.
The Namath Years — Part 2
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Finally, in 1968, Namath and the Jets broke through, winning the AFL East and defeating the Oakland Raiders in the AFL Championship. They then played in the most important game in NFL history.
Finding themselves from nearly 20-point underdogs against the mighty Baltimore Colts (who finished 13-1 and were coming off a 34-0 bulldozing of the Cleveland Browns in the NFL Championship Game), Namath and the Jets defeated the Colts 16-7 in Super Bowl III.
Namath (17-of-25, 206 yards) was named Super Bowl MVP, despite being the only QB in Super Bowl history to win the award without throwing a TD pass. As a matter of fact, Namath didn’t throw a pass the entire fourth quarter.
The games only TD was scored by Matt Snell, who easily could have been named MVP as well (30 carries, 121 yds, TD).
What made the game much more memorable is the fact that Namath “guaranteed” the Jets would win. Standing at the podium accepting his AFL Player of the Year Award during Super Bowl Week, Namath was angered by some of the feedback he was getting from the media about how great the Colts were. Namath was perturbed at the lack of respect the Jets were getting. He blurted out “We are going to win the game, I guarantee it!”
The other important factor about that game was that the Jets and the AFL were considered the “other” league to the dominant NFL. Vince Lombardi and the Packers easily defeated the AFL’s best in the first two Super Bowls (the Chiefs 35-10 in Super Bowl I or, as it was called then, the AFL-NFL Championship, and the Raiders 33-14 in Super Bowl II) by a combined 44 points.
What the Jets did was change the course of football history. Who knows what would have happened to the NFL if the Jets did not win that game. It’s hard to say that the leagues still wouldn’t have merged since they decided back in 1966 that they would merge after the 1969 season, but the NFL wouldn’t have taken the AFL seriously if the Jets did not win that game.
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After winning the Super Bowl, the Jets continued their solid play in 1969, going 10-4 and winning the AFL Eastern division again. However, in their second playoff game at Shea Stadium, the Jets fell to the Kansas City Chiefs 13-6.
The turning point in that game came in the fourth quarter with the Jets trailing 6-3. On a cold windy day, both offenses had problems moving the ball and settled for field goals. However, the Jets managed to drive the ball deep into Chiefs territory where they were helped out by an Emmitt Thomas pass interference call that gave them the ball at the 1-yard line.
The Chiefs defense, led by Willie Lanier and Bobby Bell, stuffed the Jets on three straight plays and forced the Jets to settle for a game-tying FG instead of going ahead. The Chiefs then scored the game-winning TD on their next drive as Len Dawson hit Otis Taylor for a 61-yard completion and Gloster Richardson on a 19-yard TD reception.
The next week, the Chiefs defeated the Raiders 17-7 in the AFL Championship Game to advance to the Super Bowl.
The AFL continued to prove their worth as the Chiefs further solidified the merger between the two leagues by defeating the Minnesota Vikings 23-7 in Super Bowl IV.
It is hard to believe now with what New York Jets fans have seen recently, but they did once play in a game that changed the course of the NFL.
Next, in our series on New York Jets, we will look at the 1970s and how they fared as part of the new AFC East.
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Mark Kelly covers the New York Jets for ProFootballSpot.com. You can follow him on twitter @CkmagicSports.