Joe Namath merely was the instrument that delivered the message to the world. But his public comments were no more brash than the majority of his Jets teammates were in privately expressing confidence the 1968 AFL champions were better than the NFL champion Colts.
Namath's victory "guarantee'' before Super Bowl III was met with widespread ridicule. The oddsmakers' line making Baltimore an 18-point favorite reflected public sentiment. But Namath's comment at the Miami Touchdown Club three days before the game reflected the attitude in the Jets' locker room.
On the Wednesday before the game, tight end Pete Lammons spoke out in a team meeting, saying, "We've got to stop watching these films. We're going to get overconfident.''
Recalling that moment, Jets running back Emerson Boozer said, "That's true. Pete Lammons said the Colts couldn't beat us.''
Left tackle Winston Hill added, "Pete was expressing the sentiment of all of us.''
Namath received a scolding from coach Weeb Ewbank, who feared such a bold comment might inspire the Colts, who had a 15-1 record entering the game.
"Weeb believed it, too,'' Hill said, "but he wanted to quietly go in and get the trophy.''
The Jets' 16-7 victory laid to rest any notion of a vast talent gap in favor of the NFL, whose Green Bay Packers scored knockout victories in the first two NFL-AFL Championship games. Nothing Namath said publicly could have fired up the Colts any more than the 18-point spread did for the Jets.
"We couldn't understand how they could make us 18-point underdogs,'' said Boozer, who still is a Huntington resident. "The coaches and players in the AFL came from the same pool [as their NFL counterparts]. We were champs. We didn't get there by stumbling to it. We won a lot of close games. They didn't understand how good we were on defense, and we had a running game.''
All the public saw was the flamboyant Namath, a gunslinger on the field and a swinger off it, but the Jets' defense was first in a league known for innovative offense. The Colts, who had outscored NFL foes by an unfathomable 258 points in 14 regular-season games with NFL MVP Earl Morrall at quarterback instead of injured great Johnny Unitas, couldn't imagine being stopped.
Rather than rely strictly on Namath's arm, which produced 206 passing yards, the Jets (13-3 overall) put their faith in defense and a rushing attack that featured Matt Snell, who carried 30 times for 121 yards and caught four passes for another 40 yards. The Jets had 43 rushes to 23 for the Colts and controlled the ball for 36 minutes, 10 seconds. On defense, cornerback Randy Beverly had two of the Jets' four interceptions, including the last one from Unitas.
Snell scored the Jets' only touchdown on the same play the Jets ran repeatedly -- "19 straight,'' a power play behind Hill, using Boozer as lead blocker. "That was our bread-and-butter play,'' Boozer said. "We ran it constantly.
"You've got to have a lead back to hit the linebacker. It's a long day. You buckle up your chinstrap . . . Winston Hill did a monstrous job on the defensive end.''
Hill was blocking Ordell Braase, a veteran who had embarrassed Hill so badly in his rookie training camp in Baltimore that the Colts cut him.
"I was nervous because I couldn't block Ordell Braase for my life,'' said Hill, who called Boozer pro football's best blocking back. "Braase was tough, but he came out of the game in the second half. That was the highlight of my career.''
Namath won the MVP award over Snell.
"It was a close call,'' Hill said. "Joe controlled the game. A lot of plays were sent from the sideline, but the quarterback called plays as well and changed plays.''
Boozer added, "Namath was the same positive guy he was all season long. He called the play he wanted. He was as calm and cool as he could be.''
History was made exactly as the Jets expected, even if it shocked the rest of the world.