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Happy 50th! Joe Namath and Super Jets to be honored at Sunday's game

Joe Namath and former receiver Don Maynard were

Joe Namath and former receiver Don Maynard were side by side again Saturday night at MetLife Stadium for a dinner to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Jets' Super Bowl III championship team.  Credit: Brian Heyman

They walked the “Green Carpet” outside MetLife Stadium as Saturday afternoon turned toward night, older men nearly half a century removed from that Super day at the Orange Bowl in Miami when they were younger men pulling off one of the greatest upsets in the history of sports.

Many of the Jets from the 1968 American Football League season were together again, heading into a dinner to celebrate the happy 50th anniversary of their Super Bowl III championship, the franchise’s one and only appearance in the title game.

That team shocked the overwhelming favorites, the NFL’s Baltimore Colts, 16-7, on Jan. 12, 1969. Those Jets will be back Sunday to be honored at a halftime ceremony during the current Jets’ game, appropriately against the Colts (albeit the Indianapolis Colts).

“It’s wonderful,” said Gerry Philbin, now a 77-year-old Florida resident and then a first-team All-AFL defensive end. “I looked forward to it because it’s the last one. There’s nothing after 50.

“It went by pretty fast, but I’m glad to be here. Unfortunately, we have a lot of guys that passed away and can’t make it. Some are sick and can’t make it. But we’re fortunate. We’ve got about 39 players coming.”

The most recognizable player from that team was No. 12 in green and white. Joe Namath was the Jets’ charismatic, brash 25-year-old quarterback, the future Hall of Famer who made “The Guarantee.”

The NFL was perceived as the stronger league, especially after Green Bay easily claimed the first two title games against the AFL.

The Colts were perceived as one of the NFL’s all-time superior teams. They were 15-1 at that point, fresh off trouncing Cleveland, 34-0, in the NFL Championship Game.

Three nights before the Super Bowl, Namath showed up at the Miami Touchdown Club to receive an award, and a Colts fan there hit a nerve. “For 10 days or more, we’d been hearing or were being told that we were underdogs, and a big underdog,” Namath said, standing now with his granddaughter by his side. “But you know what? We all are underdogs from time to time in our life, and I just got tired of hearing about it.

“Someone said something; a wise guy yelled out something at me. I had to let him know how I felt. I told him, ‘Hey, buddy, I’ve got news for you. We’re going to win the game. I guarantee it.’ I was a little bit upset.”

So was Jets coach Weeb Ewbank after hearing what his quarterback had said. But Namath’s teammates didn’t mind.

“We all felt the same as Joe,” said former cornerback Randy Beverly, 74. “We just couldn’t say it. Joe was our leader, and he could say pretty much anything he wanted to. We just said, ‘Way to go, Joe.’ ”

They had felt disrespected by the point spread, which ranged from 18 to 19 1⁄2 points. “No team is that bad,” Beverly said.

The Jets also felt disrespected by the Colts. “They had a lot of negative things to say about us,” Beverly said.

But the Jets earned respect. They took a 16-0 lead in the fourth quarter. Namath threw for 206 yards and was named the MVP. Matt Snell ran for 121 yards and a touchdown. Jim Turner kicked three field goals. The defense picked off four passes by Earl Morrall and Johnny Unitas, two in the end zone by Beverly.

Namath headed off the field with his index finger raised skyward.

“Winning,” Namath said. “That stands out the most. The rest of it was a work day.”

The Jets’ work gave the AFL credibility as it moved toward a merger with the NFL in 1970.

“It definitely solidified the merger,” Philbin said. “The NFL would’ve absorbed probably most of the [10] teams. We would’ve saw about three or four teams get dissolved.”

The Jets have been seeking another championship — and franchise quarterback — ever since. Namath sees hope in rookie Sam Darnold.

“He’s got talent,” Namath said. “He carries himself beautifully. He’s a smart man. He’s a good man. You can’t fool your teammates, and they love him . . . They need more pieces to be able to compete at a championship level. They’re growing . . . They just have to build this year and keep getting better.”

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