I have received emails from Jets fans who follow my column, submitting stories about some of their most favorable games in New York Jets history. I received an email from Raj M. from Morris Plains that was so good, I just had to share it as follows:
Through most of the 1960's, professional football was viewed by America as a winter diversion, something to pass the time as we eagerly waited for baseball's opening day. But 2 NFL games, 2 months apart, would change that dynamic, perhaps forever. Two games, each with its own drama and uniqueness, that would capture America's passion. The New York Jets played in both of these culture shifting games.
1. The Heide Game. On 11/17/1968, the New York Jets played the Oakland Raiders in the Oakland Coliseum. As both teams led their respective divisions with similar 7-2 records, this game took on the sense of a pre-AFL Championship game.
It was a wild game, with the lead changing constantly. Joe Namath torched the Oakland secondary going 19-37, 381 yards, 1 touchdown and no interceptions. Don Maynard ran at will, catching 10 passes for 220 yards. However, as these teams were bitter rivals, it was also a penalty filled game; the Jets had 13 penalties for 145 yards while Oakland amassed 6 penalties for 93 yards. As such, with 1:05 minutes remaining and the Jets leading 32-29, the game was approaching 7:00 pm on the East coast.
NBC, which televised AFL games, decided to switch from the game to its scheduled and highly promoted movie "Heide". After all, no regular football game had ever gone longer than 3 hours before, so there were no contingent procedures in place.
When the game was abruptly replaced by "Heide" at 7 o'clock, complaints poured into the network, blowing 26 fuses on the NBC switchboard. The move caused such fervor that the following evening, on the Huntley-Brinkley report (the network's premier NEWS show), David Brinkley announced NBC's apology and aired the final 1:05 minutes of the game.
As a result, television realized how deeply imbedded football had become in American Culture.
2. Super Bowl III. On 1/12/1969, in perhaps the biggest upset since David slayed Goliath, the New York Jets stunned the heavily favored Baltimore Colts 16-7.
Baltimore had a regular season record of 13-1 and had humiliated the Cleveland Browns in the NFL Championship game 34-0. Their offense was potent and their defense rock solid, allowing only 144 points in the regular season; they had no weaknesses. The 11-3 Jets defeated Oakland in the AFL Championship game 27-23, a wild affair with numerous lead swings.
The betting line opened with Baltimore as a 17.5 point favorite and shortly increased to 19.5. The Colts were deemed a superior team to the Packers, winners of the first two Super Bowls. Similar to the Ice Bowl, a traditional powerhouse from the established league was facing an upstart from the inferior AFL. There was no way the Jets could stay on the field with them.
Then, 3 days before the game, Joe Namath made his bold guarantee that the Jets would win. This of course got national headlines and many jokes from the media.
Many fans recall at the start of the game just hoping that it wouldn't be a blowout, that the Jets would make a strong effort and not be pushed around.
Both teams appeared tight in their initial possessions as the first quarter ended scoreless. The Jets struck in the second quarter, with Matt Snell scoring after a 12 play, 80 yard drive which consumed 5:06 minutes off the clock. In the third quarter the Jets added 2 field goals to go up 13-0 at the start of the 4th quarter. Namath's passing was crisp and the offensive line controlled the Colt's front four. To an astonished nation and Jets fans, the New York Jets were outplaying the Colts in all aspects.
NBC, not expecting a huge audience, saw their rating numbers rapidly increase. As the Colts continued to make fundamental errors, the Jets played a conservative game, capitalizing on mistakes. The estimated viewing audience was 41 million. The game itself was rather mundane; no spectacular catches or runs, just a convincing dethroning of the old guard. The market share was 71%; nearly three quarters of America saw the upset of their football lives.
As the 1960's ended, America was quite different from the America at the close of the 1950's; from how we dressed to the music we listened to, even our social morals. And football, buoyed by these two history-making Jets games, was about to embark on a golden era.