Joe Namath was already a household name upon delivering the greatest guarantee in professional sports history. But after he and his team cashed in on his Super Bowl guarantee, Broadway Joe, for a brief moment in time, was arguably the most famous man on the planet.
Namath, who declared that the 18-point underdog Jets would defeat the mighty Colts in Super Bowl III, backed it up by leading a Jets offense that befuddled Baltimore’s mighty defense. The Jets defense also played a key role in the upset, forcing five turnovers that included three interceptions of quarterback Earl Morrall, the NFL’s MVP that season. After the Jets had finished their 16-7 victory, Namath further etched his name in pro football lore by pointing his index finger to the sky as he danced off of the Orange Bowl turf. Namath’s play that day was one of the main reasons why his career was immortalized in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985.
In light of his 78th birthday, we decided to take a look at five fast facts about Namath that you might not know. One of them involves an eye-popping fact from Namath’s crowing achievement, one that Namath himself didn’t know until decades later.
1. A special quarterback fraternity
Of the 26 quarterbacks currently enshrined in Canton, Ohio, six are from Western Pennsylvania: Namath (Beaver Falls, Pa.), George Blanda (Youngwood, Pa.), Johnny Unitas (Pittsburgh), Joe Montana (New Eagle, Pa.), Dan Marino (Pittsburgh) and Jim Kelly (Pittsburgh/East Brady, Pa.). In 2015, the six quarterbacks were honored as a group in Pittsburgh.
“I get goose bumps thinking about it. It’s a great honor,” Namath said during the event. “It’s our people. The people that were ahead of us, our work ethic. When we are talking about the six quarterbacks from Western Pennsylvania in the Hall we didn’t do it by ourselves. It’s in our blood, the hard working ethic and the appreciation for others.”
A three-sport star at Beaver Falls High School, Namath led the football team to an undefeated season in 1960. Nearly a decade later, Namath watched as Unitas — a fellow Western Pa. product — tried in vein to rally his Colts after reliving Morrall during the second half of Super Bowl III. Unitas did quarterback the Colts to their only touchdown, but his late-game magic was not enough to overcome Namath and the Jets.
2. National champion
During his final year at Alabama, Namath helped lead the Crimson Tide to a 10-1 record and the second of six national titles for legendary coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. Even though his passing stats weren’t gaudy, Namath went 29-4 as Alabama’s starting quarterback. While his knees were ultimately his undoing in the NFL, Namath had no such issues in college, where he ran for 15 touchdowns that included six scores during the ’64 season. Bryant later called Namath “the greatest athlete I ever coached.”
The 12th overall pick in the 1965 NFL draft, Namath spurned the NFL and the St. Louis Cardinals to sign with the Jets, who selected him with the No. 1 overall pick in that year’s AFL draft. Fittingly, Namath signed with “Gang Green” after receiving a $427,000 contract, the highest rookie contract in pro football history at the time. A Pro Bowler in 1965, Namath led the AFL in passing in 1966. In 1967, Namath became the first quarterback in pro football history to eclipse 4,000 passing yards (he also led the AFL with 28 interceptions that season). Namath took full advantage of the talented receiving duo of Hall of Famer Don Maynard and All-Pro George Sauer, who caught a combined 146 passes for 2,323 yards and 16 touchdowns in 14 regular-season games.
4. Zero fourth-quarter passes
For the first three quarters of Super Bowl III, Namath completed 17 of 28 passes for 206 yards. Namath did not attempt a single pass during the fourth quarter, a fact Namath himself didn’t know until decades later during an NFL Films special on the game.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if was zero,” Namath told the interviewer when asked how many fourth-quarter passes he attempted against Baltimore. “Was it really? That’s the first time I’ve been told that. I promise.”
With the Jets taking a 16-0 lead one minute into the fourth quarter, Namath was content to hand the ball off to Matt Snell (30 carries, 121 yards, one touchdown) and Emerson Boozer (19 yards on 10 carries) during the game’s final stanza. Not only did his play-calling keep the Colts’ defense on their heels, Namath further frustrated them by shortening his drop to offset Baltimore’s fericoius pass rush. Namath also took advantage of the Colts’ focus on stopping Maynard. While Maynard did not catch a pass during Super Bowl III, Sauer caught eight passes for 133 yards that included a 39-yard catch that set up the Jets’ final score.
5. Comeback Player of the Year
During his five seasons in the AFL, Namath was a four-time Pro Bowler and the league’s MVP in 1968 and in ’69. After injuries wiped out the majority of his first two NFL seasons, Namath earned his first and only Pro Bowl nod in the NFL in 1972 after leading the league in passing yards and touchdown passes. Two years later, after injuries limited him to just six games in 1973, Namath won Comeback Player of the Year after appearing in all 14 games during the 1974 season. If would be the final significant award Namath would win during his playing career.