Na­math de­serves to be rec­og­nized at Su­per Bowl LIII

The Fresno Bee - - Sports - BY WAL­LACE MATTHEWS

The New York Jets who put the fran­chise on the map, on Jan. 12, 1969, or­ches­trated a vic­tory that for­ever changed the NFL and set the Su­per Bowl on the path to the wretched ex­cess it rep­re­sents now.

I have learned that Feb. 3, Su­per Bowl Sun­day, Joe Na­math is ex­pected to take part in some sort of ac­knowl­edg­ment of that game, although ev­ery­one con­nected with it is cloak­ing his role in mys­tery.

“I have been ap­proached to do some­thing, but I don’t know whether I should be the one to give that in­for­ma­tion out,” Na­math told me by phone on Fri­day. “I con­sider it an honor to have been asked, but things could change.”

“We haven’t an­nounced plans yet but we do an­tic­i­pate a recog­ni­tion mo­ment,” Brian McCarthy, the league’s vice-pres­i­dent of cor­po­rate com­mu­ni­ca­tions, said via text. But he, too, re­fused to fur­nish any other de­tails.

At the least, it’s good to know that some a nod back­ward will be made by a league that seems de­ter­mined to bury its past.

The NFL has no prob­lem pro­mot­ing fool­ish­ness like a half­time show fea­tur­ing the likes of Bruno Mars or Ma­roon 5, but when it comes to rec­og­niz­ing its debt to some­thing that hap­pened 50 years ago? For­get it. Might scare off the kid­dies.

The Jets, too, have been low-key about cel­e­brat­ing the best mo­ment in fran­chise his­tory, no doubt not want­ing to re­mind their long-suf­fer­ing fans that a half-cen­tury has passed since their one and only Su­per Bowl ap­pear­ance.

This year’s Su­per Bowl should be a cel­e­bra­tion of Na­math — Broad­way Joe for those of you just tun­ing in — and the 1968 Jets, the AFL cham­pi­ons who were ex­pected to fol­low in the foot­steps of the Chiefs and the Oak­land Raiders as the lat­est sac­ri­fi­cial lambs to be served up to the mon­sters of the NFL.

Although a merger of the two leagues had been kicked around, a third straight de­feat by the ju­nior half of the Su­per Bowl — which, in­ci­den­tally, was still called the AFL-NFL Cham­pi­onship Game at the time — would have pro­vided plenty of amm for those who wanted to keep the leagues sep­a­rate.

The Jets’ lop­sided vic­tory over the 18-point fa­vorite Colts told the doubters not so fast. The Chiefs’ vic­tory the next year over the fa­vored Min­nesota Vik­ings not only evened the score but ce­mented the equal­ity of the leagues. Fifty-two Su­per Bowls later, the NFC has won 27 times, the AFC 25.

“It’s hard to over­state the im­por­tance of that game,” said Na­math, who was the Su­per Bowl MVP. “If we hadn’t have won, I think the leagues still would have merged, but the mar­riage wouldn’t have been as good. It would have been kind of like a shot­gun mar­riage, some­thing no­body wants but some­thing we had to do.”

In the half-cen­tury since that game, the Su­per Bowl has grown bloated. It is now less a sport­ing event than a spec­ta­cle, a na­tional hol­i­day fea­tur­ing mounds of fried food, gal­lons of beer, a lot of over­pro­duced TV com­mer­cials and oc­ca­sional glances at the game it­self.

All of that prob­a­bly would have hap­pened any­way, but the Jets vic­tory over the Colts surely has­tened the process.

“I think about it now,” said Na­math. “But at the time, I didn’t un­der­stand what was tak­ing place. That was beyond what I was think­ing about. All I was think­ing about was play­ing in the big­gest game of our lives.”

WIL­FREDO LEE AP

For­mer Alabama player and NFL Hall of Fame quar­ter­back Joe Na­math is seen be­fore the Or­ange Bowl on Dec. 29 in Mi­ami Gar­dens, Fla. He is ex­pected to be hon­ored by the NFL at the Su­per Bowl.

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