Namath deserves to be recognized at Super Bowl LIII
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.”
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.