When Joe Willie And I Were Young

January 12, 1969, a date that will live in glory for all New York Jet Fans.

The 1968 season for the Jets was as much as you could have hoped for. Sure we lost to the Raiders in the infamous Heid game but, a few weeks after that debacle my friend Mike and I danced on the frozen field of Shea Stadium celebrating the Jets’ victory over these same Raiders in the AFL Championship game.

Make no mistake about it the Jets were going to the Super Bowl but Mike and I were not. We would be watching from afar on WNBC TV, in black and white and not living color.

Not possessing a color tv as yet my parents were not about to send me to Florida for a football game. It never came up for discussion.

Now, fifty years later and my children hating me for passing along the Jet fan gene, I realize I should have gone to the game no matter what the cost may have been.

To be fair, back in 1969 with Joe Namath in good health and possessing a great defense, I never would have believed back then that the trip to the Super Bowl would be a once in a lifetime phenomena.  Sadly, the return trip has been eluding the Jets and their fans for fifty years.

Nevertheless, we can take comfort in the fact that the Jets won the most consequential football game of all time. Had the Jets not won that game, football today would not be the same.

Joe Namath revolutionized the NFL even while he was pointing his finger skyward reveling in its demise. Without his singular victory the merger of the two leagues, the American Football League and the National Football League, would not have proceeded. Super Bowls I and II were so dominated by the NFL Green Bay Packers that the inferiority of the upstart league was firmly established…to some.

When Joe Willie guaranteed a victory over the indomitable Baltimore Colts, the older league and its fans prayed for Namath’s comeuppance to be both swift and painful.

The Jets scored first on a Matt Snell sweep and then Joe went to work with a controlled offense. He wasn’t slinging that day as he had for his AFL career. Joe picked apart the vaunted Colt defense and it was the Colts who resorted to a more open offense. Their attempt to take advantage of the Jets defense failed and resulted in interceptions and missed opportunities. It was a grand day all together.

When the dust had settled even the Ghost of Johnny Unitas could not defeat Joe Willie and the Jets. While at least finally scoring a touchdown, it was too little too late. The Colts had humiliated the NFL while Joe Willie and the Jets legitimized the AFL.

Football was never the same but it was so much better.

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