Regardless of the outcome of today’s Super Bowl, it won’t be a defining upset in the way the New York Jets’ stunner over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.
Of course, that was the Joe Namath Super Bowl, the one in which unfortunately Johnny Unitas didn’t make an appearance until it was too late. Namath played a brilliant game that eventually carried him to the Hall of Fame. Without that victory, I don’t know if Namath makes it to Canton.
The Jets’ victory over the Colts is arguably one of sports’ greatest upsets. Several months later there was another, courtesy of another New York team, when the Mets stunned the Orioles in five games in the 1969 World Series.
As the Colts were overwhelming favorites, so too were the Orioles. Both, were stuffed.
So, which was the more surprising? Which was the most significant?
The Mets’ championship was harder to attain because they had to overcome a supposed superior opponent four times instead of once.
In one game, anything can happen, like the Colts throwing four interceptions and Earl Morrall not seeing a wide-open Jimmy Orr at the end of the first half. If one or two plays had been different, the Colts might have prevailed.
Given a football game can change on one or two plays, in retrospect the Jets’ victory is more easily comprehendible than it was in the hours after final gun in the Orange Bowl.
Sure, the odds were long, but throughout history – in all sports – teams have played the perfect game to orchestrate upsets in all sports.
However, in looking at the Mets, they won 100 games that season, so while their first trip to the playoffs was surprising, they were not a fluke team. By the time they overtook the Chicago Cubs, there was an inkling this was going to be a special team.
The 1969 Mets had one of history’s greatest pitching staffs, won their division going away and crushed Atlanta in the playoffs. Then, they dismissed the Orioles in five games, shutting down a crushing offense with Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman, and an array of clutch offensive performers – Donn Clendenon for one – and defensive gems – Tommie Agee and Ron Swoboda.
Clearly, the Jets’ victory was the most significant as it drove the merger between the established NFL and the AFL. The Jets’ victory might also have been the most stunning because they needed to catch lightning in a bottle to upset a superior opponent.
But, the Mets, while their title was an upset, in hindsight they were a lot better than history might remember them.