The game was played on January 12, 1969 at the Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida – the same location as Super Bowl II. Entering Super Bowl III, the NFL champion Colts were heavily favored to defeat the AFL champion Jets. Although the upstart AFL had successfully forced the long-established NFL into a merger agreement three years earlier, the AFL was not generally respected as having the same caliber of talent as the NFL. Plus, the AFL representatives were easily defeated in the first two Super Bowls.
After boldly guaranteeing a victory prior to the game, Jets quarterback Joe Namath completed 17 out of 28 passes for 206 yards, and was named the Super Bowl's Most Valuable Player, despite not throwing a touchdown pass in the game.
The Colts offense ranked second in the NFL in points scored (402). Wide receivers Jimmy Orr (29 receptions, 743 yards, 6 touchdowns) and Willie Richardson (37 receptions, 698 yards, 8 touchdowns) provided Baltimore with two deep threats, with Orr averaging 25.6 yards per catch, and Richardson averaging 18.9. Tight end John Mackey also recorded 45 receptions for 644 yards and 5 touchdowns. Pro Bowl running back Tom Matte was the team's top rusher with 662 yards and 9 touchdowns. He also caught 25 passes for 275 yards and another touchdown. Running backs Terry Cole and Jerry Hill combined for 778 rushing yards and 236 receiving yards.
The Colts defense led the NFL in fewest points allowed (144, tying the then all-time league record), and ranked third in total rushing yards allowed (1,339). Bubba Smith, a 6'7 295 pound defensive end considered the NFL's best pass rusher, anchored the line. Linebacker Mike Curtis was considered one of the top linebackers in the NFL. Baltimore's excellent secondary consisted of defensive backs Bobby Boyd (8 interceptions), Rick Volk (6 interceptions), Lenny Lyles (5 interceptions), and Jerry Logan (3 interceptions). The Colts were the only NFL team to routinely play a zone defense. That gave them an advantage in the NFL because the other NFL teams were inexperienced against a zone defense. (This would not give them an advantage over the Jets, however, because zone defenses were common in the AFL and the Jets knew how to attack them.) After winning the 1968 NFL title, the Colts were touted by the sports media as "the greatest team in Pro Football history."
Jets quarterback Joe Namath threw for 3,147 yards during the regular season, but completed just 49.2 percent of his passes, and threw more interceptions (17) than touchdowns (15). Still, he led the offense effectively enough for them to finish the regular season with more total points scored (419) than Baltimore. More importantly, Namath usually found ways to win. For example, late in the fourth quarter of the AFL championship game, Namath threw an interception that allowed the Raiders to take the lead. But he then made up for his mistake by completing 3 consecutive passes on the ensuing drive, advancing the ball 68 yards in just 55 seconds to score a touchdown to regain the lead for New York.
The Jets had a number of offensive weapons that Namath used. Future Hall of Fame wide receiver Don Maynard had the best season of his career, catching 57 passes for 1,297 yards (an average of 22.8 yards per catch) and 10 touchdowns. Wide receiver George Sauer recorded 66 receptions for 1,141 yards and 3 touchdowns. Fullback Matt Snell was the top rusher on the team with 747 yards and 6 touchdowns, while halfback Emerson Boozer contributed 441 yards and 5 touchdowns, despite a 3.1 average per carry. Meanwhile, kicker Jim Turner made 34 field goals and 43 extra points for a combined total of 145 points.
The Jets defense led the AFL in total rushing yards allowed (1,195). Gerry Philbin, John Elliott, and Verlon Biggs anchored the defensive line. The Jets linebacking core was led by middle linebacker Al Atkinson. The secondary was led by defensive backs Johnny Sample, who recorded 7 interceptions, and Jim Hudson, who recorded 5.
Several of the Jets' players had been cut by NFL teams. Maynard had been cut by the New York Giants after they lost the 1958 NFL Championship to the Colts. "I kept a little bitterness in me," he says. Sample had been cut by the Colts. "I was almost in a frenzy by the time the game arrived," he says. "I held a private grudge against the Colts. I was really ready for that game. All of us were." Offensive tackle Winston Hill had been cut five years earlier by the Colts as a rookie in training camp. "Ordell Braase kept making me look bad in practice," he says. Hill would be blocking Braase in Super Bowl III.
After winning the AFL championship, Namath said there were at least four quarterbacks in the AFL, including himself and his backup, 38-year old Babe Parilli, who were better than Earl Morrall.
While the Orange Bowl was sold out for the game, the live telecast was not shown in Miami due to both leagues' unconditional blackout rules at the time.
For the first time, famous celebrities appeared for the Super Bowl ceremonies. Entertainer Bob Hope led a pregame ceremony honoring the astronauts of Project Apollo and the recently completed Apollo 8 mission, the first manned flight around the Moon.
This game is thought to be the earliest surviving Super Bowl game preserved on videotape in its entirety. The original NBC broadcast was aired as part of the NFL Network Super Bowl Classics series the day before Super Bowl XLI.
On the Jets' second possession, Namath threw deep to Maynard, who, despite his pulled hamstring, was open by a step. The ball was overthrown, but the Colts decided to rotate their zone defense to help cover Maynard, leaving Sauer covered one-on-one by Lenny Lyles. (Although the Colts were unaware of Maynard's injury, the Jets were aware that Lyles had been weakened by tonsillitis all week.)
With less than two minutes left in the period, Colts punter David Lee booted a 51-yard kick that pinned the Jets back at their own 4-yard line. Three plays later, Sauer caught a 3-yard pass from Namath, but fumbled while being tackled by Lyles, and Colts linebacker Ron Porter recovered it at New York's 12-yard line. However, on third down (the second play of the second quarter) Baltimore quarterback Earl Morrall's pass was tipped by Jets linebacker Al Atkinson, bounced crazily, high into the air off tight end Tom Mitchell, and was intercepted by Jets cornerback Randy Beverly in the end zone for a touchback. "That was the game in a nutshell," says Matte. Starting from their own 20-yard line, Jets running back Matt Snell rushed on the next 4 plays, advancing the ball 26 yards. (The Jets would have success all day running off left tackle behind the blocking of Winston Hill, who, according to Snell, was overpowering 36-year-old defensive end Ordell Braase, the man who had tormented the rookie Hill in Colts' training camp. Said Snell, "Braase pretty much faded out.") Namath later completed 3 consecutive passes, moving the ball to the Colts 23-yard line. Running back Emerson Boozer gained just 2 yards on the next play, but Snell followed it up with a 12-yard reception at the 9-yard line, a 5-yard run to the 4-yard line, and capped the drive with a 4-yard touchdown run, once again off left tackle. The score gave the Jets a 7-0 lead, and marked the first time in history that an AFL team led in the Super Bowl.
On Baltimore's ensuing drive, a 30-yard completion from Morrall to running back Tom Matte helped the Colts advance to the New York 38-yard line, but they once again failed to score as Jets cornerback Johnny Sample broke up Morrall's third down pass and Micheals' missed his second field goal attempt, this time from 46 yards. Two plays after the Jets took over following the missed field goal, Namath's 35-yard completion to Sauer enabled to New York to eventually reach the Baltimore 32-yard line. But Namath then threw two incompletions and was then sacked on third down by Colts linebacker Dennis Gaubatz for a 2-yard loss. New York kicker Jim Turner tried to salvage the drive with a 41-yard field goal attempt, but he missed.
On their ensuing possession, Baltimore went from their own 20-yard line to New York's 15-yard line in three plays, aided by Matte's Super Bowl record 58-yard run. But with 2 minutes left in the half, Morrall was intercepted again, at the Jets' 2-yard line, deflating the Colts considerably. The Jets then were forced to punt on their ensuing drive, and the Colts advanced the ball to New York's 41-yard line. What followed is one of the most famous plays in Super Bowl history. Baltimore tried a flea flicker play which had a huge impact on the momentum of the game. Matte ran off right tackle after taking a handoff, then pitched the ball back to Morrall. The play completely fooled the Jets defense, leaving receiver Jimmy Orr wide open near the end zone. But Morrall failed to spot him and instead threw a pass intended for running back Jerry Hill that was intercepted by Jets safety Jim Hudson as time expired, maintaining the Jets' 7-0 lead at halftime (The irony is that earlier in the season, against the Atlanta Falcons, on the same play, Morrall had completed the same pass for a touchdown to Orr, the play's intended target). "I was the primary receiver," Orr said later. "Earl said he just didn't see me. I was open from here to Tampa." "I'm just a lineman but I looked up and saw Jimmy open", added center Bill Curry. "I don't know what happened.
Said Matt Snell, "By this time, the Colts were pressing. You saw the frustration and worry on all their faces..." Then after Turner's second field goal, with four minutes left in the third quarter, Colts head coach Don Shula took Morrall out of the game and put in the sore-armed Johnny Unitas to see if he could provide a spark to Baltimore's offense. But Unitas could not get the Colts offense moving on their next drive and they were forced to punt again after 3 plays. Then aided by a 39-yard pass from Namath to Sauer, the Jets drove all the way to the Colts 2-yard line. Baltimore's defense wouldn't quit, and kept them out of the end zone, but Turner kicked his third field goal early in the final period to make the score 16-0.
On Baltimore's next possession, they managed to drive all the way to the Jets' 25-yard line. However, Beverly ended the drive by intercepting a pass from Unitas in the end zone, the Jets' fourth interception of the game. New York then drove to the Colts 35-yard line with 7 consecutive running plays, but ended up with no points after Turner missed a 42-yard field goal attempt.
Unitas started out the next drive with 3 incomplete passes, but completed a key 17-yard pass to Orr on fourth down. Ten plays later, aided by three Jets penalties, Baltimore finally scored a touchdown on a 1-yard run by Hill to cut their deficit to 16-7, but with only 3:19 left in the game. The Colts then recovered an onside kick and drove to the Jets 19-yard line with 3 consecutive completions by Unitas, but they turned the ball over on downs after his next 3 passes fell incomplete. That ended any chance of a Baltimore comeback, as the Jets ran the ball for 6 plays before being forced to punt. The announcers (and later commentators of the game) failed to mention that if the Colts had kicked a field goal on fourth down that they would have had 3 time outs left with 2:20 left in the game, and only trailed 16-10. However, considering kicker Michaels' earlier lack of success (two missed field goals), going for it on 4th down was somewhat understandable.
When the Colts got the ball back, only 8 seconds remained in the game. The Colts then attempted two final passes before time ran out, and the Jets had won Super Bowl III. Said Matt Snell, "Leaving the field, I saw the Colts were exhausted and in a state of shock. I don't remember any Colt coming over to congratulate me." As he ran off the field, Namath, in a spontaneous show of defiance held up his index finger, signaling "number one."
Years later Morrall said, "I thought we would win handily. We'd only lost twice in our last thirty games. I'm still not sure what happened that day at the Orange Bowl, however; it's still hard to account for." Wrote Matt Snell, "The most distinct image I have from that whole game is of Ordell Braase and some other guys--not so much Mike Curtis--having a bewildered look."
Namath finished the game having completed 17 of his 28 passes. (Interestingly, he is the only Super Bowl MVP at the quarterback position to not throw at least one touchdown pass). Snell rushed for 121 yards on 30 carries with a touchdown, and caught 4 passes for 40 yards. Sauer caught eight passes for 133 yards. Beverly became the first player in Super Bowl history to record 2 interceptions. Morrall had a terrible day -- just 6 of 17 completions for 71 yards and was intercepted 3 times. Despite not being put into the game until the fourth quarter, Unitas finished with more pass completions (11) and passing yards (110) than Morrall, but he was intercepted once. Matte was the Colts' top rusher with 116 yards on just 11 carries, an average of 10.5 yards per run, and caught 2 passes for 30 yards. The Colts were minus-4 in turnovers, four of five deep in Jet territory, which, along with the turnovers, was the real story of this game.
|2||9:03||NYJ||80||12||5:06||TD: Matt Snell 4 yard run (Jim Turner kick)||7||0|
|3||10:08||NYJ||8||8||4:17||FG: Jim Turner 32 yards||10||0|
|3||3:58||NYJ||45||10||4:06||FG: Jim Turner 30 yards||13||0|
|4||13:26||NYJ||61||7||3:58||FG: Jim Turner 9 yards||16||0|
|4||3:19||BAL||80||14||3:15||TD: Jerry Hill 1 yard run (Lou Michaels kick)||16||7|
|George Sauer, Jr.||SE||Jimmy Orr|
|Winston Hill||LT||Bob Vogel|
|Bob Talamini||LG||Glenn Ressler|
|John Schmitt||C||Bill Curry|
|Randy Rasmussen||RG||Dan Sullivan|
|Dave Herman||RT||Sam Ball|
|Pete Lammons||TE||John Mackey|
|Don Maynard||FL||Willie Richardson|
|Joe Namath||QB||Earl Morrall|
|Emerson Boozer||RB||Tom Matte|
|Matt Snell||RB||Jerry Hill|
|Gerry Philbin||LE||Bubba Smith|
|Paul Rochester||LT||Billy Ray Smith Sr.|
|John Elliott||RT||Fred Miller|
|Verlon Biggs||RE||Ordell Braase|
|Ralph Baker||LLB||Mike Curtis|
|Al Atkinson||MLB||Dennis Gaubatz|
|Larry Grantham||RLB||Don Shinnick|
|Johnny Sample||LCB||Bobby Boyd|
|Randy Beverly||RCB||Lenny Lyles|
|Jim Hudson||LS||Jerry Logan|
|Bill Baird||RS||Rick Volk|
Note: A seven-official system was not used until 1978