It’s a long time ago now, in a galaxy that may not be that far away, but distant enough for many people who never lived through it. 1969 was a glorious year in New York sports – if you were a Jets, Mets, and Knicks fan. As a kid I couldn’t believe all this excitement was happening, and until this day there has never been a better year in sports for me.
There is something about a great sports moment that is similar to a favorite song that when heard causes you to remember a time and place. Almost everyone of a certain age in New York can remember hearing about the Jets winning the big game – the still very new Super Bowl which seemed particularly designed for Vince Lombardi and his Green Bay Packers to win. However, this year it was going to be my New York Jets against the supposedly superior Baltimore Colts.
In those days there was nothing like you find today of media saturation and online coverage in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl; however, there was a good deal of press coverage and Joe Namath – still one of the most charismatic and dynamic players in the history of New York sports – made his bold “guarantee” of a win over the Colts. This may have stoked the fires of media frenzy back then, but can you imagine what it would have done today?
His display of chutzpah endeared Willie Joe to the public as much as his bizarre attire (who can forget those long fur coats?) and well publicized behavior of partying around the city. In retrospect, Joe’s antics only got him and the team more attention, but some of it could have been construed as negative. Many discounted the hotshot claims by this young quarterback going up against Baltimore’s QB Earl Morrall (NFL MVP that year) and legendary but ailing Johnny Unitas (who would eventually come off the bench after Morrall threw three interceptions). Could you blame them?
Now all these years later, when I look at the boxscore it makes clear that Namath led the way with his persona as well as his arm (11 completions for 110 yards), but there were also tangible contributions by the great Matt Snell (121 yards rushing and the Jets only touchdown) and Jim Turner, who kicked three field goals. There was also the Jets stingy defense (best in the AFL that year) keeping the Colts shutout over the first three quarters.
In the end though with legends there’s the stuff of which dreams are made – and Namath falls into the category of dream weaver. By threading the narrative that the Jets were going to win before the game, he is credited with producing the fabric of victory. Joe’s leadership got the team that 16-7 win at the Orange Bowl that year, and the legend was born that continues to this day.
We Jets fans can’t help thinking of 1969 as the great year that needs repeating, and the current Jets owner Woody Johnson is now trying to build toward that with a new GM (Mike Maccagnan) and head coach (Todd Bowles). Of course, no matter what the leadership, the on the field issues of this season will compel changes that are necessary and compelling if the Jets want to see the playoffs. Does anyone out there think Geno Smith can guarantee anything but a very creative excuse as to why he went to the movies?
As it stands 1969 was a year that started off well for New York fans – the Jets winning Super Bowl III was only the start of the excitement. Later that year the Mets would show the world how amazing they could be by taking the World Series from the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles. To say this was ecstasy for we Mets fans is an understatement because no one can actually categorize the euphoria that Mets victory produced. Perhaps the only ones who could ever understand were the Brooklyn Dodgers fans who lived through the 1955 defeat of the New York Yankees in the Series.
1969 was the year that kept on giving as the New York Knicks, under the legendary coach Red Holzman, would begin a season that saw them compile a 60-22 record (we current Knicks fans can only weep as we look at 5 wins and counting) and move on into the playoffs where they would end up defeating the favored Baltimore Bullets in the division semi-finals. Of course, that team went on to achieve their first NBA championship completing the trifecta for delirious New York sports fans.
Looking back at it now, especially that these incongruous victories came at the expense of Baltimore as the Colts, Orioles, and Bullets lost to our underdog teams, there is still a wave of delight that washes over me. What a glorious year to be a sports fan in New York! What an exciting year to have been a New Yorker!
It all started 46 years ago with a brash young QB named Namath who promised a win and delivered. All these years later, there is a vacuum in New York sports and in the sporting world left by no replacement of a charismatic guy like Joe. Where have you gone, Number 12? With apologies to Simon and Garfunkel, though the city may turn its lonely eyes to you, I doubt this town will ever see a sports figure like you ever again.
1969 stands as the year that the United States landed human beings on the moon, but it was also the year of sports magic, a time that will be forever celebrated in this town when for that brief shining moment three championships came to New York City because our teams didn’t just shoot for the moon but reached for the stars.
Photo credits: NY Times, AP, NY Daily News
[amazon template=iframe image&asin=0786470364]