Sports history enshrines many its greatest moments with simple titles. The Drive. The Catch. The Immaculate Reception. It’s fair to say that the pantheon should make room for a moment that occurred off-the-field: The Guarantee. In 1969, New York Jets star quarterback Joe Namath boldly proclaimed that his team would beat the heavily-favored Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. Three days later, on January 12, they did just that.
The Colts had already won two championships in the 1950s, prior to the championship game getting the updated title of the Super Bowl. Coincidentally, the coach of those two winning teams had been Webb Ewbank; this time, he’d be on the opposite side, coaching the Jets. The Colts finished the regular season with a 13-1 record; the Jets went 11-3. On paper, both teams had considerable strengths; though the Jets had a powerful offense, the Colts had the best defense in the league, allowing only 144 total points against them for the entire season.
Namath’s prediction came during an appearance at the Miami Touchdown Club. With a loud Colts fan heckling him in the crowd, Namath spontaneously responded with, “We’re gonna win the game. I guarantee it.” Of course, the real test would come on the field.
Super Bowl III is available in full on YouTube, courtesy of the NFL’s official channel.
Though it might not have been the most exciting game ever played, it was certainly a sterling exemplar of field control on the part of the Jets. They held the Colts scoreless through the first three quarters, picking off MVP quarterback Earl Morrall three times; in the fourth, injured Colts legend Johnny Unitas came off the bench and led his team to their only touchdown. By the final whistle, it was Jets over Colts, 16-7.
Many guarantees have been made by players since. Some have even been fulfilled. But this one lives on. Perhaps it’s because it was inspired by the human moment of Namath attempting to silence a skeptic. Perhaps it’s because an underdog defied the odds. Whatever the case, the Namath Guarantee continues to be a touchstone of pop culture and part of the lore of one of the most consistently popular sports in America.