Greatest Super Bowl moment of all time

Super Bowl III is often considered greatest game

POSTED: 1:36 PM Dec 08 2011   UPDATED: 12:50 PM Feb 03 2011
football on field

By Eric Fleming, Contributing writer

There have been many great moments in Super Bowl history.

Many of the events have been documented on NFL.com, from San Francisco's record-setting 55 points against Denver in Super Bowl XXIV to the 14-7 defensive struggle in 1972 that eventually led to the Miami Dolphins becoming the only undefeated team in Super Bowl history.

Other great moments include the Pittsburgh Steelers dominating the 1970s with four Super Bowl victories, or the Dallas Cowboys re-emerging from a decade of irrelevance to win three Super Bowls in four years during the mid-1990s, giving them five Super Bowl championships in all.

There are individual moments such as William "The Refrigerator" Perry scoring a touchdown in 1985's blowout Bears win over the Patriots (a game in which all-time great Walter Payton did not score). Then there are the two Super Bowl-winning field goals for Adam Vinatieri of the New England Patriots.

But for many people, the greatest Super Bowl moment in the 42-year history of the game happened very early.

The year was 1969. This Super Bowl (the third championship game between the AFL and NFL, but the first to actually be called the Super Bowl), would be between the New York Jets of the AFL and the Baltimore Colts of the NFL. For the first two years of the AFL-NFL game, the NFL champions (the Green Bay Packers both years) easily defeated the AFL champions (the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl I and the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl II). Although the leagues had already signed a merger agreement, it was typically thought that the NFL, with its years of existence and established franchises, had the better players.

However, three days before the game, cocky quarterback Joe Namath guaranteed a victory for his New York Jets, as reported in a Time magazine article. When confronted by an unruly Colts fan predicting Baltimore would defeat the Jets handily, Namath replied, "We're going to win. I guarantee it." It was a bold move, provoking his coach to admit years later that he could have strangled Namath for making that claim. The Baltimore Colts were a seasoned team led by Johnny Unitas, although he would only play sparingly in this game. The Colts were considered heavy favorites, facing a team in the Jets that many felt would have trouble winning 10 games if playing in the NFL.

However, the Jets went on to defeat the Colts by a score of 16-7, holding Baltimore's high-powered offense to a single touchdown with less than four minutes remaining in the game. Far from being the less-skilled team, the Jets proved to have the speed advantage over the Colts, a daring playbook that led to numerous passes downfield, and the fortitude to hold on for the victory.

This victory, possibly more than any other in Super Bowl history, changed the face of football. It not only gave the New York Jets a claim to legitimacy, but the entire AFL as well. When the Chiefs defeated the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV, that claim was cemented. It was the next year that the merger went into effect, and the AFL was absorbed into the NFL. The victory by the Jets in Super Bowl III, followed by the AFL's victory in Super Bowl IV, left the all-time series between the champions of the NFL and the champions of the AFL tied 2-2 forever.

While there have certainly been more exciting Super Bowl games played on the field (including the Steelers-Cowboys games in the '70s and the Giants-Patriots matchup in 2008's Super Bowl XLII), none have had such an effect on the face of football as Super Bowl III. And that's why Joe Namath's guarantee of victory, and the fact that he and the Jets actually made that guarantee stick, is often considered the greatest Super Bowl moment of all time.