Then and Now: Jets Ride Underdog Status All the Way

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    Getty Images/si.com
    The more things change ...

    It was a warm, rainy day in Miami in January 1969 when the New York Jets defeated the then-Baltimore Colts to win their first – and only – Super Bowl game in team history.

    Much has changed since then. A rookie quarterback and a rookie head coach lead this team. Future Hall of Famers manned those positions when the team won Super Bowl III.

    Yet for Gang Green, the team culture that propelled them to a win that fateful winter day in 1969 continues to drive them today. The underdog tag still collars the Jets, long considered the "other" New York team (and aptly fitted for the designation), after 50 years. But they embrace the description as a bittersweet source of pride that translates into the sweetest vindication when they win.

    Back in 1969, two separate leagues comprised what's now known as the NFL – the National Football League, which included the then-Baltimore Colts, and the American Football League, which included the Jets and pundits deemed the less talented of the two.

    That's why analysts projected the Colts as a whopping 18-point favorite in Super Bowl III. But Gang Green's entrenched heart and determination carried them to a 16-7 victory, making them the first team in the AFL to win the ultimate championship. The leagues merged the following year to become the NFL – and we wouldn't be surprised if the Jets Super Bowl III win, considered one of the greatest upsets in sports history, helped put the cogs in motion. 

    Once again, analysts project a resounding defeat for Gang Green. They favor Indy by at least 7.5 points ahead of Sunday's AFC Championship game. But the Jets, a rollercoaster of a team whose heart-wrenching disappointments turn fans' stomachs, don't care what type of numerical disadvantage the pundits put before them. They believe they can win.

    Just ask Coach Rex Ryan, who caught flak all season for his hyper-confidence, most recently when he said he'd be "shocked" if the Jets didn't run over the Colts for the win on Sunday. Or ask wide receiver Braylon Edwards, who the media slammed when he assured doubters the Jets would beat Cincinnati in the wild-card game earlier this month.

    That mentality – of bravado and pride despite the odds – persists over the years.  

    Former Jets quarterback Joe Namath, who went on to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, boasted the same brash confidence before leading his team to the Super Bowl III victory. Three days before the big game, infuriated by his team's heavy underdog status and taunts from Colts fans who didn't think the Jets deserved to be in the championship, Namath said, "We're gonna win the game. I guarantee it." 

    And much like Ryan and Edwards, critics lambasted him for saying it. But he backed up the talk. And so far, so have the 2009 Jets.

    They can do it again.

    Most sports aficionados argue you need a Peyton Manning-style quarterback – a four-time league MVP and future Hall of Famer who doesn't hesitate to throw bombs down field and whose teammates and coaches trust him to engineer last-minute drives to win a playoff game. But Mark Sanchez already won two playoff games – and he threw for less than 300 yards combined, and an interception, in both of them.

    That's not unheard of.

    In the 1969 Super Bowl win, Namath played a Sanchez-kind of game. He only threw for 206 yards, completing 17 of 28 passes, and an interception. He didn't throw a single touchdown pass all game, nor did he attempt to pass once in the fourth quarter.

    Namath emphasized the high-percentage short pass plays and the team capitalized on the run, which is what the Jets, who lead the league in rushing, will likely do on Sunday. And the Jets defense, now ranked No. 1 in the league, came up big.

    Peyton Manning is no Earl Morrall, who threw three interceptions in the Jets 1969 Super Bowl win, but aggressive defenses find him vulnerable. Manning threw 16 interceptions in the regular season, and you can bet that Jets stud cornerback Darrelle Revis salivates at the thought of hauling in a long pass intended for star Colts receiver Reggie Wayne.

    Indy began the 2009 season 14-0, losing their first game to the Jets in December in a match-up pundits said the team forfeited to protect their top players ahead of the postseason. Everyone mocked the Jets as they strove toward their wild-card berth, saying the team didn't deserve to make it after a slew of horrid mid-season losses and a final two-minute letdown against Atlanta late in the season. Yet once again, the Jets believed they should be there – and, against all odds, they're still in contention.

    A win over the Colts on Sunday would propel the underdog Jets to their second Super Bowl berth in team history. And then, on February 7, we can hope for another warm day in Miami – and an opportunity for the Jets to make history anew.