Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Greatest Super Bowl Upset?

The Super Bowl hype machine is in full swing and I'm actually hearing speculation that a Giants win over New England would be the greatest upset in Super Bowl history. Well, it would be an upset but anybody who says this can't have much of a grasp of NFL history. The greatest upset in Super Bowl and all of NFL history for that matter has always been and always will be the New York Jets over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.

The Colts were favored by anywhere from 19 to 22 points. The Patriots are currently favored by 13 points. So if the betting line determines how great an upset is it can't be this game. If you instead define an upset by the shock of the unexpected outcome it's still Super Bowl III hands down. It's hard to imagine how anybody could be as shocked today by an upset as the fans of the time were shocked by the Jets' win. A few points:

1) There was no interleague play other than the Super Bowl. People widely considered the AFL to be a much inferior league and those impressions were massively reinforced by the results of Super Bowls I and II.

2) The Jets were only the third-best team in the AFL in 1968. The Chiefs and Raiders tied for that league's best record. Those teams were the AFL's first two Super Bowl representatives and they had gotten crushed. Why would the Jets be expected to fare better than the AFL's two powerhouses?

3) The Jets needed a little luck to get to the Super Bowl. The Raiders went 12-2 in 1968 on the heels of their 1969 13-1 season. The Jets managed to edge them out in an all-time classic championship game. Driving for the winning score, Oakland botched a lateral and the players stood around thinking it was an incomplete pass allowing New York to recover it and move on. That win was the inexperienced Jets' first postseason game EVER. Super Bowl III would be just their second.

4) The Colts were a great team. They didn't just dominate in 1968, they had been a perennial contender for a decade. Only one NFL championship game between 1958-1968 did not feature either the Baltimore Colts or the Green Bay Packers. They were the two greatest NFL teams of the era. Many experts thought the 1968 Colts might be the best team ever to play. They had lost just two regular season games in two years.

Most experts considered the AFL an inferior league, composed mainly of NFL castoffs, rejects, and has-beens with a sprinkling of a few star players, closer really to the Canadian Football League than the NFL. The NFL was a man's league of tough running, brutal defense, Nitschke, Butkus, and Lombardi. The AFL was that crazy pass-wacky league featuring Lance "Bambi" Alworth and world-class playboy Joe Namath. Today, everyone's familiar with the "every given Sunday" cliche. Until Super Bowl III however, that phrase did not apply to the AFL vs. the NFL. The Giants almost beat the Pats in Week 17, just over a month ago and the G-Men are red-hot now. So how could a Giants win be anything more than a mild suprise? By contrast hardly anyone expected the Jets to hang with the Colts, let alone prevail. It's still the gold standard for NFL upsets.

1 comment:

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