Super Bowl III
Yes, the Colts lost Super Bowl III (the first official game called the “Super Bowl”) in 1969 to the New York Jets, 16-7. And yes, it was a tremendous upset, but this was before the AFL’s talent was recognized (and proven talented again by winning the following Super Bowl). There are no excuses for losing a game like this, but nothing went right for Baltimore. Granted, the Jets had some good players, but there were so many near scores, fluky plays, and bad decisions that fate intervened and the Colts just didn’t play their game.
The 1968 Colts were lead by All-Pro Earl Morrall who started all 14 games. Morrall did a great job leading the Colts to the Super Bowl, but played his worst game at the worst time of the year. Morrall guided the Colts to a 13-1 en route to winning MVP. The Colts crushed opponents and looked unstoppable, especially after beating the Browns 34-0 in the NFL Championship.
With John Mackey, Tom Matte, and Jimmy Orr, the Colts scored the 2nd most points in the league. The defense was 1st in points allowed and anchored by Bubba Smith, Bobby Boyd, and Mike Curtis. The defense regularly played zone which befuddled NFL teams, but did not surprise the Jets as zone defenses were commonplace in the AFL.
The Jets were coached by Weeb Ewbank who just happened to have coached the Colts a few years earlier to a pair of NFL Championships (don’t forget defensive back Johnny Sample who helped the Colts succeed in the late 50s as well). Namath threw for a good chunk of yards (all relative because it was the AFL), but didn’t complete 50% of his passes while throwing more interceptions than touchdowns. All the more reason Namath is the most overrated athlete in history. In fact, this was the last playoff game Namath ever won while playing for all of three winning teams.
The Jets had a huge chip on their shoulder and an understandably severe “us against the world”mentality. Among other Jets who were cut by NFL teams, Sample had been cut by the Colts and WR Don Maynard was cut by the Giants following the 1958 Championship. The Jets had everything to gain and the Giants had everything to lose.
On January 12, 1969, the teams played in a soldout Orange Bowl. The Colts were playing in yet another important game in NFL history, albeit on the losing end this time. Once the ball was put into play, the events began piling up along with bad Baltimore luck. This was a day in which Baltimore owned the Jets between the 20s, but either missed field goals, had interceptions in the red zone, or just didn’t see open receivers. A recipe for a loss no matter the matchup. It didn’t take long for things to pile up against the Colts.
Starting safety Rick Volk was knocked out and sustained a concussion on the game's second play making a tackle and would miss much of the game.
The Colts first drive went from their 27 to the Jets 19 only to miss a field goal attempt.
With two minutes left in the quarter, the Colts punted and pinned the Jets at their 4. The Colts then recovered a fumble three plays later only to have a Morrall pass get tipped, bounce off Tom Mitchell, and get intercepted by the Jets in the end zone for a touchback. Matte said, “that was the game in a nutshell.”
Down 7-0, Baltimore drove to the Jets 38 only to miss another field goal from 46 yards.
After the Jets missed a field goal, Baltimore (once again) marched down the field, this time from their 20 to the Jets 15. This was done in just three plays thanks to a 58-yard run by Matte. Of course, the Colts were later intercepted on this drive by Sample of all people, at the 2-yard line.
The Colts got to the Jets 41 on their next possession when they tried a flea flicker. Matte ran to the right, then pitched it to Morrall, who should have seen wide open Jimmy Orr frantically waving his hand in the end zone, only to throw for Jerry Hill that was intercepted as time expired in the 2nd half.
The 3rd quarter began with Morrall at QB for the Colts, but it didn’t matter much because the Colts only had the ball for three minutes and ran all of seven plays. It didn’t help that Matte fumbled on the 2nd half’s first play leading to a Jets field goal and a 10-0 deficit. After a Colts punt, the Jets drove for another field goal and a 13-0 lead.
Shula finally inserted Unitas, but the team punted after three plays. The Colts had a goalline stand on the next Jets possession, but were now down 16-0 after another field goal.
The next time Unitas had the ball, Baltimore drove to the Jets 25, only to have a Unitas pass get intercepted in the end zone. It was the fourth Colts interception. The Jets would follow in Baltimore’s footsteps and miss their next field goal attempt.
Unitas completed a key fourth down to Orr and thanks to some Jets penalties, Baltimore scored on a 1-yard run to cut it 16-7, but with only 3:19 left.
The Colts did recover an onside kick and got to the Jets 19, but turned it over on downs. It should be noted that had the Colts kicked a field goal (not that they had made any that day), they would have been down 16-10 with three time outs and over two minutes left.
Morrall finished with 71 yards on 6 of 17 and 3 interceptions. Unitas finished with more completions, yards, and scoring drives than Morrall despite only getting into the game until the fourth quarter. Namath was awarded MVP, but only threw for 206 yards (including no attempts in the fourth quarter), while the defense played well and Matt Snell rushed for 121 yards and a touchdown and had 40 receiving yards.
To play the game again, the three easiest fixes would be to start Unitas, give Matte the ball more (he had 116 yards on an astounding 11 carries), and get a different field goal kicker. Giving the Jets more respect would have helped too. Nevertheless, this wasn’t to be for the Colts and serves as the cemented lesson that nothing’s a sure thing in sports, especially any given Sunday.
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Much of my information is borrowed from Wikipedia’s more expansive page about Super Bowl III.
Super Bowl V
Finally, there's Super Bowl V in which the Colts beat the Cowboys 16-13 on Jim O'Brien's field goal as time expired. This game is nicknamed the "Blunder Bowl" as the teams combined for a Super Bowl record 11 turnovers (7 for the Colts). However, it wasn’t sloppy as much as it was hard-hitting (Landry called it the hardest hitting he ever saw). The MVP was a defender on the losing team (Chuck Howley for his 2 interceptions and one fumble recovery). This game was also the first Super Bowl played on artificial turf and the first championship after the AFL-NFL merger, which is why the Colts represented the AFC in this game, but the NFL in Super Bowl III. Like Super Bowl III, this championship game was played in the Orange Bowl
The Colts had a pretty strong team with Unitas (now 37) leading the offense with help from Morrall. The offense had some other reliable players and another Hall of Famer in John Mackey. But this team was predicated on defense with Bubba Smith on the line (who refuses to wear his ring because of the game’s sloppy play), Hall of Famer Ted Hendricks, Mike Curtis, and safeties Jerry Logan and Rick Volk. The Colts won the AFC East with an 11-2-1 record.
The Cowboys had a tumultuous regular season losing fullback Calvin Hill for the year after hurting his leg late in the season, a QB controversy between Craig Morton and Roger Staubach, and the team’s leading WR Bob Hayes benched for poor performances. Like the Colts, the Cowboys had a steller defense, nicknamed the “Doomsday Defense,” they only gave up one touchdown in the final 6 games before the Super Bowl. The defense was comprised of Hall of Famers Bob Lilly, Mel Renfro, and Herb Adderley.
After punts on the first 3 possessions, the game of turnovers began. Chuck Howley intercepted (1) a Unitas pass on the Colts second possession, returning it 22 yards before being tackled by Unitas. The Cowboys were held and forced to punt, only to recover the fumble (2) by Colts punt returner Ron Gardin and had the ball at the Colts 9. The Colts held the Cowboys to a field goal. The Cowboys drove on their next possession, but had to settle for another field goal to make it 0-6.
On the Colts next possession, a fluke play occurred when a Unitas pass bounced off Eddie Hinton’s hands, then tipped by Dallas DB Mel Renfro and into Mackey’s hands who went 75 yards for the score. O’Brien’s extra point was blocked so the scored was tied 6-6.
Unitas fumbled (3) later in the second quarter leading to a Morton 7-yard touchdown pass and 13-6 lead. The next Baltimore possession, Unitas was intercepted (4) after getting hit as he threw. Unitas had to leave with a rib injury and was replaced by Morrall. The Colts got to the Cowboys 2, only to be stuffed on four goal line attempts.
Baltimore fumbled (5) the 2nd half kickoff only to have Dallas fumble (6) it back at the Baltimore 1-yard line. Baltimore drove the field and tried a 52-yard field goal, but it fell short.
The Colts began another drive through the start of the fourth quarter that brought them to the Dallas 11, only to have Morrall’s pass intercepted (7) by Howley in the end zone.
After a Dallas punt, Baltimore moved from their 18 to the Dallas 30 and tried another flea flicker (recall it didn’t go so well in Super Bowl III). Morrall handed-off to Sam Havrilak who was supposed to throw it back to Morrall, only the defense was onto Havrilak so he threw it to Hinton who, of course, fumbled (8) at the Dallas 10. After several players touched it, the ball rolled through the end zone for a Cowboys touchback.
On Dallas’ third play, Morton was intercepted (9) by Rick Volk who took it to the Dallas 3, where the Colts scored on a 2-yard run two plays later to tie it at 13.
After some punts, Dallas started a drive at the Colts 48 with less than 2 minutes left. Dallas went backward thanks to a 15-yard holding penalty. On 2nd and 35, Morton’s pass went through Dan Reeves’ hands and intercepted (10) by Mike Curtis who got the ball to the Dallas 28. O’Brien kicked the 32-yard game-winner two plays later. Dallas did get the ball back with a few seconds to play, but fittingly, their hopes stalled when Morton was intercepted (11) by Logan as time expired.
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Much of my information is borrowed from Wikipedia’s more expansive page about Super Bowl V.
The newly named Vince Lombardi trophy (he died the previous year) actually sits in the Maryland Sports Hall of Fame at Oriole Park at Camden Yards as part of a legal settlement from the Colts’ move to Indianapolis.