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1968 New York Jets Season
1968 season of AFL team New York Jets; first and to date only Super Bowl appearance and win
On May 21, Sonny Werblin sold his shares in the Jets to his partners Don Lillis, Leon Hess, Townsend Martin, and Phil Isselin. Lillis became the president on May 21, but died on July 23, and Isselin was appointed president on August 6.
The 1968 season also saw the Jets involved in one of the most notorious incidents in television history, an incident that would change the way television networks carried sporting events for decades to come. On November 17, 1968, just before 7:00 pm Eastern time, the Jets scored late to take a 32-29 lead over the Oakland Raiders with 1:05 left. NBC cut to a commercial, and then everywhere but the West Coast showed the movie Heidi, a show which NBC had promoted extensively for the sweeps period. Outraged fans bombarded NBC headquarters in New York with phone calls demanding the game be restored; so many phone calls were made that they eventually knocked out the NBC switchboard. Even though a decision was made to carry the game to conclusion, this decision could not be communicated, thus resulting in the movie starting on schedule.
Fans' ire was further fueled when they discovered that NBC's cutting away from the game denied them from seeing live a dramatic finish. On the Raiders' second play from scrimmage on the next drive, Daryle Lamonica threw a 46-yard touchdown pass to Charlie Smith, giving the Raiders a 36-32 lead. On the ensuing kickoff, Earl Christy of the Jets fumbled at the 10-yard line, which the Raiders' Preston Ridlehuber converted into another touchdown, ultimately giving the Raiders a 43-32 victory. Much of the country learned of this final outcome only via a bottom-of-screen crawl line shown during the movie. This incident, dubbed the Heidi Game, resulted in most television networks and sports leagues amending their television policies to ensure that games in progress would be broadcast to their conclusion, no matter what, even if it meant delaying or canceling the rest of the network's lineup, and even if the game's outcome seemed assured.
On December 29, Weeb Ewbank became the first coach to win titles in the National Football League and in the American Football League. His former team, the Baltimore Colts won the 1968 NFL Championship on December 29 as well. The Colts defeated the Cleveland Browns by a score of 34-0.
Namath (middle) running a play against the Colts in Super Bowl III.
In January 1969, the Jets would reach the pinnacle of their existence and provide the moment that would indicate the AFL's coming of age. Under Namath's guidance, the Jets rose to the top of the AFL, defeating the Oakland Raiders in a thrilling AFL championship game, 27-23. The win qualified them to represent their league in a game that was being referred to for the first time as the Super Bowl (and referred to retroactively as Super Bowl III). They were pitted against the champions of the NFL, the Baltimore Colts. At the time, the AFL was considered to be inferior to the NFL, and most considered the Jets to be considerable underdogs and treated them as such. That would change three nights before the game while Namath was being honored by the Miami Touchdown Club as its Player of the Year. Namath took exception to a heckling Colts fan and used that moment to lament the lack of respect his team had gotten to that point. He then said "The Jets will win Sunday. I guarantee it." His audacious remark proved correct, as the Jets created one of the greatest upsets in football history by defeating the Colts 16-7. This victory showed that the AFL was capable of competing with the NFL.