In 1968 the Baltimore Colts entered Super Bowl III as 18-point favorites over the New York Jets. The NFL champions were led by Earl Morrall in place of Johnny Unitas, while the AFL underdogs were quarterbacked by the flashy Joe Namath and the Alabama native boasted in Miami, “We’re gonna win the game. I guarantee it.”
The Colts were infuriated by this brash statement and quashed the first drive by the Jets, however big games are won on injuries as much as luck and after the bruising fullback Matt Snell knocked out the Colts’ safety and the secondary was open by the deception of the injured Don Maynard, allowing George Sauer to score 2 TDs.
The NFL champs never really challenged the upstarts, as Unitas replaced Morrall, who had missed several opportunities to hit receivers in the end-zone. The legend fared no better against the Jets defense and the victory acted as a turbo-charged boost for the AFL, however the Jets never again competed in the Super Bowl.
Betters lost millions on that game. No one ever questioned the outcome. The Jets seemed to have simply outplayed the NFL juggernaut.
In 1984 I ran into Bubba Smith at the Deauville Film Festival. The Colt defensive lineman was in France to promote the film POLICE ACADEMY, while I was attending the event as a journalists for the French magazine ACTUEL.
After the screening most reporters were huddled around Steve Guttman, the star of the comedy. Bubba was off to the side. He wasn't on my list of interviewees, since ACTUEL was more interested in my speaking with Rock Hudson about acting with James Dean in GIANT.
That rendezvous wasn't until after tomorrow's screening of George Stevens' epic and I introduced myself to 6-7 280 pound ex-NFL All Star as a longtime admirer. His fearsome tackling at Michigan State had earned the enormous lineman the motto 'Kill Bubba Kill'. I half-expected him to crush my hand, but he smiled when I told him how much I liked his acting.
"Just playing myself."
Neither of us had anything scheduled for the afternoon and I suggested that we retire to the Bar of the Hotel Atlantique. It had a great view of the beach and the bar served great wine.
After ordering oysters and a chilled Chablis we spoke about his being in the film and his hopes to become an actor before moving onto football.
You ever play?"
"No, I ran track. Once jumped eighteen feet."
"I'm a Patriots fan."
"yeah, tell me about it."
Last year the Patriots went 8 and 8 last year. The Baltimore Colts beat them twice. Both games were close, but I was more interested in the past and I asked Bubba how it was to play with Johnny Unitas. He said great without any reservation, but I was dodging the real question.
After our second bottle of wine Bubba said, "Go ahead."
"Go ahead what?"
"Go ahead and ask the question."
Bubba was a big man. The Colts had won Super Bowl V. I took a breath and said, "You won Super Bowl V, but you don't wear tat ring."
"Nope. I won't wear that one, because we lost against the Jets in Super Bowl III." His Texas drawl was more pronounced and I deepened by Boston accent, asking, “The Colts were such a favorite in Super Bowl 3, how did you lose to the Jets?”
“They got to the quarterback,” Bubba answered without caring who heard that accusation.
Not that it mattered.
Most everyone in the bar was French. None of them had ever heard about Joe Namath's boast about winning against the Colts. They were frogs and they worshiped soccer. Not football.
“The game was fixed?”
A shrug indicated that the answer was mine to decide and I remembered Unitas throwing the ball to the Jets defender and Morall’s three interceptions.
“Who fixed the game?”
It was a stupid question undeserving of an answer and Bubba stood away from the table.
"Excuse me. I gotta get back to work." Bubba Smith went over to watch Michael Winslow delight the reporters with his imitations of a helicopter. I laughed at him too.
"No worries. Best wishes with your movies."
A few of the froggies gawked at him exiting from the restaurant. They had never seen a man or woman that huge.
The retired footballer avoided me the rest of the festival, especially after spotting me dining with Rock Hudson.
Back in Paris I didn’t mention Bubba's confession to the editorial staff of Actuel. None of them were interested in a rumor about a football game in 1969, plus the editors were having trouble with my article with Rock Hudson. My typing was atrocious.
While I've never seen a replay of Super Bowl III, I have mentioned Bubba Smith's statement to several bookie friend, who have mumbled under their breath about how the Mob had threatened the lives of Earl Morrall’s and Unitas’ families.
It made sense, especially considering Broadway Joe Namath's claim.
“We’re gonna win the game. I guarantee it.”
Joe Namath's words were carved in stone thanks to strong-arm gangsters. Neither league complained about the fix, since the win saved the AFL from extinction. Everyone made more money. Even the Colts, however these days games are never fixed by players. They make too money.
Refs on the other hand control the game from start to finish.
Not that I'm pointing any fingers.
In truth I don't know nothing and I'm happy that way.
Knowing even less would only make me happier.
ps Anita Bryant sang the National Anthem in 1969 whose later anti-gay campaign was immortalized by David Allan Coe’s 1978 song “Fuck Anita Bryant”.