Sunday is a sacred holiday for New York Jets fans across the world. Forty-five years ago, a cocky quarterback and a team of better-than-advertised players made sports history, shocking the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III at the old Orange Bowl.
It was Jan. 12, 1969, and the score was 16-7, numbers etched into the psyche of every Jets fan. The iconic image of the game -- really, of the Jets' entire history -- is that of Joe Namath, trotting off the field, waving the No. 1 sign.
That enduring image never will be erased from the mind's eye. Only days earlier, Namath had delivered his famous guarantee. Since then, dozens, maybe hundreds of professional athletes have issued public guarantees, but Broadway Joe's boast is (and will always be) the Grand Daddy of them all. Remember, the Jets went off as an 18-point underdog.
"I'm telling you, I wear my Super Bowl ring every day and when I look at it, I can recall every play in the game," former center John Schmitt told me a few years ago. "To win when you're the greatest underdog in the history of football ... to prove to the world what you can accomplish with tremendous heart ... it's the best."
One of the best anecdotes from that historic day occurred after the game in the locker room. Unbeknownst to many, Schmitt played the game with pneumonia and, by the fourth quarter, he was on the verge of exhaustion. But he kept playing. Afterward, he was so sick that he vomited as he knelt alongside Namath during the postgame prayer. I like that story because it typified the guts (no pun intended) of that team.
One link between then and now is Rex Ryan, whose father, Buddy, was a defensive assistant for Weeb Ewbank. Rex Ryan, only 6 at the time, gets another chance to end the Super Bowl drought. He's the 12th full-time head coach since Ewbank, the 12th guy with the task of restoring glory to a star-crossed franchise.
The arrow is pointing up, as the Jets are coming off an encouraging 8-8 season. But beware: History tells us that it was a mirage.
Since the '68 championship season, the Jets have posted eight .500 seasons -- and not once did they make the playoffs the following year. In fact, they managed a winning record only once after a .500 season. That was a 9-7 record in 2000, their only season under Al Groh, when they choked in December and missed the playoffs.
A dose of reality on your holiday morning.
But maybe someday ...