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Sunday's AFC Indianapolis Colts-New York Jets game is reminiscent of Super Bowl III

There is something familiar about the swagger. You recognize the chip from another shoulder long ago.

Once again, you know all there is to know about the quarterback with the horseshoe on his helmet. You have heard about how close his team is to being undefeated. You have listened as your friends chatter about how unstoppable the Colts are and how overmatched the Jets are going to be.

Here's a suggestion: No matter how much you like the Colts in Sunday's AFC Championship Game, don't bet your lunch money.

Take it from experience.

All of this has happened before. Time was, there was another Colts team that seemed destined for greatness, and another Jets team that was too cocky to acknowledge it. It was 41 years ago, and the Jets were supposed to be just another speed bump on the way to a Colts' victory party.

It didn't happen in Super Bowl III.

If you remember that, it's possible to believe that it might not happen this time, either.

For those who are into history (or nostalgia) there is much about Sunday's AFC title game between the Jets and Colts that may remind you of Super Bowl III. Once again, the Colts are favored and once again, it is because of their high-powered offense. Once again, the Jets are fueled by one man's confidence (this time, Rex Ryan is playing the role of Joe Namath) and once again, by a defense that is better than some suspect.

Of course, if the league is trying to recreate Super Bowl III, it could do worse. To this day, that game is the most important event in NFL history. There have been better teams, and there have been better games. But this was the Man-on-the-Moon Super Bowl, a game that validated a merger, that vindicated a league and that established an event. It was the game that put Namath into the Hall of Fame and that drove Don Shula out of Baltimore.

On a personal note, it taught me how to swear at the television. As I recall, I had become quite proficient at it by the fourth quarter.

At the time, I was in high school, and the Colts were my first love. They had lost only two games in two years, and I was so certain they were going to win, I wagered my lunch money for a month. (Don't be concerned. I made up for it with two-a-days during the '90s.)

To this day, I have not cared as much about the outcome of a sports event. Years later, after I became a journalist, I was introduced to former Colts quarterback Earl Morrall. Nice man, but it took every ounce of restraint I had not to scream into his face.

"Jimmy … Orr … was… open … in the … end … zone!''

Of course, I bet Morrall hears that a lot. As he should.

On Wednesday, I told that story to Joe Horrigan, a football historian and the vice president of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And Horrigan, the son of former AFL public relations director Jack Horrigan, was suddenly a teenager again himself, talking about how terrific that victory was for him.

"I lived in New York, and all the other kids were talking about Tucker Frederickson or Frank Gifford,'' Horrigan said. "I would say 'Dick Wood.' And they'd say 'Who?' I would say 'Wahoo McDaniel.' And they'd say 'Who is that?' ''

The point is that some games are a life sentence. Win or lose, they impact you forever. Super Bowl III, however, impacted the entire NFL.

"You have to remember, at that time, the Super Bowl was still trying to become an event like the World Series,'' Horrigan said. "It needed meaningful results to get to that. It couldn't just be a championship game. It had to be special. Baseball was still America's sport at that time.

"When the Jets won it, it was the trumpeting of a new era. It validated the AFL, and it said there was a new kid in town in terms of how we looked at our teams and the flamboyant nature of an athlete like Namath. All of those things became happy endings. It was a win for the Jets, for the AFL and for all underdogs everywhere.''

Oh, the world could have survived a Jets loss. The NFL had agreed to merge in the summer of 1966 with a title game and a common draft the next year. Interleague play would have started in 1970 regardless. And other AFL teams would have won the Super Bowl soon after. (The Chiefs beat the Vikings the next year. Counting the Jets' victory, AFC-AFL teams won eight out of nine.)

None of them, however, would have resonated the way the Jets did. It was the right time, and being from New York, the Jets were the right team, and being a bit of a rock star, Namath was the right quarterback.

"If the Colts had won,'' Horrigan said, "the whole development of the Super Bowl as an event might have been put off five, six, even 10 years. You can't script that guarantee. It was mythical.''

Now, all these years later, Johnny Unitas is dead and Don Shula is retired and Namath has turned into the kissing bandit. The same teams are playing for a different trophy.

If Peyton Manning can figure out which one of his receivers is open in the end zone, it ought to be fun.

fast facts

AFC Championship

Jets at Colts

3 p.m. Sunday, Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis

Line: Colts by 71/2

TV/radio: Ch. 10; 1010-AM

NFC Championship

Vikings at Saints

6:40 p.m. Sunday,

Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans

Line: Saints by 31/2

TV/radio: Ch. 13; 1010-AM

Namath sees some parallels

Joe Namath is not guaranteeing a Jets win. But he does see many similarities in attitudes between the team heading to Indianapolis for Sunday's AFC title game against the Colts and his 1968 team that beat the Colts in Super Bowl III.

"I believe the Jets feel the way we felt at the time: 'Don't be telling us we can't do something,' " Namath, 66, said Wednesday. "I know this team can win. They've proven that."

Namath has been watching the Jets all season and enjoying the ride.

"It's like riding that roller coaster," he said. "You're kind of scared, but you're so happy. They've been playing big, man. This has been sensational."

Namath said execution and poise will be the key.

He hinted he'll be in Indianapolis with the Jets for the game. And if the Jets win, he will attend the Super Bowl in Miami.

"The Colts have you-know-who (Peyton Manning) at quarterback," Namath said. "It's going to be a mountain to climb. But you can pick at that base, boy, and tear that mountain down."

Namath said he's kept in touch with a few of the Colts from Super Bowl III. Ray Perkins was his teammate at Alabama, so they've remained close. And living in South Florida, Namath often crosses paths with then-Colts coach Don Shula.

The game rarely comes up.

"Over the years, nothing has needed to be said," Namath said. "There never had to be anything said to the Colts players. Winning speaks for itself."

Times wires

Sunday's AFC Indianapolis Colts-New York Jets game is reminiscent of Super Bowl III 01/20/10 [Last modified: Saturday, January 23, 2010 4:35pm]
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