50 Most Memorable Super Bowl Moments, No. 12: Joe Namath's guarantee

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Eric Adelson
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As the NFL approaches its highly anticipated golden anniversary Super Bowl, Yahoo Sports takes a look back at some of the most memorable moments in the game's history.

In our rankings, the moments go beyond the great scores and plays. We also take a look at entertainment performances, scandals/controversies and other events associated with corresponding Super Bowls.

Here's a look at moment No. 12:

The guarantee

Please interpret no disrespect to the legendary Vince Lombardi and his superb Green Bay Packers championship teams, but in a sense, the Super Bowl didn't start until 1969.

The third edition of the famous game was the first to be called the "Super Bowl," and the first to involve celebrities – Bob Hope introducing the Apollo astronauts. It was the first to be preserved entirely on videotape. And, most important, it's also the launch of the engine that now keeps the NFL going all year long: the dramatic plot line.

That's thanks to Joe Namath, who said three days before the game that his Jets would beat the massively favored Baltimore Colts.

It happened at the Miami Touchdown Club, and it came in response to a Colts fan's baiting comments.

"We're gonna win Sunday," Namath said. "I guarantee it."

New York Jets coach Weeb Ewbank was not at all pleased with his quarterback, and later said he "could have shot" Namath for opening his mouth.

More Most Memorable Super Bowl Moments:

13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26-30 | 31-35 | 36-40 | 41-45 | 46-50
• NEXT (Jan. 22): No. 11

But we're all indebted to Namath (except Colts fans, of course) for making a soap opera out of the Super Bowl. In fact, the lead-up to every big game, in every sport, has become fertile ground for bulletin-board material like what Namath provided. Sure, there have always been bold predictions in sports (like Babe Ruth calling his shot), but this one was especially daring, as there were heavy doubts about the quarterback, his team, and his conference.

After the merger, there was plenty of wonder about whether the AFL stood up to the NFL. That was only strengthened by the Packers' performance in the first two Super Bowls, which likely played a role in the Colts being favored by 18 points in Super Bowl III.

The Jets, led by a former Colts coach in Ewbank, watched film of the Baltimore team and became very confident in their ability to win. Namath's proclamation, albeit a surprise to pretty much anyone listening, only reflected what the Jets felt. The more preposterous statement had actually come before, as Namath said both he and his backup, Babe Parilli, were better than Colts passer Earl Morrall. But because this was the Super Bowl, and because of what happened in the game itself, the "guarantee" made history.

Namath wasn't outstanding in the game, at least statistically. He had 206 yards passing and no touchdowns. The Jets won with running, via Matt Snell's 121 yards and a touchdown, and with defense. The vaunted Colts only scored one touchdown, and that was late in the game after Morrall had been replaced by Johnny Unitas. The lasting image of the game came after the 16-7 final, as Namath jogged off the Orange Bowl field with one index finger wagging, basically a combination of "We're No. 1" and "I told you so." It was one of the greatest upsets in sports history, and Namath had called it.

Nearly 50 years later, the quarterback is so pivotal to the story of a game that he usually has his own media availability every week and after every game. In a sport of men wearing facemasks, the winning quarterbacks are always iconic faces.

Many other beloved passers preceded Namath, including Unitas, but "Broadway Joe" was the celebrity quarterback – larger than the game. He still is, as the Jets have never returned to the Super Bowl in all these years. Namath embraced the attention, embraced fame, and wore it as comfortably as his fur coat.

In a way, it was Joe Namath who made the Super Bowl truly super.

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